Out On A Limb

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This month I share the community platform with Melanie Harrison, an avid VH’er with a strong penchant for airing her views on our Facebook page. Melanie writes poignantly about life-changing decisions, including the reasons why she has put her career as a lawyer on hold whilst her children are young. This is a subject that will be close to many people’s heart and outside circumstances will often determine a very difficult decision, which will of course include the high cost of childcare. The subject is open to debate and I look forward to hearing from you. Claire x

I remember some years ago, when I was still working in private practice in Manchester and The Times Online was still free, reading an article about a lady who had started a successful blog about her move from the city to the country to escape the rat race. I read some of the blog, and felt a quiet pity for this intelligent woman. Her husband still got to travel to the city for work while she went slowly potty at home with the kids in their ramshackle house in the middle of nowhere. At the time, I was settled into my career as a Commercial Property lawyer, lived in a fashionable village in Cheshire while working in a major city and loved it, thanks very much!

A year or so after I got married, my husband (also a lawyer – we met at work, don’t all roll your eyes at once) was offered a great job in Bristol. We had lived and worked in Manchester for around 10 years by then, and I had decided long before that I wasn’t interested in partnership. At that time there were plenty of other career paths for lawyers, so I wasn’t concerned about moving to another part of the country and following a different direction in my career. We had never even visited Bristol when the offer came, but after a gloriously sunny weekend and a night out on the town there, we decided it was a no-brainer. It took six months to complete the relocation whilst we became intimately acquainted with the M5 every weekend, but we didn’t look back once we’d moved.

Well I am a townie and for me, Bristol had everything and I felt very at home there, even though we were a long way away from family in Cheshire. The city is the perfect size, has fantastic open spaces and all the facilities you could want. It feels quite bohemian thanks to the huge student population and the fact that there are so many thriving small businesses there. We had a couple of years living the high life before our first daughter arrived, and we were delighted to become parents. I took 9 months off work, but when I went back the credit crunch was about to bite.

I had returned to my in-house job full time having agreed a flexible working arrangement, and we thought we had it sussed. Unfortunately, with the market suddenly becoming very tough, my employer no longer felt like being all that flexible and I left after 10 very stressful months. It was a huge relief to leave; then a month later I heard that the legal department had been dissolved anyway. The worsening economy meant that finding another family-friendly job in the small Bristol legal market was quite a tall order – it was 2008 and I was almost ten years qualified. It didn’t take long for the jobs in my practice area to dry up once the recession set in and 4 years on, it still hasn’t recovered.

It was a shock leaving my job, because being a lawyer was a huge part of my identity and going back to work after I had a baby was for me the best way of getting “me” back. I remember it being incredibly important to me at the time, but the experience I had when I did go back was very negative so I started to get used to being a stay at home mum. Then just over two and a half years ago my husband was offered a new role in Derbyshire. If we made the move, there would be no hope of picking up where I left off when the market recovered (it’s a good job I didn’t wait!). By that stage we wanted a second baby, and I reasoned that if we succeeded I would have my hands full as our first daughter was now 3. We decided on a second relocation, but the move from Bristol to Derbyshire was made a fair bit more difficult by falling pregnant within 3 weeks of arriving here (we got snowed in for 5 days, what can I say?).

It didn’t really dawn on me for a while just how different life was going to be with a newborn the second time around, living in the countryside. I had been used to having every possible facility at my feet and no shortage of things to do, so the first few months at home after the birth were a real shock to the system. There are no pavements outside our house as we live on a steep country lane so every single journey needs to be made in the car. It was no fun after a second Caesarian when I couldn’t drive but equally couldn’t leave the house on foot with the pram. I also had an infection in my wound that lasted a full 3 months. Not only did it hamper my recovery, it also made me feel anxious and depressed.

When I’d had our first daughter in Bristol, I walked absolutely everywhere for miles and miles and the baby weight dropped off very quickly. Up here, I craved fresh air and exercise to boost my state of mind but felt frustrated at having to drive everywhere. It seemed so ironic considering the surroundings: it’s a ramblers’ paradise here, but it’s not pram-friendly and the facilities are focused in towns which are all several miles away (by car). That’s the reason it looks so unspoiled and pretty! It’s taken me quite a while to get used to, all the same.

Time passes and you eventually get over things. Now that it’s late Autumn, driving around you feel like you’re in New England, with the explosion of colour in all the woodlands making for some impressive scenery. I didn’t even notice it last year, which goes to show how much progress I’ve made since then! We also get to live in a detached stone cottage with fantastic views of the Derbyshire Dales, and we have been introduced to the delights of having an AGA that we inherited when we bought the house. You kind of cook using “the Force”, but I took to it straight away, and found it brilliant last Christmas (“KEEP THE LIDS DOWN!!!”).

Another plus has been the lovely school that we chose for our eldest daughter, which is full of equally lovely parents. Last summer, a couple of months before I was due to give birth, the school announced a new baby and toddler group starting up at the beginning of the new school year. Perfect timing! I was able to drive again in the nick of time for the start of term, so just when our eldest was starting Reception class, I had a great little social group to visit every week with our baby girl. Best of all, we can use the group until she is ready to start at the school nursery the term she turns 3. I’m not the only professional refugee who turns up at the group either, so that’s some comfort.

So what now? Well I spend a lot of time kicking ideas around for a second career, but having the time to put anything into practice is still a couple of years away. There is also the possibility that my husband’s job will move again in a few years’ time, so that’s shaping my plans too. It does seem fairly certain however that I won’t need all those smart suits I gave to charity last year! (I kept some of the shoes…)

I do sometimes wonder what happened to the lady who wrote that blog all those years ago. Maybe they moved to Bristol, and she is sitting in a hip, independent cafe-bar reading this and smiling a wry little smile.

Melanie Harrison

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