When I was young and had a career with kudos, I was happy to define myself by my career. I was proud of working in magazines and loved that people were excited by my fun job. It was always a talking point.
After Ted was born, I had a wobble about working. On one hand I had been through an earth-shattering maternity leave, where my whole life was turned on its head. You feel so different having become a mother that your goals and priorities naturally shift, but never so seismically as after a traumatic birth and a journey on the rollercoaster of life-long disability.
Lacking the motivation to enthuse about fashion, culture or current affairs, my family gently but firmly persuaded me that I should reframe it as respite and give the magazine world another whirl. While never diagnosed with PND, there was no doubt that I was pretty low and constantly stressed and in tears. Looking after Ted was hard going. He cried almost all the time (in the car, the buggy, the flat, the park, the cafe, the bus, the train…), needed constant attention, near-constant movement and often required close proximity to a warm body to make him feel safe. I struggled with his medical fragility and stressed a lot about how I could ever leave him with someone and go to work.
Luckily grandma took Ted two days a week and we found a reassuringly experienced special needs nanny for the third day so that I could return to Marie Claire on a part-time basis.
My editor was incredibly supportive and I tried to fit Ted’s many, many appointments into my two days off. London was great in that many of the therapists did home visits. His hospital appointments were at St Thomas’s, which was a relatively short-hop along the river from our offices. It kind of worked. Except that it didn’t.
Much as I loved being back there, I wasn’t coping so well.
I couldn’t be completely work-focused at the office, which made me feel as if I was letting down working mothers everywhere. There is an unspoken pressure that if you are a mother who works part-time, you need to be productive every minute of your day. You do not want to look like the flaky mum who’s just come back for the chance to poo alone, wear high heels, drink hot tea and earn some dollar to pay for your precious firstborn’s babyccinos. But it was hard to commit as fully as I needed to.
As I have said many times, parenting a disabled child is like being a full time PA – appointments to make and reschedule, consultants to chase, prescriptions to organise and pick up, therapy to do, homework from therapists, records of eating and drinking to keep, and of course the horrific sleepless nights that go with caring for a brain-injured child who wakes constantly and can take hours to settle…
Services – no matter what they say – are not very joined up. Departments don’t talk to each other well so you waste your time going over the same things over and over. Clinics do not always run on your days off, therapists cannot always come to appointments together, other people cannot answer the appropriate questions about your child so it’s hard to delegate. And when you spend three days at work, quite frankly, you don’t want to spend your precious days off dealing with this shit. I used to dread Thursdays.
We moved away from London in spring 2014. Who knows what would have happened if I had stayed. I know living there gave me the best chance of working, as I had established childcare and an employer with whom I had history and therefore a level of understanding not everyone can enjoy. But to go back to work part-time, I had to take a lesser role. I earned less money and I had missed out on a promotion while on maternity. My boss had left and had circumstances been different I would have taken that next step up the ladder. But I couldn’t. Aside from personal turmoil, this life we lead is not conducive to full-time work. Maybe that’s why only about 3% of mums in my situation work full-time.
Now we live in the West Country and Ted is at school. And yet…
I still struggle to work.
Typing that seems mad. Is it just me? How can I still be unable to work? I know I have a toddler, but that shouldn’t be a barrier to working.
I am one of the lucky ones; I actually have a chance to get back to work. Ted doesn’t have long spells in hospital. He is easier to care for than in previous years. He has some money behind him to pay for carers. I have my writing and editing background and am a qualified social media manager. These are all things I can make a business from, as I can flex it around the children (in theory). In addition to my £62 a week carer’s allowance, I am supported by my husband, which makes me incredibly lucky. We are always overdrawn to some degree but we manage to pay some nursery fees so I can have one child-free day a week.
Even still, most of that time is taken up with Ted-min. The other week, I lost a whole morning trying to find a recent enough DLA letter so that I can renew his Blue Badge. I still have to do wheelchair fittings, therapy trips, appointments and phone calls with experts and lawyers in our birth injury case, and 40-mile round-trip school runs so that Ted can have his therapy in the morning.
I am scared to hustle for clients in case I can’t manage the long-term commitment of what I take on. When Ted is unsettled and in pain, as he was for about 5 weeks around Christmas time, I am in survival mode – all my resources are taken up with his sleepless nights and constant crying/need for attention and there is nothing left for other people, especially not paying clients who would justifiably expect me to represent their brand beautifully and articulately online.
I feel totally stuck at the moment. A bit numb and unenthusiastic. Devoid of a mojo and full to the brim of imposter syndrome. The loudest voice in my head is saying all kinds of unhelpful things, such as ‘It’s too late to make a career from blogging’; ‘Who cares what you have to say?’ ‘Where’s your authority to talk about this subject? You’re not an expert’; ‘Everyone writes so much better than you can’; ‘Your photos are too crap to ever be successful on Instagram’. Eye roll, eye roll, eye roll.
What is it that is making me feel stuck? My circumstances? Or am I just making excuses? Is it fear talking?! Am I putting up barriers? Do I not feel worthy of having a career any more? Am I just lazy? I suspect it’s all of these things sometimes.
Do you ever feel this way? How do you get out of it?
My advice to myself – and to you if you need it – is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. This too shall pass and soon I (you) will be in a more productive season of life. As I take these baby steps towards building a career of something involving words and the digital world, I am like the green shoots of spring pushing their way excitedly into the sunshine and ready to blossom when the time is right. Hopefully that time, much like spring 2018, is just on the horizon…