Global Mamas: Germany

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

We’re profiling one mother from every country on the planet. (Current tally: 10 down, 182 countries to go!)

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Meet Sharmaine Lovegrove. She’s the founder of Berlin’s only specialist bookshop for new English-language books, Dialogue Books, and of Germany’s first English-language literary agency Lovegrove & Gosling. Born in South London-born, Sharmaine, 30, has a background that spans politics, literature and the arts. A diverse career path has included work in film production, literary publishing, and public relations, Her other interests include urbanism, cookery and sustainable development. Based in Berlin since February 2009, Sharmaine married in September 2010 and had her first son, Jackson, in August 2011.

Here’s her story …

Photo by Sharmaine Lovegrove

Life before baby …
We found out that we were expecting a baby shortly after Christmas 2010, a mere three months after we got married. I moved from London to Berlin in 2009, set up my bookshop and started working as a literary consultant. My life, like many people from big cities in their late twenties, was filled with great food, good wine, a range of cultural activities, and many friends.

My ideas about motherhood …
I always knew I wanted to have a family. I am quite maternal, and was always fascinated by individual growth and development. The main thing was to make sure that I was with a life partner, so I wasn’t consciously thinking about having children until I had found the man to spend my life with. Then we would, together, make the choice to have a child.

Then came baby …
The biggest change since having my son was the lack of time I had for anything outside the family home. Sending emails, answering phone calls and not thinking about anyone or anything else other than my son was a huge difference. I would not have changed it and loved my time with our son, watching his every move and tiny developments every hour during his first weeks.

The other change was the lack of mobility that I had post-pregnancy. It was a real shock, after such an easy pregnancy and short labour, just how long it took for my body to recover. Five months later, I am not even nearly close to where I was before.

The most challenging part of motherhood …
Actually, it’s not the sleepless night or even a demanding baby who loves to be held and needs lots of attention. These elements are part of what we signed up for when we decided to become parents. For me, the most challenging part of motherhood is all of the questions, constant advice and competitiveness of other parents. Sometimes the other parents make you question your own decisions and understanding of your child. This not only surprises me, but makes me sad. It’s such a wonderful and unique time that is as wonderful and unique as the people going through it.

On balancing work and life …
I went back to work as a literary consultant only six weeks after the birth of our child. I got a job that I really wanted whilst I was pregnant, and accepted before I gave birth. I was thrilled about the opportunity. Taking my baby and husband to the UK for work seemed a daunting prospect when our son was only five weeks old, but I was so proud of our little unit, how we came together and bonded through the experience.

My son and husband were in the rented apartment during the day while I went to work in an office. I loved knowing that my son was with my husband and they were forming a bond in a unique way that might have not happened if I had been there. It meant that my husband and I had a great understanding from very early on that there was not just one way of doing things, and have since really embraced other people changing our son’s nappy, feeding him and spending time playing. Actually, we have found that this encouragement of relationships with different people has allowed our son to develop into a very sociable, happy, smiley baby who loves the attention of others without looking around, worried, trying to find his parents.

I really enjoy working from home (we have staff in our Berlin bookshop) with my husband. Since we’re both self-employed, we’re able to take frequent breaks in turn to play and spend time with our child. This, of course, means that we don’t get much work done! The three of us can usually be found playing a game together at four in the afternoon. And we wouldn’t change it for anything.

I have found that my son has given me more reason to succeed in my career with the aim of making everything we desire possible. We are not a materialistic family, but we do value our time and the freedom to create those lasting experiences that mean something to us during a time that we dictate rather than what is dictated to us.

The best part about raising a child in Germany …
The German education, health and political system is fair and of a high standard. I am really proud to live in a forward-thinking part of Europe where quality of life and family are very high on the agenda.

Berliners tend to be rather eco-friendly and experimental so there are lots of home-births, doulas and support groups in German, as well as some in English. Our midwife was fantastic and offered lots of advice and support before and after the birth.

Breast-feeding in public is common practice in the city.  If anything, eyebrows are typically raised if you give your child a bottle! Someone is bound to ask you if it’s your milk you are feeding as opposed to formula.

In Berlin, I love seeing other children and their parents and how happy they seem without the stresses of other big cities like London, Paris or New York. Children have a certain freedom in Berlin, which allows them to have a great childhood without the social fears or stigmas many face in our society.

The parts I wish were different …
The only downside of having so many babies around is that everyone seems to have an opinion, and people here do speak their minds on any issue.

Best piece of advice I ever heard …
Someone once told me to let your child be held by other people so they know that there is more than one way of being changed, held, played with, and fed.

If we could jump into the DeLorean and race back in time …
I would tell myself, “Try to capture more of each stage, as it all goes so quickly!”

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If you’d like to nominate a first-time mother living outside of the United States to be featured here, please send an e-mail to: get[dot]msmack [at] gmail [dot] com.

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