When my daughter was born, I was asked a lot about my emotional wellbeing by doctors and midwives. What they were really asking was: ‘have you got postnatal depression?’ I remember blandly saying I was fine while knowing that it wasn’t quite the whole truth. Something wasn’t right, but it wasn’t that I was depressed. The best way to put it, I suppose, was to say that I was confused. About who I was now.

Charlotte Duckworth writes for Female First / Photo Credit: Ellie Gillard

Charlotte Duckworth writes for Female First / Photo Credit: Ellie Gillard

I adored my baby, but I had never really realised how much my identity was tied up in my work and my independence. I had sold my PR business before going on maternity leave, meaning my new life at home as a mum felt pretty open-ended. It was terrifying. My identity – and much of my self-esteem – up to that point had been built around my work and all that it entailed.

Not working was very strange. I remember having mild panic attacks in the middle of the night thinking that I should be doing something with this time ‘off’. Even though I was exhausted and probably working harder than I had done in ages – just in a very different way.

I landed a part-time freelance contract when my baby was four months old. In hindsight, it was far too soon to start working again – she was waking at least twice every night and I was exhausted, trying to focus at home on very little sleep, with her lying on a playmat beside me or in the other room with my partner. Soon I felt like I was failing at both jobs – my work and my mothering. After a few weeks, I realised I needed to take the pressure off myself, and I quit. I felt ashamed but it was also a real turning point for me. I promised to take the rest of the year off, guilt-free, and to focus on being a mum. Finally, I began to relax into motherhood.

When my daughter turned one, I started to look for novels that reflected my experience of losing my sense of self when I went on maternity leave. I was amazed not to find many. And so I sat down and began to write The Rival. On some level, the two characters, Ashley and Helena, are a reflection of the two women I feel I was – before and after having my baby. I wanted to examine how the experience of becoming a mother changes you, especially in relation to your career and sense of identity. I’d written novels in the past, but this time I was more focused and motivated than I’d ever been before. I finished the first draft of the novel in ten weeks, and sold it to a publisher just five months later.

When I had my baby, it was as though the previous thirteen years of my life had been thrown out the window and it was almost like I needed to learn to walk again. It’s a huge transition for anyone, and it takes time to adjust. Now, I work four days a week while my daughter is at nursery and have one day at home being a mum. It took time, but finally I feel comfortable in my new skin.

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The Rival is published by Quercus and is available now. Click here to purchase on Amazon.


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