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Knowing When To Step Back

Knowing When To Step Back

My second pregnancy started half way through my first year back teaching after my first round of maternity leave – at a new school no less. This pregnancy progressed with more difficulty than my first, and I eventually had to concede defeat and stop working earlier than I had planned.

The morning sickness hit me a lot harder this time around. I was actually vomiting every now and then, on top of the constant nausea. Thankfully I never needed to vomit while at school, but it was a close call a few times.

The worst time of day for me was in the evening – I just simply couldn’t stomach dinner. This meant I was missing out on a lot of calories (since dinner is our biggest meal here), and also a lot of nutrients. I didn’t end up gaining any weight for a long time, which worried my doctor because it means bub was sucking everything out of me and I didn’t have enough reserves to replace it with.

I was getting dizzy, light headed, and very tired very often. We ran multiple tests for iron levels, other deficiencies, blood pressure problems etc, but couldn’t pin point anything specific. It was with that outcome that my midwife and GP simply told me I needed to up my calories as much as I could, in any way I could, and to keep as hydrated as possible.

Top this with heading into summer, and overall it wasn’t a great time.

I also had a lot of pelvic girdle pain. Sometimes it would hit so suddenly and painfully that I couldn’t put any weight on one of my legs. Those weren’t fun times at all. I had to tell our sports coordinator very early on so that I could be placed on the detention room instead of on an active sport that required me to be out and about in the heat and sun and running around.

I ended up telling my co-workers quite early, because I was so sick and we had had some potential complications arise. I wanted them to be aware in case something happened to me, and I also wanted the emotional support.

Everyone’s advice was to hold out telling the school for as long as possible, because I was only on contract and who knows how they would respond (yes, even though it’s illegal to discriminate against pregnant people). I went against this advice and told my principal relatively early too – I wanted to be fair to the school in terms of taking time off for appointments and illness.

Thankfully our longest school holidays (5 weeks over Christmas) happened during my second trimester. This allowed me to rest and recover a bit at home, without the added stress of school.

Returning back after the Christmas break was incredibly hard. I only had 7.5 weeks of school (not including the student-free planning days) until my leave started, but every day was extremely hard. I went through a few weeks of almost fainting daily (sometimes multiple times during the day) because of the heat and exertion. I knew I wasn’t doing my job justice – my lessons were not planned well, my ability to walk around the classroom was limited (which is obviously a safety hazard, particularly in the lab), my contribution to my colleagues was lessened. I hated that I couldn’t perform any where near my best.

Soon into the start of the school year I became ill with some sort of virus. This piled on top of everything else that was going on, causing me to miss more days and to be even less productive. After being ill like this for 3 weeks straight, I knew it was time to step back from my job. My health and that of my bub were very much on the line – I wasn’t getting any better and my midwife was worried. But the guilt was real – how could I let down my students like that? My colleagues? Myself? Could I actually admit defeat, what felt like failure and weakness, simply because I was ill and pregnant?

It actually took for someone in a group on Facebook to say some magical words for me to bite the bullet and let go of any guilt I was feeling about stepping back. Her words were “Your baby literally only has you to rely on”. That hit home so hard it was like a shock. While this baby lives inside me, I am her only support system.

I then had a stern talking to myself. Financially, I could start my maternity leave early and we’d be ok. I was ill with no end in sight. I was having trouble getting around my school comfortably. I was essentially a liability in the lab. I was so exhausted in the evenings that I didn’t do any lesson planning at home, and instead was rushing it in the mornings before school and at lunch time.

Enough was enough.

I had to go to my GP and get them to write a letter, so I did that the very next day. I started my maternity leave that day, as well as a course of antibiotics, and it took a further two weeks before I started feeling like I was well again.

I know it’s not an option for everyone. Hell, I know a lot of people (particularly in the US) work until their due date and beyond. I am so thankful and grateful that I was able to stop working early, and able to give my body time to recover from illness before starting to prepare for labour.

It was well and truly time to step back, and I am so glad I did!


Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash


Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys sharing the real and human teacher life, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine.

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