Lockdown 2020 has been a test of our characters, but are we now better prepared for how to survive if we have to quarantine again?
Will staying apart for any amount of time be harder for us because we had been enjoying the recent weeks of freedom?
Or, are we now well practiced at taking stressful times on the chin and adapting to difficult situations more easily?
I, for one, feel like a very different person to the woman I was five months ago and I’d like to think it is the latter that will apply to me.
Having spent all day, every day at home with none of the usual distractions, like socialising, going out for a drink or spending Saturdays at the football, I feel I understand so much better the way my mind works.
And I want to make sure I learn from that, that I remember how to treat myself with kindness and patience now know what it is that makes me tick (or, rather, explode into a self-destructing mess.)
So, now is the time for me to think about how I want to ensure isolation changed my life for the better – I hope this will help you do the same too!
We found our mental health deteriorated during lockdown
According to the Office of National Statistics, 1 in 5 adults were likely to experience some form of depression in lockdown, while 43% of psychiatrists saw an increase in emergency cases.
This is something I can relate to, given my own experience with mental health this year.
I’ve always struggled with anxiety, but it wasn’t until having postnatal depression following the birth of my eldest son, Harry, that I realised how much it impacts my everyday life.
I like to plan ahead, I usually have my weekends mapped out for months in advance and I find it really hard to cope if those plans have to change for any reason.
So, when we were ordered to stay at home, I had to face one of my worst nightmares and I had to learn to be able to roll with the punches a little more.
I’ve been at my lowest point on more than one occasion.
I’ve had days where I simply didn’t want to get out of bed because I’d become tired of the monotony of the parent-feed-clean-bed cycle, and the pressure of balancing that with trying to work as well.
Without my usual crutch of being able to escape to the pub for a break, or off to see family and friends for the change of scenery, I had to find different ways to cope.
These I need to remember as we return to the new normal.
We changed direction in our careers during lockdown
Statistics also show that large numbers of people have changed career following lockdown as many were forced to take a step back from work through furlough or redundancy.
At the start of this year I had begun to bring myself back from maternity leave, I was using my KIT days and trying to find new clients to work with.
Having been on maternity leave when the pandemic hit, I sadly lost the clients I was working with and found myself in a position of having to begin again with my career.
It’s not the first time I’ve been in this position: when I was 10 weeks pregnant I was made redundant from a job in marketing and my whole world seemed to crumble as I feared having to find work again as the mother of a newborn.
This time I was determined to make it the last time I had to start from scratch, I was ready to settle down and find some direction... only this time I had to do it with two little boys around me while I worked!
So, I sat down and wrote a list of goals, the steps I needed to take to reach those goals and the social media content that would be needed to ensure I achieved them.
Having the confidence to trust my gut instinct and allow myself more time for development is something else I have learned in recent months.
These lessons I need to remember as we return to the ‘new normal’.
As I brainstormed my business plan, I kept coming back to the same thing: I knew that I wanted to use my skills to help others.
It’s been a bit of a trend through my whole career:
When I was a journalist, I wanted to raise awareness of different stories.
When I was in retail marketing, I was part of the charity team, so I was helping people that way.
My focus has always been on what difference I could make, but I had lost sight of that a little in recent years.
I’m grateful for this opportunity to focus on what I love doing and a renewed enthusiasm to succeed is definitely the best characteristic I am taking from lockdown.
This I need to remember as we return to the new normal.
We made the most of family time during lockdown
Having originally planned to return from maternity leave earlier this year, it’s true to say COVID 19 brought me precious extra days with my youngest son.
It was a tough decision sending him to nursery for a few hours a week back in January and I could never have known that would become a moot point just 10 weeks later.
People like to advise you to enjoy the younger years, ‘you’ll regret it when they’re older if you haven’t spent more time with them’.
(Obviously these people haven’t spent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with no break from their kids… I suspect if they had they’d feel differently!)
I made myself feel guilty for choosing childcare, but I should have trusted myself that putting my career first for a few days a week was absolutely fine.
It wasn’t just James I got to spend more time with this year, it was Harry and my partner Luke too.
We had some wonderful days as a family: playing in the garden, making cakes and having home cinema days (Harry liked the popcorn best).
I survived being a stay-at-home mum for 6 months, something I never imagined myself doing and it’s taught me that I can do anything I want to.
It’s taught me that, whilst all three boys drive me bonkers at times, I adore them all unconditionally and am very proud of this cute little unit we have created in our family home.
This I need to remember as we return to the ‘new normal’.
So, if Johnson and his team do ask us all to isolate again, rather than feeling filled with fear, as I was back in March, I now know I can handle it.
I can handle anything the world throws at me, I just need to remind myself of this often as we return to the ‘new normal’.
In the first episode of Series 2 in the 50 Shades of Motherhood podcast, I was invited to chat to my two good friends Carla Lett (from My Bump 2 Baby) and Sophie Mei Lan from Mama Mei blog.
We talked all about the things we’ve learned during lockdown, including around mental health, juggling parenting with working from home and much more.
I’m so happy to hear that the listeners have found this a relatable episode and hope that by sharing my experience I am able to help others.
We’ve got this!
As lockdown hit the UK, my fiancée and I were devastated that COVID had cancelled our wedding. But now we sit down to make new plans, I’m wondering if it can actually save me money.
For those of us with nuptials booked in the Summer of 2020, a tough decision has had to be made: do we stick with our dates and make the best of a bad situation, or bump the dates to next year?
The government this week announced that marriage ceremonies can now go ahead, but with limited numbers and lots of guidance about how the ceremony should go ahead – including having to wash your hands before exchanging the rings!
For us, this was confirmation that moving our day to July 2021 was the right move – we want to celebrate our marriage with the people we care most about.
It feels very strange to think about what we would have been doing had the pandemic not happened: final bills were due around now, suits needed to be bought and I’d have no doubt spent more money on decorations from Facebook.
But it occurs to me that this sad situation actually gives us the chance to pull back a bit on the spending and save ourselves some cash… so how will we do that?
Shop around for the best deals for our wedding outfits
My partner Luke had a few things on his list, one of which was to buy the suits for him, his groomsmen and our two little boys. He’s a man, so obviously he hadn’t even started looking into this yet!
But these extra 12 months will provide us with the time to shop around and see what we can find, perhaps we’ll find something suitable in the end of summer sale.
The same is true for my bridesmaid shoes and lots of other things.
If you’re still looking for dresses, there’s bound to be some great offers on Prom Dresses with the school leavers having their special nights cancelled too: check out www.promdressfinder.co.uk
Save up for the things we really want at our wedding
We have a budget in mind and we’ve been saving towards that, but, if I’m honest, we were still a little way off reaching that total amount.
What’s happened has given us the breathing space to pay for the car we really love, the hotel in the perfect location, the idyllic honeymoon and the surprise treat I’ve not told anyone about - all without having to dip into our credit cards.
This is a relief for me because I’ve always believed you should try not to get into debt for your special day, but it’s a fine balance when you want make it memorable.
Make our own decorations for the wedding tables
Possibly the worst kept secret from our wedding is that we’re going to have a Harry Potter theme and the decorations are mostly going to be made from the pages of the books.
With a newborn baby and a toddler to look after, I’ve not got as far as I would have liked in making the gorgeous paper roses for our tables – so, the extra 12 months we’ve got will save my money as I won’t need to hire someone to create them.
Plus it’s going to feel so good walking into that room and knowing I made all the bits that make the room so gorgeous!
Sign up to an app where guests can share photos
This has been a major concern: I know people will share their images on Facebook, but the quality will be lower and getting hold of them a challenge.
Our guests are coming from all over the country (and the world), so when they head home with their phones they will take the wedding photos with them and that poses a challenge for getting hold of the lovely, candid images they’ve taken of the day.
The Wedding Photo Swap app is a great solution, guests can share their pictures during and after the event and we could even create a live feed so we can relive the day. I love the idea of this!
We actually have a photographer booked, but this would be such a great way to save money. Often your guests can capture the party in their own, unique way and that is more than enough.
All in all, when COVID cancelled our wedding I was really disappointed, we’ve been looking forward to this day for so long.
But every cloud has a silver lining, and in this case it’s that we have more time to make the day perfect, with perhaps a little less pressure on our wallets!
This is a sponsored post created for Wedding Photo Swap
Over the last few weeks, the UK has begun to question whether we have spent too long putting the wrong heroes up on a pedestal.
Quite literally in the case of statues up and down the country which are now the subject of reviews as to whether they should still stand.
One hero who I felt personally let down by was JK Rowling, who received a lot of, understandable, criticism regarding views she has expressed on transgender women.
For me, the Harry Potter author has been something of an idol. Aside from the incredible talent she clearly has as a writer, I also admire her as a Mum.
You will have seen, thanks to an atrocious headline from The Sun, that she went through an abusive marriage and went on to raise her daughter alone (while writing the books!).
She worked hard through poverty and rejections until finally her book was picked up by an assistant at a literacy agency and, well, you know the rest.
Her books have become a huge part of my life, my partner and I bonded over our shared love for them, my sons are both named after characters from them, we’re even going to be basing the theme of our wedding on them.
So, to come online and find her name trending because she has made comments that I vehemently disagree with has been an unexpectedly challenging experience.
Hero to zero?
It’s not the first time I have felt let down by someone I admired: a little while ago Gary, Howard and Mark of Take That were criticised for using a tax avoidance scheme, something one of my Twitter followers likes to remind me every time I tweet about them.
Following along the boyband theme, Ronan Keating was probably the first of my heroes that I felt let me down when it was revealed he had had an affair.
Having grown up adoring the singer and his band, Boyzone, having learnt about love and relationships through their songs, I suddenly started feeling guilty for having invested so much time in them.
The same is true of Jo Rowling, I write this in a study that has been adorned with pictures and memorabilia from the films, pictures of our visits to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour and the golden snitch ring box that my partner used when he proposed to me there.
So much of my time and money has been invested in this series, it has been a huge feature of my life, brought some of my happiest memories and supported me at times when I have felt low.
Now that’s tinged with the sadness and resentment I feel at Jo for handling this in such a terrible way, I won't go into the finer details of it as I feel that is better left to those who have been affected by her words.
But I hate that someone I have always revered as a pillar of exemplary morals has expressed an opinion so hurtful others.
Does the UK need to take a closer look at its heroes?
All of this got me thinking about another big news story from last week, over the weekend the statue of Winston Churchill in London was covered to protect it from potential vandalism.
Now, I’m personally somewhat aware of the things in his past that make him less than the hero our country likes to paint him as, but I’m not sure that is true for others.
Yes, he led us to victory against the Nazis and stopped them bringing more death, pain and anguish to the world.
But while celebrating that, we seem to have forgotten to acknowledge that he also expressed some very questionable views on white supremacy.
In the wake of the protests for Black Lives Matter there has been a defensive response to any criticism of our leaders, police force and culture.
‘Those are bygone years and the morals of then cannot be applied to now,’ I see posted on my timeline repeatedly.
And that would be true, if we had actually learned our lesson. If we had actually eradicated systemic racism within our society. But we haven’t.
There are still more steps that need to be taken, whether it’s in terms of equality for BAME people, transgender males and females, or women, and putting these ‘heroes’ on a pedestal that cannot be touched will not allow us to make that change.
Should statues around the country be removed immediately?
Probably not, each needs to be assessed individually and the thoughts of those in the local community taken into account.
That was the problem in Bristol, a petition for the Colston statue to be removed had been raised, but it was ignored. The people in charge had refused to have the conversations needed to discuss this challenging topic.
As a result of the Black Lives Matter protests, these discussions now seem to be starting. My own council here in Leeds have announced they will be reviewing the Robert Peel statues in our city.
It’s a good start, but it mustn’t stop there.
We need to be talking honestly about our own white privilege and underlying racist views. To challenge ourselves on the sub-consious thoughts deep within us and to make sure we sit and listen to the views of others.
It is down to us to stop idolising these heroes and to realise that they are just people and they have made mistakes which we can all learn from.
If you ignore those mistakes you are doing an injustice to those that have been wronged, when we have a real opportunity here to make sure these incidents never, ever happen again.
Can we forgive JK Rowling for her tweets?
As for JK Rowling, I think it’s important to keep in mind that there are two sides to this story. The truth is, there are sensible counter arguments that support what she has said, to an extent at least.
While appreciating how much she has achieved in her life, I can still listen to the LBTQ+ community and learn about why what she has said is so hurtful to them and their way of life.
I don’t need to defend her, I can learn from her mistake and the same can be said for Colston, Churchill, Peel and all the names that are now being included in this important topic.
We can take these awful events and turn them into something good, if we allow ourselves to embrace the fact that there are good and bad parts in everyone.
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.
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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!
My name's Amy and I'm a Social Media Consultant with a two-year-old son, Harry.