So first a little bit about us. I am a freelance drama director and my husband Joel is a visual effects supervisor at Double Negative. We wanted to write this testimonial together as for us its very much a case of working as a team to make juggling our jobs and being new parents work.
These 10 years have included a huge amount of rejection – it often feels that ‘making it’ in this industry is about perseverance as much as skill.
It’s only in the last couple of months that I feel I can really call myself a drama director. I have been pushing and hustling for nearly 10 years – making shorts, promo videos, commercials and applying for every scheme going. Alongside this working in production, as an AD and a hundred other bits and bobs to make ends meet. I’ve always been passionate about television drama and want to make my career here. These 10 years have included a huge amount of rejection – it often feels that ‘making it’ in this industry is about perseverance as much as skill.
Joel has worked at Double Negative for nearly 12 years and loves his job – he started there on a work placement in his university holidays and now works as a visual effects supervisor. When we got married in late 2016 he was in the middle of working on Wonder Woman as the CG supervisor.
Being newly-weds we decided it was as good a time as any to start a family. As a freelancer, and feeling like I was always just about to make it to the next step, this was quite a complex decision to make. I had a number of applications in and lots of projects in development, but we figured that there would never be a ‘right time’. As well as hoping to get pregnant, in late 2016 I submitted my application for the second time to the BBC Directing Scheme for Doctors.
There were three of us new directors on the BBC Scheme and in an amazing co-incidence, one of the other trainees was also pregnant and due just a week before me!
Of course, you can guess what happened next. I was delighted to be selected for the BBC Directing Scheme and we were thrilled to be expecting our first child! I was lucky to have a fairly easy pregnancy so was able to attend the training up in Birmingham when I was about 6 months preggers. There were three of us new directors on the BBC Scheme and in an amazing co-incidence, one of the other trainees was also pregnant and due just a week before me! We did get a lot of comments as we waddled about on set together, but everyone was really wonderful at treating us as directors and trusting that we could just get on with it. After the training each of us trainees would be back up in Birmingham for a month to direct our first episode. Joel and I knew that this part was going to be rather more tricky than the three days of training had been as there would be a totally new person to consider!
We started to plan how we were going to make this all work. Of course, being freelance, I was not entitled to maternity leave. I was able to get statutory maternity allowance, which I began claiming at about 32 weeks, as I was no longer able to work doing self-shooting jobs (my main income). Luckily for us the law that was introduced in 2015 allowed either parent to opt to take shared parental leave (however it’s still not an option for freelancers and there is a campaign to get this changed). Without this we would have been stuck, as Joel would have only got two weeks statutory paternity. We decided that Joel should take 3 months parental leave, thus allowing me to get stuck into Doctors and direct my first episode. Double Negative were very supportive of this.
In August last year Joel and I joyously welcomed baby Lyra into the world and our family. Once she was a couple of weeks old and we were over the shock of it all I got in touch with Doctors and told them I was ready to get going and gave them the dates of the window when Joel was also off. They came back to me with a start date for my block – it was the next week! It was all quite last minute and I was a bit worried if I would be ready, both physically and mentally but we knew the timing was as perfect as we were going to get. And so when Lyra was 5 weeks old, all three of us moved up to Birmingham for just over a month. We rented an AirBnB flat, as with Joel and Lyra there all day, a hotel or regular BnB wasn’t really going to work. It was a challenge for us all. I had to drop my full-time breastfeeding to just morning, evenings and nights very quickly, Lyra had to learn to take a bottle and to drink formula and Joel had to take on full care of a tiny baby in a city where we knew no-one!
I knew I wanted to be a mum who still followed her dreams and didn’t give up on something that she had fought nearly 10 years for because she had a baby.
I also had to face the inevitable twinges of guilt from going back to work so early. I knew it was only for a month and I knew that it was the right thing for our family, but I was still often met with ‘oh I could never have left my baby so young’ or ‘aren’t you brave leaving her at that age, I cried when I once went to a yoga class without her’. I do realise that lots of those mothers were genuinely impressed, but all I could hear was an underlying implication that I was a bad mother, or that I didn’t love my baby enough. Thinking rationally though I knew I wanted to be a mum who still followed her dreams and didn’t give up on something that she had fought nearly 10 years for because she had a baby. I also knew that Lyra was going to be with her Dad and that was amazing for both her and him to get that opportunity, one that is rarely afforded to fathers. However, for my husband it did also mean potentially postponing moving up to become Visual Effects Supervisor, a promotion that Joel had been working towards for years.
I actually felt that coming home each night to my family really helped me to relax and made me a better director.
So, how did it work out? It was great. I loved the work and was pleased that, while I missed Lyra a bit in the day, I was also getting to direct drama professionally and getting to do what I had been wanting to do for so many years. The prep weeks were pretty regular hours so I was always able to have a good chunk of evening with the new family and the shoot was very intense but living up near the set meant I was still back for bathtime! At such a young age she was going to bed very late which helped! I also kept doing the night feeds so Lyra and I had bonding time as I breastfed her in the wee hours. It was a bit tough on sleep for sure, but not as bad as I feared and Joel did two full nights during the shoot week so I could bank up a couple of extra hours to make sure I brought my A-game on set. I actually felt that coming home each night to my family really helped me to relax and made me a better director. I worked really hard and prepared meticulously, but I was also able to switch off and enjoy my evening. Something that would have been much harder staying on my own in a hotel.
Joel loved getting to be with Lyra full time, but it was also tough. He was quite lonely – not having anyone around and being in a city we didn’t know, but he took Lyra on adventures to new parks and lunch spots and played a lot of Playstation during naps! Lyra was content and happy – even when she got curry on her head as we tried some of the local restaurants while she napped in the carrier!
So overall it worked well, that’s not to say it was easy, but we managed it. I think it was also good for Joel and my relationship – now he is on set and working hard and I am with Lyra full time – but we both know what the other one is going through and the challenges that go with that. Luckily I was also able to go back to breastfeeding full time – one of the things that amazed me most about the whole thing was how adaptable my boobs were!
For us though there isn’t a final answer and the juggle continues – Lyra is now five months old and I’m hopefully going to be back up in Birmingham directing my first full block of Doctors soon so we are working out potential options for childcare. I know that if we continue to work together as a family and just take things as they come we will be able to make it work, so roll on 2018!