Jessica is a 32 year old, wife and mum of one, and until recently worked fly-in fly-out (FIFO) to the Pilbara region of Western Australia for a large resources company. Like many of us, this mother was unprepared for the impact having a baby would have on her priorities, life and career. For this self-confessed ‘super woman’, re-evaluating her career and applying the brakes was the first step to a happier life.
I worked on a FIFO contract for over six years and enjoyed the challenges and successes that came with the job. As a woman working on a mine site, I was encouraged by my seniors to pursue a career and to champion and inspire other women in the industry.
When I fell pregnant with my son in 2017, I was determined the new addition to my family would not compromise my full time FIFO career. I am a successful, smart, career driven woman who has worked damn hard to get where I am – how difficult could it be to incorporate a baby into my life?
Immediately, I sourced all the information I could about what was best for my baby and me. But following the pregnancy ‘rule book’ was difficult on a mine site, especially when it came to what was safe to eat. The salad bar lunch selection was ruled out – so, vegemite on toast it was for eight months! And dinners served from a bain-marie were also a big no-no according to the pregnancy books, so soup became my staple.
The simple task of getting dressed presented new challenges like popping shirt buttons, and putting on boots must have looked like a funny ballet routine dancing around! There was a greater risk of falling over and looking like a flipped turtle with a sprained ankle. I couldn’t get in the 4-wheel drive without the occasional push by a colleague, and flights in and out of the region twice a week took their toll – the seats were uncomfortable and my bladder barely held on.
Despite the challenges, my keen work ethic and desire to not let my team down drove me to remain on site as long as possible. I soldiered on, promoting pregnancy on a mine site. Yes, it can be done!
Prior to commencing maternity leave, I set up a Keep in Touch plan to continue to be engaged with my company and team. I was equally excited and anxious about what life was about to throw at me. In my 18 year working life I had never had more than two weeks off at once. I honestly thought maternity leave would be filled with coffee dates, long lunches and coastal walks pushing my sleeping baby in the pram.
When my son arrived… REALITY CHECK! I could only dream of coffee dates, with a screaming newborn and so much to learn. Stepping away from my career as a controller, I suddenly found myself in a role where I couldn’t control anything! I was at the mercy of this small human. With my hair unbrushed, no make-up and wearing pyjamas all day – boy, how my priorities had changed! My mobile phone addiction was no more and, surprisingly, I loved it!
Five months’ maternity leave passed quickly and just as my son and I were finding our groove, I prepared to return to FIFO as planned. As the date loomed, I became more anxious, dreading the thought of being away from my baby.
When my fly out day arrived, I decided to make the most of it. If I was going to be away from my son, I wanted to ensure I was busy and making an impact. Dinner in the mess that first night was spent catching up with old friends and felt as though I had never left.
Fast forward to day three, reality hit and everything came to a crashing halt. Turns out, when you put your four and a half month old to bed on Sunday night and don’t see him for three days it is HARD! I had a sudden onset of guilt…
What type of mother was I to leave such a young baby for my job?
I found myself crying uncontrollably in a field-based toilet. I didn’t know where to turn or who to call. I was, for the first time in my career, lost. All I wanted was someone to hug me and tell me everything would be alright. Most of my friends had relocated to other sites while I was away so I didn’t have my usual FIFO family to lean on.
This strong, independent super woman thought she could challenge the norm but, boy, was she wrong. In my career I had been the champion to other women – supporting colleagues through tough times and recommending they put themselves first. For the first time in my life I was going to have to take my own advice and prioritise myself and my family over my career – something I had never done and wasn’t sure how to do.
With the support of my managers, I transferred into a Perth based position allowing me to go home every night and put my baby to bed. I’m glad I came to the realisation so quickly that the little things in life matter most. Seeing my son smile when I get home from work is pure joy that I can’t put into words. It has made the challenges of the juggle and the diversion in my career all worth it.
I wish I had been more prepared for the reality of motherhood. If I had my time over I would ease back into FIFO life after a longer leave period. At the time, I was so confident and career focused that I didn’t consider the huge impact having a baby would have on my life and how much I would change.
Last week a colleague explained to me:
We juggle the balls of life: family, friends and work. The first two are glass, if you drop them they may crack or break; but the work ball is rubber, it will bounce back!
This is still resonating with me.