Home » Female empowerment

Category: Female empowerment

The Womanhood Studio

The Womanhood Studio in Delft is moving to a new location and will be filling a hole in Delft’s current offerings for families. Tami, the Womanhood Studio’s creator and owner, has been serving women in the Delft community as a doula. She opened the Womanhood Studio two years ago, expanding her services to offer massages and classes for pregnant women and new moms. Now Tami’s moving her studio to a new home at 28 Schoolstraat in Delft, bringing the studio closer to Delft’s public transportation connections.

The Womanhood Studio was a centerpoint for my pregnancy in Delft. I was able to enjoy several massages with Tami and discuss the best way to alleviate my aches and pains. Tami was there for me when I was overdue, worrying about an induction. Once my little one arrived, we returned to the Womanhood Studio for baby massage classes. The studio also offers baby sign language classes. At the previous small space on Vlamingstraat, the studio services often ended there – then came news that Tami had found a new, larger location and would be able to expand her offerings.

My experience is not unique. Jules, who used Tami as her doula had wonderful things to say about her experience. “The Womanhood Studio is a unique concept that celebrates women ,and I feel fortunate that I had the support and care of Tami during my pregnancy and labour. Tami was our doula – her calm spirit, cheerful personality, positive affirmations and can-do attitude gave us a lot of confidence as first-time parents. My birth was filled with laughter and Tami’s presence really empowered me to have the birthing experience that I had dreamed of. I am so excited to see that the Womanhood team under Tami’s guidance is going from strength to strength and moving to a bigger historic Delft location. Tami’s big smile and hospitality will welcome you. Make sure you check out the Womanhood Studio. You won’t regret it.”

If you have never been lucky enough to meet Tami, you should rectify that right away. Her mere presence puts you at ease. She has a particular soft spot for expat parents and classes at the studio are often taught in English. (I can promise you she will make sure you feel comfortable no matter what your language or home country.) She encourages everyone to stop in and say hello to see what the Womanhood Studio has to offer for you! I am lucky enough to be Tami’s neighbor. I invited her over for tea to chat all about the exciting changes and what it means for families in Delft.

The name Womanhood Studio came from her desire to serve women in the community at all stages. Although many classes focus on children or pregnancy, the studio is designed to be welcoming to all. The new studio space will even enable Tami to offer Pilates classes for men or mixed classes.

All the classes at the Womanhood Studio are small, usually under 10 participants, so that they can have an intimate feel. These gatherings are designed to provide community and connection. Tami encourages participants to come early and hang around afterwards to chat up with her and other participants.

Photo Credit: Womanhood Studio

The new space means an expanded range of options. I don’t want to spoil all the surprises she has planned, but Tami was off to be certified to teach Arial Yoga after our chat. She’s also ordered some lovely swings for a special class for children and plans to offer other classes that help older children with body, mind and emotional connections. I cannot wait to have my kids try out these classes. Previously you would have needed to head to Rotterdam or The Hague for offerings like these, but now they will be available in Delft center.

If you still think the Womanhood Studio has nothing to offer stop by, meet Tami and let her know what you would like to see. The Womanhood Studio is a service to the community and wants to be responsive to the community’s needs. Feedback on classes, be it times or format, is heard and adjustments are made. If you have a group that is looking for something specific, say Pilates for moms with young babies, stop by and she will see if she can make it work. Since classes are small, it’s often feasible to start a class with enough interest.

The studio will also be available for other gatherings. If your group is looking for a place to gather and meets the mission of the studio, get in touch with Tami. This lovely new space can be a gathering place for the community.

Make sure you follow the Womanhood Studio on Facebook and Instagram to stay up-to-date on all the exciting changes. I hope to see you there!

 

FacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinFacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedin

Delft MaMa’s 10th anniversary August 2017

Ten years ago together with some of the Delft MaMa’s original board members, I signed a notarial act officializing Stichting Delft MaMa (The Delft Maternity And Motherhood Assistance Foundation) to serve the Delft international community of pregnant women and mothers of babies.

As my own son who is born in 2003 grew up, Delft MaMa gradually expanded to mothers of children up to the standard age of the end of primary school in The Netherlands, ie  12 years.  Our goal has been to promote the well-being and participation/ integration of international mothers (-to-be) by sharing information about the local system related to healthcare, daycare, education and service providers to make you feel at home and empowered. Another very important concept has been to bring mothers together to share their experiences and doubts in a safe and open-minded way. Parenting is not easy, especially when you no longer have your relatives and long time friends around.

Delft MaMa has grown into a very dynamic and supportive  community, with so many cultures and languages. Facebook and email newsletters have replaced our original email messages and magazine in PDF thanks to Vanessa Later. Information fairs are no longer needed as other organizations in Delft ended up taking them over. In our first year, we received funding for what was innovative at a time : an information fair about prenatal and postnatal care (two thirds in Dutch and one third in English with over 30 participating organizations and service providers). Three months later, we were organizing a multicultural baby festival at our then new public library DOK at Vesteplein 100. We had amateur artists from several countries who lived in Delft show off their artwork about maternity using various media for three weeks. This was a partnership with Stichting Kunzt and artistic Delft mamas. The opening had live lullabies from classic music to folk songs. A representative of Indonesian museum Nusantara came to tell us about traditions when a baby is born and how to protect him/her form evil spirits.  Several Delft mothers created large posters with texts and pictures about what the  original traditions of welcoming a child into this world are like in their countries. It was very well received by DOK visitors and staff.

This could not have happened without Sjoerd from the Delft volunteer office, Irina Thio from Foundation Voor Delft, top trainer El batoul Zembib and Hafida Azouagh coordinator of the Gemeente Delft leadership programme Stuurvrouwen for highly educated women born outside of the Netherlands who wanted to become board members of local non-profits, associations and political parties. Brenda Kooy-Grootscholten from Bedrijf en Samenleving Delft was later an important supporter of Delft MaMa, just like Elinor Abramson, Tonya Tolmeijer, Myra Hillebrink, Bianca Blaak and Sephine Laros. A special thank you to our original board members Suchandana Roy, Nushaba Mirzazade, Grace Akebe, Shenandoah Evans and Renee Veldman-Tentori.

Foundation 1818 and the municipality of Delft were crucial financial supporters of our yearly city wide events. Delft MaMa would also not have been possible without the involvement of many volunteers from workshops to board meetings, to fairs and second-hand markets we have organized for the last ten years. I no longer have to convince institutions that any parent Dutch or international finds it nice and useful to get information not only about products but about knowledge and finding experts when things become more complicated, whether it is picking a primary school or a special needs specialist. With the recent makeover of our beautiful website we share a lot of practical information on web pages, an online calendar and the very popular blog expert. Our newsletter still highlights fun things to do or useful things to know about what is going on in Delft and becoming an active Delftenaar.

Together we are happier, more in balance and have more fun! All your contributions through donating your time, ideas and occasionally funds has made this exciting community a reality, and I keep marvelling at all your strength, resilience, creativity and being honest and vulnerable too.

When I moved to Delft on January 1st 2003 and became pregnant within 3 months, no one ever told me about resources for international parents in the region. I made friends with local mothers, then with international mothers who had traumatizing experiences, and once my son turned one and a half I launched what became a year later Stichting Delft MaMa meeting hundreds of mothers every year first in person and now mostly online as a moderator now that my son is almost 14. Delft as a city has much to offer to us: low criminality and many intellectually interesting things to do, sports, jobs and beautiful architecture where riding a bike is made easy. Looking back, I can only be proud of this wonderful experience that I hope we will all keep maintaining and adjusting for many years to come. This year we have special activities such as our upcoming mosaic and barbecue and can’t wait to see you there!

FacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinFacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedin

5 top tips for mothers

Her name is Nina. She changed my life in 2014. She changed me.

This journey through motherhood is a never-ending one. Among many other things, it has been teaching me about the meaning of deep connections, selflessness, and unconditional love. It has taught me what empathy (really) means and what comes along with it.

As any other journey in life, motherhood doesn’t come without bumps along the way (pun intended!). Although I have always considered myself an empathic person, it wasn’t until recently that I understood the strong impact empathy can have on one’s life. Empathy is defined asthe action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another, of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner;” in other words, it is the “ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

When we become mothers, the physiology of the brain changes; our hormonal production changes to make us more empathetic with the purpose to adapt to the tiny human being that we have generated.

As soon as our babies are born, we become able to feel with them in order to be able to respond to their needs in the best way possible. We feel their pain. We cry with them. We suffer with them. And we become so immersed in our babies’ needs that we start losing our focus on ourselves as individuals. Motherhood comes with priority shifting, and, at some point, our identity gets shaken off.

Through my coaching practice and from talking with other mothers in informal settings, I observed that a lot of mothers suffer from some lack of confidence, have a negative self-image, and sabotage themselves by negative self-talk and limiting beliefs.

I frequently hear self-castrating beliefs such as “I shouldn’t dress the way I want because I am mother now” or “I am not allowed to have fun if my child is not with me” and so forth. This limits their freedom – to feel, to behave, to be. And most of them seek me in order to help them to deal with negative emotions that have been triggered or enhanced by maternity (such as fear, guilt, anxiety, and frustration). It truly breaks my heart to see so many wonderful women not valorizing themselves as they deserve. So, when DelftMama invited me to write a blog as a guest, I decided to give my contribution by sharing simple tips to get you going through the day in a more healthy way.

I am not going to be extensive here, but I hope that by starting to practice the following suggestions you may find it easier to get through your day and avoid falling into the negativity spiral.

 

Tip #1: Mind your (negative) language

Are you familiar with the expression “careful with what you wish for”? Yes, the way you set your mind for something is halfway to being successful (or unsuccessful).

Expressions such as “I don’t deserve,” “I am not good,” “I can’t,” etc. are behavior sabotagers! People have no idea of the impact that their own words can have on their psychological processes. When we say something like “I am not capable of doing such and such,” we are already believing that that is true; we are accepting it and, therefore, creating a limitation.

Our brain literally believes in everything we say, either out loud or in internally. So, instead of using negative language and focusing on negative aspects of yourself or your life, make a conscious effort to praise yourself, to point out and talk about the good things about you, about others, and your life. Describing yourself in a positive way is already halfway to build a healthier self-image!

 

Tip #2: Breathe and connect with yourself

Breathe when you are annoyed. Breathe when you are happy. Just breathe!

Allow yourself to take a few minutes a day and stop whatever you are doing just to create a moment to connect with yourself. Breathe in and out naturally while paying attention to any sounds surrounding you. Observe how you feel in your body, pay attention to your emotions, let your thoughts come and go without judgement. Go back to breathing.

If you are not used to meditating (or even if you are!), my suggestion would be to listen to guided meditations. These are a great tool to help you to take a little break during your day. You can find meditation videos and podcasts on Youtube, or you can download the app “Insight Timer” on your smartphone – I am hooked on this one, as there are literally hundreds of podcasts to choose from!

 

Tip #3: Take a break

No matter what that annoying voice tells you, you-deserve-to-take-a-break! Indulge yourself, take care of yourself. Literally do anything that YOU enjoy doing. Meet with friends, exercise, have a drink (or two!), play video games, go for a massage, go to the movies, go silly, just go on a spree!

 

Tip #4: Go out on a date

Spend some time with your partner. Cherish and indulge each other. It is difficult when you have a little one (or more) between you. My advice would be to make time to spend some quality time together.

 

Tip #5: Get it out of your system

Whatever you are feeling right now you may find yourself thinking that you are the only one. You may assume that other mothers don’t feel the same way and that talking about your feelings will perhaps be a burden on others. I get it; I have been there and got the t-shirt. But you are not alone in this. Venting out and sharing your feelings with friends, other mothers, or even a professional will very likely help you to find some balance. And, remember, by expressing your feelings you may actually help others do the same. It’s a win-win situation.

 

So, after reading these tips I hope you already have your diaries at hand and are ready to plan a date with yourself, with your partner, or a friend for this week!

Just have some fun! Oh, and make sure you attend the Delft MaMa events – they are a great way to have fun while sharing experiences.

And, remember, just breathe!

 

 

FacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinFacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedin

Some of my favorite books by female authors

There are so many authors and readers in our Delft MaMa community that I felt inspired today to write about women writers. Books have always been one of my passions. At one stage growing up, I would finish my homework and then devour a book a night. These days, I do not have the luxury of finishing a book a day, but I generally manage to carve out some time from my busy schedule to read. Believing in the power of literature and being enamored of a wide range of authors, I, however, find it jarring to see how much the literary world still reflects biases in our society. Female authors are reviewed less often reviewed than their male counterparts, and fiction written by men or about men is more likely to receive literary awards. Furthermore, a large swath of popular novels by women are deemed less worthy of praise than more “serious” literature, generally written by men, as shown in this exchange.

With so many exciting and excellent female writers to choose from and with the summer holidays around the corner, I decided to make a short list of some of my favorite works of fiction from the last fifty years by female authors. Over the upcoming holiday, perhaps you can spend some of your well deserved rest and relaxation time discovering one of these gems. The list idea is inspired by the Guardian’s weekly Top Ten book series, which I also highly recommend.

I will start my list with a Arundhati Roy, an Indian author and activist, whose first work of fiction in twenty years will be published next week. Before you dive into her new book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, I would recommend taking the time to read her spellbinding The God of Small Things. Set in Southern India, this novel shows how a series of prejudices linked to class, gender, and religion combine to produce a tragic outcome. Its evocative, lyrical prose is made all the more vivid by the fact that the story is told through the eyes of two children, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel. This evocative book was the first Indian novel to win the Man Booker Prize, and I am sure it will linger in your mind long after you reach the last page.

Elena Ferrante’s engrossing Neapolitan Novels (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of the Lost Child) follow Elena (Lenù) and Raffaella (Lila) from girlhood in a tough Neapolitan neighborhood through many twists and turns to arrive at old age. Ferrante masterfully paints a portrait of a friendship that is both a source of strength and anguish and examines the inner lives of her characters with lucid intelligence. Ferrante has never revealed her identity, considering her biography irrelevant to her fiction. Unfortunately, a journalist recently reported to have unmasked the “real” Elena Ferrante, an endeavor that many describe as sexist.

Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories offers a refreshing perspective on traditional European fairy tales and their underlying themes. Carter’s heroines are not helpless damsels in distress but strong, independent characters that define their own destinies. Her depictions bring to light the sensual dimensions underlying most of these traditional tales and her gorgeous, gothic prose is a joy to read.

Another collection of short stories that I would strongly recommend is Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America. These excellently crafted stories delve into the everyday of lives of people, most often women, to find deeper meaning. The prose is subtle and minimalist, especially if compared to that of Carter, but the stories manage to pack a true emotional punch. For example, the poignant “People Like That Are The Only People Here” brings the reader inside the painful reality of life for parents of a child diagnosed with cancer.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale become a bestseller again. Atwood’s dystopian vision documents the life of Offred in Gilead, a theocratic military dictatorship that subjugates women. The story is a page-turner and a frightening prediction of where the dogma of limiting women’s rights and wilfully destroying the environment could lead. If you are interested to find out more about this prolific Canadian author, the New Yorker recently published an intriguing profile of Atwood.

Another page turner, but one based in the past rather than an imagined future, is Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Mantel plunges the reader into the intrigues of King Henry VIII’s Court and brilliantly portrays the ambitious Thomas Cromwell. Her prose is vivid, and the tale is thrilling enough that the reader never feels overwhelmed by the large cast of historical characters. Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up The Bodies both won the Man Booker prize. The third and final part of the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, has yet to be released.

Penelope Fitzgerald only published her first book at the age of 58, but her late blossoming career left us with a remarkable body of work. One case in point is The Blue Flower, a short but elegant novel that immerses the reader in moments of the life of the 18th century German poet Novalis. Fitzgerald shares a multiplicity of sensations and meanings through a series of vignettes, but the tale retains an aura of mystery that will keep you searching for what the blue flower truly represents long after you have put the book down.

On the fence between journalism and fiction writing is the work of Svetlana Alexievich, the 2015 Nobel Prize in Fiction Winner. In Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, Alexievich weaves together interview segments to show how the collapse of the Soviet Union impacted everyday citizens. Many qualify Alexievich’s work as oral history, but she prefers to call her literary technique, “a novel in voices.” No matter how you classify the book, it offers a remarkable and compassionate portrait of post-Soviet society.

I have read all of the extremely talented Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s works, and my favorite is her powerful account of the Nigerian Civil War, Half of a Yellow Sun. Rather than focus on battles or glory, Adichie offers a devastating assessment of the disappointment and violence wrought by this conflict. You may also be familiar with Adichie from her TED talk on why we should all be feminists.

The list would not be complete without a work by the brilliant 1993 Nobel Prize laureate, Toni Morrison. Beloved, a virtuosic novel in every sense, tells the tale of former slave Sethe and her process of “rememory.” It is even more tragic to note that the book is based on an actual case from the 1850s. For those interested in the topic of the value of work or how work relates identity, I also encourage you to read a short piece by Morrison from this week’s New Yorker.

Additional resources :

For the very ambitious, the New York City Library created a list of 365 Books by Women Authors to Celebrate International Women’s Day All Year.

Danielle Dutton recommends her top ten Top 10 Books About Wild Women.

Marta Baussels lists 10 Inspiring Female Authors that You Need to Read.

FacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinFacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedin

10 things living in The Netherlands has taught me

In the summer of 2016 my family and I moved from the sunny Costa del Sol to the not-so-sunny town of Delft, and  I wasn’t sure if we’d made the right decision.  I knew that my husband’s work opportunities would be better, my children’s schooling would be a LOT better and that I wouldn’t have any trouble continuing my writing. I also figured that living in such a creative town, and close to other business hubs like The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam, my career could only ever progress. But Holland? Could I be happy there?

Yes I like cheese, clogs are funny and tulips are pretty – but what did I know about The Netherlands? What could the country offer me?

Well actually, it turns out that ten months into our three year placement here it’s taught me a lot. I now understand why everyone thinks it’s so cool and I know (freezing winters aside) I will be happy here. Here are ten things that living in The Netherlands has taught me…

 

 

You don’t need to have good weather to have fun
I’m half Spanish so sunshine runs through my veins…closely followed by mojitos. When I look back at the best times of my life there’s always been a blue sky. Yet living in The Netherlands has taught me that it’s fine to go outside. Even if it’s a bit drizzly and cold. Once I’d invested in a decent winter coat, thermals and thick boots I was ready to explore the amazing scenery. We’ve trekked through fields of tulips, woodlands and farms, canal boat rides, city walks and plenty of food markets – and although it’s been cold it’s also been lots of fun. And as for going out with friends in the evening, I just swap my sangria for gluhwein and it’s all good!

You don’t need a car
In Spain we had a car – in fact we had two! Then we moved to the tiny cobbled streets of Delft, with its multitude of bicycles and parallel parking beside canals and we changed our minds. And you know what? I love not having a car now. I walk over an hour a day and my backside is pert and round. I get fresh air (maybe too fresh) and I get to see the beauty of the town. The trains, buses and trams are (mostly) on time and reasonably priced and best of all I don’t have MOTs and insurance to worry about. I’m sure life will get even better once I get myself a bike…but one step at a time. Literally.

 

 

Kids should be given freedom
To be fair, my kids have always had freedom because I practise the parenting art of ‘do the least possible and tell everyone you are making your children independent’! But in Holland that is a thing. It’s actually their way of life and it’s encouraged for parents to let their children do as much as they can by themselves. Cycling to school, going to the park, going shopping…you see children as young as six years old going about their daily business alone and it’s fine. It feels safe here and you know your children are respected; in fact kids are given as much importance as adults. Apparently children here are also the happiest in the world (they don’t get homework in their pre-teen years, which I’m sure also helps). Take a look at the book ‘The Happiest Kids in the World’ if you don’t believe me!

A home looks better when you fill it with flowers
You know what makes me happy (apart from chocolate and silence)? Fresh flowers. And the best thing about The Netherlands is that flowers are cheap. If you go to the market before they close you can buy a bunch for as little as a Euro! I’ve quickly realised that the dustiest of houses look pristine if you fill them with enough tulips and roses. It also smells better too!

I’m lucky to have English as my mother tongue
Have you ever tried to speak Dutch? Well luckily you don’t need to, as the clever buggers all speak about five languages and feel so sorry for you as you splutter your way clumsily through every sentence that they insist that you speak English. Even the films on TV and in the cinema are in English – lucky us!

 


You can eat crap and still be slim
Dutch people are not fat. Dutch people love their beer, waffles, pancakes, bitterballen, bread and cheese. It must be all that cycling and lack of driving that keep them trim!

Beaches are not just for the Med
I was shocked that The Netherlands had such great beaches (OK, so my geography isn’t great). Although it’s standing room only when the sun makes a rare appearance, places such as The Hague’s Scheveningen is a Hipster paradise full of cool beach bars, restaurants and sand finer and more golden than anything the Costa del Sol has to offer. I wouldn’t bother bringing your snorkel, or getting in the freezing sea in general, but you can still get a mean cocktail or two.

Women are a force to be reckoned with
Being an expat (or ‘trailing wife’…don’t you just love that term?) it’s rare for me to move to a country because of my husband’s work and get asked what I do. It’s a sad fact of life that when you are a mother, and married to a businessman who travels a lot, people rarely expect you to have your own career as well. Except in The Netherlands. How refreshing to be asked if I was here for my studies or my own business. How wonderful to have the opportunity to tour universities and schools talking about my books, host panels at literary events and get to discuss gender politics, entrepreneurships and business opportunities while surrounded by like-minded working mothers. Hurray, an expat location with an advanced mindset.

You can be rude and still have manners
Just ask the Dutch. So friendly, so helpful, so smart…yet so direct!

Europe is actually one big playground
And the best thing about living in The Netherlands? We are at the centre of Europe. We are a short train ride away from Belgium, France and Germany. We can hire a camper van and drive to Italy via Switzerland. Or we can be in the UK in 40 mins by plane. Weekends have just got a lot more fun. So who cares that the weather is cold, the language tricky and the food a bit stodgy? It’s a magnificent country with great people and loads to do…and if you get bored of it you are just a few hours away from other amazing countries. Yes I miss my siestas and balmy nights of sunny Spain – but pancakes on a Dutch beach in an anorak isn’t so bad either. I might even treat myself to some cheap flowers on the way home.

Natali Drake is a published author and freelance Marketing consultant. You can attend her FREE talk about the Rise of Young Adult fiction and its place in today’s society at the American Book Centre in The Hague on 1st June 6.30pm, where she will be also answering questions and signing copies of ‘The Path Keeper’ – her first book from her thrilling fantasy romance series.

FacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinFacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedin

What’s your time worth?

Yesterday I worked fifteen hours without a break. No, I’m not a life-saving surgeon or the Prime Minister – I’m a working mother who is underpaid and undervalued. Who am I undervalued by? Myself.

In 2012 I began to work as a freelance Marketing Consultant while living in Spain. My girls were aged nearly three and five at the time and in full time nursery. I had survived the sleep-deprived baby years, my energy and health was improving and my kids could finally (more or less) feed themselves and wipe their own butts. It was time to forego the part time work, take the plunge and finally use my years of experience to become self employed.

‘My days are my own!’ I silently rejoiced. ‘I will finally be paid for everything I do outside of my mummy duties.’

Oh how wrong I was.


The problem wasn’t that I didn’t have time to work – nursery was 9-5. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t have clients – I had plenty of work coming my way. The problem was that I underestimated how bad I was at valuing my own self worth, and what a pushover I would be at volunteering my time now that I didn’t have a boss managing it.

Time and time again I would find myself looking at my watch thinking ‘how can it be 3pm? I haven’t done any paid work yet!’

Then things got trickier. I received a three book publishing contract for my fantasy romance series ‘The Path Keeper’ and I temporarily moved to The Netherlands with my family. I continued working and getting new marketing clients, but now on top of work and mummying and writing my books I was now also promoting them. I was up until midnight every night trying to squeeze it all in…but my bank account didn’t reflect the amount of hours I was working

After a long hard think I had to admit where I was going wrong. Tell me if I’m alone here, but I think it’s fair to say that the self-employed, especially women, and ESPECIALLY mums are really really really crap at saying no.

I’ve often wondered why us mums are the worst when it come to recognising our own self worth. Is it because for years we’ve happily worked for free changing nappies and feeding babies and forgotten that our time is actually worth something? Or is it because once we finally escape the baby years and re-enter the workforce everything (yes, everything) seems easier and more fun than dealing with screaming newborns and tantruming toddlers, so we don’t see it as hard work but actually an escape? And who wants to charge people for work that doesn’t feel all that difficult?

Once I began working for myself I was so eager to please and prove my worth, show that my time out of the workplace hadn’t affected my ability, that I was putting in more hours than I needed to and earning a fraction of what I did pre-baby.

So at what point do we drop the guilt, the sense of obligation and our embarrassment and say to clients/people in need of our time – ‘no, I can’t do that’ or ‘yes, I can….but not for free’?

Work is one thing and one thing only – an exchange of our time for money. That’s it. What we choose to spend time on outside of our allocated working hours is up to us, it’s our right to say no if we think volunteering on three school trips in one month on our only day off is too much. It’s ok to sit and watch TV on a Saturday night instead of answering emails or helping our neighbour with their CV. It’s perfectly ok to say ‘I’m sorry, I can’t’ and be kind to ourselves.

Our kids get enough of our time without having to thank us…so why should anyone else?

What happens if we let things go and say no? Nothing. No one is judging us, if anything they are realising that our time is precious and only we have the right to decide how it’s spent. Hey, they may even pay us what we deserve!

So I have made a vow to myself – from this day forth I shall no longer do things for free. Unless it directly benefits my family, business or my books I can’t (literally) afford to do anything more for nothing. I can’t.

But of course there’s always an exception…such as this article. Of course Delft Mama haven’t paid me for it, and it’s 9pm and I’m still working after having been awake since 6am. Dammit! There’s only one thing for it then, I’ll have to use this as a big advertising tool to shout about my next author event in The Hague on 1st June.

There, that’s better, I don’t feel like I’ve given away my time any longer. And now for the tricky part – how do I say no to  the PTA?

Natali writes as N J Simmonds and the first book of her YA fantasy romance series, The Path Keeper, is now available at all good English language bookshops and online (the second book ‘Son of Secrets’ is out February 2018). She will also be presenting a FREE talk about writing at the American Book Centre in The Hague 1 June at 6pm and signing copies of her book. For more information on her work, and up and coming events, visit njsimmonds.com. And to find out more about her Marketing Consultancy services visit natalidrake.com

FacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinFacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedin

Pieces of us

When you move places, countries, cultures, you know pretty much what you leave behind, but you never truly know what lays ahead. You get a bit excited, you gather information, you make plans. And no matter how good you prepare yourself, you find yourself at a certain point in this new place, away from what feels familiar, struggling to put back all the (missing) pieces in your life.

When I moved to Delft, I knew I needed an international community to help me with what I needed back then: to help my daughter the best in her international transition. For me, finding Delft Mama was just a few clicks away. I immediacy found gatherings and get togethers which made me meet interesting people. Later on, just a question here and there, and many Delft mamas were always eager to share their knowledge and information with others.

Building such a vibrant and strong community does not just happened by chance. But I am sure when Lucie Herraiz Cunningham started Delft MaMa 10 years ago, she could not imagine where it stands now. All the international parents involved in so many projects, helping each other, and helping the city of Delft as well. Because, there is what we all have in common,  the beautiful city we live in.

Image: Nan Deardorff McClain

One of the activities this year, to mark the 10th anniversary of Delft MaMa, is the nicest community project of making a beautiful, big mosaic on an “ugly”, empty wall. One of our Delft mamas, Nan Deardorff MacClain, who you might know from various mosaic art projects in the city centre, will be coordinating this project.

Image: Nan Deardorff McClain

The mosaic project is going to be a wonderful tribute to the awesome organization that Lucie started 10 years ago to help international women connect and support each other during the demanding years of mothering babies and young children. The mosaic, once approved by Gemeente Delft and funded, with a combination of grants and a crowd-funding effort, will be installed at the Achtertuin playground, a place that has a large, vandalized wall. We will be including neighbors, hopefully during their annual straatfeest, as well as Delft Mama members and their families at a picnic at the Delftse Hout on June, 25th. Other workshops will happen in May during the mama’s nights out and at the weekly playgroups. The installation of the mosaic, once it is completed will happen in August, if all goes according to plan!

Keep an eye on the calendar and the different events on our Facebook page. You all can participate, and add the little pieces of your own personality and artistic skills to this amazing collaboration. Because Delft MaMa is all of us. And this mosaic will be an unique, urban, work of art. Made by pieces of us.

FacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinFacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedin

Delft mama of the week: Marie

I met Marie for first time last year when she started hosting the Delft MaMa playgroup. She is currently the playgroup coordinator and she’s taking part in several other DMM projects as well.

We sit down together on display on the window of Hummus in Delft and order hot beverages. It’s Saturday and she’s coming straight from mindfulness yoga. It fits the first impression I had of her: a calm mom oozing nothing but serenity, but Marie tells me laughing her yoga classes were a gift from her husband, who hopes she can find it easier to relax a bit. Marie has been called too serious all her life, because of her amazing drive and ambition, so she has made a conscious effort of finding ways to loosen up a bit. To her luck, becoming a mother has been one of the things that has helped her in her quest.

Marie has been calling the Netherlands home for a few years. She used to travel a lot first for her studies: a scholarship took her from her home in the US to Paris when she was only 16, and later during her undergraduate studies Marie spent a semester in Brazil, two summers in Russia and one summer in Paris, where she also completed her master’s degree. Later in life her project based work took her from Scotland to Singapore and everywhere in between. She loves Brazil and says Vietnam is one of her favorite countries. But the love of her life, a Chinese man Junzi, Marie met by coincidence in the Netherlands.

When Marie was expecting their son, now a 1-year-old William, the married couple decided to settle down in Delft. Earlier having spent her time visiting new countries and cities every two to three weeks, Marie was sure she’d go out of her mind in such a small place as Delft. She had good friends in The Hague and in Haarlem, but she was missing a closer safety net. “When I first had William, I wasn’t meeting others very much, but I knew about Delft MaMa. When he was 5-6 months old, I decided to come to the playgroup”, Marie says. Meeting other moms allowed her to create her own social circles in Delft and thanks to this simple plan followed by action she’s much more involved in the community and to her surprise has yet to feel bored in the beautiful medieval town.

Marie speaks several languages fluently (English, French, Portuguese, Russian) and is constantly pushing the envelope with useful things to learn. She is currently taking Dutch lessons and teaching herself Chinese and she’s soon traveling to China with William to stay with her in-laws for a month to get more immersed in the language. She has always been hard-working and extremely driven at school and at work. Before becoming a mother, she describes herself as having been “definitely workaholic”. As one might assume, it has been a big adjustment fitting in the stay-at-home-mom shoes.

Lately Marie has been increasingly thinking about returning to work. The original plan – to return to work when William was three months old – didn’t go through. She realized the plans she had made before the birth of her child weren’t what she wanted and she listened to her heart instead. “Outsiders often think I’m calm, but I feel it’s the opposite! The main struggle now is should I go back to work or should I stay with William,” Marie explains.

The struggle is familiar to if not all, to most mothers. Marie says she knows she shouldn’t compare her own situation to her friends who are working in very prestigious positions around the world, but she can’t help but think about the opportunities she had, the good schools she went to and the professional ambition she to this day has. Now that William is one year old, Marie started to apply to again. She has sent out tons of applications, but hasn’t gotten that much interesting feedback. “It’s always difficult when you’re used to having a job and now I have to think how much I want a certain job and how much I want to stay at home with William. He’ll never be young again, but maybe if I stay out of work too long, I might have more difficulties finding a good job”, Marie says.

She often thinks about why work is so important for people in general. In the more distant past people didn’t define themselves by their work, but now it seems to be one of the first questions people ask each other. Before Marie didn’t mind this question at all, but lately she noticed how defining this question sounds. “It makes you think why do we value work so much as the value of the individual, when it doesn’t represent much at all. Of course it can, but oftentimes it doesn’t,” Marie says and explains how these days a specific job isn’t always what someone chooses to do, as it depends a lot about circumstances one can’t control. “If I’m philosophical enough I’d say would it matter if I’m working or not? What I’m doing is probably more valuable than what a lot of work people do,” she rightfully says at the end of our talk.

FacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinFacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedin

Delft Mama of the week: Natali

I’m meeting our mom of the week at café Kek in the center of Delft. I’m early, but she’s already sitting by the table working. Behind her there are frames with cool drawings, including one with a feather.

Feather seems to be a reoccurring thing for our mom of the week, Natali. It’s also on the cover of her book, The Path Keeper, that came out recently. When I ask about the meaning of the feather, she smiles and says I need to read her book to figure out. After her first novel came out, she has already been compared to no other than George R. R. Martin. Natali has a book deal in her pocket for two more books, coming out in February 2018 and 2019.

Natali was born in London, but grew up in Barcelona until her 7th year when she returned to London with her mother. As a daughter to an English teacher and a Catalan graphic designer, language and art have always been steadily present in her life. Mirroring to her background Natali has had a great career in marketing and publishing, working for publications such as Cosmopolitan Magazine and Harpers & Queen (now known as Harper’s Bazaar).

Before settling down, Natali spent 14 months backpacking on her own. During this trip she met her English husband, Peter. Isabelle (8) was born in London, but Peter’s work took the family to the province of Malaga in Spain and the second daughter of the family, Olivia (6), soon followed. “I went from being a London girl having a really cool job to a relaxed mom in Spain,” Natali says and tells me that’s when she got into writing. No family and friends to balance the plate, yet raising two small daughters she had to find a way to work around it. Natali set up her own freelance marketing company, got extremely involved with the local wedding industry and worked in the lifestyle sector. “It was a really good fun, but then my husband got a job in the Netherlands, the children were getting into the age where as much as we love the beach, they needed more culture and diversity,” Natali explains their reasons for moving to Delft.

Before setting a foot on the Dutch soil for the next three years, Natali had already joined the Delft MaMa community. She deliberately looked for it, because she’s the founder of a similar mom group for English speaking expats in Costa del Sol, and figured there must be one in Delft too. Joining the parenting community before arriving was important as it gave Natali and her family a chance to establish friends and contacts before arriving.

Sharing her experiences to empower the mothers around her has been really important for our mom of the week. “For the last few years I have wanted to do a workshop called “moms with ambition” for women who are in that transitionary state of motherhood, having been somebody, being a mom, wanting to go back to who they are, were, but struggling, because they aren’t the same person anymore.” She sees the huge potential to do cool projects with like-minded Delft Mamas and has already been planning some workshops.

Her book is written for young adults, but many of her readers are over their 30’s. Natali points out something that many of us might not have realized before: “Empowering mothers and empowering teenage girls is very similar. We’re hormonal, making that transition, trying to discover or find themselves.” During her book tour she has visited schools and talked to a lot of teenage girls. Even if Natali can make one child think they can do it because of her encouraging words and outstanding example, it’s all that matters to her.

Since Natali was little, she has always been writing stories and drawing pictures. She filled a notebook after another during her nomad years, but only when she moved to Spain she tapped into something she had always loved and she got serious about writing. “You don’t realize you’ve always been something until you start doing it professionally”, Natali says. During her years in Spain she co-founded an online magazine The Glass House Girls that has tens of thousands of followers, she joined a writing class and started writing her book. “I never really lacked confidence. I always felt you should be allowed to do what you want to do, which is sometimes difficult as a mom. Going on the writing class enriched me. My teacher gave me a lot of feedback and told me I could write,” Natali explains. She surrounded herself with other writers and after years of writing, she finished her book. That’s when the work started. “When you’ve been three years writing something, getting a publishing deal feels like the end, but it’s actually the beginning. You then have to be very patient, because it’s a very slow process,” she states.

Although Natali doesn’t write like most people, she has come to realize the style doesn’t matter as long as what you have in the end works. She processes absolutely every aspect of her story in her head before simply typing it down. “Don’t worry about doing it right”, she says about her experience and continues saying experimenting is the key, but the most important thing is to have a story that is engaging. “Really open yourself up, pour yourself onto the pages. Don’t be scared or embarrassed about making yourself vulnerable, because you have to and that’s why it’s so difficult to be creative. You’re throwing your heart out and waiting for everyone to give their opinion and they are all different. That’s being an artist,” Natali sums it up with a profound insight.

If you want to meet Natali, she’ll be at the Comic Con in Utrecht 25-26 of March.

The Path Keeper is available on Amazon.com The book contains sex and strong language.

FacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinFacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedin

Life After Motherhood…Dream On

I really wanted to be a mother and, as a woman who generally gets what she strives for in life, I took for granted that kids would magically appear when I wanted them to. Luckily for me I found getting pregnant easy, I had an easy pregnancy and I had a relatively easy birth. Those supposedly difficult stages that mums-to-be around the world agonize over were the easy bits, but for me the tough part was yet to come – motherhood itself.

No matter how many times you are told by a friend that being a parent is difficult or you read the warning words in books, blogs and articles such as this one…they don’t actually sink in. You think they do, you try and brace yourself, and you are convinced that you are ready.

But you aren’t.

It goes without saying that the sleepless nights, endless tantrums and aching monotony of baby days that act as foggy bookends to those flickering fleeting moments of joy and wonder that motherhood brings were difficult – but I was told about them and I knew that they wouldn’t last. No, what I wasn’t prepared for was that it wouldn’t only be sleep and freedom that I lost…I would lose myself.

Motherhood is a vortex, a black hole that we tumble into as soon as our pregnancy test turns blue, where nothing matters but our child. Mother Nature made it that way – that’s why our children survive until they can walk and talk and wipe their own behinds. But then we finally look up, like startled meerkats, and exclaim ‘shit, what’s happened to my life? Where did everyone go?’

When you shine the spotlight on your babies you fall into the shadows. And your dreams? They dissipate so fast it’s as if they never really existed.

But can we get them back? Can women mix success with motherhood?

This isn’t an article about post natal depression, working mothers or finding the work/life balance. This is my story….and it’s a story about dreams.

Since I was a old enough to hold a pen I have wanted to write. I still have the stapled-together ‘books’ I wrote when I was ten years old; as a backpacker I filled my bag with notebooks which in turn I filled with stories peppered with the adventures I was living day by day; and in my twenties I wrote articles for work and attended writing courses – but I was always too busy to write that elusive novel I promised myself would happen one day.

I was too busy…oh the irony! The occasions in my life when I did have the freedom and time to sit, alone, dreaming and conjuring up new characters were squandered to the frivolous and the fun. ‘You can write your novel next year,’ I told myself. ‘You have all the time in the world’.

Except I didn’t…because then I became a mum.

With a needy baby in my arms I realised that I had twenty years of raising kids ahead of me, how on earth was I ever going to be a mother and work and attempt a social life AND write a book? It was over. My writing ship had sailed – I would be a retired old lady surrounded by cats before I found the time to convert my scribbled notes into the novel of my childhood dreams.

Yet the strange thing about having a busy mothering life full of ‘have to’s’ instead of ‘want to’s’ is that you soon appreciate the tiny slivers of time that you have to yourself. When your days are filled with the cries of demanding small people and your nights are a merry-go-round of dream feeds and night terrors, ricocheting from the toddler to the baby to the toddler in the dead of night like a demented marble in a pinball machine – you realise that to stay sane you need an escape. So where can you go that doesn’t mean deserting your family? You can climb inside your mind…and that’s how I finally wrote my novel and became a published author.

Lots of people ask me where I found the inspiration and the time to write ‘The Path Keeper’, my first book of a Young Adult Fantasy Romance series (no, there are no vampires). And the answer is simple – I thought about it, planned it and wrote it all in my head as a way of managing motherhood.

When my baby took an hour to feed at 3am, I was thinking about my book. When I had my lengthy work commute stuck in traffic every day, I was thinking about my book. When I was hanging out the washing or cooking dinner or sitting in front of Teletubbies with the kids at the crack of dawn, I was thinking about my book.

How much ‘white space’ do YOU have in your day? Do you use your quiet mind time to zone out? Or worry about stuff that hasn’t happened yet? Or do you, like me, plan?

Instead of arguing with my husband about what to watch in the evenings, or getting upset if he wanted to go out, I would write; and when my toddler insisted that 5am was a good time to get up, instead of being angry about it I wrote my book while she played. I turned the moments that were a source of tension, resentment and anxiety and made them about what I wanted to do. Motherhood was so much more bearable that way.

And suddenly I was no longer just a mum…I was a writer. I was fulfilling my dream. I had stopped moaning and complaining about how trapped I felt and had found my private sanctuary inside of my imagination. Writing my book saved my sanity, the relationship with my family and my self esteem. I had returned!

Finally, after two years of staying up late (well, I had got used to not sleeping anyway) and sneaking to the spare room in the evenings to finish one last chapter – I had a book! Now, what was I going to do with it?

Another strange thing about motherhood that no one tells you about is the guilt. I felt proud with my achievement, but I also felt immense guilt. By juggling my job and my writing I had ignored my family – I’d put my enjoyment first and prioritized a self-indulgent hobby over my role as a mother and wife. So in my mind I had to make it mean something, I had to make sure it got read or it would have all been for nothing. And that’s how I officially became a published author while working and being a mother of two (now a bit older) children. The struggle it took to complete my book drove me to find an agent, it made my skin tough enough to spend a year being rejected by over forty publishers and I finally received an offer for a THREE book contract by UK publishers Accent Press.

I’d like to say that that was my Happy Ever After but in fact this is merely my beginning…because now I’m a few chapters away from finishing the second book ‘Son of Secrets’ and I’m busy promoting ‘The Path Keeper’ in four countries. It’s even being translated into Turkish with other languages in the pipeline.And guess what? I love it! I am interesting again! I feel powerful and proud and energised…and, most of all, I am the old me again!

So I hope this article has been a little light at the end of your tunnel. I hope you read this and think two things:
1. My dreams are still there, I’m not letting go of them just yet and…
2. Well, if she can do it, then so can I.

Being a mother is just one of many things I can be – it doesn’t define me and I won’t let it end me. In fact there is no end. The best thing about dreams is that they keep going on and on and on – just like us mums do.

‘The Path Keeper’ by N J Simmonds is available to buy from all good bookshops and online or visit njsimmonds.com for the latest news and appearances. Natali will be hosting a variety of events during her book tour of The Netherlands in March and April 2017 – follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to find out more.

 

FacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinFacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedin