Who am I? My name is Hannah, I am 36, nearly 37. I am married to Daniel. We’ve been married 10 years and we have a little girl, Ivy. I am a working mum; I’ve worked in the finance sector for 14 years. My husband works in the oil and gas industry and is away often for long periods of time. I work part time now, which gives me a great work-life balance and an opportunity to still be there for Ivy when she needs me! I can attend school plays, take her to school every day and be home to cook dinner etc. Being that Dan is away a lot, I felt it really important she has one of us here for her at all times. But even though Dan is away, we are very much a team, ‘the Three Musketeers’ I like to say!
As a mum, hobbies are hard to find time for, but I try to meditate and am a keen artist and illustrator. For my own mental well-being I make sure I take time to allow myself that creative free time. Often in the evenings you will find me on the sofa with a cup of tea and my iPad sketching away.
Rewind 8 years, I was pregnant with Ivy. My pregnancy journey started somewhat surprisingly. Me and Dan had discussed having babies and tried for some months and nothing happened, so we gave up and decided it was best to set our financial goals first and buy our first home. However, Ivy had other plans! So there we were, still renting, still saving every penny and due to have a baby in 9 months. Surprise!
Being pregnant was something I never thought about really as a young girl. I wasn’t broody nor wishful for a big family or anything like that, but when I was pregnant it just felt right and I enjoyed it, the first half anyways!
Unfortunately, I got obstetric cholestasis, which is a disorder that affects your liver during pregnancy. This causes a build-up of bile acids in your body. Basically your liver starts to kick out toxins to you and the baby! The main symptom is itching of the skin, but there is no skin rash. Obstetric cholestasis is uncommon. In the UK, it affects about 7 in 1000 women (less than 1%).
I won’t bore you with the details, but it’s also important to make other mummies to be aware! Do not ignore itchy hands and feet, always consult your midwife! The itching started mildly but soon became unbearable like hot pokers. I often had to sit in cool baths to stop the itching.
This meant from week 27 I was in and out of hospital having weekly bloods, urine tests and baby monitoring. I felt like a pin cushion. My levels were very high, which meant I was monitored very closely as OC can cause stillbirth, fetal distress, premature birth and breathing problems. As well as possible hemorrhaging for the mother. So it was quite a shock, and Dan was in the USA for most of my pregnancy so I had to go through a lot of it alone.
Luckily Dan arrived home just in time, and at 36 weeks I was induced. Within 8 hours of a whirlwind labor, Ivy arrived safely. I had a natural vaginal birth, so the next morning we were allowed to go home! It was quite surreal. After a few weeks, me and Ivy were checked and we had no complications after the OC so we were signed off and all good!
I actually thought this was a really tough question. I can’t pinpoint how I am different, but I feel like a totally different person than I was before. It just feels like a lifetime ago, or even a different life, when I wasn’t a mum. And I always feel like I’ve always been a mum and I’ve always had Ivy in my life in a way. She’s my constant and I find it really hard to reminisce about the person that I used to be, but in a really positive way. The transformation definitely hasn’t been instant from the minute she was born.
In fact, probably quite the opposite. It’s been a transitional process for me over the last kind of seven and a half years. And it’s only when you sit down and reflect on yourself that you realize just how much you have changed and grown as a person, but without getting too mushy about it all.
There’s a few practical things that I have learned and one of them is organization. I was probably the worst organized person ever – really flaky. I am now more organized than I have ever been before in my entire life. Having a baby is tough, but I am now seven and a half years in, in the realms of school pickups and drop-offs, parties, trips, appointments, clubs, and homework, and I just have to be organized and our life is done with military precision.
Especially when Dan is away, our week is planned in advance even probably further than that. And because there is only one of me and I’ve got Dan’s schedule, my schedule, and Ivy’s schedule. So being organized is definitely something that motherhood has changed in me. It’s a skill that I’ve gained. The other little thing, well, actually is a big thing, but it’s the appreciation for the small things. And something I probably took for granted before I was a mum, but it’s something that I definitely have now. And I’m talking the simplest things: a hot cup of tea or a shower alone. I’ve got a big child now that kind of just wanders in whenever she fancies, you can be on the toilet, you can be in the shower. Nothing is private anymore.
And so getting those tiny moments – of quiet time, time for yourself, to have that hot cup of tea waiting for you and actually be able to drink it – those moments are just blissful. Even the small things, like watching Ivy in her school play and seeing the joy on her face, her riding lessons, when she’s excited, because she’s done something new, those moments are so special and I’ve learned to appreciate those moments and really be present and soak those all in because they are the special moments. They are the moments that matter.
I think the emotional side of parenting is something that cannot be taught and I think it is something that no one prepares you for at all. It is a bit of a taboo subject to talk about your own well-being and your mental health. As a mom, you are meant to be focusing on the baby and I’m a massive worrier and a massive over-thinker. So those feelings of anxiety and feeling overwhelmed were part of my day-to-day living. I thought that was kind of what was meant to happen. I thought it was almost normal and it wasn’t until really kind of hitting my lowest point that I realized: actually it doesn’t have to be this hard, having a whole human being in your care is a massive deal and it’s not to be taken lightly.
I have massive respect now for my mom and other moms and parents, because it is tough. I think being selfish and having to learn to prioritize myself over my child actually was the toughest part for me, because I had to learn to look after myself and manage my emotions and manage my feelings. And that was something I didn’t expect to have to learn. I got help through counseling and getting into meditation. I think now I have good coping mechanisms in place to enjoy the emotional ride that is parenthood.
It is an absolute rollercoaster of emotion from the minute they’re born, and that will just continue throughout their life. You are constantly going to question yourself. Are you doing a good job? Are they safe? Have you forgotten something? Are they happy?
Life becomes so much bigger for them and scary for us. And it continues to have its challenges, albeit very, very different from when they’re babies (and when she was a baby). But challenging nonetheless and then in turn challenges us. And that emotional side of things I just didn’t expect.
And I think that is the hardest part for me, to have the time to look after myself – to take time away from her. To go on that date night, go to the swimming pool, go to the gym, or just go for a walk, have that lunch with your friends. All of those things are massively important to raising a child and making parenting enjoyable, because I think without it you can let the emotional side of parenting take over and that’s what you don’t want to let happen.
Dan and I discussed it and came to the decision, actually pretty quick. I think Ivy was probably about 18 months old when we were kind of definite in our decision that we weren’t gonna have any more children.
It wasn’t a hard ‘no’ at first, but over time, we did come to that decision and there was kind of three factors. One was a big one. Obviously I’ve mentioned, that I had obstetric cholestasis. I’ll just reference it as OC. Due to having OC, there’s actually a 45 – 90% chance that I would get OC again and I just didn’t want to risk the baby or myself again. Especially, now I had Ivy to think about. If anything happened to me, I’d never forgive myself. We were just so lucky, to have this beautiful, healthy girl. And I was healthy and okay. We just felt that was enough for us. And that us three being a little trio was okay.
Secondly this may be, a bit out there, and not spoken about so openly, but financially, I think you have to think about it. And we are comfortable, and in this day and age, it can be a massive strain for some people to have multiple children. We didn’t want to put ourselves in a position where we may struggle financially and not be able to give them the life that we want to give them. And because we’ve only got one child, we are able to give Ivy the life that we want to give her, and that was a really important factor for both me and Dan, to be able to do that. So, yeah, finances definitely came into that decision making.
And thirdly, this may sound a bit hippy, but the impact on our earth. And we discussed this a lot together, having multiple children did weigh on our mind. Our planet is massively under strain and overpopulated, and we just felt content with our family of three and that the impact that would have.
And I think overall, once you get that in your mind, that’s when we came to that definite decision that Ivy was going be the one and only for us. And then some time afterwards Dan had a vasectomy, so, you know, it’s a definite deal now <laugh>.
Okay. I find this a really funny question because to me, being a trio, l just having only one child, is really not an abnormal thing. I think in today’s society, we should really be embracing different types of families, and I’ve actually got a book about it that I read with Ivy about different families, gay, straight, single parents. Whatever your family is made out of: grandmas, aunties, whoever your family are, it’s your family at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. It’s something that’s conditioned in us maybe. And it kind of always shocks me, when they feel the need to say something, but we definitely have had those comments, even to this day, ‘oh, you’ve only got the one!’ or, ‘aren’t you having any more?’ ‘Does Ivy ever wish she had a sibling?’ ‘It must be so lonely’. ‘Does Ivy get upset that she is an only child?’
So those questions have definitely been asked – or comments I should say – have definitely been made. And I never take it in a negative way. I don’t think these people say it maliciously, but they still get the same answer: no, we are happy with Ivy, just the one.
Sometimes I might explain it, but I don’t feel the need to explain it because we are confident in the decision that we made. And people will always question that, but we are confident. And even Ivy questioned it when she was younger, asking why doesn’t she have any brothers and sisters? And we were just really honest with her from the start about how our decision was made and I think she accepted it.
That’s the most important thing to me and Dan, rather than people’s reactions to it. And I think it is time that people and society accept different types of families and that we don’t put so much pressure on people to conform to what we, or they, whoever they are, deem as a normal family. And we love it, you know, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
So Dan’s job offshore means that he’s away for long periods of time. And I am a solo parent for about 50% of the year, sometimes a little bit more, sometimes a little bit less. At first it was a massive learning curve. I’m not gonna lie, probably pretty terrifying actually. I remember the first night alone with Ivy was so daunting, watching him jet off to – I’m sure it was – America.
The realization that I was going to be home alone for the next of four weeks was pretty scary, but I have been so lucky and I’m so glad that I have amazing parents who were always there to help me and extended family as well. You know, I’ve got amazing sister-in-laws who have supported me too when I needed them.
And hats off to the solo parents out there that do it solely on their own, with no support, because I’ve had a village around me to help me, which I’m very aware that not everybody has. The other thing that has helped me adapt and overcome the challenge of his work is our routine: routine, routine routine.
Not just for me, but for Ivy, especially when she was younger, but even now that she’s bigger, having routine and structure in our day-to-day life works for us. And it actually helped me having that plan and having that structure. It helped the days go by and feel less daunting. And by the time we realized it, Dan was home again.
I actually think it was probably tougher on Dan because when Ivy was small, he was away and he almost felt like he was missing her milestones and her amazing, events and stuff. So I actually think it was tougher on him, but we did adapt. And as I said, routine was a massive key of that and having a village of people around you, and I don’t know what I’d do without them to be honest. She’s bigger now, so she’s not so much affected by his routine of going away and coming home, going away, coming home because it has become her normal.
So we don’t get like really high or low emotional dips from her, which we did get a few of those when she was a toddler. And now when daddy comes home, it usually means like garden projects and gaming, camping holidays, family days out, etc.
So she just flows with it and so do I, because it has become our life and now we live it. And it’s definitely not for everybody. I’ve had people tell me before ‘I can’t believe he goes away for that amount of time’, ‘how do you cope?’ And we just had to, it wasn’t a choice. That’s always been his job. So I knew even before Ivy arrived, that was going to be what was going to happen.
Okay. You know, I love an inspirational quote. Like, I live on Pinterest for inspirational quotes, but this one was actually sent to me when Ivy was really small. I can’t remember who sent it to me, but I actually had it as my background on my phone for ages. And it just really makes me come back to the moment, come back in the present, realize how lucky I am, how grateful I am for the life that we have. And I think that’s really important sometimes to have those reminders. So this is the quote: “Motherhood is amazing and then it’s really, really hard. And then it’s incredible. And then it’s everything in between. So hold on to the good, breathe through the bad, and welcome the wildest journey of your life.” I think it’s brilliant.
What products could… Hannah Winter-Cushman
Okay, I’m gonna be completely controversial here. This may offend some moms just want to put that warning out there, but my product that I cannot live without is Ivy’s iPad. I salute Apple because her iPad is an absolute lifesaver. I’m going to explain why, because I 100 percent believe in safeguarding our children, you know, we have really strict rules of the content that she’s allowed to access and screen time is limited. So we are really on it. I’m not just saying throw them an iPad and make them entertain themselves because she spends 80 – 90% of her time outside. She’s incredibly outdoorsy, and a really adventurous little kid. However, the iPad and screen time can sometimes be a complete deal-breaker between a content happy peaceful child and a total tantrum meltdown.
And I know which one I’m gonna choose every time and it’s controversial because somehow we have kind of given it a negative connotation. That screen-time is bad, but I think if it’s used correctly and, as I said, if it is monitored and you have control over the screen-time and what they’re consuming, I think it can be an absolute lifesaver.
My advice is to let go of expectations and just do what works for you. Especially when I’m here on my own and I’m trying to cook dinner or have a shower or sort the animals out, or, I’m trying to just get everyday jobs done. She’s happy sat there, she’s content, she’s watching her horse riding videos, or she might be playing a game. But as adults, we are allowed time off, we are allowed our vices. Things that relax us, our alcohol, cigarettes, Netflix, movies, downtime. And actually the screen time for them is an outlet. And allows them to switch off their busy little minds. And so, yeah, I think massively underrated, probably massively judged, but the iPad is my item that I could not live without.
When she was a baby, it was Bepanthen Nappy Rash cream. Fixed everything. Still have a tube of it about today!