I'm very proud to call Joeli Brearley my friend. I fetishise openness and honesty and Joeli's authenticity is simply inspiring. Her facebook feed makes me want to whoop and cheer and it also teaches me. It teaches me things about what it's like to be a mum who is working damn hard to keep going and do work that matters while being the best mum she can be. Her story is important and her work is vital. From taking her newborn into parliament to meet MP's to bringing maternity discrimination to the pages of Grazia magazine. Here's to ordinary women who are extraordinary. This is what Joeli has to say...
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the last year?
In the last year I have given birth to my second son, Jack, and grown Pregnant Then Screwed from a website where women can post their stories of discrimination to a project and campaign which lobbies the Government, gives women the tools and support they need to challenge discriminatory behaviour and has sister sites in the US and Spain. I have done this while working and looking after two young children who don’t sleep. My life is crazy busy, and at points, it can be horribly stressful. After my first pregnancy, I developed Post Natal Depression and I found it hard to even leave the house. The journey to recovery felt long and hard so getting pregnant again left me feeling terrified about what lay ahead.
This time, I would have additional responsibilities - my 2-year-old son Theodore and the many women who have found support and solace through PTS. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to the birth of my second son, I was scared I would let my children down, scared I would let the mothers down who needed PTS and scared I would end up horribly depressed again. I have had to adapt to ensure I can do almost everything I want to do while looking after my own mental health.
I have had to learn that my time is very valuable, for every meeting I attend or every email I read, that is precious time I am not spending with my children or time I am not spending helping other mothers overcome discrimination. I have taken my baby with me to the strangest of places, I have breast fed him while speaking to MPs at Westminster, I have bounced him on my knee while doing radio interviews and he even joined me on stage at a conference recently. I have no shame about that, I am a mother juggling two hundred things a second and if for some misguided reason it makes you feel uncomfortable, then that is your problem. I am a mother, who works damn hard and has interesting things to say, you take me as I am or not at all.
I have also had to learn to work very fast, perfection is neither important or possible. The time I have on Pregnant Then Screwed is limited and precious yet my ambitions are huge. I think it has more value if I throw something out there and tell everyone it is a trial and watch for the pitfalls than if I spend months, even years trying to perfect it. I guess in the design world you call this rapid prototyping.
Finally, Pregnant Then Screwed only exists because of the many wonderful and brilliant people who have given me their time for free. I have mobilised every possible connection no matter how weak or tenuous it is. People are brilliant and if they believe in what you are doing and you have the tenacity and courage to ask for help, then you will be astounded by how kind and giving people can be.
What’s your burning question of the moment?
How can we enable women to have both children and a successful career? This is something that men take for granted. When you start to unpick this question you see it masks a hugely complex problem that requires legislative change and a cultural and societal shift to overcome deeply entrenched gender stereotypes. I really believe that solving this is imperative if we want to achieve gender equality and I am determined to do all I can to help solve it; not just for the benefit of mothers but because I hope that by the time my sons are ready to become fathers that they will live in a culture where it is seen as normal for men to take time out to care for their children.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen/ heard/ read in the last year?
I genuinely have no time for reading anymore, which is very depressing, but I can listen to stuff when I am at home with my youngest son. I have definitely been inspired by the work of Anne Marie Slaughter, I found myself shouting and whooping when I first heard her TED talk and I have been following her ever since. I bought her book recently but of course, I haven’t had any chance to read it.
I am a huge fan of Michelle Obama (I mean, who isn’t?) and I love this conversation between her and Oprah . But I also absolutely love some of the new mum bloggers, podcasters and vloggers on the scene. In the last two years there’s been an influx of really funny women being brutally honest about what motherhood is really like, they keep you feeling sane when everything else is turning to shit. My favourites are Scummy Mummies, ‘Hurrah For Gin’ and Mother Pukka.
What would be your one piece of advice to students out there?
To women, I say: Never question your value. You do not deserve to be sacked, demoted, bullied or harassed just because you have a uterus. Let people help you and stop trying to control everything; with the right support (both in your personal and professional life), it is possible to ‘have it all.’
To all students, I say: If you care deeply about an issue then do something about it! What’s stopping you? I can guarantee your sense of satisfaction will be immense.
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