It’s amazing how having a child leads so many parents to re-evaluate what’s important in their lives and make a career pivot. Gabrielle’s wonderful story is no exception. Falling into a career in her 20s, when her baby daughter arrived at 30, she totally embraced motherhood, being on parental leave and reclaiming summer holidays! Six months later and Gabrielle reassessed what was truly important in her life and made the brave decision to return to a career practicing law and living her childhood dream of raising her daughter in the country.
Can you tell us about your career journey?
I worked as a lawyer for two years before my brother started his own company, Bastion S&GO, and was looking for a general manager of operations. He thought I’d be great at it…I had no idea what the job title even meant! But I knew this was my opportunity to play a significant role in running a successful business, so I accepted the job and I’m really glad I did.
Having a child can really affect your sense of self. How did you find the transition into motherhood?
I had my first baby, Francesca, in June 2017. I was 30 and had only been working professionally for five years, so it felt young to be having a baby and permanently altering my professional self. But I’m a big believer in deciding what you want, committing to that, and then making anything work. If it’s not working, you can change it—except the baby part—I realised pretty quickly after she was born that I couldn’t alter that! That sounds like a joke but there was definitely a 5AM breastfeeding and crying moment where I realised this is forever. It’s not like everything else where you can give it a try and change to something else if it doesn’t work out. That knowledge was like a brick on my chest. But I thought to myself, “Well, you call yourself brave and resilient, but you’ve never actually had to stick at something. This is your opportunity to be truly resilient. Embrace it.” It was a good pep talk. So I wiped my tears off Francesca’s head and moved on!
I had a lot of doubt about this whole motherhood thing during my pregnancy. I love working and being highly productive and effective, and I hate being alone. So I was pretty terrified I was going to be quite low and dissatisfied at home. However, I have LOVED becoming a mum. I think there are a few reasons for this—the first potentially being that I had such low expectations! Secondly, some advice a friend gave me really saved me in those first few months. She said my life would become a 24 hour cycle, with no concept of day or night. As soon as Chesca came out, I moved onto a 24 hour cycle and threw out my traditional concept of what the day and night should look like. While the impact of this may have been the old ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’, it was much more than that. No longer thinking of night time as sleep time or day time as awake time meant that I completely freed myself from any expectations or rules or stress. It was so liberating.
How did you find parental leave?
I have just loved being on parental leave. I think it’s great. I actually almost don’t want to tell my husband how great it is because I want him to think it’s a bit of a slog so that he is extra helpful when he gets home from work! But seriously, I have read so many books, drank so many coffees at cute cafes, met so many beautiful mums and enjoyed many an afternoon beer at the pub! You know why I have been able to do this – because I’m lazy and I don’t care if my house is a dump! I feel for all the parents who’ve been stressed out about their washing or the state of their house. If I felt like the dishes were piling up a bit too much, I’d put Francesca in the pram and leave the house! I strongly believe that I am on ‘parental leave’ not ‘housekeeping leave’, and I just knew that if I always used her sleep times to do boring housework, this period of my life would become a drag rather than a lovely, relaxed time. Also, as I was breastfeeding there wasn’t a whole lot my husband could do during the night and, obviously, he was at work during the day, so I figured cleaning could be his contribution!
What do you love the most about being a parent?
It’s hard to answer this without sounding completely gushy, but it is honestly the 24/7 feeling of complete and unwavering love. Of course, being a mother to a newborn has highs and lows and brings with it a whole new concept of dependency, but the unconditional love I have for Francesca means that there is always this underlying contentment. I have never been more content in my life—and I think it is experiencing unconditional love that has given me this. Geez deep!
My other highlight has been getting summer holidays back. Remember when you got your first professional job and thought you’d never have a big summer holiday again? Guess what, ladies? Time your pregnancy right and you can have just that…you’ll just have a pram at the pub with you this time!
How has having a baby made you re-evaluate your life?
I have this theory that you should always have a plan for your life—it doesn’t mean you can’t change the plan, but there should be something you are working towards. Otherwise we are just making ad hoc decisions that aren’t leading us towards what we want, and then we can’t work out why we’re not satisfied. My husband and I said that once Chesca was around six months old, we would reassess our plans and see whether we needed to make any changes.
We came to the (unsurprising) realisation that we want to raise our family in the country and the (surprising) realisation that I didn’t want to return to my general manager job, but instead wanted to practice law again. I think the knowledge that your job is taking you away from time with your baby places a new premium on your time. I realised that my current job wasn’t moving me towards the life I wanted, and I didn’t want to miss out on time with my baby for something that wasn’t getting us where we wanted to be. This was a pretty hard realisation for me to have because it meant quitting my job with my brother, while on parental leave, with no alternative employment lined up. But we want to live in the country to give Francesca the childhood we had, and when you are doing something for your child it gives you a new type of strength.
It sounds like you’ve had quite a few big life changes. Tell us about your exciting new career plans.
I have accepted a position in the class action litigation team with a law firm in Warrnambool. I feel incredibly grateful to have found a firm that is doing really interesting work all around Australia but is based in the country. I will work four days a week, with my husband taking three months’ parental leave and Francesca going into childcare after that. My biggest concern right now is that my husband will realise how good parental leave is and try to steal it off me when the next baby arrives!
What’s the one thing you would tell your younger self?
Never make decisions based on your prediction of the future. Why? Because you can’t predict the future, you doofus, and there will be egg on your face if you have made decisions based on your fear of something that never eventuates!
Favourite time of the day is…breastfeeding Francesca in bed in the morning.
Instagram sites that inspire you…@celestebarber.
I’m happiest when…I’m having a wine with my husband, family and oldest friends.
I’m addicted to…my phone. It has to stop.
Favourite wardrobe staple for work…pants, they’re essential.
Favourite wardrobe staple for weekend…my Birkenstocks. Parental leave has given me the best Birkenstock tan of my life.
My role model is…my mum and my Aunty Carole. Some people are intimidated by them—that’s because they’re confronted by funny, loving, successful women who speak their mind.