On falling pregnant, Laura-Anne Smith knew that her career as a dancer and circus performer would be affected but assumed she’d re-train post birth. This hasn’t quite happened. We talk motherhood, body image and finding a new career path…
Laura-Anne Smith, 33, lives in Walthamstow, London, with her partner Arnaud Lafon and their son Donnan, one. She was working as a dancer and circus performer before giving birth, and is currently a part time events coordinator for Chats Palace, Clapton, and children’s performer…
What time are you up in the morning?
5.30am usually (ironically this was when I sometimes used to go to bed pre-Donnan).
How do you feel?
Tired, happy, comfortable, hopeful, joyful, loved and loving, sometimes a little bored, sometimes frustrated.
What do you do first thing?
How might the rest of your day pan out?
After breastfeeding Donnan, I then move on to coffee for me, (whilst washing up) followed by breakfast for us both, whilst watching the news. Change Donnan, switch to children’s TV and play. At naptime, I get myself ready for the day and clean the house.
The rest of the day is varied and balanced between working from home, taking Donnan to the park or playgroups, and seeing family (mainly my mum). Ah and of course, more housework. Sometimes I make home textiles, i.e cushion covers, curtains (I would have laughed at this idea if someone had said I would be doing this two years ago).
How do you and your partner divide childcare/housework?
In all honesty, I usually do all the housework.
Childcare is divided according to work patterns. So, I look after Donnan Mon-Fri day and night, as Arnaud is working. I also work Mondays in the office, so my mum babysits Monday daytime now, and I work another day or two from home during the week. Arnaud looks after Donnan on Saturdays when I work. Sundays we both look after Donnan (unless I’m working). I tend to get up once during the night (and again extra early) even when I’m working and Arnaud is looking after Donnan, so that I can breastfeed him. I am slowly weaning him off now though.
Your job as a dancer and circus performer was put on hold during pregnancy and post having your baby. How did this feel?
At first it felt a bit of a shame in many ways. I had been working as a dancer for 11 years prior, but only a few years as a circus performer. I was just starting to reach the peak in my circus career, creating a full-length show, with a very high profile artist, that we were hoping to tour. Physically I was doing great too. My skill level had increased, and my strength and flexibility were at their highest. As a dancer I had many lovely new opportunities too. Theatre companies were beginning to fly me out to different countries to learn shows by other companies, to then bring back to and perform in the UK.
A part of me anticipated that having Donnan would most likely be the end of my performing career or at least of the level I was hoping to get it to. Arnaud was sure I would get back into it just fine, but I knew this would be hard. It’s not just the fitness, it’s the networking too, and building of relationships and work. I wasn’t fully prepared for the sense of loss I would feel as a result though, and even more so, the fear and despair when the time to return to work loomed ahead. Three questions spun in my head… What do I do now? Where do I begin? How do I begin?
I don’t really feel my body is my own anymore. I’m not sure I have a relationship with it now
I had planned to return to work after six months, on a shared parental leave basis, but much to Arnaud’s disappointment this never happened, as I simply didn’t have any work to return to. Financially it was impossible. As a freelancer I was only entitled to 39 weeks maternity leave anyhow (37 weeks post birth). After five months, I spent two months panicking and making contact with old colleagues.
What relationship did you have with your body as a performer, and how has it changed since giving birth?
I used to feel quite proud of my body. I had worked hard for those muscles. In a way it was a visual reflection of my achievements. I don’t really feel my body is my own anymore. I’m not sure I have a relationship with it now. I don’t feel bad about my body. It is what it is, after all I have had had a wonderful baby. I didn’t really care for the first six months post Donnan, but now I’m becoming aware of it again, and notice all the work I need to put in to it.
Finding the time, energy, and finance to do this, though, is impossible. I can’t just go for a jog or even the local gym; I need an aerial training centre. These are expensive and to be honest, I don’t yet have the confidence to return to the ones I went to previously, as I’m embarrassed. Social media informs me of how my colleagues have progressed, but I have gone backwards in that respect.
I tried out a class recently that I used to go to. It was hard because other participants remember what I used to be able to do, but I don’t have the same ability now and found I continually needed to point out. I was frustrated working with the beginners, but didn’t feel I could keep up with the pros. Also, when it comes to acrobalance I feel I’m simply too heavy to be a flyer now. At 5.5ft I weigh 60kg, I used to weigh 50kg.
Were you concerned, pre becoming pregnant, about the impact having a baby would have on your ability to perform?
Absolutely yes! I asked myself if I was ready to give my career dreams up. I decided I would be able to get my body back training at home, and that maternity leave would provide me with some welcome reflection time to plan, for example, my next show. None of the above happened. After six months I thought I would never perform again, but I will, in time.
I’m enjoying going with the flow at the moment and walking through the doors that have opened up
Do you hope to return to it, or has motherhood paved a new career path?
I do hope to return to it, albeit not in the same capacity. I think the issue for me is that I hadn’t reached my goal when I did stop, so I initially felt like I couldn’t let it go. My ambitions have changed. Touring will not happen now, as I wouldn’t want to be away from my family for so long. I teach a fair amount of basic acrobatic children’s workshops now.
It has led me on to new ventures though for sure. These started when I was heavily pregnant as I stopped my physical activities at five months. I had to find work that would take me right up to two weeks before birth. I found Chats Palace or rather; they found me.
I began working in the office at Chats, on a freelance basis. I’m working as an event co-ordinator now, booking, programming and overseeing the running of these events. I was relieved when Chats contacted me to come back. It was unexpected after having been there on a freelance basis before, and knowing the role I had been doing was now done by an employee on a full-time annual contract.
I’m genuinely happier than I have ever been. It has changed my life, and changed me for the better
I have recently realised though that motherhood hasn’t broken my career, quite the opposite in fact. I used to take on all kinds of work, a lot of which was unappealing and wasn’t really what I wanted to be doing. Now I only do work I’m particularly interested in. If work is going to take me away from my son, it has to be for something I am passionate about. As a result, I feel my career is in many ways on a better path than it was before becoming a mum. I’m more relaxed, open to new ventures, and selective. The two worlds are also merging. I am scheduled to perform a children’s show early next year.
Does working part time at Chats Palace fit in with your family life?
Chats has turned out to be a hidden gem. I’m in the office one-day per week, and the rest of my hours I do from home, mostly as and when I can. They are extremely flexible; allowing me to switch days when needs be, according to childcare arrangements. Working at Chats also leaves me time to complete freelance projects, as and when I choose to.
How do you find it, dividing your time between work and family?
Hard. I felt like a reasonably good mum until I went back to work. Even working from home leaves me feeling like I’m failing my son, as I don’t feel I’m able to give him the same quality time that I did before. Trying to do everything at once often just leaves me with a sense of underachieving at everything. I’m still working on balancing things out, whilst trying to add training time to my schedule.
What do you enjoy most about motherhood, and what is the greatest challenge?
It’s the strongest bond I’ve ever had with another person. I didn’t know it was possible to love someone this much. I’m genuinely happier than I have ever been. It has changed my life, and changed me for the better. I’m comfortable, not forever searching for something. No matter how my day has gone, one smile from my boy fills me with joy. Oddly enough another great thing is that is has helped me to focus on my career in a different way.
I think the greatest challenge is the constant planning and preparation from small things to large events. It takes so long to simply leave the house with everything needed for a family day out.
What are your dreams career-wise?
I’m enjoying going with the flow at the moment and walking through the doors that have opened up. It’s enjoyable focusing on the means rather than the end. I am as ambitious as I ever was but am happily seeing where life takes me, enjoying the ride rather than focused on the destination.
And for your family?
I hope that we can explore our individual goals, yet remain united. We hope to relocate at some point, perhaps out of London, or possibly one day even to France, as Arnaud is French and has family out there.
If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?
On stage, performing a combination of dance and circus, with my family in the audience.
Any other comments?
It’s funny; what I thought would be the end is in many ways actually the start.