How did you get to where you are today?
When I became pregnant with my daughter seven years ago I had my dream job at a human rights NGO. But then I became fascinated with birth and felt vocational about supporting other women as they became mothers. I started to work as a doula after maternity leave and loved it, thinking I’d left the human rights world behind. I soon realised there was a huge cross over between my new work and my old job.
Women are so vulnerable when pregnant and the temptation to treat them as wilful, idiot children seems irresistible within our current maternity system. I was outraged about the way women were treated and the terrible impact this sometimes had on them – as well as seeing the profound and positive difference respectful care could make.
When Elizabeth Prochaska, a human rights barrister and I met, through a local case she was working on, she pitched the idea of a human rights in childbirth charity and everything came together. Birthrights has been defending the dignity of childbearing women for the last three years.
Do you miss being a doula?
I do get to do a little doula work from time to time but not as much as I’d like. It’s almost impossible to be ‘on call’ these days. I have lots of fixed commitments and two children is somehow much trickier than one to juggle when someone goes in to labour.
Of course I miss being with women through labour and birth, regularly. And it’s hard not using the intuitive, emotionally-connected part of my brain as much as I’d like. Being a doula is such rewarding work but right now for me running Birthrights, and writing, is how I think I can make the biggest impact.
I struggle to be zen. I hate parenting labels, and the implication that the choices we make might somehow make us better parents than others
Where has your job taken you?
I’m so lucky to have had the chance to travel to rural Tanzania with Amref Health Africa earlier this year. It was pretty shocking to realise the depth of poverty, inequality and hardship women face, particularly when they become mothers. Being invited in to homes, meeting midwives and doctors who work indescribably hard, and hearing new mothers’ stories was humbling. But my work closer to home is a great privilege too. I get to work on issues that really matter to me.
How do you manage your home life vs your work life?
My husband and I both work from home which has huge benefits. Sometimes we decide that Tuesday is Saturday and sneak off for a nice lunch together. We can finish work early or start late and we can pick our daughter up from school and drop her off every day. But it does mean that it’s hard to switch off from work.
I’ll often sit down again after the children are in bed and work at the weekend. We haven’t got family nearby so juggling our schedules with only part-time childcare for our youngest is tricky and sometimes leads to ridiculous arrangements, like one of us dragging the children to London on the train to hand them over to the other on the platform and head straight home. But overall I wouldn’t have it any other way. The flexibility and time spent as a family is worth it.
What does your average day look like?
Days start with the usual breakfast/school-run scramble first thing. My toddler has to do everything himself these days which takes more patience than I possess. Three days a week he goes off to the childminder and I spend those days cramming in a full working week. It’s amazing how efficient motherhood makes you.
Every day is different. Sometimes I’ll be speaking with senior midwives and doctors planning training sessions and resources for their teams to learn about human rights in birth. I do a lot of freelance writing so I’ll be pitching articles and find stretches of time to write commissions on everything from abortion rights to trying to highlight how vulnerable migrant women are being denied access to adequate maternity care here in the UK.
I try to write about things that I care about and issues I want to see in the media. At the moment I’m finishing off my new book ‘Why Human Rights in Childbirth Matter‘ so that’s a priority. Some days I’ll sit down at my desk and not look up until 3pm when my son gets home. Other days I’ll head in to London to speak at a conference, do a media appearance or cram in as many meetings as possible. I’m working on fitting in more time to do things that aren’t work or parenting but that’s the thing that has to give at the moment.
How do you spend the time you have with your children?
We’re lucky to live by the sea and have a great garden so when the weather’s up to it we try and be outside. We’ve been gardening together lately. I’m pretty incompetent but the children think I’m an expert. The beach is a favourite in the summer and we are all in to going out for lunch together. We’ve got a membership to Dreamland amusement park in Margate, the children love but they’re pretty happy pottering around with playdoh or drawing too.
I heard that it’s important for children to see their parents enjoying reading so I occasionally using that as an excuse to ignore them for an hour while I catch up on a book I’ve neglected. My favourite lazy parenting activity is the fun game of ‘helping mummy have a bath’.
What kind of mum are you?
Imperfect but trying hard! I struggle to be zen, not to lose my temper and do get overwhelmed at times. If I had to put a label on my parenting style I’d say it’s more at the attachment/gentle parenting end. But I hate those labels and the implication that the choices we make might somehow make us better parents than others.
I have moments where I’m all about sensory play and baking with my kids but underneath I’m basically just bumbling along trying not to screw them up too much. My children are brilliant though so above all I’m a lucky mum.
What has been the biggest surprise about motherhood for you?
I didn’t realise how motherhood would touch every single aspect of my life. How, even when you aren’t actively parenting, your identity as a mother is there pulsing away beneath the surface. That thing where you long for a weekend without your children but feel like part of you is missing while you’re away – and wonder why you didn’t appreciate the time off as soon as you are back to arguments about socks and relentless night wakings.
Being a mother, going through pregnancy and birth and seeing what women go through has also been the thing that has switched me on to feminism. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t realise how much women’s activism was needed until I was a mother.
What life lessons, loves, and passions do you hope to pass on to your children?
I hope we’ll have raised them to feel confident to do what makes them happy and not be trying to please us. Despite that I know I’ll be sad if they haven’t taken on the importance of looking out for the vulnerable, being kind and not being afraid to stand up for what they believe. And that it’s OK to drink gin at lunchtime if you have a toddler.