Last year has been pretty full of changes in my private and professional life, and the ones that have probably been the hugest one in both areas got to cross in a quite unexpected way: while sharing my experience in a few conferences and one to one sessions, I get continuously asked about my experience with pregnancy and work. A lot of people were surprised about my decision to keep travelling and working up to the very last days and to speak at Way Up North in Rome just a few weeks after giving birth, and a lot of women during these months asked me about my experience sharing any kind of concerns about getting pregnant and not being able to cope with the job and life they have worked so hard to build for themselves. Before giving birth, my mind was still full of thoughts about my present, and in my present at the time there was right everything I had before, I just had to deal with it with a bigger (BIGGER) belly… so I guess I wasn’t feeling the difference or seeing the whole picture, really. Not that I am now of course (who does??), but when people came to me to ask about work and motherhood in Rome, I was actually more open to their points. More, right at Way Up North I really enjoyed Tuija Seipell‘s talk about how we get used to the status quo to the point to see a lot of things as “normal” or “acceptable” even when they are probably not, and I have the strong feeling that there are some things about the status quo of the perception of parenthood these days which isn’t very compatible with the new ways we’re creating to be fulfilled not only as professionals but as mothers and fathers as well. Some people said that looking at me keep travelling and being in Rome with my family has been an encouragement to them and even if I’m definitely no example, I do believe that sharing is one of the hugest gifts of our times and if my experience can be helpful even to one and only one of the people who asked about this in the last few months… then it is worthy to be shared.
That being said, here a few insights I’ve learned so far (please consider a HUGE “in my humble opinion” before each and every one of the following):
Chapter 1: ALL THE TRUTH, NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH, THE ONE AND ONLY TRUTH
No matter how much you try to avoid it, there will be people telling you all the truth, nothing but the truth, the one and only truth about their pregnancy, delivery and care of the baby. At the very beginning, I tried with all my energies to avoid listening to those people because I found it useless and stressful: “you HAVE TO try/do/read this and that” and “you SURELY won’t try/do/listen to this and that” were my nightmare sentences. I just wanted to be in the moment and live the whole thing as our own experience, with a bit of “serendipity” so to say. I guess a lot of you are now thinking “oh yes, right!” because this makes actual sense, BUT I’ve learned that this is partially wrong instead: this attitude lead me to not knowing a lot of things that could have been useful to me if known/listened to sooner… the issue is not about collecting other people’s different experiences, the issue is getting trapped into the absolutes. I’ve learned that it is natural to feel overwhelmed while your life is about to change that much (and you’re body is changing already) and it’s natural to use words that help feel in control, speak like it’s all figured it out, it might even happen to you sooner or later… so be kind and don’t judge others for doing so (for how annoying it can be) and listen to their experiences keeping in mind that it doesn’t have to be like that for you, but some of the things they say might actually help you in some unexpected ways. Protect yourself trying to enrich your experience instead of shutting out the people around you (they might actually surprise you in unexpected ways if you let them to). Plus, fearing to get trapped into other people’s superfluities may eventually get to be a superfluity itself and eventually trap you the same way.
What does this have to do with work and pregnancy? Well, in my experience, work & parenthood is one of the topics in which people feel less control of all, which means they are likely to come out with very strong, “undeniable” and “unchangeable” truths. I hope to give you a different point of view about some of those in the following chapters, not because it is any more valuable than others, but (as said) for the variety’s sake.
Chapter 2: TRAVELLING WITH THE BUMP / WORKING WITH THE BUMP
To be honest, this isn’t one in which people tend to tell you as much about as “travelling with the baby/working with the baby” (see below): my guess is that is because, as it happened to me, as long as you don’t have the baby screaming in your hands or some specific health conditions, your life isn’t changing *that* much. I got a few “are you still travelling??” in the airport around the 36th week (which is the limit for most of the airlines) and some questioning looks when I shoot an editorial less than one month to the due date and one day after a fake labour (one of three… it happens!!), but beside that things were going pretty smoothly. The only two things I’d love to share are:
- I stubbornly insisted keeping things as normal as possible for as long as possible, pretending I hadn’t a huge belly growing day by day… I wish I accepted all that comes with it sooner before making a fool of myself A) trying to get into my pre-pregnancy clothes at all costs wrecking half of them and travelling in some very uncomfortable outfits and B) keeping my gym subscription even when I was the worst even at the over 80s aqua class, instead of going to a more suitable (and probably more useful) pre-natal yoga class;
- to self-employed/freelance/entrepreneur mums and dads: it’s actually pretty scary to get pregnant when you don’t have a regular contract that fills your account every month, it’s part of the deal “being your own boss”. But guess what? You’re your own boss! So take advantage of that: none is going to take anything away from you (which in an ideal world shouldn’t happen if you’re an employee either but, you know), you’ll be back on business at your own pace, you’ll decide how much time you can spend with your baby and so on. Even if it’s easy to panic (I do sometimes), try to take the most out of your working choice… remember to enjoy the other side of the coin of being on your own.
-picture of us by Cinzia Bruschini–
[ Chapter 3: GIVING BIRTH ]
This has nothing to do with work so I kept it between brackets and I’ll keep it short, but I feel like it’s one of the most important life lessons I could get, so here it is. I had this idea of me giving birth in a lovely birth centre, in a pool, with as few drugs as possible, aromatherapy and hypnobirthing. Nope. Of course, I got the most hospitalised/medical birth I could ever imagine. Lots of drugs involved… I won’t go into details, but let’s just say it wasn’t what I was planning/hoping for. BUT. If meditation has taught something to me in these years, is that you shouldn’t plan anything and try to be as flexible as possible with what life offers you. Being flexible and open to what I needed in order to safely deliver my baby has been the key to me not getting into more serious troubles and, eventually, my process ended up being probably the best for me anyway for a bunch of reasons. So… I’ll just say, keep yourself open to every possibility (including but definitely not limited to pregnancy and giving birth process).
Chapter 4: THE PARTNERSHIP
This is the one thing I think our generation really needs to work on. Riccardo and I have heard so many times, and from so many different people, things like “unfortunately, the first months the man is basically useless”, “the baby will just prefer mum”, “he/she won’t settle without the mum so you [the man] won’t actually be much of a help” that we actually believed the whole mum/dad issue was true. We said ourselves “ok, I [Anna] will take care of the baby” and “I [Riccardo] will take care of you [Anna]” and we’ll make it work somehow, just because apparently this is how things go. We had the baby from 6 weeks now, and I honestly start thinking this is one of those comfortable “status quo truths” we get to accept over reality… Riccardo is fully engaged with our baby, any less than me, he is completely interchangeable with me (but for the breastfeeding of course!), Teo loves him and I don’t see any stress at all in him about being held by him instead of me. Work wise, Riccardo is going to work these first couples of months and then taking a “shared parental leave”, allowing me to work and travel the whole season. It wouldn’t have been possible to me to work at that editorial and go to Rome without the support of my husband, and I’m incredibly grateful he’s investing three months of his own work in order to support me and my business while we both take care of our baby. I know some people will read and think we’re just lucky because we “can afford this arrangement”, because we live in a country where men can take parental leave, because “men got it simpler at work if they leave for three months”, because I do a “baby friendly work” (any of these has been told me at least once in the last few months), or because ***fill the blank with any other possible rason***… but I can tell you that we can’t “afford” this arrangement, we’re “willing to invest” in this arrangement. It’s incredibly different. Men face the same risks as women leaving their careers for months, no more no less, and I think that seeing more men taking the courage to leave would actually balance women’s perception in employers’ minds as well. My work is “baby friendly” as many, many others could be… beyond a certain point, it’s a matter of choices (I do give up something for being flexible, it’s always a trade-off). About the country’s support, it is true that there are countries more supportive than others of course, but I know for sure that there are countries where the possibility of taking shared parental leave exists but people are just not used to see this as something feasible right because of the “status quo perception”: it might not be easy (it isn’t easy for women either!), it takes courage sometimes, but it isn’t impossible. And it’s a challenge we should pick together, men and women. I can’t help to thank my industry for being incredibly supportive about parenthood in general and motherhood in particular: I’ve met many wonderful people being incredibly supportive in the three days I’ve been in Rome and Cole and Jakob of Nordica Photography trusted me with their invite twice, once when pregnant for the last year’s Stockholm event and once again for Rome, even if the event was so close to my due date… to me, this little-not-so-little, very concrete actions are the best support a woman can have to think she can be both a mother and an entrepreneur (so, thank you guys!).
– picture of Riccardo holding Teo in Rome by Roberto Panciatici –
Chapter 5: TRAVELLING WITH THE BABY / WORKING WITH THE BABY
I’ve been pretty scared about travelling with the baby because A LOT of people were saying me things like “are you sure??”, “I wouldn’t dare!” but, actually, it has been even easier than I would have thought. We basically put a car seat on the chassis with adaptors and brought little Teo everywhere with us: planes, cars, cabs, buses, tube… everywhere. We love our baby and we’re not crazy so we were open to the possibility of slowing down if things were too stressful for him, but it seems that Teo likes to travel quite a lot: in fact, he adores to be on any kind of moving object. If you don’t trust me, you can have a look at him on his car seat or on his second fly to get back home:
He doesn’t look very stressed to me! I haven’t been back shooting yet since I gave birth, so about the “working with the baby” part I’ll have to get back to you in a few months… meanwhile you can follow my travels and our adventures with Teo on my Instagram or here on the blog: we know it might not be easy, but giving his attitude about travelling, we like to be positive about what’s about to come!