Almost a year after I put my maternity leave ‘out of office’ on, I’m back and this time, I’m onsite at the Museum!
I hadn’t been onsite for an astonishing 18 months. The last time was October half term 2020 when the government announced a second national lockdown. We closed the Museum (again) to work from home and I left a jar of peanut butter and other unassorted perishables in my desk drawer, thinking I’d be back in a few weeks.
The timing meant that I very much had a lockdown pregnancy with the pro of not having to worry about expensive maternity clothes (jogging bottoms are very forgiving on zoom). I was incredibly fortunate, not least because our Director, Liz Power, ensured I was kept safely at home as it became increasingly clear that pregnant people were vulnerable to severe covid. Then in mid-May 2021 Liz brought a card, gifts and flowers from the team to give me in the street outside my flat (hugs still weren’t allowed) and maternity leave felt real.
My little boy was born on 21.5.21 at 5.21pm and has been a wonderful and overwhelming addition to my world. Whilst I had nannied, babysat, taught and been all ears to caregivers, having my own was an eye-opening whirlwind. Turns out the reason for all those pram walks in the park is not to enjoy the lovely fresh air, it’s the desperate hope that the baby will sleep. Pavements without dropped curbs are a menace and baby groups are daunting at first, but a lifeline later. And anywhere that makes you feel welcomed when you have a buggy, a nappy to change and a noisy teething baby is your safe place.
During those long nightfeeds and contact naps, I kept up with the Museum on socials and the team WhatsApp group, so never felt far away and was continually proud of what I saw, impressed by the hard work, particularly of my maternity cover and now colleague, Emma Canterbury.
They tell you the days are short but the years are long, which doesn’t mean much in the dizzying newborn days, but when you see your little one pull up to standing and start cruising the furniture, you feel like you’ve blinked and the baby is already a toddler. And so, a few weeks shy of my boy’s first birthday, I found myself walking back through the doors of the London Museum of Water & Steam. Reassuringly familiar but also full of exciting new things; Our Barn’s Pump and Grind Café running fantastic community events, the Wild Play Garden in development, a new Community Gallery and fresh partnerships to nurture.
And something new for me, my pump! Breastfeeding has been another learning curve and like many nursing mothers, I return to work needing to express milk. Employers have legal obligations towards breastfeeding mothers, allowing time and space to pump if needed and fortunately for me, it was never under question that I would be supported to do this. So I’m delighted to officially bring pumping back to the pumping station! As I sit in the Community Room, once the Pay Office of the entirely male Victorian workforce, it feels somehow representative of the journey the site has been through, from industrial waterworks, to family friendly place of comfort and safety, and I’m delighted to be back.
Gemma Cante, Learning and Engagement Coordinator