On the morning of June 24th 2016 I woke up with a start and reached immediately for my phone, I could hear the blood pumping in my ears.
The day before I had taken part in possibly the most significant political vote of my lifetime so far: the EU referendum.
I pressed the icon for Twitter and held my breath, but I never expected to see the result I did. ‘Oh no’, I said to my partner who had heard me stirring and turned to hear what I’d read. ‘They’ve voted leave’.
Whilst I respect the way that others have voted, I’m not sure I will ever forgive them for taking what I saw as a risk with the future of our country and on that morning I was scared, no, terrified.
So, as I often do when I’m feeling down or worried, I sat down and wrote a letter to my son, my little boy who I was 7 months pregnant with at the time.
I wanted to write and tell you that I’m sorry for the way this vote has turned out, and sorry for any of the problems it might cause you as you’re growing up.
As I’m sure you know by now, I have spent many years trying to establish myself in a good career but, for one reason or another (the recession and subsequent ‘austerity measures’) caused by a variety of things - i.e. the government) I have often struggled to find work or opportunities to progress.
I didn’t want you to have to face the uncertainty I have, I wanted you to have all the good things that you deserve. But, I fear the result of this vote might lead you down exactly the same path that I followed. Remember darling boy, struggles are part of life and it’s important we learn to overcome them.
I don’t know how ‘Brexit’ is going to affect our job opportunities, but the uncertainty couldn’t have come at a worse time. I wanted to be able to show you it is good to have a career, that women can bring up their families and hold down a job, but I’m scared the opportunities for me to do that might now be limited as companies struggle to offer fair employment.
I don’t know why David Cameron thought it was okay to call this referendum just to win the election
I don’t know why he did it before anyone had researched what would actually happen if we left the EU. I don’t know why anyone would vote for this outcome when they don’t actually know what impact it will have. It all makes me quite mad.
But what makes me most angry is that this vote is a clear indication of the mood of our society at the moment. People are becoming more and more scared of diversity and less and less sympathetic towards people who are worse off than themselves… I didn’t want that to be the world you grow up in.
There’s no denying the reason many people voted for us to leave the EU was because they are worried about the impact immigration is having on our country: on our jobs and economy, our NHS and public services and, significantly, our freedom of speech that we value so much.
The media has managed to persuade them that immigrants are the root of all our problems, not the cuts the government has imposed on us. It's making neighbours hate one another and that is making me very scared.
Our communities already feel so divided and I’m scared Brexit will add to that, that it will lead to people feeling angry at those who are different and to those who are ‘different’ feeling even more alone.
It feels like I’m living in a country that I’m not really very proud of, that I don’t particularly want to be in, and I’m concerned this divide is just going to keep getting bigger.
I keep my fingers crossed for you, Harry, that something or someone will unite us all again, to encourage us to stand up for people who are poor or different and say ‘actually, I’d rather we lived in a world where we looked after each other’.
If we both keep fighting for that my darling boy, I know it will be okay.
I’m really sorry for the outcome this morning, I’m really sorry for the impact it might have on your life, but I will always be here for you if you’re worried or scared… because hopefully that will mean you too will be there for others.
I love you,
This blog was first published in June 2016 and, given all that is going on in the world of politics this week, it felt right to share it again here.
A child's first birthday is truly special: it’s a celebration of getting through that first year of being their Mum and Dad, a massive milestone for us as well as them.
While I was pregnant, I was lucky to meet a group of Mums who were due at the same time as me and I have felt so proud to see each of their little ones celebrate their first and second birthdays.
Inevitably, our minds drift back to the day they were born and we retell the story to all who will listen. But we don't often get to hear the tale from 'Dad's point of view'. My friend Nicola's husband is going to help me change that, as he recalls the journey to fatherhood here for us:
Isabella, who is now two, was born after a very short labour. We had been told it would be very difficult for us to get pregnant, so when that strip changed colour it was both a relief and a shock. We’d found ourselves parents-to-be within weeks of starting to try.
The following weeks and months were like a crash course on the world of child rearing, we navigating through a maze of baby-ness: from finding the right pram (who knew a pram is not just a pram to push a baby in? Noooooo, they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, with this or that feature!) to learning at what direction, temperature and angle a baby should sleep.
We made sure we had everything in the house that a baby will need, or might need, or someone might think it will need. Because we didn’t have a clue!
Nine months seemed to fly by, but was I feeling more prepared? Not really! Did I know what I was getting into? Probably not! Was I looking forward to it? Despite all of the scariness… I actually was.
I was at work when the telephone call came, well actually it was a text message:
“I think my waters broke… and the sofa is all covered in it.”
She hadn’t called in a panic and I thought that must be a good sign. I quickly handed over at work and headed home, a million thoughts were going through my mind. Most of which I can’t totally recollect, just fragments of a mind in overdrive: excitement, fear and expectation…
Most of all, I was just hoping I would be up to the task of being there for Nicky when she needed me and be able to support her through the unknown that was about to fall upon us. Don’t forget the hospital bag, I told myself. Don’t forget the baby car seat, don’t forget the change for parking… ah and don’t forget the mum-to-be.
Coming home, there was no sign of flooding on the sofa and I find a very amused Nicky telling me that her waters breaking was ‘just like in the movies’: “One minute I was minding my own business, the next… swooooosh….ummm… how am I going to clean this?”
After a minute spent laughing to ourselves at our own expense, we headed to the hospital. Our bags ready, or at least we hoped they were, all things the 101 online lists told us we needed. So in the boot we had a ‘mummy hospital bag’, ‘a daddy hospital bag’, ‘a baby hospital bag’ and a ‘back up hospital bag’ – in case it was a long stay.
We had all we could possibly need, expect for experience, confidence and knowing what to actually do with a baby! There I was driving down to the hospital, wanting to get there as soon as possible but daring not to go too fast in case I shook my partner who was ready to explode.
When we arrived, with bag #1 in one hand and my near-to-burst partner on the other, we went straight past the reception and onto the examination room. I vaguely remember the midwife saying… dilated… centimetres… call… contractions… pain… you can go back home… What!?
“How do we know it’s a contraction?”
“You will know” was the answer… not very helpful (in my humble opinion).
So there I went again, bag #1 in one hand, partner on the other – back to the car and to our house. Reassured we weren’t in imminent labour, but none the wiser as to how we would recognise when we were.
Now was the time for me to feel useless and frustrated. It’s the feeling you get when you see your partner in pain and there isn’t much you can do, other than just be there.
6:00pm I’m unpacking the tens machine.
6:15pm I’m accidentally zapping myself.
6:16pm I’m wondering how the f*** this will help with the pain…
6:20pm I’m keeping my thoughts to myself and strapping the damn contraption to mum-to-be’s back.
From this point it was all about waiting and wondering, waiting and guessing when it would be time again to pick up the bags and drive down the same road to the hospital.
“Was that a contraction?”“
Was that a contraction?”
“Was that a contraction?”
It was my favourite sentence over the next few hours, a response to my partner’s painful moans. In my useless way, I was try to be useful and time the supposed contractions with my phone app.
The next 6 hours passed by, between runs to the kitchen to get water, timing the supposed contractions that stubbornly refused to fit in with the expected duration and, later, runs to the bedroom for underwear to deal with other types of runs! By this time we thought it must be time to call the maternity ward again and, after speaking with Nicky, they gave the go-ahead for us to return.
With bag #1 in one hand, partner in the other and a tail of tens machine wires escaping from her pyjamas – off we went again. Following a waddling mum-to-be to the elevator, I tried my best to carry our faithful hospital bag, balance the wires and tens machine and try to keep my emotions of excitement and fear in check.
I had an ever present sense of pride and amazement as to how Nicky was handling the situation: so bravely and seemingly in control, even though she might not have realised it at the time.
Despite all the excitement and optimism, fear was a dark shadow always hovering in the background.
Fear that in the final step something could go wrong. Fear that something would go wrong in labour.
Fear the baby would not survive and we would become grieving parents.
Fear the mum and baby wouldn’t survive and I’d become a grieving parent and partner. Fear that only the mum wouldn’t survive and I would become a grieving, single dad with a new-born baby to raise.
All stupid fears were brushed aside and excitement was brought back to the fore as we were moved to the maternity ward.
We enter our room, simple with a single bed and a window. A far cry from the big rooms with birthing balls, water pools and lots of space we went to visit before, but to which there was now no time to get to.
“Do you want to lie on the bed or stand?” the midwife asked Nicky who, between contractions, just looked at me. “What do I want?”
This was now my part to be helpful, “she doesn’t want to lie on the bed”. I had heard so many times from Nicky after her birth classes that this was the worst possible position for a quick birth.
There she was holding the side of the bed, me next to her giving her sips of water and the midwife kneeling between her legs looking up, one hand holding a cloth against Nicky’s bum. Even in that moment, I could not help but wonder if they teach that to all novice midwives… or do they learn that trick after a bad experience?
The next few minutes flew by and what I feared would be a gruesome experience was a wonderful one after all. Even amid all the blood and other fluids, the moment that head started to show to the world was indeed a unique and beautiful moment, I’m very glad I didn’t miss it and was there on my knees to see her come out.
I was also so proud of Nicky, who did all the hard work with no pain relief and was still standing, with shaky legs and a pale face by the time it was over.
It was 4:30am when for the first time, after cutting the cord, I held my daughter in my arms. With my partner next to me and the sun rising behind us, just about visible from the only window in the room.
It was a new day and a new life from now on, but we were all together… one family.
Finally, lying on the bed, Nicky smiles to the midwife and asks, “I’m sorry, I never asked your name?”
“My name is Jackie.” Nicky smiled, “that’s my mum’s name!”
This blog was first published in September 2017, I have updated a few little parts!
I’ll never forget the moment I found out my good friend’s four-year-old son had passed away: the world stopped for a moment, my heart sunk and I froze.
How could this actually be possible?
It’s the kind of thing you see happening to other people and, though your heart breaks for them, you just never imagine it will happen to you, or someone you know and love. Claire had posted on Facebook that they’d taken Jakey into hospital, but never did I imagine things could become so desperate, so quickly.
Jake was diagnosed with an aggressive form of neuroblastoma and within two weeks of his first visit to the GP, Claire said goodbye to him as he slipped away in her arms. I just… my heart breaks for her and no words will ever do justice to the amount of pain I know she was feeling.
The thought of being told your child has cancer is just beyond my imagination, even more so now I have my beautiful son Harry in my life. No parent should ever have to say good bye to their child. Yet so many do because of this awful disease.
It’s really important to remember that childhood cancer is rare and that there’s a lot of information out there to support anyone going through it. Cancer Research UK explains that some of the common symptoms are:
For a long time, what happened to Jake really knocked me for six. I’d spend night, after night listening to Claire’s song for Jake. The words are beautiful and incredibly poignant as they are about the Taylor Swift’s godson who also passed away at the age of four.
Every year on the anniversary of Jake’s passing, I’ve bought a balloon and sent it up to him in heaven – just like we did at the funeral. And every year when his birthday comes around, I buy a slice of cake and enjoy it in his memory.
I think I just really feel the pain that she went through, or at least I try to. The fact such a good friend was going through this made me feel awful and I wanted to try and do something to help.
The first time I was due to meet her after he’d passed away I actually Googled some advice on how I could support her, what I should talk to her about. Claire and I have always been incredibly open with each other, that’s one of the reasons we have become so close. I was determined to make sure that didn’t change.
When we meet I try to let her lead the conversation, I want her to be able to talk about Jake if that is what she wants on that day. And we always talk about him in the present tense, I never say ‘was’.
I think Claire finds comfort in feeling that Jake is with her every day and I want to be a part of that with her. He is her third beautiful son, he is little brother to her two eldest boys and now older brother to his stunning little sister.
In the months after he passed I tried to message her regularly, not to ask how she is (the answer to that was surely too hard to express), to give her a chance to talk if she needed and to let her know I was there
Sometimes we talk about absolute rubbish too… my break up with my ex, the lad I quite fancied at the time, her new partner. I hope I helped her to feel some semblance of normality while she was going through something so unimaginable.
I wrote a note to Jake on the day of his funeral, it promised him that I would do everything I can to help look after her. I hope I am keeping to that promise.
She’s been incredibly brave, you see. She doesn’t think it, but she has been so, so strong. Every day that has passed she has had him on her mind and yet she’s continued being an amazing Mum to all her children (and step children too).
For some time afterwards, she was really honest on social media about how she was feeling, I was so proud of her for opening up and letting people see the real her. Sadly, as time has gone on, not all of the responses to this have been positive and I’m gutted that has meant she has closed off a little.
For me, it’s so important for people to be able to share their feelings on hard topics like this. Not just because ‘the rest of us’ can learn more about the situation and take value from it in the future – but because it helps those who are suffering.
It still astounds me that anyone can be anything but supportive of someone who has been through so much, particularly when they are mothers themselves.
Friends and family have rallied to raise funds in Jake’s memory. Many have donated to Sheffield Children’s Hospital who looked after him when he was unwell.But the most wonderful thing of all is that she and her beautiful youngest son have become an inspiration to so many of us.
It just amazes me, the way so many people have pulled together to support Claire and to remember Jake. It’s testament to what an incredible woman she is and what a mark he has left on all of us.
I think that’s why I wanted to write this really, to tell her how bloody wonderful she is. She has got through (and still goes through, every day) the hardest thing anyone can ever go through.
She’s done it with a real dignity and more importantly an honesty that has meant not only can people understand what she is going through, but she allows Jake’s legacy to live on.
Harry would have been in awe of the bundle of energy that Jake was and I know he and Ellie will both hear so much about him as they grow up. Because that gorgeous, crazy little boy really does live on in her, her two boys and her baby girl. He’ll never be forgotten and he’ll always be an inspiration.
This post originally appeared on my blog in October 2017.
I’ve just stepped out of 5 Live’s ‘Mum Takeover’ – a wonderful event that saw parents with all levels of experience talking about life with children, and agreeing that mum guilt is a universal problem.
In the room with me were three of the women I would say have influenced me the most since having my first child, Harry, 16 months ago:
Giovanna Fletcher – whose smiley videos have got me through many a rough morning with the baby.
Harriet Shearsmith – whose unfailingly honest writing makes me feel normal.
And Sophie Mei Lan – whose experiences with mental health are being bravely used to help others.
My name's Amy and I'm a Social Media Consultant with a two-year-old son, Harry.