I’m on the red-eye shift as I cradle my nine-week-old son with one arm as he sleepily gulps his warm milk, pausing at times to make appreciative sighs before hungrily going back for more. With his ravenous appetite sated (for at least two hours I hope), he melts back into my now aching arm, drifting off to a satisfied slumber. I gaze in a trance-like state at his pink, perfect face, happy that he’s content before realising that I need to burp him. I gently sit my squirming baby on my lap with his back as straight as he’ll allow and proceed to rub and pat until I hear the glorious sound of a burp. He grimaces and squeals, deeply irritated at not being allowed to remain asleep. But, he’s totally reliant on me to help him with his bodily functions until he’s old enough to burp and fart for himself.
Sonny was born on 18 June this year, nine days past my due date. Lazy, or taking after his laid back father, I’m not sure. Thankfully, I had an uncomplicated pregnancy. In fact, it didn’t feel real until my bump started to show at around six months. With this being my first pregnancy, I kept an open mind as to how my body might change. So, apart from a swelling tummy (and boobs), I was relatively unscathed from carrying a human being for 41 weeks. I had a water birth, as per my birthing plan and reluctantly stuck with gas and air despite repeated feverish pleadings for pain relief. Nothing can prepare you for childbirth, it’s really, really tough, but, it turns out, so am I. Furthermore, nothing can prepare you for the love, or the fear, or the indifference of other people who don’t have children. I say the latter because until I became a mother, I’d no clue of what being a mother entailed and how difficult it is (though my dear mother told me countless times as a pouting teenager).
When I was coming up for with the concept for this blog, I knew I wanted it to be inclusive of all women. I’m about womanhood, motherhood and parenthood. I fit into all those categories now. Up until I started trying for a baby, I didn’t consider myself maternal at all. Even now, I’m feeling my way through the dark as I juggle feeds, nappies (so much poo!), bath time, entertaining and comforting. I wouldn’t change it for the world of course. A very close friend and mum to a beautiful girl told me that the love you feel is like nothing else in the world. I’ve experienced love before of course, but the love you feel for your baby is so overwhelming, so ferocious, that you’d do literally anything for them. I’m a natural worrier and catastrophise constantly. There are so many dangers and you’re constantly bombarded with horror stories online. I remember taking Sonny out in his pram for the first time, I gripped the handle bar as tight as I could, imagining it somehow rolling away from me onto the path of an oncoming bus. Only recently have I started to breath normally and not in shallow gasps. I need to remember that all you can do is your best. Listen to your gut, only you know what’s best for your baby. That’s not to say you shouldn’t listen to advice, my mum is my first port of call for any niggles or worries I have (which are many!). As Baz Luhrman sagely put it, “Worrying is about as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind.”
I hope you’ll join me on my journey through motherhood, as a woman and a mother. I’ll be writing about anything and everything, what terrifies me, what inspires me and what irritates me. I know there will be many ups and downs, but it’s how you handle the curve balls that life deals you that count.
One of the most challenging obstacles of parenthood is getting your baby into a bedtime routine. For the most part, it’s trial and error, but establishing good sleep hygiene early on will make you and your little one’s life a lot easier (and happier). It really is a lottery as to whether you get a ‘good sleeper’. Some babies can sleep for 12-hour stretches, while others can wake up every hour. Speaking as a first-time mum, my little boy Sonny took about eight months to get into a routine. As a newborn, Sonny was a very noisy sleeper. He was also a colicky baby and used to writhe around his cot, body popping. He fed every two-three hours. As someone who loves their sleep, and would regularly be in bed for 10.30pm before having a baby, this was a major shock to my system. Still, I coped with coffee, napping during the day when Sonny slept and just knowing this phase would pass, although it didn’t feel like that at the time. However, if you already have a toddler or older children in the house, I know naps will be nigh impossible. But, you cope. We’re superhuman like that.
Like any new mum, I hovered over my little bundle, listening for his gentle breathing, placing my quivering hand on his chest, watching it rise and fall. You imagine every worst case type scenario there is. I was hyper-sensitive, worrying about SIDS, questioning every sound. “Is he too warm? Too cold? Is that a rash?” Still, babies survived before guidelines even existed so you do your very best and if you’re not sure, always ask for help. Although those days with my eyes on stalks are a blurry memory, I got through it and could maybe even do it again.
Recently, I brought Sonny to a Settled Petals sleep workshop. It was somewhat fitting, that he dragged his bedtime bunny. Now, a plucky one-year-old, he is sleeping 12 hours at night. Yes, I’m very lucky (for now) but his daytime naps are irregular and some days he doesn’t nap at all. While he goes down anytime between 6pm and 8pm, I would like his bedtime to about 7pm. In our house, Sonny’s bedtime routine begins with drawing the blinds, a warm bottle, a bath (not every night), a book, and then popping Sonny in his sleeping bag and putting on Ewan the Dream Sheep, which we’ve used since the first night he came home. It also has a red light, which is supposed to remind baby of being inside the womb. Sonny also can’t sleep without his beloved Jellycat grey bunny. It’s recommended you don’t put any toys in your baby’s cot before they are six-months-old though.
Certified Sleep Consultant Susan Wallace is incredibly knowledgeable and the workshop was full of mums, a dad, beautiful babies, and curious crawlers – Sonny being the worst offender. Tea, coffee, and buns are offered at the start, the latter was snatched from my hand by Sonny and promptly disintegrated into a thousand crumbs on the yoga mat we were sat on. He spent the rest of the class, being a little nuisance, wrestling me for my notepad and pen. I still picked up on some of Susan’s many excellent points. Susan set up her business just six months ago and has since worked with 231 families who have booked into the service for either sleep, baby yoga or massage.
Susan began the class explaining how are our modern sleeping patterns mirror how our ancestors slept. When we slept in groups, individuals would wake up at 1.5 hourly intervals to check for danger and tend to the fire. Susan says we enter light sleep frequently throughout the night and do a full body ‘scan’, this is to check if we are too hot, too cold or if we need the toilet. If all is well, we’ll just drift back to sleep. Little babes, of course, will scream the house down until their needs are met.
Susan says that we, as adults, use ‘sleep props’, the most obvious being our duvet. It would seem very strange to us to lie down in bed without pulling something over us. Babies need props too. Strategies that we employ include feeding and rocking to sleep. It can be very difficult for a baby to self-settle if they are used to either of these, nonetheless effective strategies. Self-settling is the holy grail. It’s worth pointing out that babies don’t make melatonin for six to eight weeks. And when they do, breastfeeding mums will want to avoid feeding their baby milk containing cortisol at night and milk containing melatonin during the day. Another thing to be aware of is ‘sleep pressure’. And I’m not talking about the pressure we feel to get our babies to sleep! Sleep pressure is an unconscious biological process that makes us want to sleep. without enough sleep pressure built up, we (and babies) won’t be able to settle or sleep for long. This is were nap time comes in. The first nap of the day is the easiest as there is enough sleep pressure built up from the night before. However, if a baby has a really long morning nap, there won’t be enough sleep pressure for an afternoon nap, resulting in your baby getting overtired, making them even more awake come bedtime. It really is a quandary. With that in mind, a shorter morning nap is to be encouraged so baby has enough sleep pressure for an afternoon nap. Susan says the last nap of the day predicts when a baby will wake up.
As well as understanding the science, there are practical things you can do to help boost your baby’s melatonin. Susan says that night lights aren’t the best idea, especially the ones that emit a white or blue glow. A red glow, she says, is “less detrimental” to sleep so choose lights and light up toys with care. Buy blackout blinds for the nursery and your own bedroom if necessary, play continuous white noise and remove stimulating toys. If you breastfeed, you can buy a Meemoobaby Meelight that attaches to you for night feeds.
If you have a colicky baby, add the bedtime bottle to the start of the routine and keep baby upright for at least half an hour. If you use formula, stir the milk, don’t shake it. This might sound obvious but I always shook the bottle, thinking I needed to do that to mix the formula. You don’t. Susan says to hold your baby over your right shoulder to get gas up.
For the first three to four weeks, Susan says to hold and touch your baby as much as possible – and keep it up. She says that slings are brilliant for keeping small babies close to you. Swaddling is also beneficial for the newborn days – although getting the technique right is very important. A fascinating article by Green Child Magazine highlights a 2017 study published in Development and Psychopathology. It found that infant touch “can affect babies at a molecular level, and the positive results can last for years.” The article also states that babies who do not receive adequate human interaction and especially the loving touch, can become depressed or anxious and are prone to anti-social behaviour in later life.
Creating an environment that is similar to being in the womb is key – which for an adult is like being in a hammock (nice). For the first six months, nothing should in the crib or Moses basket other than a sheet over the mattress, to reduce the risk of SIDS. If you choose to co-sleep, ensure there are no pets in the bedroom and do not drink or smoke. Also, never fall asleep with your baby on a sofa. After six months, you can place a comforter, toy or just a t-shirt you have worn for a few days and tie it up in a knot. Your baby will be immensely comforted by your scent.
You can also look out for sleeping cues like rubbing eyes and looking away, which babies tend to do when they are feeling overwhelmed. Also, Susan says, batting your baby’s bum is a good way to comfort them as it reminds them of bobbing about in the womb.
From nine to 12 months, your baby may experience separation anxiety. You can help combat this with sleep training using ‘The Chair in the Room’ and ‘The Kissing Game’. There is also the ‘Wake to Sleep’ method, which encourages infants to self-settle if they are early morning larks – of which 10% of babies are.
I hope this blog is helpful to new mums or mums who are experiencing sleep issues with their little ones. Susan offers a wealth of information in her workshops and I’d highly recommend them. Susan works closely with families who need a little extra help too. She also offers baby massage, baby yoga, and children’s yoga classes, all of which are known to increase sleep quality in children.
I learned an awful lot from the workshop, it was absolutely fascinating. Yes, all babies are different and unpredictable but having knowledge is very empowering and it’s also comforting to know that you aren’t the only mum or dad going through a rough time.
This blog post will be short and sweet, much like my son’s new haircut. Sonny was born with a shock of black hair. I had really bad heartburn but I don’t know if that’s related or just an old wives’ tale. I thought this fluffy ‘baby’ hair might fall out to be replaced with new hair but it didn’t. It just got lighter. Both my husband are both follicly blessed. I have thick, coarse hair that needs a professional blow-dry to look shiny and bouncy while my husband – now a silver fox – has healthy, thick hair. I too was born with lots of dark hair. As a child, my hair was my crowning glory – or so my mum says. But, it’s been through a lot since then, from bleaching, colouring, ironing (yup – a clothing iron!), then various straighteners until I bought my first pair of GHD’s – a complete godsend. I love getting my hair coloured and see it as a real treat. But, I can understand why little ones might be frightened by someone coming at them with a pair of scissors.
I remember as a young girl going to a hair salon for a ‘trim’, as opposed to a ‘cut’. The instructions from my dear mum was to get it trimmed, I should point out. But then, somehow, I ended up with most of my thick, chestnut mane lopped off. I’ve no idea how this came to be but I went from feeling quite grown up to feeling traumatised. Sure, it would grow back but I still felt like I’d lost a limb. I think as adults, we get our hair cut to signify a new chapter in our life, much like the song ‘I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair’, you cut out whatever negativity is going on in your life, such as an ex, for example. Women are emotionally attached to their hair, they wear it like an armour. You’ve heard the phrase, having a ‘bad hair day’. You feel good when your hair is done, my mum would testify to this – her hair is always immaculate, and so would most of the women I know. Most days, my hair is scraped into a top knot, but when it’s done, I feel my best.
Sonny, unfettered by traumatic experiences in the hands of a hairdresser, took his first trim like a man. He seemed completely unfazed by his locks being snipped off at my regular salon Paul Meekin Hair. I looked at Sonny, propped up in the barber’s chair, feeling teary, proud and totally in love. I brought a little bag to collect his tawny hair clippings, which I’ll keep in a little memory box. Later, I came across an article online of things you should do to prevent your baby’s first haircut being a ‘traumatic’ experience. It hadn’t even occurred to me bring an iPad or snacks or some of the things suggested. So, either I got off very lightly or maybe going to the hairdressers isn’t so bad after all. My husband goes to the barber every four weeks while I’m lucky if I get my hair cut and coloured three or four times a year. If Sonny’s hair grows as fast as mine, I’m going to have to sell a kidney… but, finances aside, Sonny getting his first hair cut was a stress-free experience for us both. It did help that Paul’s two cute little dogs were running around at his feet, fascinated by my squealing with delight, grinning baby. They say the first cut is the deepest, but for us, it was the sweetest.
There’s no place like home. But, sometimes you can imagine yourself living elsewhere. For me, that place is Italy. My husband and I visited Florence and Tuscany a few years ago and I fell in love with the place, the delicious food, the beautiful architecture, the musical language, the chic style, and of course, the climate. We spent our days wandering cobbled streets, basking in the warm sunshine, cooling down with gelato, sipping on Chianti and gorging on pizza and pasta. We made a promise to return so instead of buying presents for each other last Christmas we booked flights to Venice. It would also be Sonny’s first foreign trip. I was quite nervous of how he’d deal with the flight and just being in new surroundings. The flight to Venice, which I imagined I’d be pacing the aisle the entire way, was almost without incident. We ended up chatting to an American bar owner called Ben and the two and a half hours flew in, so to speak. Sonny got a little grouchy when he got tired, and it isn’t easy to get comfortable on a budget airline, but eventually, he fell asleep cradled in my arms.
As with all trips away, organisation is key and something which doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m the kind of person who loves having a diary but rarely uses it. Although we were away for just under a week, we ended up with two large suitcases, a rucksack, and a small sports bag. I wrote a list which looked like I was moving abroad. As well as all the obligatory cute outfits for Sonny (and sun hats he never wore), there was a zillion nappies, formula, wet wipes, a sleeping bag, bodysuits, soothers, teething gel, teethers, Calpol, snacks. The list goes on. Then there was my case full of new purchases from ASOS, Topshop and Boden. I love having new clothes for holiday, it’s part of the enjoyment. For a week or so, you can be someone who eats out every day, has a Mimosa for breakfast, Chianti every night and two changes of clothes every day. Or is that just me?! Something I wasn’t expecting was to sail through security. We were ushered to fast track both in Belfast and Venice. Me and my husband shared a smug moment, there are perks to having a baby after all. Heh.
We stayed in a simple, bright and clean apartment in Padua. The location was key as we wanted to take day trips to Venice and Verona. I’ve always dreamed of taking a gondola trip and visiting Juliet’s balcony. After a day acclimatising in Padua and paying for an expensive lunch because we were tired and went into the first restaurant we saw, we went on a day trip to Venice. It’s another world. You step off the train and a few steps away and you’re on Grand Canal – a bustling waterway with working boats, vaporettos and the more garish of the gondolas. We walked a little, stopping for a gelato on the way of course (which Sonny devoured), taking in the sights, joking at how much a tall, broad man wearing a Breton top looked a lot like a Bond villain. I spotted an empty, slightly less cheesy gondola and approached to get a price for the three of us. “Ciao!”, I said cheerily to the gondolier, who turned out to be said Bond villain. Some 80 euros later and we were being rowed under the most beautiful bridges feeling (at least me) amazing. Although I couldn’t help myself capturing the moment on my phone, I felt completely in the moment. I loved it. I clutched Sonny tight, while he clutched his new bunny (as I left his beloved Jelly Cat bunny in our car in Belfast). After our trip, we had a glass of vino frizzante by the canal and realised we were one down. The bunny was gone. We retraced our steps but bunny was nowhere to be seen. I still wonder what became of the little toy. I hope it found a good home and didn’t end up in the canal…
Our journey home was memorable for all the wrong reasons. My dear hubby forgot to validate our tickets but we boarded our train, hoping we wouldn’t get caught. We were approached by a sullen, po-faced jobsworth, who delighted in pointing out that we hadn’t validated our ticket and were therefore subject to a 60 euro fine. My husband, stubborn at the best of times, refused to pay, citing that we were foreigners with a screaming baby. Sonny, as if picking up on the tension, proceeded to have a meltdown. The ticket man stood beside us, refusing to budge until we paid the penalty, while hubby stood his ground. Eventually, he got back up in the form of a formidable, extremely brusque manager (who was annoyingly attractive). I slipped on my sunglasses to hide my rabbit in the headlights eyes and politely explained the situation. We got no sympathy. Our options were to pay, give up our passports or get arrested. I didn’t fancy any of the options but I knew I just wanted to get off that train. We were left with no choice but pay the fine. While hubby was raging, I was determined not to let this spoil our trip. It didn’t. But, at least we’ll have something to talk (and laugh) about for years to come.
On the third day, we braved the train again to go to fair Verona. Sonny, it turns out, loves the train and spent much of his time waving at other passengers, especially the female ones. It’s a short walk from the train station to the historic part of the city. As well as being beautiful, it’s a shopping mecca, although you’d need credit cards with no limits to buy anything. We followed the throngs to Juliet’s House, the gothic-style setting said to have inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It felt very surreal to watch tourists take selfies on the balcony. My heart fluttered, the kind I get when I’m shopping. It was just 6 Euro to wander around Juliet’s house and get the perfect Insta pic. My poor hubby was left with instructions and I joined the queue of people all wanting the perfect shot. The girl in front of me was pulling silly poses for what seemed like an eternity while I patiently waited for my chance. Finally, the balcony was mine. I walked out and scoured the crowd for my husband, camera ready. All of the poses I had in mind went out the window and I ended up leaning on the balcony grinning, feeling a little silly. But, I checked another thing off my bucket list – and got evidence.
The next day, we made a perhaps ill-advised trip to Lido de Venezia, it was a train journey and a trip on a ferry. It took a while to get there, but I was optimistic that it would be worth it. Husband got a little grumpy as he hates boats, but I was absorbing the experience like a sponge. A kind Italian woman approached me with a ribbon to attach Sonny’s soother, as he kept throwing it away. I’d forgotten the Baby & More Pacigrip we take everywhere with us. In fact, I was quite struck with the kindness of the Italian people. They just love babies. Some stopped to offer us directions, others offered their seat to me. Aside, from the nasty train man, I was really touched by all the little acts of kindness shown to us. Eventually, we reached Lido and there wasn’t a beach in sight. Husband and I bickered, having made quite a long journey and facing the prospect of yet another bus or taxi. However, the beach was a short walk away, thankfully. The ocean breeze beckoned and we walked barefoot in the warm sand towards the sea. Sonny had his very first paddle. It was a little too nippy for him but it was so amazing for him to have his first experience at the beach. On the way back, we stopped off the most gorgeous little restaurant called Parco delle Rose. It was perfect because while we needed shade from the sun, we were still outside in a lush, verdant space. One of the older male waiters was particularly taken with Sonny and the two played peek-a-boo while husband and I indulged in incredible food and a tipple. Fed and watered, and a nappy change and we headed back to the ferry terminal. We were feeling a little sleepy from being in the sun and day drinking and figured we could probably get a disco nap in. As the ferry left the terminal, the sea was pretty rough. I wasn’t bothered and with Sonny haven drifted off already, I closed my eyes, the motion of the vessel lulling me to sleep. The next thing I knew, I took in a mouthful of salt water, I spluttered, gasping for breath as a huge wave came through a small window, that hadn’t been shut. Me and husband were drenched, as was Sonny who squealed. The next thing we knew, towels were being ushered our way and I quickly wrapped our screaming bundle in about three large white towels. He was soon chattering and smiling while I resembled a drowned rat, my lovely sun hat destroyed. We somehow managed to see the funny side. We alighted and got Sonny changed into dry clothes – for some reason I’d packed another outfit that day. We made our way to our apartment, picked off the seaweed (true story), showered, dressed and headed out for supper at Ham Holy Burger. They were heavenly.
Italy wasn’t without its hiccups but overall, it was an incredible trip. I got to do things I’d dreamed about and most of all, we shared the experience with our little son. It’s pretty magical sharing new experiences with a little human you have created. We certainly plan to see more of the world with our boy. I loved everything about Italy. It wasn’t perfect, more perfectly imperfect. Of all the places in the world I’ve visited, I feel compelled to return. Aside from the climate, it’s the beautiful buildings, the morning cappuccinos in the sun, the older women wearing silk scarves around their neck, young women with perfect red lipstick and DM boots. The rich food, the incredible wine. Italy owns a little piece of my heart. Grazie, Italy. Life is a rich tapestry, made up of the memories you make with the people you love. At the end, that is all that matters, not the clothes you wore, or how many likes you got on social media. Memories with people that matter. Italy… arrivederci.
As a new mum, it’s rare you get a night to yourself and those nights, whether spent with a family member or friend are so precious. As a blogger and writer I’m always looking for experiences. I was lucky to be invited to Company the Musical at the Grand Opera House. I brought along a good friend and of course we enjoyed an obligatory pre-theatre tipple (as well as an apres-theatre French Martini obvs). There is something quite magical about watching live theatre. It’s so immersive and the atmosphere is palpable. It was a full-house and we settled into our seats close to the action. The staging was very impressive and the on-stage orchestra set the big city New York scene. The original production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company was nominated for a record-setting fourteen Tony Awards and won six. Sondheim said he wanted Company to be a form of escapism. “Broadway theatre has been for many years supported by upper-middle-class people with upper-middle-class problems. These people really want to escape that world when they go to theatre.”
Director James Huish makes his return to the Grand Opera House with this brilliant musical comedy. He says: “Company is a snapshot of being married, being single, and the pressures modern society puts on us to be stereotyped. It’s based on every day relationships and so within the show there is someone that everyone can relate to and is a hilarious journey of self-discovery set to Stephen Sondheim’s amazing songs.”
The plot revolves around Robert (Bobby Bubbi/Bobby Baby), a seemingly commitment-phobic, yet popular, handsome, single man about to turn 35. He is surrounded by five well-meaning, if a little eccentric married and engaged couples. The musical is composed of short vignettes, presented in no particular chronological order. Nothing is fairy-tale, and one couple, the likeable Peter and Susan are going through an oddly amicable divorce, while another, Sarah and Harry snip at each constantly. Harry sings “You’re always sorry. You’re always grateful. You’re always wondering what might have been. Then she walks in.” Neurotic Amy has cold feet before her wedding. The oldest and most cynical (and most divorced) of Robert’s friends is Joanne who puts in a solid performance with rousing vocals. In her knowing solo ‘The Little Things You Do Together’, she muses: “It’s the little things you are together, Swear Together, Wear Together, That make perfect relationships. The concerts you enjoy together, Neighbours you annoy together, Children you destroy together, That keep marriage intact.”
Bobby (Mark Tilley) watches on as the couples in his life navigate the ups and downs of married life. In turn, his best friends (especially the men) long for even “one hour” of being single. His female friends long for him to find a girl and settle down. He has no shortage of female admirers and enjoys a fling with slow-witted but hilarious airline flight attendant April. He also has dalliances with outlandish Marta, the self-coined “soul of New York” and Kathy, whom he dated previously and both admitted to considering marrying one another. However, she tells him she is leaving for Cape Town with a new fiance. Bobby is conflicted, a good person, with friends who adore him, but he wants knows is missing something. He wants: “Someone to hold me too close, Someone to hurt me too deep. Someone to sit in my chair, And Ruin my sleep, And make me aware, Of being alive. Being Alive.”
You are routing for him to find love, but we’re not even sure if even he knows what he wants. His perception of marriage is shaped by his friends and he is very wary of becoming entrapped in a union that may not last, for whatever reason. However, despite his doubts, he still yearns to “Feel Alive”. At the start of the musical, his friends urged him to blow out his birthday candles, which he didn’t. Perhaps not wanting to believe in whimsical fantasies. The end is a little unsatisfying as we don’t know if Robert will find love, but someone, he seems satisfied with his lot.
I’m so glad I’m not in the dating game anymore. I can’t stand the games that people play (and that I played myself in a bid to be “keep ’em mean, keep ’em clean). I was also a self-saboteur when it came to a few relationships. They didn’t work out for a reason and my now hubby whom I met aged 32, was my first ‘proper’ boyfriend. I never thought love was for me, after spending most of my twenties single. Now, I can’t imagine my life without my partner or my baby. It is funny how life turns out. It’s not a bed a roses and I’d be lying if I said it were. But, it is the little things that makes a marriage. For me, snuggling into my husband’s chest before going to sleep, laughing at something silly on TV, or just being with one another not feeling the need to talk.
Company the Musical is great fun, and perfect for a girls’ night out. It’s upbeat, energetic, with a dose of sentimentality thrown in to give an all-rounded feel-good theatre experience. You can always gauge how good a show is by its audience and there was a constant trickle of belly laughs, giggles and applause throughout. It’s the perfect company for the weekend.
You can still catch Company the Musical tonight and tomorrow at the Grand Opera House.
My followers can get 20% of ticket prices when booking with PRESS20.
It’s about 7.30pm and I’m sitting with professional blogger and mum-of-two Vicki Psarias before she goes on stage to a full house of creative women to promote her empowering book Mumboss at The Black Box in Belfast. Since hitting the shelves last year, it’s become a No. 1 Amazon bestseller and has been noted in the top ten business books written by women in The Independent. In it, she encourages readers to embrace her mumboss manifesto, explaining how we can balance our work, our passions and, our parenting. Despite sounding a little hoarse (no doubt down to her hectic schedule), effervescent Vicki cuts a striking figure and fizzles with excited energy. She is chatty, confident, honest, funny and just really, really nice. She’s the kind of person that makes you feel better, just by being in her company. Conversation flowed, and I even shared some anecdotes from my short tenure as a mother myself to which she smiled warmly and nodded. She offered me vegan pizza and garlic bread, which I accepted having just come from work, resulting in tomato sauce splashing all over my notes. There’s a first time for everything. This will definitely go down as one of my most fun interviews to date.
The beauty of being a writer is the people that you are lucky enough to meet. I do believe that everyone crosses your path for a reason. As a relative newcomer to the blogging world, it’s taking every ounce of my self-confidence to put my voice out there. I started blogging when Sonny was just nine weeks old. When I think back on those bleary-eyed days, struggling to string a sentence together, I wonder how I even got a chance to sit down at my laptop. But in truth, it was cathartic. It was my therapy. I’ve put myself off starting a blog for many years, for many reasons. Motherhood offers so much content, that people can relate to and I’ve really enjoyed sharing my story as a first-time mum on the cusp of turning 40. Meeting Vicki has come at a time of big change in my life. It’s very serendipitous. So often I doubt myself, I’m a procrastinator, I can be listless at times. But sometimes, you meet someone and you just know what you’re supposed to do. For me, that person is Vicki.
Vicki Psarias aka Honest Mum has a two million reach each month on her blog and social channels. She is a multi award-winning screenwriter, director, filmmaker, best-selling author, professional blogger and mum to two young, gorgeous children Oliver (9) and Alexander (6). You will most likely have seen her commenting on parenting issues on the likes of Good Morning Britain (most recently debating whether parents should drink alcohol) as well as Lorraine, BBC Breakfast and Sky News. Vicki has also featured in Vogue, The Guardian and written for Grazia and Closer to name but a few.
The importance of being honest.
Vicki says her mum, husband and closest pals are honest with her. “It’s the only way to be with the ones you love. Considerate but candid.”
How does this entrepreneurial mum juggle work and family life? “My kids are both at school so I work when they’re there, and stop at pick-up where I run around like a headless chicken getting them to and from lessons like swimming and helping them with homework (bloody love it to be honest) and then if I’m on deadline, I work for a while again when they sleep. My husband and I share the load but having a freelance career gives me flexibility. It’s why I left directing and I feel grateful I can be so hands-on, my kids are my life.”
Being a mum defines me but it doesn’t limit me. It makes me better at my job. Through weakness, you discover your strength.
“We all have important stories to tell. Sharing what matters to you. Like a painter with strokes of a paintbrush.”
Vicki started writing her blog in 2010 when her son Oliver was ten months (incidentally the same age as Sonny now). “I had a traumatic birth and I wasn’t being honest about how I felt. I was under a black cloud and was pretending to be strong.” Her blog was light-hearted to begin with. “I wasn’t strong enough to write about it.” Then, at Christmas, she spoke to her parents about how she felt and moved to Leeds and started CBT. “With my blog and being close to my parents, I was able to start healing.” Nine years on and her family live in Windsor.
Being honest is in Vicki’s DNA. She says: “I’m tactful, or I try to be. I’m thick-skinned. It’s the Greek Cypriot in me, we’re culturally honest – and I’m also a Yorkshire girl. It’s not about keeping up appearances.
Therapy helps you unlearn negativity. It is such a gift.
Being honest isn’t always easy though. “It took five years before I could write about my traumatic birth and five months before I could talk about my thyroid operation.” The latter, she describes as the most painful experience she has suffered to date, despite enduring a crash c-section (in part) because of her high pain threshold.
When you’re not well, you need a village.
Talking about those who try to take her down, she says: “I don’t engage with trolls. I’ll maintain a dignified silence. There was an incident in which I wish I had spoken up but I didn’t have the strength as I’d lost my young aunt Zak at the time and was overwhelmed with grief. You have to pick your battles anyway. Therapy teaches you to take a moment before reacting.”
Vicki hates the notion that women need to be ‘ruthless’ or ‘difficult’ to thrive. “Successful women are so often painted as being ruthless or tough to work with, which is for the most part, complete and utter sexist nonsense. That doesn’t mean that some successful women aren’t difficult or ruthless, the same applies to men, but this stereotype, for the most part, is untrue and massively unhelpful. The majority of successful women I know are incredibly generous and sisterly. We are living and working in a limiting, unequal society and workplace where these dated, biased preconceptions need to change – and thankfully, are.”
As women, we have definitely drawn the short straw when it comes to the workforce. We need to unlearn what society has taught us.
“As a film director, I had a meeting with top producers and they assumed I was an actress auditioning for a part. While there’s nothing wrong with acting of course, I was a director. As a woman, you’re expected to be a certain way and look a certain way. When I went to a locum GP about my anxiety, I was told, “you look fine”. “I’ve perfected looking fine,” she quips. “Oprah said that being undermined led to her becoming wealthy and strong.”
Being honest is a key to success.
So why should we buy Mumboss? “Writing Mumboss was like having another child and it was a big relief to get it published. I wish I had had it when I started my blog. Money was never a driving force. I always wanted to work in a caring profession and used to teach. It covers everything from the imposter syndrome, finding your voice, purpose, juggling and self-care. Know your story matters and that everything takes a little time. I remember when I had 200 followers on Twitter and I was blown away. That’s as many people that were at my wedding. The followers I’ve had from day one are still with me today. It is a gift and a privilege to do what I do.”
Vicki is only human, so how does she deal with self-doubt and procrastination? “I talk my worries through with my husband and therapist. I’m learning to trust myself more and to be more compassionate with myself. I don’t really procrastinate that much. I like to be busy! She says she has had writer’s block a few times but she describes herself as a “doer”. “I’ve spent most of my life being creative and being consistent about that creativity.
On a personal level, I find myself hot-wired to catastrophize but Vicki doesn’t believe this is a universal trait of women. “I’m not sure we are built that way to be honest. Many women I know are incredibly calm. I worry less about worst case scenarios these days.”
Vicki says that her family keeps her motivated and doing what she loves. “My family and friends are my roots. My mantra ‘don’t believe the hype, don’t believe the shite’ bodes well. I believe in equality. We’re all human and equal. I hate hierarchy or those driven by ego.
Vicki’s advice to someone wanting to begin a blog but not knowing where to start is to buy Mumboss. “It’s a bit cheeky but I’ve shared everything I know about blogging in it. It’s easier than ever to set up a blog now. You simply need the confidence to start. To trust that your voice matters. Twice a week is ideal when it comes to SEO and building your brand. Also, around 600-800 words minimum per post. Don’t forget to share on social media too.”
So, can wo(men) have it all? “I think men or men have to compromise whatever they do, because that’s life but I do think it’s possible to have a family and a career. You just have to be realistic about your expectations and know that things take time. So, lower your standards when it comes to the home being perfect and share the school run/childcare with your partner and friends and don’t spread yourself too thinly.”
The day you plant the seed, is not the day you eat the fruit.
Vicki likes to relax by practicing yoga, eating dark chocolate and watching reality TV. “I also love getting outdoors with my family as much as possible.”
“Motherhood is a heady mix of joy, unconditional love and frustration,” she smiles. “The most difficult thing is ‘the juggle’. My blog creates experiences but we have a super normal life.”
You don’t need to be a writer. You just need to be brave.
Vicki says: “Unfollow people that don’t make you feel good. I’m lucky that my mum always champions me. Protect your space.”
You need to know that seeking others’ approval will never make you happy.
“I accidentally created this job. But ask yourself, are you having fun? My brilliant manager Jack Freud was the first to ask me to use that question as a barometer, to ask myself if I’m happy doing x, y, z. It’s important to say no to things too.
“The best thing about this job is the creativity. You have to live life to write about your life. It’s not always easy. Just work smarter.
“I do let TV babysit where I have a pressing deadline here and there. Guilt is futile. Cut yourself some slack. Self-care is so important. Go on a night out and enjoy some guilt-free fun with your pals.”
I think we’re bloody superheroes. We have peripheral vision. Our maternal instinct is strong.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help and accept help. It is a job and you’re not going to be great straight away,” she grins. “Kids are really pure joy.”
The future is bright for Vicki but she likes not knowing what’s around the corner. “That’s the beauty of what I do, it keeps me on my toes. Every day, something new pops into my inbox but it’s not magic, it’s the product of hard, hard graft.”
Although I only met Vicki for a short time, she’s left a lasting impression on me – and given me a much-need confidence boost.
I’ll leave you with this quote Vicki has posted on her blog.
By doing what you love, you inspire and awaken the hearts of others.
Quick fire round!
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Wine or Gin? Wine
Cat or dog? Both
Night out or night in? In mostly but love a night out. I’m rubbish at this game!
Heels or flats? Flats but I prefer how my legs look in heels.
Sweet or savoury? Sweet
Primark or Prada? Neither, can I have Zara please?
Morning lark or night owl? Night owl but in training to be a morning bird.
Battles, dragons, permanently on the Night’s Watch and fighting for a moment on the (porcelain) throne. Here are nine reasons motherhood is a lot like the fantasy epic.
You need to plan everything with military precision.
Every day’s a battlefield. Just getting out of your castle, erm, house. It used to be just your handbag, which amongst scrunched-up receipts, old lipsticks and out of date mints included your keys, purse and phone. Now you have a changing bag, containing nappies, nappy bags, wet wipes, teethers, teething gel, food pouches, milk bottles, dummies, snacks and Calpol. I don’t even carry a handbag anymore. I use the changing bag as my bag too. So chic, eh?
You just want five minutes to yourself in the porcelain throne room.
Gone are the days you used to go to the bathroom on your own. The definition of luxury is having an uninterrupted shower, or time to do your business without having to attend the whims of your babe. If I don’t get a shower before Sonny gets up, it means a shower with his nose pressed against the shower doors, while he bangs it with his tiny fists. In Game of Thrones, there is a lot of competition for the (Iron) throne. But, whoever gets to sit on it at least has time to do their business…
Babies are a lot like dragons (cute ones).
They’re noisy, demanding, messy and have an insatiable appetite, and that’s just babies. Yes, dragons and babies have quite a lot in common. Your baby, though you love them dearly, can be a little monster, stopping you sleeping, eating and showering and generally, having a life. Still, much like Daenerys, no matter how big and annoying they get, they’re still your children and you heart them to the moon and back.
You’re always on the Night’s Watch.
Okay, the Night’s Watch is no more, thanks to a certain Ice Dragon, you know what I mean if you’re a mama. No more snuggling beneath the sheets and not waking up until the alarm goes off. You hear every snuffle and rustle. You check if they’re warm enough or that they haven’t pulled their favourite bunny over their face. Then, if you don’t have a sleeper, you need to dig deep to get through the night.
You always need to be prepared for the unexpected.
Life in general throws lots of curve balls. When you’re a mum, these usually come in the form of your baby’s bodily fluids. But, other than that, babies are unpredictable, and when they get mobile, you need eyes on the back of your head. Much like the GoT characters, it’s handy to have a third eye like Bran.
You’re always in danger of losing your head…
Not literally, thankfully. But, motherhood is stressful, emotional and exhausting. Be sure to get some you time, whether that’s a power walk with your head phones full blast, a catch up with your bestie, or just having the house to yourself for a few hours. It’s important to feel like the you before you became a mama too.
You must trust your instincts at all times.
This is the best advice I can impart. You will get lots of advice, but you know your baby best. It’s great to take everything you hear on board, but, as I’ve said again and again, your instincts will never lead you far wrong. Sansa eventually came good on trusting her instincts, and she’ll be a better woman for it. So, trust yourself but by all means, ask for advice when you need it.
You get through a lot of wine…
Cersei is rarely seen without a goblet of grape juice, nor is Tyrion. In fact, most of the characters enjoy a tipple or ten. When it gets to 7pm, your thoughts will drift to that lovely chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge. It might just be one glass (totally going to get myself a goblet though), but it’s mummy medicine, and you deserve it after a day of nurturing a little dragon, I mean, baby.
You’ll protect your kingdom with ferocity.
You’re a mama dragon, and you’ll do anything, and I mean anything to protect your brood. They’re you’re everything and nothing is more important than family. Just ask Arya. Oh, and don’t forget, being a mama makes you a queen and you deserve a crown (and a huge goblet of wine).
Catch Game of Thrones on Sky Atlantic tonight at 2am or tomorrow night at 9pm.
There’s no denying the self-sacrifice involved in becoming a mother. You no longer take centre stage in your own world. Your baby comes first, period. This doesn’t make us martyrs, it makes us mothers. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s worth it. But, when you’re in the thick of it, endless nappy changes, feeding, soothing, endless cleaning, you do lose a little bit of yourself. And that’s totally fine, you withdraw from the world into your own little cocoon where you are nurturing life. That’s special and amazing, if all consuming.
It’s been an up and down few weeks. Yes, there has been some bad news, enough for your to slip into a negative mindset. I still feel sub power. Mothering is difficult enough, especially when you work and it’s so easy to stop looking after yourself. You don’t make healthy food choices, you don’t sleep well and you fret about, well everything. I saw my GP recently, about a health issue and she asked me how I was. That was enough for me to well up and I couldn’t even put my finger on why. I felt awkward, but my wobble also helped me acknowledge how I was feeling. On reflection, I shouldn’t have felt embarrassed at all, being a mother is tough, it’s full on, you don’t get a break, even if you’re sick. Goodness, even if I’m feeling well, I find myself catastrophising about everything. I’m always googling my symptoms, always imagining the worst case scenario. I don’t know why I do this, I guess it’s just how I’m wired.
You don’t get asked how you are enough in my view (the exception being every time I chat to my wonderful mama). But, overall, I think you’re just expected to get on with it – and you really have little choice when you have babies. Massive high-fives to all you mamas of one, two and more – I’m in complete awe of you.
I’m going to make a conscious effort to ask my friends how they are from now on. It could just be what they need to hear. If you’re a mama out there who’s struggling for whatever reason, and what ever reason it is, it’s valid. Here are some things you can try, to help you feel better.
Drink a green juice every day. If you struggle to get your five a day in, this is the easiest way of doing it. Have it in the morning before you eat and those nutrients are going straight into your system. After a few weeks of juicing every day, your skin will look better and you’ll have a real spring in your step. I juiced every day when pregnant and honestly never felt (or looked) better.
It’s good to talk. And by that, I don’t mean text message or IM – although they have their place. Pick up the phone and call your mum, your best friend or talk to your partner. Tell them if you don’t feel okay. Verbalising your feelings is therapeutic in itself. It gets stuff out of your head and gives you a little perspective.
Exercise. We’re not blessed with the most outdoorsy weather in Northern Ireland but there is nothing like a good walk on a blue sky day. I’ve never been good with gyms, I love the idea but the reality just doesn’t quite cut it. If that’s your therapy, good on you. If not, get on your bike or just pull on your trainers and get outside for a walk or a jog.
Meditate. There are lots of apps on the market but one I like in particular is Headspace. You can meditate for just three minutes before you start your day. Just taking a few minutes for you and only you will pay huge dividends. It will also help you feel gratitude for what you do have in your life – and you have lots to be thankful for.
Laugh – the deep belly ones. Do more of what you love, whether that’s a night out with your girlfriends, a weekend away, a really good meal, a shopping trip. So get a babysitter or pass the mantle to your hubby or partner.
Yes, I know as a mum you are very limited in time – and head space but be kind to yourself, whether or not you decide to meditate, or eat healthier or exercise. I can only mange one or two of these things in any given week, sometimes none. Goodness, I can’t even remember when I last washed my hair. Just look after yourself, mama. You are important and remember… you are the centre of your baby’s world and that’s makes you a VIP.