Robyn Wilder left London for Kent while heavily pregnant, quit her job at Buzzfeed and found herself struggling to cope at home with a new baby. We talk mental health, having a second baby and freelancing with young kids…
This article was first published on The Early Hour in 2017.
Robyn Wilder, 42, is a parenting columnist at The Pool and a freelance journalist for ELLE, Tatler and Grazia. She’s married to Stuart Heritage and mum to Herbie (almost three) and Ned (three months old). After 10+ years in London, Robyn and Stuart moved out to suburban Kent. while she was eight months pregnant with Herbie. “I highly recommend better planning than this,” she says.
Prior to Herbie’s birth, you were working full time for Buzzfeed. How did you feel when your maternity leave started?
My original plan was to work right up to the birth then film it for a BuzzFeed exposé (note: I may not have mentioned this to my former boss), but I had to take maternity leave at 30 weeks thanks to a combination of anaemia, hyperemesis and a broken rib. In many ways it was frustrating, but on the other hand I got to sit on my bum and watch The Good Wife for eight weeks, which I’d kill for now.
You suffered with postnatal depression, when did this begin and how did it manifest?
It’s hard to pinpoint the start. Herbie and I had a traumatic birth and an infection, so we stayed in hospital for an extra four days. I didn’t sleep the whole time, and by the time we got home I was hallucinating slightly and had developed PTSD. But as time went on, and the flashbacks to the birth started to recede, somehow the baby blues didn’t.
Mostly I’d feel overwhelmed by the tiniest things – the baby crying while I rushed to change a nappy, for instance; or the house being a mess. I also started to get really anxious about going outside with the baby, and had the creeping certainty that everyone else was better at looking after him than me. It upset me very much, and I was frequently in tears – much to the bewilderment of my husband.
At what stage did you decide not to return to your full time job and to go freelance?
I was freelancing to supplement my SMP, but then at about three months postpartum I realised I could do this full-time instead of commuting and spending 9+ hours a day away from my baby. So I went for it.
I FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT THERE SHOULD BE A RENT-A-GRAN SERVICE
How did you envisage freelance work going, while looking after a baby – and what was the reality?
Naively, I thought I could work while the baby slept. The truth is he wouldn’t sleep unless he was on me or my husband, and I couldn’t hand him to anyone else because I was rubbish at expressing milk. So I’d work in the evenings when my husband had him, then edit and do admin during the day while the baby was lying on me. Ultimately it was unsustainable, though, as I basically fell asleep in the evenings and got fed up with not seeing my husband.
How did you manage childcare?
Initially, my late mother-in-law helped out with the babysitting, but I’d end up chatting to her instead of working. So I did the maths and realised a part-time nanny would be cheaper than nursery – and would allow me to breastfeed. I hired a lady called Rachel for a couple of mornings a week. Today, Rachel is basically part of the family. She hangs out with Herbie three days a week and will look after the new baby, Ned, once Herbie goes to nursery in 2018. Should probably sort his nursery place ASAP, actually.
What surprised you most about becoming a mother?
Probably that I could *do* it. I have always thought of myself as a liability; bad at being an adult – the sort of person who eats peanut butter from the jar, wearing odd socks, instead of being dressed by Cos and cooking nutritious, healthy meals. But somehow I have two children who are relatively well adjusted, so I can’t be as bad as I think I am.
What did/do you find hardest?
I’m naturally a bit of an introvert, and I’m definitely not a morning person. If it was up to me I’d ease into the day with a bucket of coffee and a few hours communing with my phone until everything seemed a bit friendlier. But I have a baby and a toddler, so the morning (which is my quality time with them until everyone goes off to do other things) is often spent getting everybody ready, then army-crawling around the house in search of imaginary ponies, etc. I love the time I spend with them, but when my morning coffee is delayed by more than an hour of logistics and questions I must admit I can’t wait for everyone to be able to wipe their own bums, and off to university.
Is there a motto or mantra you use when things feel really tough or you have a particularly bad day?
Not one for mantras but I often tell myself “that’ll do”. It’s hard to remind myself of this, but on a bad day if everyone is 75% fed and 50% happy, we’re doing well. My mother was a chronic overachiever but the best days I had with her were ones where our plans fell apart, and we just hung out, making each other laugh. I have no childhood memory of whether the washing-up was done and the cushions were just so.
When did you feel the depression starting to lift after having Herbie?
Realistically it took the best part of a year. My health visitor referred me to something called Craft Attack – a weekly group where depressed mums absorbed themselves in crafting for two hours while their babies were in creche. After a few months of this, I started to get used to the idea that my baby was okay without my CONSTANT TERRIFIED VIGILANCE, and that I was still a person outside of being a mum. It gave me the courage to go out more and not sweat the little stuff as much, which really helped my mood overall.
IF I AM VERY ORGANISED AND NED SLEEPS WHILE HERBIE’S IN CHILDCARE, THEN I CAN GET A LOT DONE
How did you feel about having another baby?
Honestly, very excited, but also a bit weird. After wanting another baby for so long, I felt really conflicted once I did get pregnant. I hadn’t anticipated that I would feel so much like I was betraying my existing child by wanting another one, and I grieved for the longest time about the loss of our one-on-one status.
You went ahead, and Ned was born a few months ago. Did you prepare differently for the birth?
I tried to! This time I was very firm about what I wanted with the midwives (an elective C-section after a failed induction and emergency section), I packed my hospital bag properly (last time I forgot all the baby stuff!), and I did a bit of focusing with London Hypnobirthing’s Calm Caesarean mp3. I even arranged for some placenta encapsulation to try and combat any postpartum mood or iron problems. However, everything went to pot when the new baby came two weeks early in an excruciating one-hour, back-to-back labour (that came on too quickly for pain relief to be administered) that started unexpectedly while I was eating a sandwich, and ended in an emergency crash caesarean. I’ve half a mind not to plan for anything anymore.
And did you make changes to the early days, to take pressure off and avoid suffering as you had with Herbie?
We killed two birds by continuing to send Herbie out with his nanny three days a week – so he still got to rampage about being a dinosaur or whatever outside, my husband and I got some bonding time with the new baby, and I could recover from my second caesarean without getting up 500 times to get juice or Play-Doh.
How have you found it so far, with two?
We’re three months in and so far it’s going pretty well. It helps that Ned is a very laid back baby, and that Herbie doesn’t see him as the enemy. Herbie, even at almost three, doesn’t quite sleep through the night, and Ned is permanently attached to my boob, so for a large part of the day my husband has been parenting Herbie, and I’ve been parenting Ned. But it’s all starting to coalesce a bit better now that I’ve physically recovered from the birth.
AFTER HERBIE IT FELT AS THOUGH I’D IMMEDIATELY BEEN PLUNGED UNDERWATER, AND I DIDN’T COME UP FOR MONTHS
You’ve continued working. How has this been – how are you making it work?
I had to go back to work at two weeks postpartum because I’m freelance and don’t qualify for much Maternity Allowance. It works if the stars are aligned. IF I am very organised AND Ned sleeps while Herbie’s in childcare, then I can get a lot done. Most of the time, though, I’m writing while pumping milk with one boob and rocking the cot with one foot. For instance, I’m writing this on my bed surrounded by laundry that needs to be put away, while my husband watches the children for 45 minutes, because Ned was awake all morning. Until they’re both in childcare it’s going to be a bit of a mixed bag. I still prefer it to working in an office, though.
Are you enjoying the focus of work outside of motherhood?
Yes and no. I enjoy my job very much, and I can’t really imagine not doing it. That said, I wish I had more long, empty hours with my new baby. I had so many when Herbie was small, and got to really savour (and, of course, suffer) new motherhood. Now I already have a kid and a job, so Ned gets tucked under my arm while I get on with other stuff, a lot of the time, and I do feel guilty.
You talk openly about your PND experience, why is this important?
You know, it’s only after giving birth a second time that I realise how far gone I was the first time around. With Ned the birth was horrible, but everything after that was pretty standard. We were home just after 24 hours, eating pizza and watching Game of Thrones. After Herbie it felt as though I’d immediately been plunged underwater, and I didn’t come up for months. The two experiences are so different; it’s hard even to imagine PND if you don’t have it. And when you do have it, you may not even know anything’s up – at first I just thought this extreme, awful feeling was what motherhood was like. It’s important for everyone to know when you’re drowning, especially the person who’s drowning. That’s why I talk about it.
What support to new mums need to lighten the load?
I firmly believe that there should be a Rent-a-Gran service. I don’t have any family of my own, and would have shelled out for a lovely Mum figure to come hold the baby once a day while I had a shower, or made me a cup of tea, or accompanied me out to a baby group. Imagine how lovely that would have been.