Being a mum isn’t easy. As well as impacting your lifestyle and career, it’s a physical and mental challenge, and a huge identity shift. But support is out there. From fostering community through cold water swimming to campaigning for fairer childcare costs, these women have your back
In the first few years of motherhood, it all gets thrown at you. Your body changes, your emotional resilience is tested — all while identity and the realities of daily life transform around you. For many, it’s difficult to find information that will help you succeed, let alone solidarity and community.
Research from the British Red Cross shows more than eight in 10 mums under 30 experience loneliness, while 43 per cent say they feel lonely all the time. Another survey from Channel Mum, a community for mothers, found that more than half of mums felt more “friendless” since giving birth, with three in five trying to hide their feelings.
“Even though many of us are aware of the postpartum changes that women experience after birth, there is still a lot of embarrassment and not enough understanding of the problems women are experiencing, both emotionally and physically,” said Danela Zagar, global brand manager at Intimina. The company, which produces women’s health products such as menstrual cups, found that almost a quarter of women who faced emotional setbacks after childbirth said these hurdles were more challenging than actually giving birth. Add to that sky-high childcare costs and trying to maintain a career and relationship, and you’ve got a perfect storm that even the most resilient among us might struggle to manage.
So, where should mums turn to for support? Here are three women championing community and working hard to make the juggle less of a struggle.
When Tobi Asare, founder of working mum’s community My Bump Pay, found out she was pregnant, she was working at a global organisation. She was the first person in her office to go through the maternity process, something she says felt like new territory.
“I was really fortunate that I was actually going on maternity leave in the same year as lots of different friends. We actually ended up making a WhatsApp group, there were over 20 of us that had a friend in common.”
The group soon became a bustling hub of questions about career ambitions and progression as a working mother.
“I just thought, oh my goodness,” Asare continues. “We’re all quite similar… mainly the millennial age group, quite ambitious, and have an equal relationship in terms of what we bring home financially.
“All these questions are really big questions for us. I just thought, there’s got to be a better, clearer and more engaging way to get this information across.”
Community has always been at the heart of it
My Bump Pay now reaches tens of thousands of women across the UK, with masterclasses, resources, and advice about smashing the glass ceiling with a baby on the way and beyond.
“Community has always been at the heart of it,” she explains. “I talk to the audience a lot. I listen to them. I share my experience, I get their experiences back.
“It’s [about] how to bounce back from those situations where you’ve just come back from maternity leave and your confidence is really low.”
In March, her first book, The Blend, hits the shelves. It guides women through working motherhood from the minute they think they may want to start a family.
She adds: “The whole premise is that it’s totally understandable when we refer to balance, but it’s actually about blending. Parenting and work are never equal on both sides, you have a mix.”
The day after Joeli Brearley told her boss she was four months pregnant, she received a voicemail on her phone. She’d been sacked. “It was really upsetting that somebody would treat me like that when I was at my most vulnerable,” she later told the BBC. “I needed them to support me and work with me. Not sack me.”
While she was forced to drop legal action due to a high-risk pregnancy and spiralling legal costs, she later channelled her anger into setting up Pregnant Then Screwed.
Launched on International Women’s Day 2015, it aimed to bring together some of the 54,000 women a year in Britain who lose their job for getting pregnant, and the 390,000 working mums who experience potentially discriminatory treatment each year. The response was overwhelming.
Since then, the project has grown to a charity that helps tens of thousands of women a year through its advice line, resources, and workshops. They’ve campaigned vigorously for women’s rights in the workplace and beyond, including taking the government to court for indirect discrimination.
In particular, their mental health support line aims to help women feel less alone. Brearley adds: “When I was pushed out of my job because I dared to procreate, my mental health hit an all-time low and it took me years to recover.
“It is important to us that women are supported to not only access the justice they deserve by using our free legal advice line and mentor scheme, but that we can help them to recover from the mental health impact of discrimination.”
Rise Fierce all began with a cold water dip in Ireland. It was a flat spell, without much surf, so Sophie Hellyer and her friends decided to go for a swim instead.
“That first day we only lasted about 30 seconds,” the former British surfing champion says, “but the feeling after was amazing. We were going to go once a week and it very quickly became daily.
“I shared on my socials and other people started tagging me saying I’d inspired them to go for a dip,” she continues, explaining that this was the start of her business and cold water swimming community Rise Fierce.
“[In the beginning, it was] about getting up with a fierce attitude in the morning and throwing yourself in the cold sea, but it became about so much more.” Today, she says the women who join her feel stronger and calmer, as well as connected to one another.
More recently, she’s also used her platform to tell an authentic journey of motherhood, sharing pictures and mishaps throughout her journey. From leaking breasts to baby sick, she’s keen to give followers real insight into staying active as a recent mum.
She adds: “I swam in cold water almost daily throughout my pregnancy. In fact, I swam right up until the day before my son was born — at which point my mucus plug came out in my swimming costume.”
Hellyer says she’s received many messages from women, some in their 30s, who hadn’t realised how post-pregnancy life looked, until they saw her posts.
She concludes: “I carried on cold water swimming because I wanted to lead an active life, I wanted to feel like my normal self.”
Main image: Dakota Corbin