Charlotte Caleb was messaging a client and realized she may have to turn off her cell phone for a while.

‘I’d been invoicing and drafting contracts but I thought it might be a good idea to step back,’ says Charlotte, 32, a music artist manager from Hertford. Self-employed, she would only have benefited from around £151 per week maternity allowance from the State.

‘I’m always so nervous telling clients I need time off, but this particular client understood. She actually told me to not respond. She was very surprised I was messaging her at all.’

That client’s compassion is understandable once you realise that Charlotte was in active labour. After being inducted at six o’clock one evening in February she continued to work into the wee hours. It wasn’t until moments before the actual delivery of her son Cassius at three minutes past midnight that she took her foot off the pedal.

Prime Minister's wife Carrie Johnson (pictured) is among the growing number of women returning to their desks weeks, days or even hours after giving birth

Carrie Johnson, the Prime Minister’s spouse (pictured), is one of many women who return to work weeks, days, or hours after giving birth.

‘I took my laptop into hospital and remember wandering around the ward saying: “Is there somewhere I can plug this in?” ’ says Charlotte, who is married to Philip, 34, a quantity surveyor. ‘But when I got to 10cm dilated I said to this lovely client: “If I don’t reply, this is why” and she couldn’t have been more understanding. She said: “OK, yes go away and have your baby!”

‘It had been a 72-hour labour and I needed an episiotomy, so I was exhausted. Once I’d had Cassius, I allowed myself to rest. I wasn’t back at work properly until three days later.’

Many mothers who have been through a bruising labour will be agog at Charlotte’s work ethic. She is one of a growing number who are returning to work weeks, days, or hours after giving birth.

Among them is the Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson. This week, she was made clear that her second child will be born around Christmas and that she would not use maternity leave.

Carrie, 33 years old is the head of communications at the Aspinall Foundation. This foundation runs wildlife parks that release zoo animals into the wild. Carrie says she would like to see elephants released in Kenya this year.

Countdown’s Rachel Riley has also hinted she will be breastfeeding her new baby — a girl called Noa — on the TV show’s set very soon. Katherine Ryan, 38-year-old comedian, was back at work just ten days following the birth of Fred, her second child.

‘I was in a privileged position where I could do that,’ she said. ‘Yes, I was still physically recovering, but I think it was easier to take him places when he was ten days old than it is now. If you want to take a year off or ten years or ten days, then that’s totally up to you.’

Charlotte says it was the pandemic that prompted her to start a family — and insists she never had any plans to take a lengthy maternity leave.

Charlotte Caleb, 32, (pictured), from Hertford, who returned to work three days after giving birth, didn’t want her identity to be swallowed up by being a parent

Charlotte Caleb, 32, (pictured), from Hertford, who returned to work three days after giving birth, didn’t want her identity to be swallowed up by being a parent

‘Although I’m not a massive “baby person”, I’ve always wanted children,’ she says. ‘When lockdown happened, everything slowed down. Philip and I both are very career-oriented and highly travel-oriented. However, getting off the hamster wheels made it easier for us to reassess our priorities and decided that the right time had come.

‘When I fell pregnant last year, I was terrified of telling clients because I never want anyone to think I’m not going to be as sharp as I’ve always been. A friend of mine in the same field had to quit when her child was born. I built it up in my head that I was letting everyone down — but of course my clients couldn’t have been nicer about it.’

The couple realized that Charlotte was earning slightly more than her husband and it would make financial sense to have Charlotte return to work.

‘We could survive on my salary alone but not my husband’s — and in any case, it would just be surviving, not living,’ she explains. However, money wasn’t the only consideration.

I didn’t want to be someone who only talked about her baby 

‘I am one of those women who has to be doing something. I can’t sit around. I am passionate about my work and make my husband mad by all the money-making and crazy business ideas. We started a Caribbean food delivery company after lockdown occurred and our normal work was slowed.

‘I am not judging anyone else’s choices, but I simply couldn’t be one of those mothers who takes a long maternity leave. They always seem to have to plan things like coffee mornings and playdates but that’s not for the children’s benefit, it’s so the mothers don’t get bored. Playing with cardboard boxes would bring joy to the child’s heart.

‘I’ve had run-ins with mothers who can’t understand why I’d want to go back to work so soon, but it’s no one’s business but my family’s.’

Charlotte didn’t want her identity to be swallowed up by being a parent. ‘I didn’t want to be the person who only talked about her baby all the time,’ she admits.

‘I suffered with mild postnatal depression and for the first three weeks of his life I kept bursting into tears and had some quite dark moments. It was almost like I had an anchor once I got back to work. The person I was before Cassius was still in there.’

Emma Cusden, 33, (pictured) from West Sussex, who returned to work within hours after giving birth, was already three months pregnant when she started her own healthcare marketing company

Emma Cusden (pictured), 33-year-old from West Sussex. She was three months pregnant at the time she founded her healthcare marketing business.

Charlotte returned to full-time work within days after giving birth. She was able to set up meetings, look after clients and resumed her job. And she hasn’t regretted it for a second. ‘The pandemic made life easier for me because in the early days I could breastfeed Cassius and have a Zoom meeting at the same time, positioning the camera so no one could tell,’ she says.

‘At first I thought I was superwoman, that I could take Cassius to actual meetings, tours and shoots. Although I believed in myself, it was a little too optimistic. I didn’t factor in things like him being sick, and that has been the biggest challenge — juggling a sick child when you have meetings to attend.

‘But we manage somehow. I may miss a call occasionally if he’s ill, and my mum will help out if I have a vital meeting. He’s now in daycare for two half-days a week and that will slowly increase over time. We are just trying to get by for now.

‘I actually feel he benefits from me being at work because he’s mixing with other children — and it’s good for boys to see their mums working and see that my role is just as important as Daddy’s.’

I love my children but I couldn’t do it full-time like some women 

While Charlotte insists she was happiest working from day one, campaigners warn that not everyone taking a ‘mini maternity leave’ finds the decision so easy.

‘We are increasingly hearing from women who feel forced back to work earlier than they would like,’ says Ros Bragg, director of the charity Maternity Action.

‘We know from pre-pandemic research that financial issues above all else determine how long a woman takes in maternity leave. It is also known that many women return early to avoid being fired.

‘Pregnant women and new mothers are often among the first to be unfairly targeted for redundancy.’

In July 2013, a survey found that 11% of pregnancies had experienced or were expected to experience job loss. Pregnant Then Screwed found that 61% believed their maternity leaves played some role in the loss of employment. Another factor that affects women who return to work is the cost of living. According to the Child Poverty Action Group charity, raising a child to the age of 18 costs a typical couple £151,000 — that’s around £700 a month — and few families can afford that with only one parent working.

Angie Willingham, 38, (pictured), from Hertfordshire, who returned to work after four weeks, was the first woman in her company to have a baby

Angie Willingham, 38, (pictured), from Hertfordshire, who returned to work after four weeks, was the first woman in her company to have a baby

Emma Cusden (33), knew that it was risky to open her healthcare marketing business in January 2020. She was three months pregnant and already had her second baby. She was thrown off her feet by the pandemic.

‘I already knew I’d have to return to work relatively quickly because I’d taken on new clients and I couldn’t suddenly take three months off,’ says Emma, who lives in West Sussex with her husband Johnny, 35, a firefighter, and their children Freddy, five, and Sailor, one.

‘But lockdown hit my business hard. Although I was able to expand into healthcare, it was still worrying. I felt in a permanent state of fight-or-flight, which isn’t healthy when you’re five months pregnant.

‘One of the reasons I booked an elective C-section was so I could feel a little more in control.

‘The NHS was brilliant about it. The operation was scheduled for July 21st 2020. I could send emails up to the time I was taken into hospital. Then I hoped to relax for two weeks with my baby.’

Emma didn’t do such a thing. ‘I had Sailor at 11am, and at 2pm I was responding to emails,’ she says.

‘One nurse said: “Aren’t you supposed to be on maternity leave?” but when you have your own business, it’s not a luxury you can take. I wasn’t about to back off and lose clients.

‘I had a ten-week battle with mastitis and ended up in hospital on an IV drip. Johnny brought Sailor with him when I was still working in my bed, and that gave me some relief.

‘I remember the midwife saying I needed to slow down and use the two hours for myself to heal. I look back now and think that maybe if we hadn’t been in a pandemic, I’d have been more relaxed.’

Emma regrets missing out on the ‘baby bubble’ she enjoyed for the first couple of weeks with her elder child, Freddy — but, like Charlotte, she feels work is a strong part of her identity.

‘I feel very rewarded being a working mum,’ she says.

‘My mother was the breadwinner and I look back and realise it must have been really hard for her to miss out on moments in my childhood, such as piano recitals.

‘But I can do both because I work for myself and can juggle appointments. What’s more, we can afford nice holidays and treats for the children. It’s good for them to see that I earn as much as, if not more than, my husband.

‘I’ve had comments from other mums such as: “Don’t you feel like you’re not spending as much time with your family?” I have one friend who gave up her career for her baby, but that meant she also had to give up her car and go everywhere by public transport. I’d really miss my independence.

‘Freddy will sometimes say to me: “You’re always working!” and we’ve explained that one of us can stop working but that would mean no £100 trips to the zoo or sports such as rugby and horse-riding.’

They have hired a full time nanny. ‘Our nanny Sarah has a degree in childhood psychology and being a ‘mother’ comes naturally to her. Sailor gets one-on-one attention from her nanny and she takes her to the library, or petting zoo. Am I jealous? Only in the sense that I’m jealous of anyone’s natural ability to mother a young child.

‘I’m not like that. I love my children but I couldn’t do it full-time like some women. I was breastfeeding up until six weeks ago, but I’m happy being back at work.’

Although some may be able to understand why you must return quickly to work if you own a business, how about the mothers who had to go on maternity leave when they could?

Angie Willingham (38), works as an anti-money laundering specialist. Although she could have been on leave for many months, but not at full pay, Angie Willingham decided to come back just four weeks after having given birth to Carter in May. Kris, her 38-year-old husband, took 50 weeks from his position with the council in order to become a father full time.

‘I couldn’t wait to get back to work,’ says Angie. ‘I love my son but when I wasn’t working, I felt a part of me was missing. Kris and I discussed money, where and how we’d live and when I was pregnant. I’ve reached senior leadership level and I have always wanted to be at director level by the time I’m 40. I still have that goal.’

Angie, a Hertfordshire resident, was able to work up until two days prior to her May C-section.

‘I was the first woman in our company to have a baby,’ she says. ‘I was still on probation so in theory I wasn’t able to benefit from the 90 per cent salary [to qualify for this statutory maternity pay for six weeks, you must have worked for an employer for at least 26 weeks]. They paid me four weeks after I requested it.

‘I told myself I’d take four weeks off and organised everything from food to a masseuse in that time,’ she says. ‘But even then, I missed work and was only 95 per cent switched off because I’d check in regularly with a senior member of the team and look at emails.

‘I have no regrets. Carter deserves so much attention but mentally I know I can’t do it.

‘Thankfully, his dad is a wonderful, natural father who is happy to take him to things such as baby sensory classes. But I can’t be a full-time mother — I’d go crazy.’