What have been some of your biggest breakthroughs?
The biggest was being featured at WWDC by Apple. Not just because, well, it’s one of the biggest stages in the world, but more importantly because someone like Apple not just knew who we were, but recognised the work we were doing and wanted to support it. That was huge for us. And, actually, for motherhood. Apple recognised that motherhood deserved a new platform, and that Peanut was part of that solution. All that, and we were only four months old. That, for us, was huge.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?
Be prepared to work harder, sacrifice more than you ever thought possible, oh, and everything takes 30 per cent longer than you plan for it to!
How do you balance work and raising Finlay?
The juggle is indeed real, and it’s tough. No one is perfect. I am still trying to get it right. I had it very, very wrong a few months ago, and I let my health, and my priorities suffer as a result. But I’m back on track now. I now accept that I can’t go to every event, I can’t take every meeting and I have to be more selfish with my time. That means if I need to be at home and put Fin to bed, I’m leaving at 5pm without beating myself up about it. If I am asked to do a call at a time that I know I need to be with Fin, I say no. That’s taken some time, but I am confident now. If I don’t say what I mean, and set expectations accordingly, how can I expect others to do the same!
How do you handle feelings of mother's guilt?
URGH. Never goes. It’s forever with you. The moment you have a child. The key is recognising we all feel it, and we’re all in it together. The key is making sure we keep telling each other, and ourselves, that we’re doing a good job. Because the very fact we feel guilty, means we are.
Would you ever give it all up to be a stay-at-home mum?
YES! If it was right for Fin and for my family, without hesitation. Right now, this is right for us, but you never know what may change, and I’m very open to being flexible around that. Fin is and will always be my priority.
How did your parents' raise you?
My parents were very strict. They are both hard working, working class people, so the work ethic was always strong in our house. My mum in particular has never ever thought about gender as a challenge to anything. In fact, she has always been of the opinion that being a woman is your keenest advantage, so from that perspective, I never felt there was anything I couldn’t do as a woman.
What’s your most vivid childhood memory?
Oh gosh, my dad will hate me saying this, but probably when I came second in some drama competition I had entered myself in. I got home and told him I was second, to which his response was a pretty adamant: “I don’t think anyone remembers who came second Michelle”. My dad is a Scotsman, and pretty to the point (he’s also a huge softy underneath it all), but I remember that feeling of being a bit crushed. While competition is important (hey, it’s life), I constantly am aware of letting Fin know that participation, enjoyment, fun, is as important as the end result.
How did you feel when you discovered you were pregnant - have you always wanted to be a mother?
Definitely, although I was not someone who considered herself to be a natural mother. There were absolutely times in my younger years when I didn’t think motherhood would be for me. Falling pregnant was this unbelievable epiphany. I can’t explain it other than that. Life wasn’t about me anymore. That selfish or self-first attitude you’ve had your whole life just immediately falls away. You eat differently, you sleep differently, you behave differently. Because the responsibility of this other little human, the dependency of that person on you, is so great, so strong… you will do anything to protect it!
What were those early days of motherhood like for you?
When Finlay arrived, I felt as if I had been naive. I hadn’t appreciated how different everything would become. He was incredible, beautiful, fragile. I couldn’t believe I’d had any part in something so perfect, all nine pounds of him. But I was scared, I felt like everything was changing and it was out of my control. I’d gone from working a million-miles-an-hour, around people constantly and all of a sudden I was at home all day on my own with this little dude. It was a difficult adjustment. My husband would go to work every day and ‘leave’ me at home, sounds ridiculous to phrase it like that, but that’s how it felt at the time. I wasn’t really sure who ‘Michelle the Mother’ was. The strongest feeling was that I’d really lost my identity. That was a difficult time. Admitting how I felt about the start of motherhood was not something I felt able to share at the time. I didn’t feel that it was socially acceptable to say: ‘It’s really tough, and it’s not exactly what I thought it would be’. I would share snippets with my friends, or my husband, but I didn’t really know how to articulate the feeling that I was lonely, and felt like I was faking it as a competent, together mother. Wherever I looked, I didn’t see anyone who seemed to be feeling the same way as me. I suppose the turning point for me was six months in, I started to get into my flow a little more, regain my confidence. I’ve heard people describe it as a fog lifting, and yes, it was. I returned to work and I felt a little more connected to the Michelle I understood.
When was the last time you felt lonely?
Gosh! Loneliness! You’ll think it’s a staple part of my character if I answer that! Look, early stages of motherhood were lonely (see above). I was lonely and that was a really difficult realisation. I don’t think feeling lonely is a particularly acceptable admission at the grand old age of 30. I certainly didn’t feel comfortable about it, it felt like a dirty secret that I couldn’t verbalise. I mean, I had friends! I even had one friend who had a child. She was wonderful to me and came to see me in hospital the day after Fin was born. But her baby was older than mine, and I felt often like I was burdening her. The last time I felt lonely though? Probably recently. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely! You have to make the decisions, set the agenda, set the vision, and take the burden, and that can be isolating, because you can’t always share that with your team, however much you’d like to. That’s just not your role. Finding other entrepreneurs is important (like finding mom friends!).
Have you ever had difficulty making friends?
YES! Making mum friends was terrifying, and difficult… Not all women are the same. There are so many different types of women, who all have different interests, values, points of view. Of course, not all mums are the same. That artificial coming together because ‘you’re a mum, I’m a mum, we need to hang out’ can be awkward and forced, and make you feel lonely all over again! To fake it, and pretend to be someone I wasn’t, just to be able to spend time with someone and not be on my own, well, that can be so tough. What I really, really needed was to find someone likeminded where I could be honest, and be myself, reclaim that part of my identity again. Through walking (a lot), going to classes, I met other mothers. But often it felt difficult to make sustained connections. You might chat for a while, but to move to the “should we see each other again” moment felt unknown territory. Often, I would see groups of mothers, and I felt like I was back at school, constantly assessing the situation to see if I might ‘fit in’.
What does Fin do that you hope you’ll never forget?
I get scared of forgetting any of the beautiful things he does. Currently my favourite thing is that he creates all of these weird, abstract works of art from boxes and paper, and I find them in various places around the house. Maybe he’ll be the next Damien Hirst, I don’t know, but after a hard day, there is nothing better than finding a ‘creation’ on my bed with a note from him explaining what it is.