Huge numbers of us have been experiencing high levels of anxiety thanks to Coronavirus and the decision to put the UK into lockdown, according to figures from the ONS.
They revealed the number of people over-16 reporting deep levels of concern and stress has more than doubled since late 2019. It is, to say the least, a troubling time for us all.
Life as we know it has changed completely, we don’t know how long this is going to last or what is going to happen next, and that lack of control is incredibly stressful.
For parents, that situation is made more challenging by the fact we have children at home, many of whom are struggling to cope with this ‘new normal’ too.
With speculation rife this weekend on the suggestion it may be coming to an end next week, these levels are bound to increase again.
It’s something I can definitely relate to, having suffered with post-natal depression and anxiety when my eldest son, Harry, was young, I began to recognise similar symptoms at the end of last year after having my youngest, James.
As a result, I self-referred treatment and was taking part in CBT (therapy sessions) to help with the levels of stress I was feeling, something that naturally increased around the time that the country was ordered to stay at home.
I felt very lucky to have been given the tools to cope with the impact this situation is having on my mental health and I wanted to share some of those ‘tricks’ in the hope it might help others.
Because it occurs to me that everyone is experiencing anxiety at some level at the moment, many for the first time in their lives.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
The Mental Health Foundation list the symptoms of anxiety as:
For me, and so many friends and family I’ve spoken to over recent weeks, these are all too familiar:
I get stressed about me or anyone else trying to guess what's going to happen next with lockdown. (This is called future predicting.)
I run my mind over worst case scenarios: my boys getting ill, my partner Luke having to go back to work at a school too soon, one of my family dying. (This is called catastrophising.)
I put a lot of pressure on myself to make things at home better – to regain some control over the situation. (This is called having an intolerance to uncertainty.)
I constantly tell myself I’m letting others down: that Luke must hate living with me, that I shout too much at Harry, that friends and family find me annoying. (That is called mind-reading.)
How do I deal with anxiety?
I want to caveat this with the obvious: I am not a mental health professional. So, what I’m sharing below is just a few things that have helped me.
If you’re struggling with anxiety or your mental health, please don’t be scared to reach out for help: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/getting-help
Also, check out the work of the wonderful Every Mum Movement and their Letters of Light project
During my therapy sessions, I was given some really helpful advice: the most useful was a recommendation for the app ‘Woebot’.
Once a day, I ‘check-in’ with Woebot, I let him know how I’m feeling and we talk about any problems I might be having with my mental health.
He asks me about my mood, and then pushes me to explain the reasons for it in a little more depth.
He then talks through my thoughts and helps me recognise the symptoms that we looked at above, as well as planning a way to combat them.
He even shares motivational messages and words of encouragement around COVID-19 and lockdown.
The app essentially gives you the time to get some headspace and to look at life with a little more calm and positivity.
Worrying is planning for the things you don’t know are going to happen
‘Worrying means you suffer twice.’
Good old Newt Scamander! These wise words from the Fantastic Beasts wizard genuinely stuck with me, because I think they’re spot on.
With all that is going on, it is so hard to stop myself worrying, but it really does cause more pain.
I worry about all the different situations that might come out of being in isolation and plan for what to do if they happen.
After all, planning for them makes me more prepared, right? It helps me get ready for what might be round the corner.
But what if those things don’t happen (which most of them, inevitably, will not)?
I’ve wasted so much energy, which could be better put to use on some more positive things.
Do the next best thing
If, like me, you’ve had Frozen 2 on a near constant loop since, you might recognise this mantra that I’ve been using recently!
It can feel stressful not knowing what is going to happen from week-to-week, not knowing how the government are going to go about lifting lockdown or what plans we are going to have to cancel.
On top of that, with the kids around days at home can become unpredictable too, even the best laid timetable plans often get scrubbed the child just isn’t in the mood for whatever it is I thought we’d be doing.
For example, I was trying to set up a craft activity for Harry the other day: he did it for five minutes then started asking for the iPad, meanwhile James was screaming for a bottle!
So, I literally take each job, each activity one step at a time, not just tackling each day one at a time, but each hour.
Take time for self-care
In a recent blog, I asked fellow parent bloggers to share their tips on looking after your mental health during lockdown and the common theme was to take time to focus on yourself.
This was something I spoke about with my therapist and we came up with a rule that each day I need to set three achievable targets (and no more): something for work, something for the house and something for me.
The ‘something for me’ might be writing a blog, a bath or shower in peace, or even a run (I am one of the people who took up jogging again during lockdown and I really enjoy it!).
Most days I manage it, and I always feel better for having some time for myself.
Go easy on yourself
Despite not being at work, we are still so busy at the moment, I feel like I am on the go 24/7 with looking after my kids, doing housework and creating content for my blog.
So, it can be hard getting to the end of the day and realising I haven’t accomplished anything.
But, the truth is, I have accomplished something!
I got through the day.
My kids are alive and my house is still standing.
That is all I need to be doing at the moment.
And the same is true for you.
Coronavirus has brought an individual set of challenges to each and every one of us, but the pressure it’s putting on our mental health seems to be universal.
Friends and family are struggling, understandably, with the anxiety and uncertainty of being in lockdown, the possibility of becoming ill and not being able to see and hug our loved ones.
It is, arguably, even more stressful for parents – between working from home, parenting and home-schooling, there is not a chance for a moment’s peace and the stress that puts us under is immense.
In the past, I've shared my own journey with mental health in the past, but what can we do to make sure our mental health does not suffer at this time?
I’ve asked some fellow parenting bloggers to share their thoughts:
Looking after your mental health
Gemma from The Work Life Blend: I’m making sure I’m getting enough sleep which is not easy with a 3year old and 6 year old! Sleep really affects my mental wellbeing so if I’m feeling wiped out I force myself to have an early night. I love curling up in bed with a good book before I drift off.
Leyla From Motherhood Diaries: I'm getting up an hour earlier than the children (I have three, one of whom is a baby) so I can get a head start on my work and just get that peace and quiet to have a coffee. It really helps before the madness starts around 8!
Nicole from Where the Heart Is: We are still doing our virtual therapy appointments.
Jo from a Red Tinted World: I’m sewing scrubs for the NHS. Just having a purpose and something to do really helps me.
It keeps me busy and makes me feel as though I am helping in a small way. I’m also growing lots of plants and find that very therapeutic.
Amy from All About A Mummy: I’ve been having a daily mind dump at the end of the day where I tell my husband what I’ve found challenging that day, what my worries are, what level my anxiety it is at and what I need to focus on the next day.
It’s really helping me to be mindful of how I am feeling and acknowledging and validating my feelings rather than just pushing the down and carrying on regardless.
Yvette from Uplifting and Inspiring Content: I practice mindfulness meditation twice a day.
Laura from Autumn’s Mummy: I've been making sure that I give myself a little project for each day. It helps keep me focused and keeps my mind busy.
It's just little things I've been meaning to get to for a while. For instance, tidying my bookshelf or having a good sort out of my wardrobe.
I know it would do my mental health no good to just lollop around all day (not that I really have the chance with a 3-year-old, to be fair!)
Kate from Refined Prose has given herself a project too: I hope, in turn, it will help others very soon...
I've worked really hard on producing a positivity journal, which includes colouring pages and a few little gifts and surprises!
My sample will be here any day and I can't wait to launch the product - it's been a labour of love!
Emma from Emma Reed.Net: I've been really enjoying having more time to spend with my husband.
We had become so distant what with work and commutes and him getting in so late - this time has given us time to reconnect.
It's funny how you may not notice the toll that real life can have. Talking, laughing, watching movies, eating dinner together, have all made me feel so much better and I no longer feel so alone in this parenting malarkey.
Ella from Typical Mummy: I've started drawing and colouring which is something I've never really done before.
It gives me time to focus on something just for me, helps me to relax and is really therapeutic.
Josie from Me, Them and the Others: Having a routine. If I just let the days blur together, I know I’d struggle and get depressed.
Having a routine keeps me motivated, gives me some normalcy and makes sure I have some time to relax too.
Looking after your physical health
Beth from Twinderelmo: I’m trying to eat better.
It’s hard being home 24/7 with so much temptation and unable to get food so easily, but I find when I have a good balanced diet I have more energy and feel better about myself.
I have a treat day once a week but then try to be good for the other 6 and it’s really working as I don’t feel so sluggish.
Kelly from Our Transitional Life: Following my body and its needs. So, simple things like taking a nap if I feel tired or drinking water if I'm thirsty.
It sounds silly, but some days I'll ignore those cues, and it's to my own detriment.
Vicki from Blossom Education: I am continuing to exercise. Endorphins make me happy and so I still do zumba classes.
Although they are online via zoom now, I do still feel a connection to my fellow classmates. It has really helped my mental health and wellbeing!
Hannah from Tilly Hobbs and Co agrees: I work out every morning before my little girl gets up and I can't tell you how much its helping to start my day on an even keel.
I am definitely still worn out by the time my husband gets home from work, but I have a good starting block
Don’t forget some ‘me time’ too
Kathryn from Cardiff Mummy Says: It’s not easy with three children but I’m making time to do yoga every day.
Some days it’s only 10-15 minutes, but other days 45 minutes or even an hour.
It’s helping me so much to start my days with some headspace and clarity and to feel grounded.
Tina from The Neary Diaries: Time for yourself even if it's a 30 min bath, eat what makes you happy and when it feels like it's all got too much sit down, close your eyes and remember it won't last forever.
Jennifer from Mighty Mumma Bear has this tip too: Making sure I have time to myself, which is difficult with three kids but also essential.
Whether it's just a long bath or a walk around the block on my own, I need that time on my own to recharge.
As does Raimonda from Cosmo Mum: I make sure I get some time on my own, just to have some headspace. For this, I go for a long walk with my dog daily just by myself.
And, finally, a tip from me: Go easy on yourself.
This is an incredibly hard time for all of us, do whatever you need to get through.
If you've enjoyed this blog please share it on social media and let me know what you're doing to look after your mental health.
And don't forget to check out my new series Working Parents on Lockdown: I've spoken to Mums and Dads about working from home while the kids are around.
Before you become a parent, everyone warns you that life will never be the same… but their warnings can't quite prepare you for how many things will change.
It’s the little things like needing a bigger car, surrendering your weekends to taxi them to sports clubs and dance competitions and the fact that planning a night out now becomes a military operation you have to book in with the sitters months in advance.
Sitting down together and watching a film, going out for a nice meal or simply falling asleep in each other’s arms soon become a thing of the past once these tiny humans take over your lives.
And what about the special occasions, like Valentine’s Day?
Let’s take a look…
Woken up by the alarm, you roll over to see your partner softly snoozing beside you. You slip your arms around them and they wake. For a while you lay there, just breathing each other in before you say, ‘Happy Valentine’s, my love.’
A perfect start to the day.
Woken by the baby needing a feed at 4am, you’ve finally drifted back to sleep, only for the toddler to waddle in at 5am and jump in bed on top of you. Your partner slips into the single bed in the spare room just to get an extra hour of sleep while you entertain the little ones.
Unnoticed, your partner sneaks out of the room, only to return with a gift wrapped immaculately in red paper and a bow, placed delicately on a tray brimming with your favourite breakfast items.
The toddler drags you - eyes barely open - to the living room, where he demands Paw Patrol and his special Buzz Lightyear cereal. Your partner follows you into the room, manages a quick peck on the cheek before passing you an item in a folded over carrier back: ‘Sorry, I didn’t get time to wrap it last night.’
At work you send each other loving messages all day. You watch the clock obsessively as you count down the minutes until you can run to be with them at your favourite restaurant.
‘Did you remember his excema cream?’, you text partner as you’re walking into work, late.
You hurriedly rush through your to-do list, so you can get out of work early and head to the pharmacist before picking the kids up, putting on a load of washing and…
Oh wait, you totally forgot you were going to make a nice dinner for Valentine’s Day.
Shoot… need to go to the supermarket too.
You arrive to find a bottle of Prosecco waiting for you at your favourite table overlooking the river, they’ve booked it for you as a surprise.
A tranquil evening lies ahead.
You get home to find the living room has been turned upside down by the toddler who is now playing on your iPad. The baby grins up at you from his bouncer while your other half battles with the washing machine that, for some reason, has stopped working.
You decide to order takeaway for tea, the biggest treat of the day.
Pulling up at home in a taxi, you’re feeling warm and fuzzy. Goody bag in hand with the dessert you couldn’t quite finish and a bottle of bubbly chilling in the fridge to bring the evening to a perfect end.
With the kids both in bed (something finally went right) and the empty curry containers laid on the living room floor, you sink into the sofa with glass of wine in one hand and the rest of the bottle in the other.
Finally, you ask each other how your day was and chuckle about how life has changed since they came along.
Looking into your partner’s eyes, seeing them smile so naturally, you realise all these moments are worth it and that, underneath it all, you’re lucky to have each other to enjoy them with.
Here’s to another year of mayhem and smiles, eh?
Becoming a Mum is such a lonely time, you're part of this brand new 'club' but you feel like you're the only one who's struggling.
It's no wonder, then, that 1 in 5 Mums develop a mental health problem while pregnant or in the first year after having their baby.
I was diagnosed with post-natal depression myself in 2017, but not until my eldest son Harry was 18 months old.
The signs had been missed when he was younger because I, wrongly, believed that what I felt was normal and that I just needed to push on.
What I would have given for someone going through the same thing to put their arm around me and say, 'Amy, it's okay if you need help.'
So when I came across the Letters of Light project from the Every Mum Movement, I immediately knew that I needed to take part.
Founder Olivia is on a mission to collect letters from Mums whose mental health has suffered since giving birth to pass them on to others who experiencing the same thing right now.
Below is the letter I am sending in, to hopefully help another woman in her hour of need and make sure she doesn't feel as isolated as I did...
Dear fellow Mum,
When I first found out I was pregnant, my biggest fear was that I would become a completely different person and lose who I used to be.
But nothing and no-one could prepare me for just how different my life and personality would become once my eldest son, Harry, arrived.
As each day passed, I felt the ‘old me’ slipping further and further away, and I found this new life very difficult to adjust to.
I would wake up feeling so tired from the night before, when he would have slept for a maximum of three hours, feeling like I was facing an uphill battle to get through the day ahead.
The tiredness combined with the feelings of not being good enough, failing as a Mum and never knowing if I was getting this motherhood thing right.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
Slowly but surely, though, the days did get better – and I wanted to reassure you that they will for you too. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
We battled through those early months and, after seeking counselling and popping Harry in nursery three days a week, I’ve begun to feel I’m coming out the other side.
As each milestone passed (6 months old, weaning, first birthday, walking, first time he kicked a football, first time he talked), I started to realise: ‘I’ve got this.’
When Harry was two years-old we decided to try for a second child, and I have since given birth to another beautiful boy, named James.
I’ve come to accept, and even like, the ‘new me’.
The Mum version of me has dark circles under her eyes, many grey hairs and is constantly worried about jobs that need doing around the house, or for the boys.
But she’s also more organised, better at planning and has proven she’s capable of keeping two tiny human beings alive.
She has an incredible relationship with both her children – Harry is a Mummy’s boy and my favourite person in the world, while James spends at least 80% of the time smiling!
She’s brave, strong and resilient. She can survive whatever is thrown at her and navigate through any challenge that is sent her way.
Even that time the toddler pooed in the bath – ew!
She still struggles from time to time, but she has learnt to recognise the triggers for anxiety and depression and knows the importance of reaching out for help.
And the reason I’m telling you this, is that I know you are too.
You are a better Mum than you’ll ever believe, you too are brave and strong.
Most importantly, you are not alone.
Hang in there.
Lots of love,
A Mum who cares.
If you’d like to be get involved too, you can contact Olivia by emailing
firstname.lastname@example.org and putting “Letter of Light” in the subject to receive an info pack.
Have you ever made a New Year’s Resolution and stuck to it? Is the 1st January really the best time to make big lifestyle changes, or just an ideal marketing theme for companies to use to put pressure on customers?
For years we've been told that, after the indulgences of Christmas, we must now be perfect human beings and make amends for our gluttony. We must look better, we must eat better, we must buy whatever product it is that is being sold to achieve this.
Since Christmas Day we’ve been surrounded by adverts nagging us to do all these different things to improve our lives - but what how does it feel to see all this when you’re struggling to even get out of bed every day - the possibility of setting long-standing goals for the next 12 months feeling way beyond your reach?
This was exactly how I felt as 2018 began: I’d been diagnosed with Post-Natal depression and anxiety and I’d begun counselling sessions. This was helping me to feel better, but I was a long way from being 'okay' and, as such, hearing everyone around me setting targets, when I wasn’t even managing the basics, put an awful lot of pressure on me.
It was a constant reminder of the fact that I felt like I was failing, both at work and at home. It seemed to me that if I couldn’t lose weight or run 5k or build something crafty for my son, then I may as well go back to bed and not bother to get up the next day. The way I saw things, I was falling short of what everyone else was achieving, despite me trying my absolute best.
For example, my partner and I had joined a weight loss plan but I found myself not being able to cope with the additional burden of monitoring and judging everything I ate. On top of pushing myself to be ‘better’ at work and parenting, I was adding one more thing to-do list and – the worst part of it all – I was failing at all of them.
That’s why I loathe these articles and adverts about making resolutions – it’s just another way of encouraging us to see ourselves as ‘not good enough’, isn’t there already enough of that?
I can’t believe the amount of articles I read over the festive period about how to handle negative comments about your weight, like this one: https://bit.ly/2FweDs9 If a man or woman should make the decision to change an element of their lifestyle, it should be because they want to and not because they are being made to feel bad by others.
There’s so much pressure to look better and do more at this time of year, but sometimes the best thing we can to do make a fresh start is the complete opposite – we should consider doing less.
I wanted to write this blog because I know there will be others feeling like I was last year. I want you to know that, despite appearances, not everyone out there is doing better than you. These big plans they’re posting about will have been forgotten about by next month and you can bet your bottom dollar they won’t be ‘checking in’ at the sofa on the days they’re just too tired to go to the gym.
The best New Year’s Resolution you can make for yourself is to say ‘no’ to all these extra things, focus on the things that make you feel good. Take each day, each job, one step at a time and remember to give yourself a pat on the back for achieving each one.
There’s no point in overloading yourself when things are such a struggle, there’s no point pushing yourself too far because you risk drowning.
If you think you might like to be more healthy this year, focus on one little thing you can do each day – drink more water, eat more fruit, get out for a jog some point this week. And then, somewhere further down the line, maybe you can add the next step.
Remember, you’ll get there in the end – you’re amazing.
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.
I’m in awe of these women
I feel like I should be sat on this bus now filled with inspiration, raring to go and knowing everything that’s concerning me can be overcome. But I’m not, I’m feeling like a failure.
These aren’t women who have intended to become role models, I don’t think their goal was to be put on a pedestal by people like me. In fact, the reason I admire them so much is because they portray what it’s really like to be a mum – exhaustion, frustration, self-criticism and all.
Sophie, in particular, would be the first to shy away from the compliment I have given her. To tell me I’m great at what I do and an amazing mum – but, at the moment, my head just won’t hear it. I feel like I’m just not good enough.
I felt like what I’m going through isn’t anywhere near as bad as some of the ladies (and men) in that room.
There were two issues for me while watching Anna Foster present the talk show which was broadcast live online: I couldn’t relate to a lot of what was being said (and that made me feel guilty, like I’m not getting this right), and I felt like what I’m going through isn’t anywhere near as bad as some of the ladies (and men) in that room.
Sophie has experienced severe psychosis since having her second child, a truly terrifying ordeal that she felt might result in her little girls being taken away. One lady had given birth to a stillborn child just ten weeks ago, while another became upset when talking about looking after her sick husband.
My issues simply cannot compare to those – and I feel like that means I don’t have a right to be upset about life being shit. I have no right to feel like I can’t go on, when a mum who has lost her child less than three months ago is out there talking to the public to encourage an open conversation.
One of the panellists, DJ Neev from Kiss FM (a channel I’m far too old for now!), spoke of how she’d had suicidal thoughts because she thought her daughter would be better off without her.
Now, I can relate to feeling like my child would be better off without me. I can’t tell you the number of times I have planned in my head to pack a bag and just go away.
This week, I drove Harry to my partner Luke’s place of work with the intention of leaving Harry there, getting back in the car and driving away.
It was only when I got there, worried about embarrassing him and people finding out exactly what is going on with me, that I changed my mind.
I constantly live in fear that someone will realise how crap I am at this and take my beautiful boy away from me – but worse are the days where I actually will them to do it, where I beg Luke to make it so I don’t have to do this anymore. Mums at the takeover spoke of being scared social services would remove their children – I’ve had times where I actually want that to happen.
DJ Neev talked about hitting rock bottom, explaining that was the point where she was able to snap herself out of it and pull herself together – and that is another part I cannot relate to, I have neither the energy nor the self-confidence to get myself out of this. I just keep plodding on feeling lower and lower each time the sadness of it all hits me.
I’ve always been quite a driven person, I’ve lacked the organisation to keep it up for any length of time, but I get the ideas and inspiration and long to make them come true. That was until, gosh, 12 months ago perhaps. I’m shocked to realise how long this has been going on.
I think it all started with Harry’s four-month sleep regression, the damn thing ruined my life and we’ve never really recovered. I feel like I’ve got everything wrong because my child doesn’t sleep and, according to the whole flipping world, that’s my own fault.
Slowly but surely, I’ve just felt more and more like I’m not very good at this motherhood thing and I’m not actually right for it. I think of the friends who have said to me for years, ‘you’ll be a natural mum Amy’, and feel like I’m letting them down. This isn’t coming naturally.
Then I think of the people who laughed when I said I wanted kids, ‘you’d never cope Amy. The lack of sleep, the need to be organised, the focusing on someone else… you can barely look after yourself’. Maybe they were right.
Tuesday reminded me that I’m not alone, that everyone struggles – but that just makes me feel worse, because they’re all coping with the things that go wrong and I am not.
Losing my job and having a baby in the same year has completely knocked my confidence and that seems to be the root of it all.
I have no faith in myself as a mum, as a worker and definitely as a ‘homemaker’. Pfft, that’s my biggest failing… cleaning, washing, organising – never been me, never gonna happen. And that makes me wonder – was I just not meant to be a mum?
I wasn’t planning on sharing this. As we speak I’m waiting for my first meeting with a counsellor, having self-referred on the recommendation of my GP and I was going to wait until after that to publish this post.
But I felt like it was kind of my duty to talk about how I’m feeling, to raise awareness of what life is like for some mums, what so many of us go through.
Because there’s not a lot of people who know the extent to how tough I’ve found being a mum. In public, with friends and family, I put a brave face on and enjoy life. But behind that smile, I’m falling apart.
The Mum Takeover event was inspirational, and it is so important that 5 Live have given airtime to help people like me. But every mum there seemed to have it all together. They were talking about the things they’d been through and got over. They were giving advice based on what it’s like when you’ve got your head around it all.
Mine is a story that’s still at the beginning, one of a girl who’s still trying to work out why it’s all gone wrong and what on earth she does to solve it – if it’s even worth bothering.
A girl who’s simply fed up of feeling so sad.
This blog was originally published in December 2017, I decided to re-share it as I hope other parents will benefit from knowing they are not alone if they feel this way. If you'd like to chat about the things I've experienced, please do drop me a private message on Twitter or Facebook.
My name's Amy and I'm a Social Media Consultant with a two-year-old son, Harry.