SUN BEE HAN
'I had a secret goal - to go back to dance and then return to performing at Sadler's Wells. Nobody expected me to make it in such a short time - to be performance ready in 4 months after giving birth.'
Mother of one. Contemporary dancer and teacher, currently at Shobana Jeyasingh Dance.
What is the most challenging aspect of working in dance and being a parent for you?
Having returned to dance 3 months after my child was born the following three things were most challenging:
Adapting feeding methods from breast to bottle so that he could manage without me during rehearsal periods.
Recovering body strength, although my training was little by little.
Lack of sleep - the most challenging.
What support did you feel you had from work when you were pregnant?
I am self-employed, so I did not have 'maternity leave,' however, the dance company I work for have been really understanding of my situation. They gave me some time to choose when to go back to the studio after the birth and adapted schedules to meet my needs. So, depending on the condition of my body, I could choose to come back to rehearsal when I was ready. As I have some key roles in the most recent words, the company choreographer accommodated me as best she could and we all managed as a team.
Mostly, I am blessed in terms of this situation. My husband is also a choreographer, he encouraged me to continue to move and enjoy the pregnancy.
Was there anything that may not have been in place that you felt could have been useful?
I never asked for financial support because I had indefinite leave to remain in the UK without recourse to benefits. The state could consider me equal to other Mums on low incomes as I am paying tax like everyone else. Maybe there could be a system of help, but I find this government hostile to mothers, so I decide not to look into it any further.
Do you think being a dancer/ working in the dance industry made you think differently about your pregnancy/recovery?
My main goal was to have a happy pregnancy and I feel this is reflected in our child being quite calm and happy as he is still. After that it was about seeing a goal for recovery. I had a secret goal - to go back to dance and then return to performing at Sadler's Wells. Nobody expected me to make it in such a short time - to be performance ready in 4 months after giving birth. The motivation for this goal was really helpful for me in my recovery. Keep a goal in mind, other than just getting back into shape was the challenge I needed. With hormonal changes and the physical transformation of my body entering the unknown, and experiencing the elasticity of the recovering MOther's body was quite a roller coaster.
Walking a few hours a day and trying to get back to a normal routine life as possible was not easy with the baby crying all night. The motivation [of the performance] helped me to continue to keep it up. My husband took over looking after out baby on alternating nights - this was important. Initially he was doing this most nights, but then he was like a zombie and I needed him awake suring the day. So the balance was every other night for each of us - this gave me the time to train when I could.
From your experience, what advice would you give to an expectant parent regarding leave?
Sunbee: Each child and mother combination is different, but I would say it was important for me to stop completely 4-5 months and enjoy the pregnancy. Then, come back when the body feels right. Leave is important, but I think you can come back quickly if the birth goes well. Getting back into a routine can help avoid symptoms of depression and lethargy. We are such to dance and have children while dancing - each step is natural and we have to listen to ourselves the most.
Sunbee's husband, Isira Makuloluwe: In my case, I decided to be a full time father, having organised our finances such that we could do it. This meant we sold up and moved to Portugal where life is cheaper than the UK and the public health system is better than the NHS (in my experience) - especially maternity hospitals. The decision to live simply and far away from the fray of London and the stressful cost of living was a game changer. It was important to support my wife to have a peaceful pregnancy and to carry the burden of the baby care while she was working. It became an essential part of my life - something that I am grateful for. In Scandinavia, dancers who are new parents share one year off together - this should be possible everywhere.
If you were expected to dance postnatal (either by yourself or your employer) how did you approach your recovery?
Regular walks, some stretching and counting on the body to recover naturally. My birth was natural and healing was quite fast. My husband encouraged me to go out and even go to the beach within the first two weeks, so all this was about confidence - gaining enough to want to return to dance.
What changed most for you on your return to work?
I take it a lot easier and less seriously, and onstage, I didn't have to push so much to get the same effect. I have some new pain around the pelvis, but generally my body was quite supple.
Does parenting help you in your work?
There is less stress at work because there is more to my life now. I enjoy dancing more now.
Does dance help you in your parenting?
The two things are not so connected, but my son sees me at work and often I feel I have more energy to play with him when coming home. I have a lot more to look forward to.
Do you know of any resources that already exist for parents who work in dance?
No, but in my native South Korea, there is a state sponsored coaching for expectant Mums which details the 'how and the why' over several sessions. they really helped me prepare.
Anything else you think would be worth raising?
Just enjoy this most special time in your life and have a happy pregnancy if you can. Dance will always be there - the child and your own wellbeing comes first. Avoid negative advice from colleagues whiting you well, but often creating more stress. Some identify with not being pregnant when you are and that's annoying. It a love experience, and your life should be focussed on love thereafter. Nothing else is important and all falls into place more that you'd have wished for it.