My Journey Into Motherhood: Whitney Bromberg Hawkings

As the founder and CEO of flower delivery service FLOWRBX and a former assistant to Tom Ford at Gucci, Whitney Bromberg Hawkings knows exactly what it takes to balance a demanding career with family life. Here, she tells us what motherhood has meant to her and what it’s taught her along the way…

My husband and I met 20 years ago at Gucci, and we’ve been married for 16. Together we have three children – two boys and a girl: Barron who is 13, Snowden who is ten, and our little girl Wallis who is five. I always knew I wanted a family, but I have to admit, when it came to it I was worried having children would cramp my style.

Having children just felt like a huge change. In fashion – the industry I worked in at the time – there were very few examples of women making a career and family life work. Honestly, back then, being a mum did not equate to being successful at work and there was a lot of pressure to keep that part of your life hidden. By that, I mean lose the baby weight, breastfeed or pump on your own time and not bring children to events or into the office. Thankfully, things have changed a lot since then.

Being a mum was the best thing that ever happened to me. In truth, I didn’t expect to fall so madly in love with my first son, Barron – so much so, I would have had a third baby sooner and possibly a fourth after that, but my husband wanted a break. I was 41 by the time I gave birth to our third, Wallis. In the end, you have to believe the universe gives you what you need.

My first pregnancy was absolutely terrifying – I don’t think I slept for the first six months. The thought I kept having was: what have we done? But the second I held that little boy, I was besotted. I was also really lucky that all my pregnancies were straightforward. I was only ever sick with Wallis, but people say that can happen with girls – and if you’re older, too.

I also felt very anxious about the prospect of labour first time round. In fact, I was so worried I asked my doctor for a caesarean at 10 weeks. She said she thought it was a good idea because she could tell how nervous I was. I never had any doubt it was the right path for me – all three of my children were born via elective caesarean. With Barron, the umbilical cord turned out to be tangled around his neck, so a normal birth would have been very complicated anyway – it could have ended up with the baby in a lot of distress. Talk about kismet!

It was really hard having a third baby at 41. You hear of women falling pregnant later in life all the time, but the truth was I had three miscarriages and did IVF for two years before falling pregnant with Wallis. We were lucky to be successful on our first round, but I wish I could have told myself how difficult it would be. In my opinion, glossing over this reality does such a disservice to younger women who choose to put off having kids.

For me, IVF felt very empowering. I’m a determined person and was sick of leaving things up to fate. I took control of something which appeared to be out of my hands. When it comes to fertility struggles, many women feel so helpless – I can’t imagine what it would have felt like if IVF hadn’t worked for us. 

Those first few days with a newborn are total bliss – or, at least, they were for me. I was very lucky to have what some people call ‘postpartum euphoria’. It’s obviously a challenging time in terms of the feeding schedule and lack of sleep and having a supportive partner is key. But what I found more tortuous was going back to work – I virtually had to pretend I’d not had a baby. I was pumping in fashion closets, desperately trying to lose weight and wearing skyscraper heels. And the crazy thing is, I don’t think anyone actually noticed all the effort I was going to. Looking back, it makes me realise it wasn’t worth it.

Wallis was a newborn when I set up FLOWERBX – that’s why I call her my metaphorical flower girl. I never went back to Tom after she was born – I’d secretly packed up my office and started FLOWERBX while I was pregnant, but I officially left when she was born. She’s been the easiest child right from the start – probably because I didn’t have the time to fuss over her. Don’t worry, her siblings and father adore her – plenty of people dote on her!

Being a mother gave me the confidence to strike out on my own. I’d gotten to the point where I had three children, yet I was still asking permission to do things at work. People talk about the fantasy of running your own business, setting your own hours and working it around a family, but the truth is I’ve never worked harder… I work all the f***ing time. Yes, I can go to a sports match or parents’ evenings now, but it usually means working until midnight to make up for it.

Getting my family involved with the business helps everything work. The boys have been totally up for the ride since day one – they used to help me build desks and fill the delivery vans. My husband’s been heavily involved, too, which is why they don’t resent me spending time away from them. They love what I’m doing as much as I do. 

I have a team at work, and I have one at home – I couldn’t do either by myself, it just wouldn’t function. Our nanny has also been with us for 13 years – she knows me inside out and anticipates our every need. She’s really helped raise the kids with me. My husband works hard too, so it’s all about dividing tasks with zero ambiguity or confusion over who’s supposed to do what. It makes for a more loving environment because there’s no resentment. Otherwise, it’s so easy for the woman to end up doing everything.

Women can’t have it all, but they can have a lot. Because we carry the babies, we’re physically disadvantaged in the workplace. But we’re so powerful in the natural world. As long as you have the right partner, you can enjoy so much of both. The only difference is men don’t have the guilt chip – it must be true if people like Michelle Obama say exactly the same thing. The important thing is to keep pushing and paving the way so women in the future have a better time of it. 

My husband and I are very aligned in terms of our values. We’re both quite strict parents but we like to have fun with the children, too. I’m also much more relaxed now than I was with my first. With your eldest, it’s all about making them a ‘superstar’ – you want them to over-achieve from day one. These days I just want them to be who they are. For example, I can tell Barron is already obsessed with business: he has his own t-shirt company and sells thing on eBay all the time. But he also recognises the hard work that goes into running your own show – which is crucial.

I was very fortunate to be raised by parents who really believed in me. I hope I can do the same for my kids. The only problem was growing up in Dallas, Texas didn’t feel very cosmopolitan – it was not the same then as it is now. I went to Europe with my mum when I was 11 and thought everyone there was so sophisticated. Having read that Jackie Onassis went to Paris to work for French Vogue after college, I was determined to do the same. My story didn’t turn out so different in the end: I went to Columbia to study French literature and got the job as Tom’s PA at Gucci in Paris after that.

The last year has been one of the most stressful – both professionally and personally. FLOWERBX ended up doing well out of the pandemic, but we didn’t know that would be the case at the beginning. In all honesty, it felt as though everything was over last March – half our business was linked to events and B2B contracts, all of which dried up overnight. The kids were also home-schooling, and it felt very full-on. In the end, I told them: “You have to own this. If you fail, you fail. I have my own stuff to do.” It gave them a much better sense of autonomy – not to mention structure amid the chaos. 

I’ve quite envied first-time mums in lockdown. Normally, all you want to do is not go out lie around in sweatpants with your new baby. I’m sure the prospect of labour and the doctors’ appointments – especially if you had to go to them alone – has been daunting but frankly, welcome to motherhood! You learn fast that nothing is a guarantee, and everything is about flexibility or adapting to ever-changing situations. 

All mothers – new or not – should try to enjoy it more. Having your children be young is so fleeting and the moment is so precious. It’s over before you know it.

Ultimately, motherhood has taught me to love someone more than myself – but not turn it into a total sacrifice. It isn’t supposed to feel hard all the time – it has to feel like a privilege instead.  

 
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