It's International Women's day and today is a celebration of not just who we are as women but also all that we've achieved. We recently celebrated 100 years since women were able to vote in the UK and as I look around there's so much to celebrate in terms of the movements taking place across the UK and the globe, around women's rights. These movements wouldn't begin without the courage and passion of the women who stand up and speak. Speak about their experiences, speak about injustices and speak about their visions for the future.
Today's Mama, Joeli Brearly founder of Pregnant Then Screwed shares her journey of motherhood and the story behind why she used her voice to raise awareness of the pregnancy and maternity discrimination taking place in workplace.
JOELI BREARLY - PREGNANT THEN SCREWED
Joeli Brearly founder of Pregnant Then Screwed which launched on International Women's Day 3 years ago is Mum to Theodore 4 and Jack who's 2. Pregnant Then Screwed is a safe space for mothers to tell their stories of pregnancy or maternity discrimination and to receive the support and protection they need.
What led you to start Pregnant Then Screwed?
I didn’t relate to feminism until I was 33. Although, in hindsight, there were obvious examples of gender inequality, it wasn’t something I felt was holding me back or affecting me directly. Then, in 2013 I discovered I was pregnant. At the time I was working for a children’s charity on a project which I had designed and secured all the funding for. When I was 4 months pregnant I informed them by email, I had planned everything meticulously to ensure there would be no problems for them and suggested we follow up with a discussion to make sure everyone was happy. The next day they sacked me by voicemail. No reason was given, they simply said your contract is being pulled please hand everything over immediately. I was terrified. I was 4 months pregnant with a mortgage to pay and no idea how I would ever find new employment.
Amongst the chaos, I attended a routine doctor’s appointment where I discovered I was having a high risk pregnancy. The doctor said I could go into labour at any point and said: ''whatever you do don't get stressed.''
As you only have 3 months less 1 day to raise a tribunal claim I then had a choice to make, do I risk the health of my unborn child and access the justice I deserved or do I drop the case. clearly it wasn’t a choice so I stopped proceedings.
After I had my son, I attended parent groups and talked to other mums about my experience. To my horror, I discovered that far from mine being an isolated incident, this was happening all the time. Women were being sacked, made redundant, their careers were stagnating, they were being demoted, bullied and harassed all for daring to want a family and career. But, no-one was talking about it. Just like sexual harassment, this was happening behind closed doors as to speak out would make you a troublemaker and who wants to hire a troublemaker? If you had the courage to try and access justice, you are made to sign a non-disclosure agreement, gagging you from speaking publicly.
I launched Pregnant Then Screwed on International Women’s Day 2015, initially as a way of exposing this problem by giving women a safe space to tell their stories anonymously. This was not only cathartic for the victim, but by reading other people’s experiences, women encountering discrimination started to feel less alone, the stories started to give women the courage they needed to challenge their employers behaviour. The campaign quickly gained momentum and soon the stories were flooding in.
What’s been your experience of motherhood – your triumphs and challenges?
Motherhood is more challenging and rewarding than I ever thought possible. Before I had kids my spectrum of emotion was limited. I now feel like I have truly experienced overwhelming happiness and love, but also misery, despair and exhaustion in their purest form. Kids make you the best you can be and the worst you can be all at once.
When my second child was 6 months old I walked in to A&E and refused to leave until they did something that would make him sleep. He was waking every 45 minutes and I had totally lost my mind. They told me it wasn’t an emergency and after 3 hours I was kicked out with the promise of an appointment with a paediatric doctor in 2 weeks time. That was probably my lowest point.
I am definitely one of those mums that is chaotic and unmethodical. The type that forgets it’s World Book Day and her poor child is the only one with a school uniform on but overall I think my two are pretty fantastic and so I must be doing something right.
What would you say to your pre-mum self now?
Have as much fun as is humanly possible! Go on that holiday you think you can’t afford, don't worry about getting really drunk and staying out until 4am, just damn well enjoy yourself.
How would you say your Mama Power - being vocal and proactive has helped you as a Mum?
I am very proactive with the campaign, but I am not a proactive parent AT ALL! Perhaps I use up all my proactiveness (is that a word) on the campaign so the proactive stores have run dry for my children.
Running the campaign has helped me make some terrific mum friends and I think I better understand the challenges all mums face from speaking to so many mothers over the last 3 years about their experience of managing motherhood and work. There really are some incredible women out there who are doing so much to keep all the plates spinning.
For more information on Pregnant Then Screwed visit www.pregnantthenscrewed.com