I got pregnant with our daughter in 2012, when I was only 25 years old and newly hired by the most prominent hotel in London, the one with the best afternoon tea. The pregnancy was unexpected but so very welcome. My work as the cook in the bar kitchen was super demanding and very stressful but I loved every minute of it. Working in the kitchen was a dream, a passion.
My midwife told me I would have an “easy” pregnancy being 25 years old and healthy. This was unfortunately not true. I decided to tell my chef when I was 9 weeks pregnant and feeling miserable. I never wanted to be treated differently; I just did not want to work 10 days in row. When he scheduled me for 10 working days in a row, I was confused and told him I could not physically manage. He became angry, Italian style with shouting and stomping, saying his wife was fine during her pregnancies, and that I should be too. He shouted at me like no one should do to another person, and especially not to a young pregnant woman who was just trying to do her job.
He left me alone in the bar kitchen after his outburst. An hour later, I started bleeding…afraid and scared shitless. Would I lose this 9-week-old baby? Would I actually miscarry in the kitchen? I was rushed out from the kitchen into the taxi to the hospital, and luckily, the bleeding was nothing to worry about. But I was in shock. Did the bleeding have anything to do with the shouting match in the kitchen? I don’t know nor will I ever know. I returned back to the kitchen not wanting to stop working so early in my pregnancy. I was adamant to not have a pregnancy ruin my career or passion. However, my body acted very differently on this. Pregnancy really brings the best out of your body. Sometime in my second trimester while still at work, I experienced a migraine with visual aura that made me see colors and lose my balance as if I had an ear infection. I never had a migraine so I thought somebody spiked my drink. Again, I was rushed out of the kitchen; another chef had to help me get dressed and again I was off in the taxi to the hospital. I was diagnosed with a severe migraine attack with visual aura. The neurologist put me in a private darkroom in the Hospital trying to relieve my migraine. My sweet baby girl inside me was monitored and absolutely fine. I was not. The neurologist told me I could not work anymore this pregnancy. I was scattered. My dream of working in the kitchen was broken because of being pregnant.
Lucky for me, I passed my three-month probation and was put on sick leave, thus I did not lose my job. My pregnancy was a shitstorm and I was sick with migraines and other pregnancy-related issues. In short, it was not a happy journey. I gave birth through a C-section at a hospital in Whitechapel on the 25th of April 2013. You would think life would give me a break after the rough pregnancy, but it did not! I was diagnosed with severe postnatal depression five weeks after birth, which prompted me to seek crisis intervention and had many healthcare professionals intervening with my new motherhood. The three of us, our new family, were alone in London, fighting against hormones raging through my body. I couldn’t count the times my husband had to pick me up from the floor, nor those moments he needed the doctor to tell him to take work off to look after me. There was this brush in too at EA where the emergency team wanted to take me to a psychic ward at a women’s hospital in Hackney at the high of my postnatal depression. During these times, I was guided by the sweetest GP at the Limehouse Practice in East London. She might have forgotten about me but I have not forgotten her help and critical life-changing choices she made for me.
Funny enough, I still wanted to go back to work when my daughter reached 10 months. As we found a nursery care for our daughter, I hatched a plan with my chef husband where we could both work: I could get a morning shift in the hotel and he would bring our daughter to nursery and I could pick her up. It would be a tight puzzle and all the money from my work would go to the nursery. But I missed the kitchen and I thought going back would be good for my mental health. I scheduled a meeting with an HR staff and one of the chefs, thinking that working an early morning shift would not be a problem in such a busy hotel where the kitchen is in action 24/7. But I was wrong.
The chef did not think it would work and dismissed me in the HR office. Since I got a notice that my plan was refused, I could go into action and then the executive chef would review the case together with the HR director. I did it as I thought the response was not fair. My second attempt to return back to work was refused.
When I was invited in person to the HR office, I had to bring my 10-month-old baby with me. The executive chef and HR director explained that without my flexibility, working in the kitchen would not be ideal. They shot down my plan to be a working mother. They had forms ready for me sign, which indicated that I would be resigning from my post in the kitchen. They advised a very emotional mother to sign this form as it would be the best thing to do. Under pressure, I signed the papers and signed my job away. I remember sitting in the bus on the way back crying with my 10-month-old baby.. a 26-year-old new mother, pregnant then screwed.
I entered another episode of severe depression and when I spoke to my GP, she was surprised and confused at why I had tried to return back to work. She would have never allowed me to return to work in such a fragile state of mind, explaining she would have signed a sick note instead to allow for a longer time to recover, thus keeping my job and sick benefits. But things were done and I lost my job anyway.
What followed was a postnatal depression lasting until my daughter was three, and until another chef gave me a place in the kitchen where I worked during the days that my husband was off. This flexible work schedule gave me the space I needed to fully recover as a mother and a chef. If my daughter was sick on my workdays, my chef-boss would let me and my husband switch working days. These were groundbreaking moves back then, and moves that saved me. I was able to find my niche again and became part of the workforce on my own terms who worked 12 hours on workdays if I wanted. The ultimate part-time flex schedule.
Now, why do I write this six years after it first went down you ask? Because I found two Instagram accounts that have inspired me to speak the truth and speak up. I have been following the journeys away from the UK in China where we moved for 3 years to have an expat adventure. I wrote for the expat magazine, beijingkids, that allowed me to work a flex schedule, writing at night and during nap times. Anything went as long as I met my deadlines. This opportunity gave a chance to a mother to find a new passion and work a part-time schedule that is admirable. I worked for 2 years and got more done in this time than I have ever worked full-time without a child.
It’s time for me to speak up and tell this story how I got pregnant then screwed. These two mothers have been moving mountains and I want to offer my point of view and my honest story as I have been speaking my mind for the last three years.
The family and me have since returned to the UK and now of course I will be looking for a more flexible and ethical workplace.
Picture by Dave Studio
Edited by Andy www.coolkidandy.com