Watch Me Bloom: Vicki Swalwell-Tolley
Vicki has been in the media agency world for 12 years, with experience across all media channels and working with most sectors during her career, specialising in client account management and campaign planning.
She spent 12 years at MediaCom in Birmingham, starting as their first graduate, and this year made the move to independent agency tmwi in Stratford Upon Avon.
What big lessons have you learnt over your career so far?
1. Relationships are a central factor to any job. You meet so many people across your career but there will always be those key people who are there no matter what. Team members, suppliers and clients – building relationships with them has helped make work better and easier.
2. Changing as a person is OK, growing as a person across your career is a positive thing and can lead to exciting changes.
3. Home/work balance is the most important thing you will work on and continue to develop. It’s easy to get caught up in the heavy workloads and think that by taking time away from the laptop and switching off it will reflect badly but making sure your mental health, lifestyle and self-worth are in a good place is worth
What helped you through the process of making such a big change?
In 2019, I became a Mom. Up until then, I was focussed on my career and finding who I wanted to be as a person. Having H is the best thing I have ever done and he changed my life in so many ways, but it has also been the hardest challenge I have ever faced. The challenges started before he was born with the journey to getting him not being what was expected and ultimately resulting in IVF.
Having fertility issues is not something I had ever considered, there was no history of it in my family and no medical reasons for us to consider, but as I have learnt there isn’t always an explanation (1 in 4 of those who struggle are classed as ‘unexplained fertility’) and you will simply just be part of the 1 in 7 couples who struggle to conceive.
We were one of the very lucky ones who got a happy ending, but I am so aware that many don’t. IVF changed me, it changed my view on the world and what is important to me but also my view on struggle, strength and acceptance.
IVF is incredible and challenging at the same time. It’s hard in ways you never expect and effects every part of your life. I was extremely lucky to have a supportive manager and team who I could open up too about the struggles.
The emotions you feel are from elation to the darkest place in minutes, changed by hearing someone’s pregnancy announcement or watching something silly on TV. I could be sat in the office, get a phone call and be in bits the next minute – having the support system I did made all the difference and it’s the main reason I am such an advocate for Fertility Policy in the workplace.
So many couples feel they can’t be honest about what they are going through, and this in itself adds stress that you just don’t need at that time.
When you are having time out to go for various scans (often uncomfortable and invasive), filling your body with hormones and having to plan your day around injections (like the time I had to do an injection in the NIA toilets half way through a Justin Timberlake concert, or find somewhere secret at a work social) your priority is no longer on work or yourself. I found work was a good distraction but I never felt 100% there, always having to consider the next test result or pull myself out of the house on a day when all I wanted to do was cry.
That personal journey in itself changed me and my focus, but when H came along we not only felt overwhelming lucky, but I found a new focus. We had fought so hard to get him that he was, and always will be, the priority. Many women say they lose themselves when they have a baby, I felt this but not until I returned to work after the amazing year of being on maternity.
Having spent the year absolutely loving being a new Mom, when the time came to go back to work I knew it was what I wanted to do. I needed to get a part of me back and feel like I was challenging myself again. It was April 2020 when I went back, 4 weeks into National Lockdown, so I returned to a very different way of working than I was used too.
The social aspect of work that I loved was no longer there and everything was done remotely, I felt like getting back that side of me was impossible and I struggled. The balance of work and life was harder than I had prepared myself for especially as my mind was constantly split into two, between work Vicki and Mommy Vicki. My job felt alien to me. I had been doing my job for over a decade and I knew deep down that a year off didn’t mean I had forgotten everything but I no longer felt good at it.
Of course, this was temporary and although I still get the feelings of not being completely present in either side of my life I have found a balance that I am happy with and look back at those times with pride for sticking with it and learning what these changes meant for me.
All of these taught me a lot about myself but ultimately, I learnt to be kinder to myself.
Whether that be in accepting that some aspects of my life are out of my control or that change is a good thing, although sometimes hard, it can bring about a better you and a version of yourself that you love more than you thought you could.
What would you recommend to anyone feeling like they're in a similar boat?
Going on a fertility journey can feel lonely and dark at times, if you find yourself in that situation, please speak to someone, reach out to a charity or join the social community (Instagram was a massive part of my support) where you can find so many people in the same situation. Talking about it can help and once you know others are here to support it becomes that little bit easier.
Finally, remember to be kind to yourself. Whether that be trying for a baby, becoming a parent or getting back into a new routine, somethings will take time and that’s OK.