Family life: Wife to Nic* and mother to two year old son, Michael*
Work life: Junior Lecturer turned Freelance Social Media Manager and business owner
Before she was a mum, Ana* was a Junior Lecturer in Japanese, Romanian and English at two Universities. She also tutored privately, was a freelance translator and co-founded a business start-up. She enjoyed a flexible, diverse but extremely busy work life.
In February 2013, Ana and her husband, Nic*, moved from Romania to the UK. They had always loved to travel so when Nic was offered a transfer, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
Visa restrictions meant immigrants required sponsorship to work. So Ana planned to take a short career break while they got settled then start job hunting that Summer. They would save for a year or two then travel the world for a year before starting their family.
That was the plan…
Just months after moving to London, Ana and Nic fell pregnant unexpectedly.
“It’s difficult enough to retrain at 30 and take your career in a whole new direction. Throw into the mix being pregnant and the fact I would need time off shortly after starting a new role to have her child… My options were increasingly limited.”
To put it bluntly, no one wants to hire the pregnant chick.
As her first year in the UK progressed, Ana was increasingly bored. She read books and she cooked a lot, but she missed the stimulation. Without the obvious ‘water-cooler-chat’ opportunities at work, Ana found it difficult to meet people. She was yet to make any friends in the UK and being pregnant only sharpened the loneliness.
In March 2014, one year after they had moved to the UK, Michael* was born. When Nic returned to work after paternity leave and Ana emerged from those first few foggy weeks of motherhood, she knew she had to break the isolation.
She met Sylvia* an NCT coffee morning. They hit it off right away. (And a year later would start a business together.) And gradually, through various baby classes and walks in the park, Ana found her tribe.
But Ana was unable to ‘switch off’ completely during her career break / unofficial maternity leave. She wrote a children’s book about accepting each other’s differences and started working with Phundee.com to raise the money to publish it. Her aim is to provide the book for free to children’s centres and libraries across the UK.
But around Michael’s first birthday (March, 2015) Ana’s mind turned to her career once again. As some of her friends returned to work, it felt strange she didn’t have a job to return to. But the questions from a year before still lingered – what would she do?
The first step to Ana’s new career came from Sylvia. She was launching a Food Assembly franchise and needed a partner. Ana started a Facebook page and began to grow their following.
Shortly after, Ana started volunteering at her local NCT branch, managing their Facebook and Twitter accounts. She fit the work into evenings and naptimes, working from her phone, her laptop – whatever she had to hand.
In the May, she read about Digital Mums; a unique six-month training course for parents to become social media managers, offering flexible hours and on-the-job training. Digital Mums said the course required just ten hours a week. That seemed manageable. (NB: this is the advanced course, there’s a 12-week course for social media novices as well.)
Ana thrived on the challenge and loved being busy again, “but it was full on and I never expected it to be so hard looking after Michael full time and trying to stay on top of the workload”.
Ana’s mum would fly over once a month from Romania to help with Michael to give Ana a few hours here or there to get her coursework done. Nic was also incredibly supportive and helping out wherever he could, lending emotional as well as practical support.
“I wanted to quit twice. I felt completely overwhelmed. Being a mum had already taken over my life and the course stole the very few hours I had left each day for myself. I couldn’t just relax and watch a movie after Michael had gone to bed or hang out with Nic. Every spare minute went towards the course or running the Food Assembly.”
As parents themselves, Digital Mums HQ were very understanding. Each intake is divided into groups of five, providing a support network of classmates all in the same boat. “Everyone was feeling the pressure and Kathryn [one of the founders] and my course tutor were very encouraging saying, “just keep going day by day, you can do it”.
Now she’s graduated the support continues with a LinkedIn Alumni group, Alumni Twitter chats, career support and more. And Ana is, quite rightly, immensely proud of what she’s achieved.
While Digital Mums opened numerous doors for Ana, she was frustrated by the industry and employers’ expectations. Part-time hours are hard to come by and many don’t offer fair rates of pay.
“Employers who don’t have children, often don’t sympathise with the demands parents face. In one interview, advertised as ‘flexible hours’ I was told that by asking for part-time hours I was asking for ‘too much’.”
Ana even applied for some internships requiring ‘extensive experience’, but was shocked to find only her travel expenses would be covered.
Four months after graduating, however, Ana now manages the social media profiles for a family-focussed online start-up and Michael has settled into his new nursery two days a week.
But it seems some habits die-hard and just as before, Ana’s work life is once again diverse, busy and far from 9-5.
She now manages the Food Assembly branch single-handedly (Sylvia took a step back after returning to work in late 2015). In November, she was made NCT Tower Hamlets Chair, and is working on a business analysis project with a local economic trust. She’s also hosted social media training workshops for fellow Phundee artists.
Oh, and crowdfunding for her book will start shortly.
For more information about some of the businesses and opportunities mentioned in this interview, follow the links below;