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An interview about one couple's experience of shared parental leave at the University of Oxford.

NDCN's Communications and Public Engagement Manager Jacqueline Pumphrey interviews Hayriye Cagnan and Eugene Duff about their experience of shared parental leave following baby Ida’s arrival ten months ago.

'You become a different version of you but it’s OK’, responds Hayriye when asked what it is like to be a working mum. ‘Initially you slow down, but you figure out a new way of being and become productive again.’

Hayriye Cagnan is an electrical engineer by training. A few years ago, she discovered her niche in biomedical engineering, working on deep brain stimulation therapies for conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease. The journey that would eventually lead to the birth of her baby daughter Ida began in 2011, when Hayriye started working at the University of Oxford and met her future husband, Eugene.

Over the next four years, work took them to London in 2015 and then back to Oxford three years later. Hayriye now has a Medical Research Council Career Development Fellowship in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences (NDCN), based at the John Radcliffe (JR) Hospital. She is working out the effect of different deep brain stimulation patterns. She is also investigating how symptoms emerge – what is happening in the brain when symptoms come and go?

Eugene also works at the JR, in the Paediatric Neuroimaging Group, Department of Paediatrics. His research aims to find better ways to measure and treat pain in newborn babies in hospital care. He says: ‘Currently there is a lot of uncertainty about the treatment of pain in infants. We experienced a little of this with Ida being in hospital for about five days when she was born.’

Hayriye confides that she worried about the right moment in her career to have children. She and Eugene wanted to start a family but also wanted to maintain their scientific careers. Having the option of shared parental leave meant that Hayriye had more control over when and how she came back to work. ‘I didn’t want the guilt associated with putting my baby into childcare too early in order to pursue my professional ambitions,’ she explains. Hayriye took five months off to be at home with new baby Ida, and then Eugene took three months.

Hayriye’s transition back to work was gradual; NDCN’s Human Resources team helped her create a plan using annual leave so that she didn’t have to return to full-time work immediately. Eugene agrees that colleagues in Human Resources were invaluable in making the process of organising the leave straightforward: ‘I was really happy to be able to spend more time with my daughter and to help to even out the effort involved in these first years with my wife.’

Ida is now ten months old and keeps both parents busy with her love of fridge magnets, mum’s phone and emptying out cupboards. Eugene believes the scheme has enabled them to avoid having to make too many sacrifices. He admits that although both he and Hayriye overestimated what they could do in the first few months – such as going to conferences – they have perhaps underestimated what they just might manage to achieve in the next six. We wish them all the best as they discover the possibilities.