I was very much brought up with the mindset that you can do whatever you want to do and be whomever you want to be. It just takes graft. When I was pregnant with my first child, I realised the hard way that that is, of course, a total fallacy.

Since becoming a mum, I have often pondered whether a working mum really can have it all? During my pregnancy, I was running a multi-million pound agency, spending time in the US establishing our new office while navigating a private equity process (and subsequent failed deal). This is just the juggle, right? 

There are an insane amount of obstacles that prevent women from taking leadership positions or running their own businesses. I faced a number of them in that nine-month period. And almost always assumed it was me that was cocking it up, it was me that couldn’t manage it all. 

Then, you unlock the stagnation of careers because you dared to take maternity leave. I felt – be it real or imagined – that there was this immediate resounding ‘Sedge has given up’ feeling. My maternity leave, all four months of it, when I still worked on the business most days, was referred to as many things, my favourite being ‘sitting on the bench’. More like sitting on a blow-up ring following a traumatic birth, plenty of stitches, breastfeeding with one hand and frantically googling today’s shade of poo in my daughter’s nappy on the other. 

At three months old my daughter came with me to Amsterdam for a work meeting, at five months she – we – spent a month in New York as the business needed me to be there at the time. It was A LOT. But, the role I am best at and the role I have wanted my entire life was that role – being her mum. Again, I assumed this was all part of the full-time juggle. 

The reality for most women though, is that having a child means taking a step back at a critical stage in their career. I was by no means ready to return to work after four months, but I did. I did this out of pressure but, more worryingly, I returned out of fear. 

I know that whilst each experience is unique, that I am not alone. The brilliant work Pregnant then Screwed is doing blows me away but simultaneously makes me angry that it needs to exist in 2024. 

By nine months postpartum, I was actually in a good flow with work and had the drive to take on the juggle. But, by that point, I had already stepped down as CEO of the business I founded and had a failed Private Equity deal under my belt… not quite the career highlights you shout about on LinkedIn. This whole experience highlighted the lack of flexibility generally in the workforce for mums, to allow them to still be in board rooms, but also to be at pick up.

Before becoming a mum, I used to say, ‘If you want something done, give it to the busiest person in the room’. I have since learned, if you want something done, give it to a mum. No one gets stuff done quite like them. My drive and ambition has not altered, if anything, I am more hungry to show my daughter what I am capable of doing for our family… whilst also being there for pick up or for bath time. The narrative has very much felt like my options were one or the other – run a successful business 24/7 and pay for the luxury of someone else bringing up my daughter, or be a present mum and let society tell me that my career era is done and dusted. Well, to that I say, ‘you can well and truly eff off’. 

I am an advocate of balance, for working parents not saying yes to everything but making it work for them, and for their families. That also came with a raft of criticism that I – in my own personal work and family decisions – was not advocating for working mums. No pressure. 

I have to work and I want to work. That has not changed. How I show up at work, that had to change. Any role I take will always be secondary to the most important role of being a mum and being present for my daughter and that is ok too. 

I don’t have the answers. In fact, all I have is more questions. I was able to set up that aforementioned multi-million pound agency because I didn’t have a family. It wouldn’t have been possible to take the risks, I absolutely would not have had the hours if I’d set up the business today. 

So, is the answer that we need to pour more resources into building up twenty something year old women to a place where they can launch something while they’re in that tiny sweet spot of skills and experience but pre-family? Surely not. Surely the solution is making the ways we work, and how we make investments into businesses, a process that respects parents and caregivers? Maybe all of it is true. Or maybe I just need a full night’s sleep. That really would feel like having it all.