By Nami Ralph
I still remember the moment I got an e-mail from Ibrahim (Pathways Project Manager) to let me know that I had been accepted onto the Pathways Programme! My heart raced super fast and I immediately messaged my husband and my family with the words, ‘I’m going to be a children’s book illustrator.’
Whilst celebrating and preparing to start the programme, there was something on my mind that I was trying to reconcile – ‘What if I become pregnant? Can I have a baby and train to be a children’s book illustrator?’ By the time I was accepted onto Pathways, my husband and I had been trying for a baby for two years. We had been seeking medical help and things were already in motion for us to receive some fertility treatment.
The treatment we were eventually offered was Superovulation IUI. We were pregnant within two weeks of receiving it! We were so excited and also extremely grateful to the medical team that helped us. I became pregnant at the start of November 2019 and I was due to start the Pathways Programme at the beginning of December that same year.
I began to feel quite anxious as I wasn’t sure how I would be able to manage pregnancy and keep up with the programme and my full time job. There was a lot to prepare for the baby’s arrival and we were also looking for a home to buy before the baby arrived. Although the Pathways Programme is not a university course, it was close enough and there would be deadlines for briefs, lots of travel for classes and a lot of energy was required for all of it. The programme was for two years so I also wondered how I would cope once my baby had arrived.
When I got to our Winter residential in Cambridge, where the programme officially kicked off, I asked to speak with Ibrahim privately. When I told him I was pregnant, he reacted so warmly and enthusiastically to the news! He told me not worry about anything. I immediately felt better! The support shown by him has been amazing and I have managed to keep up with the Programme just as well as the other mentees.
When Covid happened, I was furloughed from work, and the Pathways Programme swiftly moved online. In a way, this massively worked out for me because I didn’t have to travel anymore and I could comfortably manage my illustration briefs.
Women work right up until a week or a few days before they are about to give birth and the same was for me in regards to my illustration training. Sophie arrived on 10th July 2020 and the programme continued over the summer period. By the time our short courses in fiction and non-fiction were scheduled in, my husband and I had got into a flow with her. My husband took care of Sophie whilst I attended the courses. I stepped away a few times to feed and soothe her. Those weekends had worked out so well that it gave me an idea about how my husband and I can manage our projects going forward. He is a podcaster and attends university so he was also trying to fit all of this in alongside his day job. We decided to split our weekend days into four hour slots. We call it 4/4. One of us has solo time from 9am – 1pm, whilst the other takes care of Sophie, and then we swap so that person has 1 – 5pm to themselves. We have been doing this now since Sophie was about 2 months old and it’s worked out great. It’s how I have managed to keep up with my Pathways briefs and personal illustration projects.
I realise that my maternity leave is slightly different. I may not be working, but I am training. The Pathways classes continue to be online, and I have regular meetings to attend. When I have a bit more to work on, I schedule some time to draw in the evenings. There have been occasions when I have been drawing until midnight and Sophie is up a couple of hours later. However, I accept and fully embrace that this is what babies do! She is developing and changing all the time in wonderful ways. In the meantime, I try and do whatever I can to strike a balance so that I can maintain my energy levels.
There are other Mums on the programme who are trying to do the same. I asked them what advice they can pass onto others about balancing training and kids, and they offered the following:
Lillian: ‘It’s all down to organisation. Last year I tried the “I can do it in the evening” approach and packed out my schedule which left me depleted within a couple of months. Now I actually block out half days where the childcare is taken care of so I can really focus. This worked much better for me as I was more productive and knew exactly how much time I had to work on my brief so I can be realistic about how much I can do.’
Lillian: ‘I also make sure I schedule time to relax, which I’ve realised from last year’s experience is super duper important. As much as I love what I do, I need time to wind down and to spend time with my family, this in fact increased my productivity when I have scheduled time to work on Pathways!’
Art is Self-Care
Jacinta: ‘For me, art is very much in the self-care category. I get stressed and grumpy when I don’t protect my creative time and fortunately my kids are old enough to understand that. Nobody wins when Mum is in a state! When my mum-guilt gets out of balance I remind myself that I want to model self-care and not martyrdom to my kids. When art gets stressful because a brief is challenging/I’m feeling frustrated, I remind myself of my no.1 creative mummy rule: if I can’t be a nice person and be a working artist at the same time, I don’t get to be a working artist anymore.’
I have a massive amount of respect for all those parents who have been balancing work and homeschooling these past few months. And especially my Pathways peers who have had to do this on top of keeping up with their illustration training.
Right before Covid, we were attending Masterclasses and Professional Development Days in person, and the other mentees always looked out for me during my pregnancy, ‘this way Mama’, ‘sit here Mama’, ‘are you okay Mama?’, ‘look how big you are now Mama!’ I couldn’t have asked for a more caring and supportive group of peers.
Being on this programme pregnant and then with a newborn has been made so much more easier with the support of the Pathways team. I’m so grateful, especially to Sophie’s Uncle Ibrahim who is always there to say hello to her on zoom, and who has been guiding me towards my dream role whilst I take care of being Mum.
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