Cycling tours and raising a child – can I make this work?

IMG-20140915-WA0004~2~2[2]I’d always imagined that being a working mother would be tough, but I don’t think it was ever impressed upon me exactly how tough that’d be.

Six years ago I was a legal secretary at a multinational law firm in London and my only worries were whether or not the trains were running on time and if I had enough books to get me through the daily commute to and from Essex. A short while after starting I snapped up my, then, solicitor husband and two years later we jointly realised that the London life wasn’t for us and left our well-paid jobs….slap bang in the middle of a recession!

It didn’t take us long, given our passion for cycling, to start Le Domestique Tours, a cycling tour provider now operating in France, Spain and Italy. It quickly became a reality when we found ourselves in the Pyrenees three months later running tours with no experience and little money. But with an immense amount of hard work and determination, we quickly turned Le Domestique Tours from absolutely nothing into a business which supports my husband, myself, our daughter, three seasonal employees and a very greedy Border Terrier named Henry.

My message to any expectant, new or experienced mothers working hard would be: you can do it. You’ll be surprised at what we can achieve with only 24 hours in the day!

In order to grow our business we’ve had to make many sacrifices, like missing family celebrations (sorry, Mum), barely having a social life for three years and sleeping in garages, vans and even on kitchen floors in order to accept more bookings tours! Then, last year, we found out we were expecting our first child, which was one of the happiest days of our lives. Though it quickly hit home that in order to keep running our business, our daughter would have to come to work with me in France to run the cycling tours from eight weeks of age. At the time this seemed like a brilliant and manageable idea. In practice, obviously, it was much harder!

Fortunately, I had a straightforward labour and after a few days feeding was established (a little too established as she fed every 30-50 minutes throughout the day) and we were getting along just fine. By eight weeks she was sleeping through the night and we were on our way to the Pyrenees to run our first tour as mother and daughter (with the assistance of two employees as my husband was running a separate tour with another employee). Even though it was something I’d done hundreds of times before, with the addition of a new born, I was extremely nervous. Fortunately, our daughter was an angel throughout the season and coped admirably with the early starts, late finishes, high altitude, sweaty cyclists in lycra, ever changing climates and at times some pretty sub-standard nursery rhymes from her mother in the Le Domestique van. Together she and I clocked up over 4,000 miles of travelling within France running tours such as the classic Pyrenees coast to coast, Raid Pyrenees, King of the Mountains, Tour de France, Etape du Tour and the Marmotte. She’s been on more mountains than most cyclists will ever have the fortune to ride, been fed by the sea, on mountains, many a French service station, vineyards, airports, and numerous French cafés. I did start the summer counting the various places I breastfed my hungry leech, but lost count somewhere between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

I’d always imagined that being a working mother would be tough, but I don’t think it was ever impressed upon me exactly how tough that’d be.

I remember one day, we were passing through a very small Pyrenean mountain town and I had stopped for something to eat in a local French café (Chez Jo on the descent of the Portet d’Aspet, for those of you that know the Raid Pyrenees route) and I was feeding my daughter when another woman came and silently sat next to me and started to feed her daughter also. A few minutes went by and another two women came to sit with me and fed their babies. I’m still not sure whether I accidentally stumbled across a local breastfeeding club or whether I empowered women of the town to feed in public (for my superwoman ego I like to think it was the latter, but I suspect it was the former). Or another time when she and I were sitting in the airport car park waiting for our guests to arrive on a flight and I was feeding her in the van with the window down when two American tourists kindly leaned in, pulled our feeding scarf aside and told me what a beautiful daughter I had. I like to think that when my daughter is older she’ll sit and listen to my stories of our adventures together which will hopefully invoke some distant memories of eating with new friends and seeing some beautiful views from some incredible places.

Now the summer season is over and we’re back working in the UK in our office, it’s a juggling act between planning the Le Domestique 2015 calendar and changing nappies, responding to guests and entertaining a teething baby with a rattle. But I wouldn’t change it for the world and am incredibly proud of what we have achieved this year and I couldn’t have done it without the incredible help and support from my husband with breastfeeding and everything else in-between, and also my mother who helped us all the way in our journey this year.

One of the biggest challenges I have found, other than there not being enough hours in the day, is guilt. This isn’t just feelings of guilt towards my daughter but also to the business. I constantly worry that I’m not spending enough quality time with her or that I’m not doing as much work as I could or should be which, a couple of months ago, lead to a spell of working until 3am whilst she slept but I quickly found out that was a bad idea!

My message to any expectant, new or experienced mothers working hard would be: you can do it. You’ll be surprised at what we can achieve with only 24 hours in the day!

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