You Can Have a Career AND be a Mumby Gemma Campbell
Aged 27 I secured a Head of Faculty role at a private boarding school. I was on the career trajectory to Deputy Headteacher by 35. Apart from that, I didn’t want to be a Deputy or even a Headteacher. In teaching, however, if you wanted to prove your worth it seems progression meant moving on up the ladder into management. I also had no interest in becoming a mother. So there I was, working all hours in a job I loved but one that was all-consuming and with no real impetus or desire to go anywhere else. And then I got sick.
My doctor diagnosed Acute Homesickness but it manifested itself in anxiety attacks and depression. My counsellor told me to quit my job, move home and go for long walks along the prom. My doctor prescribed magic tablets however I was a stubborn mule and decided I would fight it my way. Aged 29 I asked my ex-boyfriend if he wanted a baby! I’d read that the pregnancy hormones reset the imbalance which can be a cause of depression (not true) and I was well aware that a baby was a legitimate excuse on my CV, as a woman, for some time out of teaching (true). He just thought loads of sex without strings and readily agreed. We got pregnant immediately! To cut a long story short, those who knew about my mental health issues were none too impressed. The ex-boyfriend freaked out. And I quit my job, just making the SMP by two days!
It wasn’t an overnight fix and I constantly questioned my decision right up until the last minute. There were so many stressful moments and not just through the pregnancy itself. The birth was traumatic and recovery was hampered by the on-off boyfriend situation and a neighbour dispute. Plus no job and a hefty mortgage hanging over me really didn’t help matters. It was, to all intents and purposes, a bloody stupid decision.
But my daughter was THE best thing that ever happened to me. She didn’t just fix my mental health. She healed a broken heart I never knew I had. She gave every day meaning. And she gave me back my love of teaching.
I also changed my career slightly, moving into FE as a part-time lecturer. Suddenly it wasn’t about climbing the career ladder. It wasn’t about a job title. It was about doing what I loved – which was being in the classroom – and obviously earning enough money to pay the bills and have fun with my little girl.
Over the years I was rewarded with another promotion with a full-time permanent contract and all seemed great until they pulled my course. It wasn’t personal, merely a cost-saving decision, but I knew my CV would look a little odd going from a course Coordinator back to just a lecturer. I was 34 and once again decided it was time for another career baby. This time though, it was much longer in the conceiving and there would be months where I would wonder why my body wasn’t doing what I thought it was made to do.
I’m now back at work just as baby number 2 turns 9 months old. I’ve dropped back down to part-time and the ex-boyfriend and I are now definitely back on with 2 gorgeous babies together. My mental health couldn’t be better and my career looks great on paper and is pretty good in real life too.
I’ve got friends who are desperate for babies and just can’t seem to get pregnant. I’ve got friends who have sacrificed their careers for their dream family and I’ve got friends who have sacrificed any chance of babies to progress their careers. As terrible as it might seem written in black and white, my career babies may have been mercenary choices, but both were and are the best decisions I’ve ever made. And as I come up to my 37th birthday my choices are wide open. I can continue to put my family first or I can juggle my career around my family as increasingly, flexible working options in teaching are becoming the norm, even for leadership positions. Maybe when I’m 40 I’ll make a decision for my next step career-wise. But for now, I’m enjoying the best of both! I have my family and I have my career.