F equals for women on the rise

Sophie Taylor and Shelley Lawrence

DANIELLE NEWNHAM

Posted on September 27 2017

 

Founders and life-long friends Sophie Taylor and Shelley Lawrence have created a platform for mums called hi mama -  a digital library of letters written by mothers to themselves.

Newnham: Can you tell us about your backgrounds - what were you like growing up and how would friends and family have described you?
Shelley: Sophie and I grew up in the same market town in Cambridgeshire. My mum looked after my brother and I, working on the tills in Iceland whilst we were in school. When we were a bit older she went into finance and has worked various office based roles since (whilst being the most amazing mum I could have asked for.) My dad has always worked as a window salesman - he is a salesman through and through. My parents separated when I was 13 and divorced when I was doing my GCSEs.

I text my mum to ask her how she would describe me growing up, I was curious to see what she'd say. For the record, I had assumed she’d say... dramatic, that I knew my own mind, and now that my two girls show the same strong will, she thinks it's payback time - amusingly for her. She actually said... Protective, caring, determined and ambitious. I was close :) I think my friends at school would have described me as nice. I have always been very loyal. 

Sophie: I used to leave the pub early on a Thursday evening to go home to watch Friends and ER with my Mum and Dad. We have always been really close and I see my parents, sister and mother-in-law every weekend; family is hugely important to me. We used to do everything together growing up, from spending a Saturday shopping, to watching our favourite football team play. I was pretty sensible at school, I edited the yearbook and I gave the student speech at our GCSE and A-Level certificate evening, then went to Sheffield University to do the most amazing degree in journalism. I always cared massively for my friends, still do, and really try to be there for them, so I hope that’s what they’d say about me.

Newnham: Can you talk us through your careers to date and how you actually met?Shelley: I have worked in events and marketing for 14 years. I met my husband in 2008 and we decided to go travelling - we ended up in Sydney where we planned to stay. I was working as a Marketing and Sponsorship Executive for a large exhibition company and we were blissfully enjoying city life. Then... we found out I was expecting and we were home 6 months later. I quickly realised that going back to the 9am-5pm (ha ha... 7m-8pm) full-time, corporate world just wasn't going to work for me as a mama. So, I decided to set-up as a freelancer, launching my own website which offered marketing support on a flexible basis back in 2010. It's allowed me to work on some exciting projects over the years, around my schedule - not 9-5.

For three years I worked with Music for Life, the charity behind The African Children's Choir (the amazing group who featured on Gary Barlow's track 'Sing' and his documentary for the Queen's Jubilee.) I became their Marketing & Communications Manager, planning and implementing their global marketing strategy. I am now a Marketing Manager for Splash Event Solutions, still on a flexible basis so it works around the girls. It involves some travel, I'm currently in Munich (waves), which can be a juggle, but I have amazing support from James and my mum. In the last 18 months I have been lucky enough to work in Bali, New York, China and all across Europe. 

Sophie and I met in year... 8?? At school. Soph has/is/will always be the organiser. The one to plan trips, the one to organise the gift, the one to suggest fun things to do, and actually put everything into place so we do it. She is so thoughtful and has been consistently so for the 20 years we have been friends. We have shared everything together. From dressing up for under 18 garage nights at each others houses, all shimmer lips and blue eye-liner, to actually turning 18 and feeling like we were real life adults. To becoming those adults – dealing with heartache, trips to see her at uni, job interview prep, the notes and letters we have continued to send our entire friendship. Into the real stuff, funerals, forever love, me leaving for Australia, a baby, engagements, hens, weddings, more babies and now here we are. 

Sophie: One of my first memories of Shell is dancing together at an after-school dance class. She was loved by everyone at school because of her thoroughly beautiful nature and happy outlook. We are hugely lucky to still be in a close group of friends who we have known since school and we have been through everything together. My relationships with those girls are a cornerstone of my life; they are my extended sisterhood.

I got a job in a pub before I went to uni for extra cash and on my first day, Stuart walked into the bar and I thought hmm, he’s rather nice. Turns out he was the owner’s son, and my future husband. We moved to Brighton straight after uni and I got a job as a runner at a television company. It was an amazing first job, long hours, lots of fun, brilliant people and boozy parties. But it was too much after five years and I moved into communications, first for a charity and then for the ambulance service, which was the highlight of my career so far and soon to be for a police force. I spent one New Year’s Eve tweeting from an ambulance shift, taking a patient to hospital as the New Year struck. The NHS has a firm place in my heart; I’ve seen it day in, day out and it is a unique and totally precious service.

Newnham: Can you tell us about hi mama and what led to you starting it?
Shelley: hi mama is a digital library of letters written by mamas to themselves. We are inviting mothers to revisit a time they felt challenged and write to themselves in that time. What would the mama they are now say to the mama they were then? The letters are then published on www.hi-mama-co.uk

I've always struggled with my place in life. I've never been excellent at anything. I know, cue the violins. But really really good at something, like... yes, that's her thing. A talent. I've always been okay. Alright. Medium. Therefore I've forever had this feeling of searching. When I was pregnant I thought, this is it - I'm going to be the best mum. I wasn't, I'm not. But who is? What is the best mum? I've found being a mum the most difficult challenge yet. Soph and I were both freelancing after she had Felix, we had a bit of time and were talking about how amazing it would be if we could work on something together. We felt the same about the shock of finding motherhood so hard, so we knew we wanted to help other mamas. After a few different versions of hi mama, Soph was talking about a book idea, a collection of letters, and we decided to develop it digitally... and here we are. We have always written letters to each other throughout our friendship, so it was a perfect fit.  

Sophie: I have been so lucky to be the fourth one in our group of friends to become a mama and have really benefited from being able to ask a million questions about every stage of pregnancy and the first couple of years. I think sharing experiences, being honest and that feeling of solidarity can help someone so much. And I love how letters give you the freedom and opportunity to write at length, to give you that pause to think about how you feel and to let your thoughts unfold naturally. I really enjoy reading letters (particularly Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note) and think it’s a bit of a lost art form.

Newnham: What do you hope to achieve with it - what is your mission?
Shelley: We want hi mama to become a two-way resource for mamas. For those writing, we hope it’ll be cathartic experience, giving them time to reflect on how far they have come from that point and to realise how kick-ass amazing they are. And for those reading, we hope the words of those who have overcome the same challenges will be comforting. I've said along the way, wouldn't it be amazing if midwives up and down the country were telling new mums about hi mama?

Sophie: I want to reach that mama who, one rainy afternoon, finds herself feeling a bit lost or overwhelmed by the sheer challenge of growing and then looking after a baby. I couldn’t have got through that first year without the support of my friends and family – I remember Stuart, my Dad and sister taking Felix and our dog out for an hour and sitting with my Mum crying about how hard I was finding the sleep deprivation. If a letter makes another mama feel better or lets her know that she’s not the only one going through it, then that will be mission accomplished for me.  

Newnham: Talk to us about motherhood - what would your letters to yourself say?
Sophie: I have multiple letters to write! All of them have the same end message though; you will get through it. A friend said to me that every phase good or bad never lasts and that has proven to be sound advice. You have to hold on in there when you’re a mama, trust your instincts always and even when you feel like you’re losing your way, your strength is in there somewhere.

Shelley: My letter is reassuring myself then not to feel guilty about having a c-section. I was consumed with guilt after my daughter's birth, I felt like a complete failure. So my letter lets the mama I was then know that it will be okay, you won't feel like this forever. As a first time mum there is so much pressure - you feel like if you don't birth your child in a certain way then you haven't done it 'properly'. In turn, you feel like you've failed from the start. I know I could have done with reading my words back then, so I hope they become a relief to anyone who is going through the same feelings now, giving them a glimpse into a future where you love your child so much, how they arrived into the world really doesn't matter.

And confidence... you gain it all back and more. I went on to have another emergency c-section with my second, in fact it was a far more dangerous experience with many more complications but, it took me less time to get over that one because I had gained confidence in my ability and skill as a mum that I had the emotional tools to know it wasn't my fault, and to let it go. 

Newnham: Finally, if you could go back in time, what advice, if any, would you give a younger Shelley/Sophie?
Sophie: Teenage Sophie; don’t waste your heart on useless boys. Early twenties Sophie; that free bar won’t run dry, so no need to drink like a fish. New mama Sophie; you’ve got this.  

Shelley: Don't leave university at 18 because you miss your boyfriend. Eye-roll. But also, don't beat yourself up about it later on - it works out pretty well in the end! I'd also want to tell my 23 year-old self how proud I am of her... she was the start of a much more confident me. I'd never tell myself I was proud of myself in the now. But, looking back at that 23 year-old who stuck a middle finger up in the face of a horrendous event and took herself off to volunteer in Thailand, alone - well, I think she was bloody amazing. And that's exactly what we want to achieve with hi mama, to give mamas an opportunity to reflect on how far they have come and to celebrate themselves.

Hi mama website / instagram / Twitter / Facebook

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