I met Miranda on a Hands Across the Water charity bike ride across Thailand a couple of years ago. Raising tens of thousands of dollars each year to support Thai children experiencing disadvantage, Miranda and her now-husband Dan were near celebrities among the ‘Hands family’. Always so warm and easy to talk to, it was no surprise to learn that Miranda was a life coach. Last year, she lent an ear when I needed someone impartial to listen, so it was such a pleasure to be able to listen to her more recently. Chatting over coffee in the Sydney winter sun, I was incredibly moved by her story and reminded that she is quite simply a beautiful human- inside and out!
“I’d been through seven IVF treatments with my ex-husband before our specialist told me to give my body a break. I’d given up work to try and escape from stress, but that meant being stuck at home for a year and a half talking to the dogs. All I had to focus on were the impending blood tests, ultrasounds and injections.
When my marriage fell apart, I was already seeing a life coach. I had returned to work as a student adviser at Curtin University and being in that learning environment made me want to figure out what I wanted to do with my career long term.
But when my marriage ended, the coaching took a very different tangent.
My coach had also gone through a career change and a divorce at my age, so it was a perfect meeting of minds. Analysing the crap that had gone on in my life allowed me to process things and move forward. I came out of my first six months with her knowing I wanted to be a coach.
I moved to Sydney, got my coaching qualification and tried to determine my niche. My lightbulb moment came at a BBQ when a friend asked if there was any coaching offered to women going through IVF.
I wished I had more support through those seven rounds of IVF with my ex-husband. All I received as part of my $8,000 treatment cycle was one consultation. I knew I could offer women in similar situations something beyond the textbook.
There’s still a bit of a stigma floating around fertility treatments so support is really important. There’s also a weight of expectation. The societal expectation of what a family should look like and when you should be having kids, the expectations of your wider family and the expectations you have of yourself.
Within weeks of getting married to my ex-husband, we were asked when we were going to have kids. There wasn’t a lot of consideration given to what might be happening behind closed doors. By the time our friends started to have children, people knew we had been trying; I would go to baby showers, first birthdays, family gatherings and be met with looks of pity. That was much harder than if someone had just come out and asked me how I was coping.
It’s difficult for family and friends to support you unless they’ve been through the same type of journey. There are so many different emotions. The wave of disbelief when you first realise you need to seek help. The shame that comes with your body being unable to do what everyone else is doing. The jealousy and bitterness when other people fall pregnant. The shame and guilt that you feel that jealousy and bitterness. The anger at anyone and everyone.
The constant undercurrent of sadness.
I came out of the other side of that experience near 40, with no husband, no children and no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. But I learnt so much and those lessons formed the basis of my coaching business.
I’m now also working on a new business, Empathic Consulting, with my husband, Dan. This started after Dan had a few water cooler conversations at his workplace with women who had bad experiences returning from maternity leave. He suggested I chat to them. These women were high flyers who had become mothers and then returned to the workplace. They struggled a lot with the transition, experiencing a great deal of isolation.
Speaking to women at different stages of their lives, I’ve learnt that there is a loss of identity through every transition — from a relationship breakdown, to struggling to have children, to having children, to children leaving home.
These initial conversations led to more and I ended up having about 50 chats with women who obviously needed to vent to someone impartial because they felt too vulnerable to share their struggles with their managers.
It became clear that while companies have really great policies in place, there is an absolute disconnect between policy and action. We need to bring these things together in a way that’s authentic.
We distributed a survey among our network and ended up receiving about 730 responses. It blew us away. Some of the stories that came back were shocking and mind-blowingly disappointing. Stories of women being made redundant while on maternity leave or losing their positions when they returned to work.
I then met with some senior executives. They would sit opposite me in their power suits, arms crossed, talking about their parental leave policies. They might have put the policies in place, but at this level, they’re too high to see what is happening on the ground. I shared some verbatim stories from their staff and saw them letting their guard down, melting into their seat. One executive even started making notes. The discussions from there were amazing and spurred us to create some workshops.
The workshops focus on educating and supporting managers to better understand and support staff going through parental leave. There is then be the option of offering their top talent some coaching. Instead of penalising people for having children, they can learn to work with them so they become happier, more productive and loyal employees. A lot of women who hope to be with their organisation long-term are leaving based on a bad maternity leave experience and a lack of support. Yes, there are budgets to meet and a lot of work to be done, but if managers can lead their teams with empathy, the outcomes will be beneficial for both parties.
Dan and I are exhausted because we are often working on Empathic Consulting until 11 at night. But it’s not the depressed sort of fatigue I experienced years ago. It’s an excited fatigue.
And, after nearly ten years, I’m now pregnant. My energy has shifted though. Of course the baby is so important — we’ve both wanted this for so long — but when you fill your world with things you’re passionate about, it can’t be the only focus.
It’s important to pay attention to the things that you value because you never know what’s going to happen in the future. If your relationship falls apart or your fertility treatment doesn’t work or if a loved one dies, you still have the core basis of who you are. And while it’s going to be tough and you’re going to need guts, your values can get you through your grief.
On the other side of my divorce when I was ready to gain some perspective I signed up for a Hands Across the Water bike ride. This meant riding 800km across Thailand and raising $10,000 for the charity. I could never have imagined meeting my now-husband Dan, on that first ride.
Hands Across the Water will always be a fundamental part of who we are as a couple. We found it separately, but it brought us together. Before I fell pregnant, we already felt like parents to the 300 children in Thailand we support. We even eloped to a Hands home in rural north Thailand that supports kids with HIV. And while we have our own little baby on the way, we will always think of the Hands family in Thailand as our own.
I lost my own Mum when I was six and going through a childhood trauma like that, I developed a certain resilience to get on with life when there were awful things happening around me.
I’ve always held a belief that everybody is going through some type of trauma. This sort of perspective helped me recognise that even when something shitty is happening, there is still happiness around me. I’ve learnt to sit in a head-space of whatever happens, happens!”