I used to think that being a Mumpreneur was the epitome of having it all.
Woman gets pregnant, goes on maternity leave and conceives business idea while getting frustrated during a nappy change or when unable to locate latest health-food in the baby section. Supermum launches business with £500 and manages the business to success while juggling breastfeeding and working brunches.
Success stories of the likes of Natalie Massenet, (Net-a-Porter) and Michelle Mone, (Ultimo) defined 'Woman-power' in the noughties. Along with equally inspiring Daily Mail and Telegraph headlines: 'March of the mumpreneurs: 800,000 women run their own businesses part-time' and 'Mumpreneurs generate £7bn for the UK economy' meant there was no reason to believe otherwise.
Finally, I didn't have to choose between mummy guilt and remaining a useful member of society. I really could have it all, if willing to accept that procreation is no excuse for sitting on my arse, being a mum.
I got pregnant with my second child in 2012. Feeling disillusioned, undervalued and surplus to requirements as a CPS project manager, I was first in line to put myself forward for VERS (Voluntary Exit). With half a business idea, money in my pocket and oodles of free time I had it made that first year. Nine months paid maternity and a civil-service payout sponsored the lifestyle I was accustomed to. I contributed half the living expenses, took on part-time work and gained my first contract with a top PR agency. What went wrong? Getting pregnant again.
My full-time PR contract and sole source of income had come to an end and savings had dried up. One self-employed income wasn't enough to cover living costs, so I applied for jobs until I looked pregnant, constantly panicking about the inevitable post-offer confession. Unsuccessful, I signed up to an agency that despite my expertise could only produce £8 hourly shift-work at a call-centre, a far cry from my middle-management salary. A single contract offer was rescinded when it was decided my antenatal appointment that week posed too much hassle.
17 years after my claim for income support as a single, teen mum, I found myself back at the Jobcentre, professing a desire to work. All I wanted was to enjoy my pregnancy. Switched appointments, misinformation on available support as a self-employed mum-to-be, interrogation on why my partner hadn't sold his flat and the general disdain I was treated with, as a 'JSA claimant' stirred a sense of civil worthlessness. As a black, council estate raised, teen mum I'd suffered my share of social marginalisation. I had to keep reminding myself that after 11 years as a taxpayer, I was entitled to claim something back in my time of need.
It was strange sitting cap in hand, before fellow public servants, who seemingly relished the power that came from telling me off for being 15 minutes late for an appointment I wasn't told had changed.
After working so hard to climb the social ladder, here I was sat in a 'dole' office asking for handouts because I had had the 'misfortune' of getting pregnant. With mounting debt and constant guilt about financial pressure on my partner, I lost all sense of self. Equality was a joke. What equality allows a pregnant woman the indignity of signing contribution-based JSA because she wasn't a single mum? Yes, I had a partner but work was seasonal and didn't pay enough to cover four of us let alone five. His property being a one bed was cost neutral. Left to move into my two-bed council flat so we could be a family. We couldn't afford to buy a bigger home. Being a single mum never looked so appealing.
I experienced first hand the fallacy of gender 'equality. I was part of the invisible underclass. The women never mentioned in the Budget, because we don't count. We weren't told that equality doesn't work when you're job-hunting when pregnant, or you accept the role of SAHM. Our partners weren't taught that housework and childrearing contribute greatly to the macroeconomics of the home, saving on extortionate childcare, cleaners and takeaways. I silently cursed my mother-in-law for making housewifery look easy and raising a son who would never believe otherwise.
I became part of a frustrated minority, suffering in silence. I read 'Lean In' by Sheryl Sandberg and felt cheated; I knew that being a black working-class female, the foundation of a progressive upbringing wasn't part of my toolkit, shared childcare not an option. My struggles are different. Not harder but different. Several friends have found themselves in similar financial quandaries, giving up promising careers to manage their homes. The 2016 Budget may help SMEs but has failed working class mumpreneurs and seemingly SAHM's in general, but what's new? I guess that's capitalist equality for you.
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