Actress and Golden Globe winner Claire Foy is opening up about one of the most stressful parts of motherhood: Heading back to work. The 33-year-old actress, who gave birth to her daughter two years ago, told British Vogue this month that her return to work, coupled with her inability to breastfeed while on set, left her feeling like the decision to go back to work was “the worst mistake of my life.”
Foy, 33, told Vogue that the heartbreaking realization happened while she was on set, playing Queen Elizabeth in the hit Netflix series, The Crown:
“On the first day of filming, I found myself halfway up a Scottish mountain with engorged boobs and no way of getting down to feed my baby,” she shared. “I had to ring my husband and tell him to give her formula … as I sat in a Land Rover trying to get my broken breast pump to work, I felt I’d made the worst mistake of my life.”
Forced to go without breastfeeding her baby daughter was “like someone had stamped on my heart,” Foy relayed.
This isn’t the first time the actress has opened up about her breastfeeding struggles while filming, though. She was equally candid while appearing on The Graham Norton Show last year, saying: “I was an idiot — such a huge idiot! I was a lunatic trying to breastfeed and be the Queen. It was an odd thing to do.”
Foy did manage to somehow pump on set and juggle early motherhood, though, so she certainly deserves a major pat on the back for making it work. And you certainly wouldn’t be able to tell she was stressed out while watching The Crown — the actress went on to win a Golden Globe for her dazzling portrayal as Queen Elizabeth, in a career-defining role. Yet, here she is, two years on, and still reliving the moment she regretted going back to work so soon after giving birth. This moment still clearly haunts Foy, which makes me wonder: When will women ever forgive themselves for being human?
After I had my first child, I only had enough money to stay home for three months, so I had to go back to work. The only snag was that I didn’t have a job to go back to, as the TV station where I’d worked had gone bust. So I had 12 weeks to lose the baby weight, find a job and childcare, and conquer motherhood — all after having a C section. I look back on that time and think, How on earth did I do it?
Foy’s story — as well as my own — also makes me ask myself another hot-button question: Are we running ourselves ragged by trying to go back to work to quickly? And what is that really doing to us?
Obviously, not everyone has the luxury of taking time off to be with their baby. For many, they simply don’t have the choice. Financially we have to return to work to bring home the bacon, and we feel terrible about doing so. And get this: A 2015 study found that 1 in 4 mothers return to work less than two weeks after giving birth. (Two weeks!) I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a single woman who returned to work within 6 months of having a child and didn’t end up crying in the restrooms, feeling ravaged by guilt.
It begs the question — how far have we really come if we can’t be happy with our choices?
I’ll tell you a story that happened years ago, though I’m still deeply ashamed of it: I once wrote a lengthy Facebook status update hating on tiger mothers and those who had to parade everything they did with their kids on Facebook. It was a kneejerk reaction to some photos another mom had put up, detailing her son’s “birthday challenges.” And while the photos and their captions were, to be fair, pretty smug (“Here he is giving his toys to all the poor children at the charity shop,” read one photo caption), they did not warrant my outburst. But you see, it came from a place of anger. I was angry that I had to be at work full time, angry I wasn’t spending enough time with my children, angry that I didn’t see a way out, and most of all, guilty that I enjoyed my job.
Had I been at home all the time, I would have been equally filled with rage — just a different kind. Because you see, I needed something for myself. Something to occupy my brain and stimulate me. (And hey, I also needed the money!) But like Foy, I couldn’t make peace with my choices. I just constantly felt like I was failing at everything; never being sharp enough and dedicated enough to my job, and never having enough time for my kids.
Somewhere along the line, I lost the feeling that I even had a choice. Everything felt like a compromise. I was this ball of stress and sadness all the time. So when I read Foy’s honest words, about sitting in that Land Rover, feeling like a terrible mother simply for following her passion and accepting a job, I couldn’t help but see my own new-mom self in them.
Sometimes I can’t help but wonder … in having it all, or at least trying to, what have we really lost? We women seem so quick to judge ourselves, blame ourselves, and never see what we’ve actually done right. Instead, we only the mistakes we’ve made. Motherhood for me has been a constant succession of regrets and worrying that I haven’t been good enough.
But the advice that I would give Foy, is the same advice I should have heeded myself: Be kinder to yourself. And know that being at work is also doing your best.
Foy winning that Golden Globe may well mean she can now pick and choose jobs and therefore will reap more time with her family than she had ever hoped possible. After all, life is too short for regrets. And the best mom? That’s one who loves herself, and forgives herself. Simple as that.