Whilst reading through this submission from the wonderful Mel I found myself nodding and thinking ‘Hell, yes!’. How on earth do you combine drive, ambition and a demanding career with having a baby? How do you balance working life with family life? Mel’s at the beginning of her journey and is already finding she’s making changes…
In hindsight, perhaps deciding to try to start a family at the same time as beginning a new career wasn’t the most logical choice. Learning the ropes of a completely new job and trying to impress at the same time as remembering all the ins and outs of a new routine is exhausting at the best of times. But adding in the pressure of attempting to make a baby brings a completely new dimension to everything. Oh yeah, and did I mention that my new chosen career path is in teaching? That’s right, that job that’s well-known for easing newbies in gently, allowing them plenty of free time for fun and relaxation. Ha! Around 10% of newly qualified teachers quit during their first year of teaching. And presumably they’re not all trying to sandwich an over-active sex life in between marking 30 stories about Moshi Monsters either. I pride myself on being a woman who likes a challenge, but this time it’s highly possible I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.
Coming home and having sex far more frequently than we have done for a long time is just an added thing on the to-do list sometimes. I mean, if you’d just spent all day with a class of small people, one of which was sick, three of which cried, and five of which had a fight over a Cheestring at lunchtime, would you rather a) put your pjs on, crack open a family-sized bar of Dairy Milk, and catch up with the latest goings-on in Albert Square, or b) have a shower, look seductive and have frenzied, passionate sex? And don’t think I don’t know that those of you who answered b) are lying. All this bedroom activity sounds great, in theory. But good god, I really do not want to have sex again, thank you very much. We just did that 2 nights ago! Why are we doing it again already? Isn’t this harassment?
And that’s only part of the problem. From the moment my husband and I decided we wanted to have a baby, I appear to have undergone some kind of career-based surgical procedure overnight. I have had an ambitionectomy. I’ve always been a high achiever; I did well academically at school and uni, did a Masters degree purely because I quite fancied it, and spent seven years building up my career. I tried new things, developed exciting projects which led to national partnerships and slots speaking at training days and conferences. I got excited about ideas and opportunities, pushed to make them happen, always wanting to be at the top of my game. I was desperate to be recognised for being good at what I did. Then I fancied a change. Moving into teaching meant training for a year and it was hard. But I took my previous philosophies in with me, and fought. It turned out that I loved it even more than I thought I would. I couldn’t wait to find a job, do well in it, and keep pushing my practice even further.
And then the baby thing happened. Once we realised that we were ready, we fell hard. Suddenly, babies were everywhere and we were impatient and desperate and covertly sneaking around Mothercare, cooing at sleepsuits. Don’t mock, I’m sure we’re not the only ones. And in turn, my attitude to work changed. I found myself questioning why exactly I was working late every evening and during the weekend – and not because I’d rather be out dancing. Well, not just because of that, anyway. The questions started coming in their hundreds: What would my maternity rights be at this school? What would happen if I got pregnant during my first year? How would I balance a baby and a job that is this demanding? Would our family finances cope if I chose to work part time? I’m still trying to develop as a teacher, but every decision is accompanied by a small squeak in my head that says “Hopefully soon you’ll be out of here and looking after a baby”. I’m not desperate to get to the top of my profession; for the first time in my life, I’m just happy to pootle along for a bit, and see where that gets me. It’s disconcerting. I feel like I’m letting myself down.
It was like, as soon as the idea of having a baby became an immediate desire, I stopped being me. Where has my drive gone? My goals? Initially, I felt unsettled and strange. All those years building up a career, and now it was as if I was wilfully knocking it all down with a wrecking ball made up of “barefoot and pregnant” fantasies. What kind of a woman does that make me, anyway?
And then I realised: pretty much the same woman that I was before. I haven’t stopped being me; I’m just making a few alterations. I’m still driven, ambitious. But with different goals – not career-based, but family-focused. I’ve approached everything I’ve done in my career with one aim in mind: be successful. So why wouldn’t I approach starting a family with exactly the same mindset?
Hold onto your hats, folks. If anyone out there is going to be the best at simultaneously having sex and making maths resources, I’m going to make damn sure it’s going to be me.