In this episode Sarah shares her experiences of becoming a mum in her mid-30s. She discusses her trials and tribulations, and talks about the reality of being a new mum, and about making the transition back into the workplace.
Sarah is a successful professional who recently shared with me her experiences about her most personal transitions in life. If you missed it, in the first episode Relocation – managing the personal, the professional and the unexpected Sarah talked about her decision to relocate to be with her partner, how the move impacted her professionally, and what impact this had on her health and mental well-being.
One of the reasons why I was interested in Sarah’s story was how different her firm sounded in its culture and especially its flexibility around her role as a parent.
Having a baby is natural, but how easy is it to take in your stride?
Sarah was already step-mum to her partner’s two children but things changed dramatically when she had her son. “I was here [in her new job] about 18 months before I had Joshua. I did have some trepidation about whether this was going to impact on my career but they have been really supportive. When I had Joshua and came back to work so early the way I was treated reinforced they [her company] are living what they say.”
“Having step children lulled me into a false sense of security. I don’t think anything can prepare you as a woman, especially if you have had a career and a very structured life. Being an accountant my life is very organised; I have a set routine and pattern. The fact is your life just implodes when you have a baby. Babies don’t respect routine.”
Sarah says having a baby is the hardest thing she has ever done and “especially being here without my mum who is down south. I think my overwhelming sense was of being incredibly lonely. When I was having a bad day it didn’t feel like there was anyone to turn to and talk to. I had wanted a baby for such a long time and then when I had him I expected this moment of being completely at peace and the world being right and everything being fine and it was the exact opposite. I felt really miserable. I think then the guilt kicked in again and I was thinking why am I feeling this? I have this child I wanted so much and why am I feeling this overwhelming sense of misery and I found it really hard. The lack of routine, the lack of structure, feeling lonely, feeling you’re not a good enough mum. It was a really hard experience.”
I asked Sarah whether, looking back on it, there was something that could have helped her. “It is quite interesting; I notice just lately in the media more and more women are coming out and saying ‘I wasn’t a natural mum, I didn’t enjoy some things’. There is more of an openness in women lately saying ‘this is pretty horrible’. Having a baby is really tough and there is a pressure that you have a baby and become this earth mother. And you have this perfectly behaved baby, and you know exactly what to do, and that just isn’t real life.
“Some people are better than others but women don’t talk about it and there is just this embarrassment that you’re not this amazing mum enjoying this stuff and that you haven’t enjoyed giving away your career and sitting there with a baby. It’s not spoken about.”
Why don’t we share the reality about being a first-time mum?
“My best friend had a baby six months after me and I never said anything to her when she came round I would put this big front on about how wonderful everything was. I would break my back to tidy the house before she came round. And she said to me [when she had her baby] ‘why didn’t you tell me?’ I said I didn’t want to scare her. Having her there afterwards going through the same thing, it was just so helpful to know that I am not an evil person and I am not a bad mum just a woman who is struggling through one of the hardest things many have to go though.”
I asked Sarah how old she was when she had Joshua (35) and whether she thought it was different for her than her mother’s generation. “My mum had children really young, 19 or 20, and hadn’t really had another life already so there wasn’t something she had lost. Whereas for me I was mourning my old life. The new one I had was so unsatisfying.” Sarah also reflected on how media can make new mothers feel inadequate. “It’s very rare you see an accurate perception. It took me 10 months to get to a position where I was wearing nice clothes and doing my hair and make up.”
“My child was demanding, it would be more helpful if women didn’t feel this pressure to be a perfect mum. I think the impact of hormones can’t be downplayed as well. [It was] Not only a huge mental change, you’ve got all these hormones in your body; the two things come together and I don’t think you are thinking logically.”
I asked Sarah how aware she was of her feelings at the time and what that was like. “I felt like I was under water. I felt like I had lost me. I had gone and been replaced by someone else. Pre-Joshua Sarah had just completely ceased to exist. I had completely lost her. I was surviving but not really living. Also the impact of having the responsibility for another human being — the level of worry day-to-day that just appears. You learn to deal with that being a mum longer, but first of all, wow!”
The transition back into work … the early days
Sarah is the main breadwinner in their family. “I knew I was going back to work when my son was five months old. I felt as soon as he was born I wasn’t good enough. I thought I would cope as I am quite a pragmatic person. I remember a mum coming round with a baby who was six months old and I remember having a breakdown because I said to my partner when Joshua is that old I won’t be here. I will be back at work. It was horrible. I felt like I never settled into it because I was always worrying about what was coming.”
Thankfully, the transition was better than Sarah anticipated and life feels very much better now. She can also see how becoming a mum has helped her in her work and how her work helps her be the mum she wants to be.
In the final series Sarah talks about her working life, how she juggles her career and family life, and what it means to work for a company that lives their values and values their employees.
Interview by Yasmin Holmes
Find out what happened in Sarah’s transition back to work in the Final episode : Juggling Family and Career