Pity all the poor mums-to-be out there who are currently contemplating their maternity leave.
If they weren’t already nervous about stepping back from their career for months, maybe even a year, along comes The Replacement, a psychological BBC1 drama focussing on the pitfalls of handing over your hard-earned position to a stand-in, while you bond with baby.
As I write, I have no idea what happens in this week’s final episode (so no spoilers from me). Is the replacement Paula (Vicky McClure) really a deranged murderer, or is it actually Ellen (Morven Christie) who is a paranoid control freak who seriously needs a chill pill?
The Replacement has been a must-watch, and one that has provided strong leading roles for two exceptional British actresses.
Sadly, it plays on very real fears. Many, if not most, pregnant women worry deeply about being forgotten in the workplace once they become a mother, and not all bosses take care to understand this or to make sure they feel valued.
Mums-to-be who try to stress their commitment to their career are still met with comments along the lines of: “Oh, you’ll feel differently once you’ve got your baby.” This is often from well-meaning older colleagues and relatives, who fail to understand not only that women love and want to work, but also that, today, they have little choice, as one salary is no longer enough to support a family.
The drama also plays on the preconception that women professional see themselves as rivals in the workplace. Therefore, if a maternity leave cover happens to be another woman with similar skills (as she may well be), there will inevitably be rivalry, jealousy and quite possibly unpleasantness.
This perception of widespread female rivalry is a myth that continues, despite evidence to the contrary, and it seems perpetuated to try to divide and unnerve women in the workplace. It’s unhelpful nonsense. When I first took maternity leave, more than 20 years ago, I was terrified I would be forgotten and edged out. But before I left, along came my maternity leave cover, Sharon. We got on brilliantly, from the start, became great friends, and later applied to this paper together as a job share. We’re still here.
In reality, female colleagues befriend and support each other, and work together to solve work-life issues, from maternity leave to caring for children and relatives. Maybe it doesn’t make for great drama, but mums-to-be, take hope. We’ve got your back.