When it comes to work I feel like I’ve reinvented myself more times than Madonna. My first job out of university seemed to be going brilliantly; it was hard work but huge fun and the money was pretty good. I bought a flat in London at 23 which I’m still so proud of managing. Those were the years when I walked 5 miles a day to work to save on bus fare and lived on office toast and jam (and a bag of tangerines to avoid scurvy!) so I could pay the mortgage and still go out with the girls and glug cheap wine. And then the shit hit the fan badly. The company I worked for was in trouble, my friends there were in trouble, and although the shit wasn’t directed at me it was still one of the most stressful situations of my life, especially with an enormous mortgage to pay. And when I say stressful, I mean stressful. There are people in jail now.
When you’re the goody-two-shoes girl that never smoked or handed homework in late because you were too sensible, and used to measure the broken halves of a chocolate bar with a ruler to make sure you were sharing fairly with your sister, this sort of stuff isn’t exactly water off a duck’s back. Of course I tried to dust myself down and bounce back, but anxiety had hit me hard and I had completely lost my confidence. Luckily for me, amazing friends (you know who you are, thank you, thank you) offered me work and helped me get myself back on track. Helped me remember that I was bright and capable and actually good at stuff.
And I worked hard and saw a new way to go with my career, because I’ve always loved my work and been ambitious, and I’m not a quitter. And so I started again. I waited and impressed and tried hard, and finally a great, permanent job came up with an amazing company I’d been freelancing at, which they asked me to go in for. A company that’s a leader in it’s field, a place I loved working, a place I felt I could go far in. But I was 6 weeks pregnant.
I don’t know what would have happened if I’d told that company I was pregnant, whether it would have changed anything for them or not. But this isn’t really about them. The little I knew about maternity rights meant I did know that I wouldn’t be entitled to statutory maternity pay with them as I wouldn’t have been working there for the required time before I got pregnant, whereas the terrible part-time job I had at the time would qualify me, just about. The terrible part-time job where the boss had asked me, through gritted teeth, if I had been trying to get pregnant.
The idea of having no income at all while I covered myself in someone else’s shit and vomit for a whole year while clinging desperately to my remaining brain cells wasn’t very appealing. But having a short maternity leave, rushing back to work and out-sourcing the mother bit didn’t seem all that brilliant either – because flexible working? Forget it, I told myself.
And so, for me, just as I’d finally got myself back to a shiny corridor of career options with a sparkly door to success and financial security and self-worth ajar and flashing at me, the rug of opportunity was pulled from beneath my feet. The Daily Mail would tell you, by my own womb.
And I didn’t want to ‘let anyone down’. So I let myself down. I didn’t try to see if it could work and I wasn’t brave enough to ask the difficult questions. I felt like my life was on hold now I was pregnant, because that’s what society tells us happens, and I let that define me.
I work for myself now (more flail around in pyjamas with child snot in my hair – it’s evolved from shit and vomit for the most part at least) because that’s how things have ended up for me at this point. Because I wanted to be at home when my kids were little, but I didn’t want to stop working and I didn’t have a job that could facilitate that, so basically I made one up. Because I want to work, I need to for my sanity, and why the hell shouldn’t I, just because I grew a person.
I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking she will have to turn her career upside down or miss out on brilliant opportunities because she has a baby in her belly, or might want to have one there some day. A big part of it is how companies provide working options for their staff, but it’s also about how we view our own value as women and mothers (or mothers-to-be-some-day) in the workplace, and what we’re prepared to fight for. For our friends, our colleagues, our daughters. And ourselves.
In my world of film & TV (I run a talent agency alongside my This Mama Does cards), Raising Films are asking the difficult questions and pushing for change – because losing women behind the cameras means losing women and female stories in front of the cameras. And if you believe that “you have to see it to want to be it” then we need women there – more on why I think that’s important here.
For the working world at large, I have watched with huge admiration the Flex Appeal campaign Anna Whitehouse aka Mother Pukka is building across all industries. One that we can all get behind, whether we’re employers, employed, self-employed, or raising little people who will want to be employed one day. It affects us all. If you want to get involved (you should, it’s important) then follow Anna (on Instagram and Facebook) for updates, and there’s some things you can do now here.