From career woman to stay at home mum – the reality of motherhood
Motherhood is a beautiful but not always easy path. Being a full-time mum is not for everyone and the struggle of leaving a career to be a stay at home mum is real.
Today we are meeting Ana, a Ph.D. Scientist turned SAHM. From career woman to stay at home mum. A position she really does not enjoy. A topic that is often untalked-of.
Because we are not allowed to openly say that being a 24h mum is not our kind of happiness. Society still expects us to devote everything to our children and family once they enter the world.
Ana, originally from Porto, Portugal has two children, Matias is 8 and Ines is 4. Her husband Ross is British and they met during their Ph.D. in Birmingham. Ana is 38, funny, a worrier, quickly irritated and she can be extremely organised with some things but at the same time be incredibly messy. A bit like Monica from Friends. And, she says:
I love my kids but I don’t love being a mum 24/7.
For happiness, you can give her a good romantic movie or send her to Porto, her favourite city in the world. Or try your luck with a nice cup of coffee or a large glass of wine, a good game of scrabble or a dark joke.
Ana about herself:
I have always had an inquisitive mind, therefore I became a scientist. Its always been my passion. After doing a Ph.D. in Birmingham I moved to Cambridge. Where I found a job working in the field of Immunology and respiratory diseases. I loved it and I had the time of my life. As a person I am incredibly results-driven and getting results for my experiments at the end of the day was incredibly rewarding. A lot of people say it’s hard to be a scientist because there is so much failure. But because of that failure I found it so rewarding when something finally worked and made perfect sense – like mathematics.
About her family:
We love to travel and we try to do so as much as possible. Planning trips away are one of my favourite things!
My son is a sensitive person and he needs a LOT of attention from me which can get a bit draining sometimes. He is a little bit like an 80 year old man moaning all the time, but also the sweetest soul! He worries a lot about the people he loves most.
On the hand, my daughter is literally the party girl…a real drama queen…always happy and jolly but goes to complete meltdown with no warning at all! And she has to have her own way at all times and no one can convince her to do something she’s not interested in doing!
My husband and I are like best friends, and we have a similar sense of humour and laugh at the same things! We still make each other laugh after 14 years together. And we have our own little inside jokes that no one gets. He’s also my partner in crime! If my children have been absolute pains in the butt we can chat about it. And both just agree that’s not our fault and that it is just how it goes sometimes without pointing fingers at each other!
I think that’s a good recipe for a sustainable marriage – keeping it real, and keeping it fun!
View this post on Instagram
I have been a SAHM for exactly one year now and I really DON’T LIKE IT! I spent the last 2 days thinking about whether to post this or not. But this picture of our flight out of London last January popped up on my phone like a bittersweet memory of the life I left behind! I am a scientist, I did a PhD (what feels like a lifetime ago) and now I spend my days talking about dragons, minecraft and Mickey Mouse. Wiping butts, cleaning teeth and doing tedious, repetitive tasks day in and day out. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a mama bear. No one loves and protects my children more than me. But come next Monday I’m going to miss my girl like hell. I’m going to sit in the bathroom by myself and sob like a baby 😭 and I am going to count the minutes until I get to hug her again! . Am I completely crazy? I feel like a crazy emotional wreck ever since I became a mum.
Luna met Ana through her Instagram and it was her post above that made us contact her. We liked that she openly shared her feelings and spoke up. From career woman to stay at home mum. A topic that is sensitive and usually very opinionated.
We wanted to get to know Ana a bit more and learn about her story, her life and what made her decide to be a SAHM.
Luna: How did your life abroad start?
Ana: I am originally from Porto, Portugal, where I lived until I was 21, in my parent’s house. I went to a French international school until I was 13 and have always spoken 2 languages. Then I did my degree in biochemistry which included a masters project in The Netherlands. It was the first time in my life that I was away from home and I felt amazingly free. It definitely woke the little travel bug inside of me.
I then came back to Portugal to finish my masters and decided that I was done living in Portugal. Because I wanted to explore and go somewhere else. Therefore I chose Birmingham, UK to do my Ph.D. in stem cell biology. Birmingham wasn’t the greatest city to live in back then and I found the English culture hard to adapt to coming from the South. It was a bit of a shock initially.
Today I believe that you just have to get through that first hurdle. Once you stay long enough and people get to know you and you get to know them, I found that British people are one of the most accepting of others. During that time I met Ross (my now husband) and stayed for 15 years! And became British myself. Imagine the odds of that!
Did you miss Portugal?
I missed Portugal a lot, in the first 4/5 years. Then I fell in love with the UK and it suddenly became my home, even more so than Portugal. The summers drove me nuts though, with the rain and the cloudy skies. And I longed to have some sunshine on my face. Thankfully went to Portugal during the holidays and the kids got to know and enjoy it as well.
Where did you start your family?
My husband and I both moved to Cambridge after my Ph.D. And we lived there for 10 years. My children were born there. Matias, my sensible big boy who turned 8 this January and Ines who is 4 and the craziest person I have ever met! After my Ph.D., I went to work for one of the best institutes in the world. A full commitment was expected and after my son was born the work/life balance got very difficult. And I ended up leaving to work in biotech as I couldn’t cope with working so many hours.
How did you juggle your new role as a mum as well as work?
Matias went to nursery at the tender age of 8 months old but he was sick a lot during the first year. That meant, that I had to take days off most weeks. The strain at work was so bad, my boss wouldn’t even look me in the eye. I was still doing 12-15 hour long days every Friday to complete experiments in the lab, but that wasn’t enough. Of course, I didn’t give up easily though because I loved my job. It just felt at that time that the whole world wanted me to give up and look after my son. But financially we wouldn’t have been able to do it.
Looking back, that year was probably one of the hardest in my whole life. We spent a lot of time in the hospital with my son and going to work on just a few hours of sleep was so hard. I still remember sending our son to the nursery for the first time after he’d been at home for 3 months with my mother-in-law. After a week he came down with a fever again.
And I remember being so exhausted; Ross and I just lied on the floor of our bedroom crying together! It’s not always this difficult for mums, but it is never easy going back to work and balancing it all.
What did you decide to do?
I did quit eventually. I remember walking into my boss office to tell him and his reaction so vividly because he just laughed at me. There I was, giving up my whole life, the thing I loved the most and this man just laughed. It was so completely inappropriate and yet so completely normal in academia.
Anyway, I left, and luckily found a part-time job in a biotech company in Cambridge. I had Mondays off and spent them with my son. He was 2 years old and up to this day he still remembers our “Mummy Mondays”. It was the perfect balance. I had work, he had the nursery. But we had one day in the week that we spent together just the two of us. We used to cycle to the park, go eat crepes, browse the John Lewis toy section, go to soft play places. I think that was one of the highlights of my life as a mum.
How did the part-time job turn out?
Working part-time sounds like the perfect arrangement. On paper! And companies are great by offering it to people. But we are nowhere near providing part-time workers with support, or shall I say understanding.
Part-time mothers aren’t completely included, they aren’t promoted and they are expected to work 100% on that 80% contract.I know I did. I could work 80% but had no reward, no pay-rise, no recognition at all. In the current working environment where everyone works on their phone, it was also very hard to switch off. And even though I left at 3 pm to pick up my kids, expectations are still that you have to answer emails or dial into meetings on that extra time that you aren’t actually being paid for.
And that it isn’t fair, because as a part-time working mum I worked like hell. I didn’t take coffee breaks with my colleagues during the day. Or went for long walks in the middle of the day as often as non-parent workers (or full-time employers) did.
I managed my time to the millisecond. So I could clock out at 3 pm and run like a lunatic to be on time to pick up my son from school.
Then I would drive like crazy, cursing every slow driver on the way, get to school late, only to get a grumpy boy who had a terrible day and finally lashed out at me because I was his “safe person”. I know so many mothers with the exact same story, its incredible.
Companies need to do more. Part-time parents are the most efficient employers they have, yet we are treated with disdain because we clock out earlier or don’t come to work for 1 or 2 days a week.
And this is how it is. And my life isn’t harder than the average mum, in fact, I am blessed in many ways and luckier than most people. I had a successful career, I published a lot of papers in good scientific journals, I had good collaborations with academic scientists. I loved it. But it just got to a point when that was impossible to juggle with my children’s needs.
When they grow, life becomes more difficult for them, and they need us more, not less. Something I really didn’t realise before. In my mind I thought: This is great, when they are 6 and 7 and they go to school, they’ll be able to entertain themselves and be more mature. And then they need less of us…silly me!
Tell us a little bit more about your debut to motherhood.
As mentioned already, we went through some very tough times after our son was born.
And then Ines came. And she was a hurricane! I got in the hospital just in time for her to be born and she’s been like my personal hurricane ever since! I had a longer maternity leave with her – about 10 months. But I didn’t like it. I didn’t like being on maternity leave with my son, and I didn’t like it with her either.
The day was just an endless list of tasks, baby vomit, and screaming! Both my babies suffered pretty badly with milk intolerance and reflux. Both were medicated for reflux until they were 2 or 3 years old.
I think, that if she had she been my first born I would not have had any more children EVER! She used to projectile vomit everywhere. I remember some days my husband leaving to work and taking my son to pre-school and I just sat in the lounge crying. Couldn’t face another day stuck in the house with a colicky vomiting baby! I always felt like the most terrible mother when my children were babies.
I found my children much more interesting when they became 1 or 2 and they started interacting. In fact, I think 1-3 years old are pretty funny and they still nap or sit in a stroller while you enjoy a cup of coffee.
I used to be so efficient. As a scientist by training, I didn’t have much of a choice, but I am finding since becoming a full-time mum my time seems much more of a warp all day long. I never seem to stop still, yet somehow the day goes by and I have no clue what I have done all day! And somehow I am also much more tired than when I did have a full-time job. My husband comes home and wants to chat about his day and I am like “can we just sit here in silence please?”
After a difficult time with Matias, you sought help when your daughter was born, correct?
Yes, we were financially more stable and I felt like I had post-traumatic stress disorder from the previous time I had gone back to work with my firstborn. So we hired a nanny the second time around. My son had started reception and it was a perfect arrangement for our family then. I went back to work (full time), Ines stayed home with the nanny. The nanny would pick Matias from school every day as well. She helped with cooking for the kids, tidied the toys, did their laundry and changed their beds every week. So when I got home I could enjoy quality time with them.
Apart from the fact that my whole salary went to pay for the nanny. We basically lived off my husband’s salary alone, which meant the budget was tight. We would not go out for lunch or dinner. And when we went on holidays we stayed with either my husband parents or my dad in Portugal but that also meant fewer trips to Portugal to see my family.
Today you are living in California? How did that happen?
We moved to San Diego in April last year. Ross got the opportunity to come to work in San Diego together with promotion and we thought this was perfect. I always wanted to go on an ‘adventure’. Relocation with kids is one of the hardest things I have ever done. But I really believe that it helps them as people. Being more accepting of others, to be kinder to others, to be more adaptable to the changing environment around them.
Short: We put our Cambridge house on the market and I became a stay at home mum. I was needing it because I wanted to find out if it was for me. Especially after the part-time job that felt more like a 150% position.
So, you went from career woman to stay at home mum. How does it feel?
I used to actually have a brain when I had a job! Now I am a SAHM and it’s like my brain cells just all died during the last year!
Last year was crazy, between spending 3 months in Portugal with the kids, then moving to San Diego, and hoping from Airbnb to Airbnb for 4 months after that. And the kids were with me all the time. Everyday!
I had no time to process anything. We basically spent that year visiting museums, and new places so that we would always be out of the house. We lived 6 months out of 10 suitcases, which was hard because the kids didn’t have their toys, nor their craft area which they love or their comfort zone in their rooms.
But since August we have a little routine again. Matias and Ines go to school again, and it starts at 7.30am. I am not a morning person and this is the hardest thing ever. Especially when Ross is traveling.
So my morning routine is like this: I usually get breakfast ready the night before. Seriously, I put their cereal in bowls on the table, their water, and their vitamins. Covered in cling film so all I need to do when they wake up is pour the milk in. My own cereal and orange juice glass are waiting for me in the fridge too. I also prepare their clothes and packed lunches the night before. Put backpacks, scooters, helmets, shoes, and keys by the door so we just need to walk out in the morning.
On top there is all the stuff I need to remember: Two kids in two classrooms, and I have trouble remembering the name of all the kids in their class or remembering birthdays. And there is so much going on at school. Every week is pyjama day or crazy hair day or Chinese New Year. Or you are supposed to wear a red shirt. As parents, we have to be on top of everything. Plus the extra activities, show and tell and did they bring their toy back from school – of course not, that’s for mummy to remember!
I mean, I used to be a proper scientist. Now my brain is so full of random information that I feel I might explode on some days!
And I feel at this age, you are either there to listen to the whole of it or you will miss out on incredibly important things that they NEED you to know so you can help them through it.
How do you feel at the moment?
My brain feels like jelly, I miss my job terribly but I love my crazy children and their constant talking. Yet I am on constant and complete brain overload like I never felt before! So I miss having something else to focus on, I miss feeling rewarded for my work. Now I get shouted at because I am not perfect and I never get a thank you from the children. I constantly say the same things every single day, but no one ever listens. I mean lately, even my husband is doing it.
Sometimes I feel like I am transparent and not really here. Like part of the furniture because I am always around, always here. It can be incredibly frustrating.
My husband tells me that the kids are much happier and that they love having me home and I know that too but they have also become more dependent, more clingy, and a little less respectful of me. So, all in all, I don’t think staying at home all the time is good for anyone. Especially not for me. I am definitely not enjoying it. I enjoy the idea of it, but the reality is a whole different matter!
Altogether, I love to explore everywhere here and I am loving the weather which used to get me so depressed around this time back in England. We are loving the kid’s school, and everyone in San Diego is really friendly.
Do you already have plans for the future?
The plan is going back home to England in a few years. Mostly, because we miss our family terribly and we are a little too far away. I want to enjoy all the San Diego goodness before we go back though. There is just so much here that is so different from anywhere in Europe. We plan to travel as much as we can around the US and visit as many places as possible before coming back.
We have amazing families back home and we used to have a lot of support from my in-laws. They used to come and babysit once a month so we could go out. We spent weekends in London sometimes and the kids stayed home with the grandparents. In the school holiday, we would send my son to them sometimes. Or I would travel to Porto with the kids and stay at my dad’s. So our adventure in California, although fun, has got an expiry date and we will be returning to England to be close to family again.
Work-wise: My work permit has finally arrived and I do want to do something science-related. But something that I can do as a freelancer, working my own hours at my own pace. Because I want to still be able to pick the kids from school and hear the important stuff. The stuff that they need me to know that they slip out unknowingly in the middle of all the other noise they make. I want to help them with homework and fill them with cuddles and love.
What are your thoughts now about working mums?
Being a working mum doesn’t mean you love your children less. It means that you are a person as well as being a mum, and that being a mum doesn’t define you.
One of the things that annoy me most, is when I hear successful women talk about how you can juggle children and work and have it all. No, actually you can’t. Something’s gotta give. I didn’t travel much for my job and refused to do so because my husband did travel a lot. And my children needed at least one parent at home for support.
During my time as a mum, I did work full time for 2 years and I was completely run down. So much so that every time I stopped working and went on holiday my body gave up and I would get really sick.
Leaving them with the nanny is also not a suitable alternative to parenting. When we did it, I didn’t realise the extent of my son’s suffering at the school where he was being bullied constantly for example!
To finish, what would you like to tell companies hiring mums?
I think every mum or dad, should try a combination of the options. Working full-time, working part time and staying at home full-time. I realise not everyone has the luxury to do so. And in that aspect, I am incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to try all of them. For me, what works best is a part-time position, where I can do what I love but also have the time to be there for the children.
However, the way flexible positions are perceived by the workforce needs to change. As a part-time worker, you shouldn’t be expected to work the extra hours you aren’t being paid for. You certainly don’t expect that from your full-time employees.
And for example, in my previous company, I was told in one of my yearly appraisals that I would have an average grading because I spent some time on maternity leave that year. Regardless of the fact that I had achieved more in 6 months than a lot of my colleagues who worked for the whole year. My manager told me that it was company policy.
I feel that there is a big disparity between what is advertised by people to working mums and reality. And this is terrible because then it makes you feel like a failure. Like you aren’t ever good enough. Despite you putting your heart and soul to it and even sacrificing a lot of your family time for it.
This attitude, I think, is what needs to change. People need to realise that part-time workers are incredibly valuable resources. And companies need to view them accordingly by giving them the same opportunities as their full-time employees.
Thank you very much Ana for this honest interview and your time. We are sure that many women out there feel heard and can identify themselves while reading.