Kent-based AQ, Charlotte works as an outdoor portrait photographer. She’s also a wild swimmer, avid storyteller and mum-of-three. #mumventure is incredibly important to her.
You gain so much when you become a mum, but a certain part of you is also lost. When Charlotte Broster emerged from the baby years, it shocked her to see how much of her personality and ‘pizzazz’ had slipped away. To realign her sense of self, she pursued outdoor adventures, a concept she’s labelled #mumventure.
I can put my finger on exactly when I felt like this. It was my thirty-seventh birthday. My third child was one-and-a-half. I’d taken her to the local café, treated her to jam on toast and myself to poached eggs and avocado. As we sat there, just me and her, I distinctly remember that overwhelming feeling of loneliness. It was intense. Excruciatingly painful. Yes, I was lonely because my husband was putting in crazy hours at work, my family were two hours away, and my mummy friends had moved on and acquired those things called jobs, but I was also lonely because I was without myself. I felt as though me as a person wasn’t present. I felt as though I didn’t know myself anymore.
I’d been self-employed for nearly a decade, stopping and starting my photography business when I had to. Many of us mums manage to cling on to our professional identity whilst tumbling through baby world but, although my work had fit flexibly around my role as a mother, it had lost momentum. The fact is, you cannot inspire others if you’re not inspired yourself. Moreover, you can’t express yourself if you don’t know yourself. My business needed a stamp of authenticity, but the trouble was, I didn’t know what that was. I had nothing but doubt for my every word and action.
As I sat in that café with my daughter, I recall tears dropping from my eyes and sliding down my face. I hastily paid the bill and left. I spent the rest of my birthday sobbing as though someone had died and, actually, they kinda had. The Charlotte who’d existed before motherhood, the version who was full of vitality, was absent. I missed her and I wanted her back.
A turning point
That day marked a turning point. I finally understood what I was lacking. A sense of self. I also realised that things wouldn’t change unless I made a change. Honestly, I had no idea where to start so I picked up a book. It was ‘Thinking on my feet’ by Kate Humble, an absorbing read about solving problems and releasing sorrows by spending time outdoors. In the latter half of the book, Kate puts on a backpack and spends a week walking along the river Wye with her dog. Map reading. Wild camping. Solitude. Space. Satisfaction.
I was so rivetted by this idea that someone could experience an enthralling adventure not very far away from home, and I was compelled to do something similar, but how? I couldn’t just wander off for a week. I was needed at home. Then, an idea materialised. I contacted another mum from the playground who, like me, was also struggling to unlock her creative self after having three children.
“Fancy walking the Thames Path?” I wrote. “Bite-size chunks. Twenty-miles at a time.”
She was in!
Walking the Thames Path
Taking on the Thames Path, all 184-miles of it, from its source near Cirencester to the barrier in Woolwich, might not be comparable to crossing the Bayuda Desert or ascending the Himalayas, but it was a fairly big challenge for my friend and I. Chipping away at it in stages was also a time-consuming logistical feat! One Saturday per month we’d get up at five am, drive separately to location A to dump one of the vehicles, travel to location B together and park the second car, walk the twenty miles to A, retrieve the first abandoned car and drive back to B to collect the second abandoned car. Phew! Whilst our capable husbands held the fort back home, trying to get out on the river once a month sometimes seemed like such a self-indulgent whim. Still, we stuck with our convictions and fought for our micro-adventure. Those bleary-eyed mornings, our walking boots stamping in the dewy grass, were a gift to us. We moved our bodies and in doing so, moved our minds. Every step had a purpose. Every step got stronger. Like the grass in the meadows, the reeds in the water, we were ready to grow. We asked the river, we asked each other, and we asked ourselves – who am I? What do I want? Where do I start? So much fell into place on those long six-hour walks. To make it even more meaningful, we set up a Justgiving page and collected donations for the mental health charity, Mind.
Alongside walking the Thames, I started open water swimming in a nearby lake, a pursuit which I found exhilarating and empowering. Keen to get even further out of my comfort zone, I signed up for a night swim with two other adventurous mums. Lapping the lake at 10pm under a sky of stars was a surreal and incredible experience. Fast forward a year, and I found myself living by the coast, having joined a sea swimming club, bobbing around in the English Channel as the sun rose over France. I’ve never stopped chasing the unusual and exciting.
Time spent outdoors, pushing myself to do things I didn’t know I could do, was undoubtedly the catalyst for reclaiming my identity after having children. It was the best way for me to get better acquainted with myself. My photography gravitated towards capturing people outdoors, a place I felt most comfortable and creative. I reignited my flair for writing, filling my blog and social media with that personality and passion I’d been sorely missing. The concept of #mumventure was born: an exciting or unusual experience that a mummy has in the great outdoors without her darling children. Whilst I’m a huge advocate for family adventuring, the theme of sole mummy exploration has become the foundation of my brand. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t taken a little bit of time out for myself.
A new tribe
If you’re lucky enough, pursuit of outdoor adventures can lead you to discover a whole new tribe. A wild tribe! I’ve connected with a wide range of exciting people simply due to our mutual love for the outdoor world. I’ve seen myself reflected in them, and I’ve used them to fuel me and help me grow. The outdoors is an extremely effective tool of bringing like-minded people together. I will be going on the next adventure organised by AQ and I urge you to set aside time to do the same. You never know what you’ll learn about yourself.
Charlotte documents her adventures on Instagram as the the.outdoor.studio and writes about identity and adventure on her own blog – https://www.theoutdoorstudio.co.uk/blog/ If you can relate to any of the issues in the article, Charlotte would love to hear from you.