Nothing really prepares you for the big shift that happens when you add kids into your perfectly balanced work-life equation. The big impact this little person has is certainly life-changing for many different reasons. Of course some have that ‘village’ around them and some don’t, but either way it’s hard to prepare yourself no matter how many stories you hear.
Before having kids I was a graphic designer making my way into the competitive world of digital design in London. I’d worked in some very interesting places on some very interesting projects, including the BBC Olympics. Everything was going as I planned, my work-life balance was good and I could see a bright future ahead of me.
But when my partner and I decided to have kids I didn’t anticipate the impact something so beautifully life-changing was going to have on my career in the way that it did.
It was like being in a boat and watching it drift from the shore, the sight of land gradually getting more and more distant.
I had my first child seven years ago. At the time I was freelancing so the challenge of returning to work after maternity leave was a tricky one. Life as a freelancer means maintaining a network of people and leads for the next project. Something that requires time and planning. With a new chaotic and unpredictable life with a baby, all that was very difficult to manage, so things didn’t turn out well. Although I did some freelance work during the first two years, my confidence started to fade away as my contact with the industry and people became less and less. It was like being in a boat and watching it drift from the shore, the sight of land gradually getting more and more distant.
My second child came three years after my first one with another wave of beautifully life-changing force. Though this time, the force was enough to take me down to a darker place. I was soon diagnosed with severe postnatal depression, a place where the thought of working again was simply non-existent. Every day was bleak and hopeless, I couldn’t recognise the person I became, I stop enjoying things I loved, and found myself immersed in this circle of negative thoughts.
It took time (around 3 months) but with the support of my partner, my GP and 1-2-1 counselling I slowly found my way back to a normal life again and gain enough confidence to start considering working again. At the beginning, I started applying to very junior and intern positions, those more willing to be flexible, but deep inside I was struggling to accept the fact I was about to start my career from scratch (having 8 years of experience), a position that lots of new mums find themselves in after having children, that only makes them feel worse and not very valuable.
The real turning point for me was when I was contacted by two ex-colleagues about a position at Idean UK. A role that turned my life around in the most positive way. I was not only given the opportunity to return to a proper (very cool!) workplace after six years of unemployment, but also the ability to work part-time (currently three days a week) and work around my family’s schedule. Life with small children can be quite demanding, hectic and unpredictable, but having the support from your employer to focus on work and output instead of time and hours is reassuring and helps keep anxiety and depression at bay.
Although that perfect work-life balance will never exist, I’m grateful I was given the opportunity to have a choice. Not between work or a full-time mum, but a middle ground. One where I could do both. It was this opportunity that helped me find peace with myself and my mental health has since improved in giant leaps.
All that said, coming back to work after such a long time was a nerve-racking experience and building my confidence has been a slow journey. I had to fight back all-absorbing thoughts of Imposter Syndrome but I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by incredibly talented people that helped me believe in my work and skills with their support and understanding.
Of course it all comes with a price. I’m aware that my career progression won’t be as fast as other full-timers. I know I will still miss a lot of what’s happening in the studio when I’m home and that after-hours drinks might be tough. I’ve accepted I won’t be able to travel much, but it’s a good kind of “sacrifice”.
Idean UK launched their Mental Health Policy last month which is an effort to remove the stigma around mental health, especially in the workplace. It felt like the right moment to share my personal story and help new mums or anyone that could be experiencing the same in their lives.
What I learnt from this is, when you are in a bad place, when depression or anxiety has become part of your life, it’s easy to forget that there’s hope, that help exists. So asking for it is essential and life changing. Either on a personal level or at your workplace, taking that step could be what it takes to recover.