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ON STAGE | with Silvia Fratelli

CIRCUS - A lovely and fun pregnancy circus piece completes ad hoc Silvia's adventure. Supported by a great team of fellow circus girls in her company, Silvia talks about her training and tour schedules, accidents on the way and brilliant recoveries. Overcoming stress, exaustion and a great family support... Thank you for your beautiful story.

"What's your name and where do you come from and where were you born?

Silvia Fratelli, Italian born in Italy (PISA)

What was your occupation or what kind of work you did around the time you became a mum?

I was and have been a professional acrobat since 2000. I was performing and training as well as co-running the company

Where do you live and work at the moment?

I live in London, mostly work in London with an intensive touring period from end of May till end of Sept around UK and Europe

When did you start thinking "I am ready to be a mum" ( or maybe not yet) ?

When I was 36 years old I suddenly realized I had to think about it seriously before it got too late age-wise. I had thought about it before but my career as an acrobat really stopped me from taking that decision, I was worried about stopping performing to have a baby and what would have happened afterwards.

When did you find out you were expecting and how old were you?

I found out at 36 years old, whilst on tour...

How long did you work for during your pregnancy and after how long did you start again?

I got pregnant in early July and toured extensively till the end of September, by which point I felt I didn't want to do acrobatics at that level anymore...I kept training Pilates, Gyrokinesis and a bit of acro-balance (light, easy stuff) until I was about 36 weeks. Here a link of the 'Pregnancy Piece' I put together at the time with my colleagues

And how much control did you have over when you stopped working and started again?

My pregnancy was 'miracolously' timed to fit with my touring schedule, it somehow happened as I had planned, so I could finish the tour without impacting negatively on the company's touring season. When I got too big I could still teach and work in the company's office till the very end. I felt quite fortunate to work with a female artist led company and receiving a lot of understanding and support.

Did you get support with maternity pay?

I was lucky to be an employee of my own company at the time, so I could get maternity leave pay.

How was your pregnancy?

Overall smooth. The classic: sicklish and tired the first 3 months and quite well for the rest. Just got very big towards the end (Dylan was 10 days late) and felt my feet and legs quite swollen...I also suffered from sciatica when I started to get quite big, so had to do lots of stretching to target that.

What were your thoughts about work and did you have something planned, did you stop, for how long?

I planned to stop for 6 months and found a replacement for my role in the show during the tour that I had to skip.

I actually stopped for a total of 7 months in the end and had the chance to re-enter the job gradually to give myself time to get fit again.

How was the birth?

Not as I expected. I imagined I'd give birth in the birthing pool. As it goes I went into labour quickly as I had to be induced. There were no gradual steps into the labour and despite contractions being strong and relentless I wasn't dilating enough (apparently quite a common problem in dancers, athletes etc) and after 15 hours I had to be induced. In the end I had an epidural and an episiotomy and Dylan was 'forcepped 'out, but thankfully the actual birth moment was dealt with quickly and with no major traumas.

How was your post natal experience?

Unfortunately we had to stay in hospital for a week after the birth as they thought Dylan had an infection..that wasn't fun. He had to take antibiotics every day and that was very distressing. I don't remember ever being able to sleep that week. Once we got home things got smoother. By then he had learnt to latch on well, so feeding was smooth, although he was a terrible sleeper.

I think you get used to amazing, out of the ordinary situations once you have a tiny baby, and thank god the hormones and the maternal instinct generally kick in to make it all happen. Even so, I remember feeling quite clueless, stressed and over exhausted a lot in the first 3 months!

After the birth of your baby (babies) did something change towards how you were thinking about work or when to go back?

I actually kept thinking I would go back after 6 months, didn't really change my plans although Dylan had a big health problem at 4 months that almost changed the whole 'path'. Thankfully that was solved and I went back into work when he was 7 months. I was just quite worried at how logistically I would have gone back into touring....thinking back, if I didn't need to get for within a specific time frame to be able to be in the show, I'd have loved to take a whole year off...

When was the first training you did after birth? Tell us your experience leading to the first show post natal.

I started with Pilates (1:1 with the company's teacher, who knows my body very well). We were very careful not too push it too much and wait till the diastasis was 'sorted'. I started doing some cardio training (cycling on fixed bike, occasionally running and some strengthening exercises). I really wanted to prep my body gradually for about 3 months, to mitigate risk of injury once going back to do the hardcore acrobatics. I must say that breastfeeding (although really exhausting) helped me to get back into shape quite quickly. By the time I started training acrobatics with my colleagues, my body was ready for it. In some aspects my muscles were more relaxed and I had got rid of some tensions (especially shoulders and upper back from not being on my hands everyday for a while). My lower back flexibility and core strength suffered most after pregnancy and birth. I was able to regain my core control but still feel my lower back flexibility has significantly decreased..I was just very tired and sleep-deprived though and that could have been an easy cause of injury.

What you did and how you managed, who helped and how?

I had help from my partner and family...but it was hard to have the head in two places at once. My colleagues were very understanding too and I had the work flexibility that allowed me to avoid stressfull situations. I'd say the hardest times were the full-time rehearsals weeks before the tour started and in these occasions I always had my mum or matt's mum coming over to stay and help.

How much support did you feel like you had for combining motherhood with work? (From partners, parents, friends, colleagues, society at large, government institutions etc...)

I had quite a lot of support, from family as mentioned above and friends too. One of my colleague had a baby just 4 months after me, so the year after we were touring together with 2 babies. It was crazy and helpful at the same time...

I didn't have help from government as I went back to full time work after 7 months from birth. Dylan started nursery, which was and still is really expensive but necessary so we can both work.

Society....not sure how society helped. I guess in my case most of the festivals we were touring to were quite happy to provide extra accommodation for babies and babysitters. That was a big help!

Also I had a few friends that I met at a New Parents NCT course, and although by now we have mostly lost contact, it was amazing to have them in the first year of Dylan's life, as we were all in the same boat at the same time and we could meet up when things were hard or when we felt lonely...

If you feel like you could have used more support/less interfering what would you have wanted?

I'd love childcare to be more subsidised in UK like in many other European would help immensely and put a massive financial pressure off new parents that need to keep working!

Have you got any practical tip, web link, for mothers like you for example maternity pay, support groups etc...? Please add it here.

Let me think about this, except the obvious maternity pay and rights in the government website I'm not sure...

Silvia Fratelli is Joint Artistic Director at Mimbre

Mimbre is a local and international circus and street theatre company, producing innovative and extraordinary performances through the fusion of world-class acrobatics with theatre and dance and promoting a positive, strong image of women.

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