I have a confession. I thought maternity leave would be easy. So easy, in fact, that it would be the perfect time to start a business. All those hours to while away without my day job – what on earth would I do with them? Needless to say, I had no idea what was about to hit me.
When I found myself pregnant during during the Australian bushfire crisis, I wanted to do something to help in the fight against climate change, So, I combined my passion for sustainability and need for baby clothes, to create Conscious Koala, an ethical baby clothing company.
Starting a business is no mean feat, but throw in a newborn - and a pandemic - it has been one wild ride! But I couldn’t have done it without the help of four friends I met via Peanut, who helped me navigate the first year of motherhood and who gave me the confidence to believe in myself. This is my story.
The loss of identity a new baby can bring
Having my son has been the most wonderful, life-affirming experience. But holy crap, those early days were tough. What I didn’t factor into my business plan was a baby who’d only sleep on my chest, who would scream if anyone else held him, and sleep deprivation so debilitating that I could barely spell my own name. But more than that… A loss of identity.
Just the other day I walked past my neighbor. I smiled and greeted her as usual, she looked at me blankly for a few moments, then shook her head and laughed “I didn’t recognize you without the baby”.
And for a long time, I didn’t recognize myself without the baby either. I’d swapped dresses and heels for track pants and milk stained maternity bras. The dark circles under my eyes served as battle scars from whichever sleep regression I’d most recently conquered. I struggled to see how this softer, wearier woman was the same person. Pre-baby me was impeccably organised, a do-er… while post-baby, it was a good day if I managed to shower.
Finding my confidence by finding my tribe
Four friends helped me find my confidence again. I met these women, fellow mums, via Peanut (the Peanut app is a social network for women across all stages of motherhood - whether you’re trying to conceive, pregnant, and already a mother.)
Meeting these women via Peanut allowed me to find support through shared experience. It gave me a chance to not just talk about sleep routines and baby monitors, but the mischief of our pre-baby days, the loss of identity, and my business idea. These women were the reminder that I needed; although I’m a mum, I’m still me. I can still have fun, have grown up conversations, I still have something to offer (besides my boob at 4am).
The power of perspective
When I told my friends that I was struggling to see myself as an individual, that I was feeling guilty for trying to launch a business when I should be giving every moment to my son, they couldn’t have been more supportive. They were not only reassuring, but helped me see things from a different perspective, by sharing some of their own experiences.
When I asked them what their careers, or interests, meant to their identity, there emerged a theme of gender equality, wanting to show their kids that they are individuals in their own right. One friend said she is not only a better mum, but a better person, for working. She explained that she enjoys being able to focus and get creative, while not getting bogged down in the daily grind of mum life makes her appreciate her time with her son.
Aside from showing me a different perspective and helping lessen my mum guilt, my friends are my biggest cheerleaders! There’s nothing like a pep talk from your girlfriends to lift you up when you’re having a confidence crisis. These women enabled me to believe in myself again, and finally go for it and launch my business.
Top tips for juggling mum life vs work life
I’m now almost a year into Conscious Koala and some days I feel like I’ve got it all figured out, but other days I feel like a total failure because I’ve never made rainbow spaghetti or I forgot to buy my son an Easter egg. Which, to be completely honest, is how most working mamas feel.
But there are a few things I do to stay sane in the juggle, so here are my top tips for balancing work life and mum life.
- Get organised, have a routine that works for you as a family and creates structure and predictability to the week.
- Automate wherever possible. Think nappies on subscription and meal kits that remove the mental load of having to come up with an idea for dinner.
- Look after yourself, both physically and mentally. Exercise, food and having some time to chill out are all important.
- Outsource cleaning and other tasks if you have the budget, if you don’t, designate a short amount of time to that task.
- Be kind to yourself. Accept that there’s only so much you can juggle in one day, if you don’t have the energy to vacuum or serve the kids toast for dinner once in a while, who cares, no one’s watching.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help, from your partner, family, or friends. We need our tribe more than ever as new mums.
And my number one tip? Make time for fun! Because sometimes, you just need to drink a few margaritas and talk about your sex life with your Peanut mama friends, to feel like yourself again.