The ultimate conundrum: Children or career?

Like many young women of my generation pondering their life choices, my ambition was always to establish myself within a career before breaking temporarily to raise a family.
I graduated from Southampton University in 2005 (having therein met my husband). I joined the Metropolitan Police and invested considerable time and effort in attaining the rank I aspired to; that of Detective Constable.
Policing is not a career choice befitting the lazy or faint-hearted. It demands physical fitness. Resilience. A thick skin. Good communication skills. An ability to analyse, evaluate, articulate, plan efficiently and multi-task. In spite of the thrashing police officers get in the press, we are fundamentally good people who go to work each day not knowing when, or (in extreme circumstances) IF we will come home. I feel proud of the organisation I represent and how hard I have worked to find my role within it.

Then in March of this year I had our first child; a much longed-for baby girl we named Isla Mai. Now 7 months old, she continues to grow into a blissfully contented and curious little person, relentlessly exploring the world around her and trying to understand her place.

Isla is not the only one searching for her identity.

With Isla’s arrival came a new status for me and a period of time away from my workplace. I now find myself contemplating whether I should return to work, or remain at home full-time to raise our daughter. This is a dilemma faced by thousands of women. Whilst one view purports “proper” mothers put the needs and desires of their children ahead of their own and stay at home to care for them, stay at home mums are also represented in the media as being dull, one-dimensional and offering no valuable contribution to the economy or society.

I think your view of what is “best” can stem from your own upbringing. My mother gave up a job in banking just before I was born and did not resurrect her career until my younger brother was at school. As a result, the thought of leaving Isla to return to work (even part-time) leaves me wracked with guilt. Yet the monthly cost of nursery, for just three days a week, is in excess of £900. My husband is often abroad with work and I would have to tackle the stress of balancing childcare with working an unsociable shift pattern. I worry that sending Isla to nursery would erode the bond I have spent 7 months nurturing. It would mean sacrificing precious time together and missing some of her significant ‘firsts’.

But there is a part of me that is reluctant to abandon the job I have worked so hard for. I can’t pretend there aren’t days when I crave some adult company and humour, an uninterrupted lunch break, and the buzz of a busy office. I miss the intellectual stimulation provided by complex cases, and the sense of achievement when tough court cases go my way.

I wonder whether nursery could enhance a confidence and independence in Isla superior to that which I can instill? Does it offer educational and social benefits that children of stay-at-home Mums miss? Does spending time with new people in a different environment complement the happy and fulfilling home life it has become my utmost priority to establish? And does placing Isla in such a situation also offer me the perfect complement to my new life as a Mummy – the opportunity to thrive in a job I love?

Never have I found a decision so difficult. With the support of others I hope I can work out what is best for us as a family. But for the time being my maternity leave is in tact, and whilst the sirens continue to wail around me, I glow with pride at my most significant achievement to date. Creating Isla.

20131103-223537.jpg

9 months. 10 frames.

It is difficult to sum up your first pregnancy in a few words. The remarkable changes you go through as a person during that short period of time affect you physically, emotionally, psychologically, financially……………………

Being pregnant for the first time is like being strapped into a roller-coaster. You know at some point the ride will come to an end, but cannot predict at the beginning how you will feel as you hit each bend and loop. Your experience of the journey is unique, and although that roller coaster will be taken on by countless others, none of them will ever replicate your adventure.

The initial elation, excitement and overwhelming pangs of protectiveness towards this being I had never met were quickly blended with anxiety about our future and this mysterious new life that was growing inside me. The physical changes were reassuring and thrilling, but often painful at the same time.

This collage of my first pregnancy represents 9 months in just 10 frames. 

A hidden heartbeat. Endless excitement. Numbing nausea. Flourishing flutters. Consistent cravings. A pullating presence. Mind-blowing movement. Straining skin. Astonishing anticipation……….and limitless love.

20131028-110814.jpg