IT was while she was on holiday on the island of Eilean Shona in Loch Moidart that Danusia Malina-Derben began to conceive the ideas at the heart of Noise: A Manifesto Modernising Motherhood – her antidote, in a book, to the guilt, disapproval and monitoring that surrounds being a mum.

The single mother of 10, an entrepreneur and leadership consultant, had taken five of her children on the long drive up from their home in Brighton, all squeezed into her 17-year-old car. “There is no WIFI except for certain little pockets in the village hall. I had teenagers with me, can you imagine? They were bereft. There is barely any phone signal.” 

Malina-Derben had grown up on the edge of Dartmoor, so she knew what rural isolation was, but this, she observes, felt more dramatic. “We couldn’t as much as watch a video. I had time to think about this removal of everything, the stimulation around, so many layers of stimulation.”

Publishers, she notes, had talked to her previously about writing about her life.

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This isn’t surprising given she had her first child as a teenager and her last three, as triplets, without fertility treatment, in her late forties – all of this while having a career that included global leadership consultant, sex shop researcher, and now host of the School For Mothers podcast.

“I had thought about writing a nuts and bolts of career-juggling motherhood,” she recalls, “but it didn’t feel meaningful. I felt I would be contributing to the noise.”

What Malina-Derben pondered on Eilean Shona was how much motherhood is full of this noise, ideas and thoughts, which stop women from being all they can be, which are part of what she calls a “Mother Stopper” culture. That noise – all those opinions about what we should and shouldn’t do – she says, is everywhere. It is “within us, outside in our family, in our workplaces.”

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“This idea,” she says, “started gestating for me on Eilean Shona. It hit me further in lockdown. In the first lockdown, I realised that, as much as it was hideous and scary, there was a magic. I could feel there was this quality, as if the world stood still. I realised, ‘Oh my god, the problem is noise.’”

The question for her, she says, throughout her life as a mother, has been “how do I be a mother and be me” – a bigger question than how to juggle work and career. For her it’s only been possible by filtering out some of that noise, by observing when thoughts are part of that “Mother Stopper” dialogue.

With 10 kids she has to have developed strategies. “The question people always want me to answer is how can I be a career woman and a mother. But if I don’t retain me, I won’t get to that career. I know loads of career women who are struggling. They are in great senior positions and they still are torn by their situation and the life they’ve made.”

Malina-Derben says she is not torn. Her book is part memoir, part analysis, part self-help guide, and contains questions and ideas to help filter the noise and challenge it. It’s a much-needed set of ear defenders against the clamour around motherhood which seems, in these digital times, to relentlessly increase rather than decrease.

Noise: A Manifesto Modernising Motherhood is published on March 30

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