This week it was my pleasure to speak to another human with whom I turn to for pearls of wisdom and insight- my eldest sister- Nikki Hopes.
Nikki has had a tumultuous year to say the least, becoming a first time mother and setting up her own freelance Graphic Design company- HopesCreative, during a global pandemic.
I have wanted to speak to Nikki properly about the year that has just been for a while, and now that it is nearing the first Birthday of her and her Fiancé’s (Darren) son (my Nephew!) it felt like the perfect time.
Nikki has asked if I can keep the name of her son private, and rightly so.
It was quite difficult and emotional writing and reflecting on this conversation, but not nearly as hard as the year has been for Nikki and Darren.
Nikki has been incredibly brave in sharing this journey and allowing me to share a very personal story with others.
We really never know the battles that people are facing internally, so this piece serves first and foremost as a reminder to always be gentle and kind to yourself and to others.
This one is also for anyone who is embarking on a new adventure- be it in business, motherhood or another personal journey. Be brave, the best is yet to come.
I hope you enjoy x
Nikki, you became a Mother in December 2019 when Covid-19 was just beginning, how has that first year been for you as a first time mum?
Our son was born in early December at 25+2 weeks and he was in hospital for 100 days. So we came home mid-March and lockdown then began on the 23rd March.
Because he came home on Oxygen, he was then classed as clinically extremely vulnerable so we had to shield him until the end of July 2020.
So it’s kind of been a tough year!
For the first four months after we came home, I basically didn’t really leave the house, other than to take him for a walk. We started trying to do a few more things come August /September/October time, and then we’ve gone in to another lockdown.
It has been hard, it’s been scary, it’s been very lonely and isolating, it’s just not what you expect first time motherhood to be. But there is no manual for how to deal with the situation, because hardly anyone has really gone through it.
It’s been sad- because a lot of my family and a lot of Darren’s family still haven’t been able to hold him, see him frequently. It definitely feels like there has been a lot that has been missed out on in his first year.
Do you feel, mentally, that this will manifest itself in some way in the future or that it already has?
I think it already has, In that I have had some really low times; I have had panic attacks.
I have quite an obsessive personality – so with all the being in hospital so often, that has
manifested itself in worrying about everyone’s health. And I think there is a lot of trauma that I haven’t really worked through from the time in hospital and everything we have experienced.
Usually I am just a ‘get your head down and get on with it’ type of person - ‘keep calm and carry on.’ This has been a whole different level of trauma- I don’t know if there will ever fully be, at the moment, an end point.
I do definitely think I’m still processing it. With his first birthday coming up, that’s going to be a big point.
I think it is still a process, and because his development is still ‘behind’ (technically he kind of is) until we are fully caught up on that as well, he still feels premature. I don’t think I am at the point yet where it feels like ‘okay, that’s something I have dealt with and I’ve moved on from that.’
What do you think have been the main battles for you since you became a mum, particularly during this pandemic?
I think it’s probably the loneliness. In the first lockdown, there were no groups, no mum and baby classes- no coffee mornings, and obviously because of him being so premature, I didn’t get to do any of my Antenatal classes, which I was relying on to meet mums (because I am not from here) (oxford.)
All of that got whipped away, and also not being able to have the support of immediate family… so that had a massive impact and that was one of the biggest battles…you’re thrust into it.
Luckily they did start doing some online classes and through that I did get chatting to a few other mums, but it’s hard to try and establish a relationship with another mum and their baby when you can’t actually see each other in person.
Those classes did eventually became a lifeline.
We did Baby Massage classes, Sing and Sign and Baby College classes, which we are now going to in person.
I had 40 minutes a day where we could do things together and they helped teach us games and songs to do with him that made me feel like he was getting proper stimulation.
There is a group in Oxfordshire called Birth Baby Balance. I booked my Antenatal classes through them, but then I looked them up and they were running different classes. They started doing Friday coffee mornings over zoom, so people could join in on a Friday.
A year on do you feel like you’re much more established? Do you feel like there’s more out there now?
There is more out there- we are now doing baby college in person. We do that once a week and that’s amazing.
I have been so worried about him not having any interaction with other babies, which he does now. Seeing him look at the other babies and crawling over and stealing toys off the other babies, it is really sweet and I think he does need it, it has been massively beneficial.
Those are now classed as a support group. There was a little bit of an uproar as to the lack of support for mums to be and new mums in lockdown. Having a baby is hard at the best of times, taking away the support system for new mums caused a bit of an issue.
It is different for us now. We have also had parental support in our bubble. He gets a different experience and a place to go and new faces!
I don’t think you ever really know what you’re doing as a parent, everyone is winging it all the time, is what I have learned.
I have a WhatsApp group with everyone that was in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit. We talk all the time. It’s different with a premature baby, a lot of stuff is different, they do things at different times, you have different considerations. We are always messaging each other going ‘how many times a day does so and so….’
I have nothing to compare this journey to. I don’t know how I would feel if we had just had a journey that was ‘normal.’
How is Darren feeling at the minute, how was/ is his journey?
Darren was furloughed when we first came home. He had 5/6 weeks at home, which you can look at in two ways really- obviously it’s awful, but for him, he would never have got that time normally with his son, if it hadn’t been for that.
Most paternity is 2 weeks and you’re back at work so he had a lot of time, which he loved. He catastrophizes stuff less. Because he went back to work, he was more comfortable being out. He was doing food shops. I think he found it easier to adjust.
He is a lot more of an extrovert than me, he wants to go to the pub, go to dinner, see his friends, go and watch and play football and he can’t and he has found that really stressful. I miss doing all that stuff but not in the same way.
You are a Graphic Designer. You’ve gone freelance off the back of everything that has happened and set up your own company Hopes Creative- how are you managing it?
It is something I have always toyed with, and I don’t think I would have made the leap if it wasn’t for everything that had happened. The plan was always to go back to work in some capacity.
My work basically said I had to go back full time, so it kind of made me make that leap and make that choice. Setting everything up, I did it when he was asleep or during evenings.
I really enjoyed getting everything ready and it was really nice to feel a real passion for what I do. it felt really good to do something that is ‘me.’
I think it is probably going to take off slower than I’d like. I have had enquiries and I’ve done a job – but everything I do (weddings, invitations etc.) it’s not going on at the moment.
I need to wait for life to start up again.
I think it’s going to be a slow process, I am starting to promote it more as well. It’s something I still love doing, so it’s not been as hard as I thought.
I can’t imagine how distracting it is having to switch between all these different roles- it’s a lot of hats to wear.
It’s very easy to lose your sense of self when you do become a mum. You’re not working, which is a massive part of who you are- your social and your day to day.
You can’t exercise in the same way for quite a while.
Your entire life switches to their needs, rightly so. It’s finding that balance between who you are and the fact that you’re ‘mum.’
You’re a better person because of the extra person in your life, but it’s still okay to miss the person you were before. It takes adjusting.
What else helps you keep balanced?
I knew I still wanted to work. I recently started exercising again.
It’s weird- I couldn’t get my head around finding time to do it, it’s only recently I’ve got my head back in to it- I need to try and do more stuff. Maybe I am coming out of the other side in some ways.
I went for a run, even though it felt disgusting and I hated it. I have done online HIIT workouts. I am really going to try and keep doing that.
The classes we go to, even though they’re for technically not for me, they help me keep more of a balance, being able to chat to people- it’s a dose of normality.
Some mornings it took all the energy I had it to get myself dressed for the day. There was no space in my head at all, even a 20 minute HIIT class.
It has always (exercise) been a big part of me, so trying to get some of that back is a big thing.
Have there been any aspects of motherhood that you have found easier due to the limitations of Covid
I have nothing to compare to but I’ve had time with him that maybe a lot of new mums may not have had because I didn’t have a lot of visits from friends and family.
On one hand I feel really sad we’ve missed out, but on the other, I wonder if it has benefited our bond, because it has just been the three of us.
Maybe having been in hospital for so long, we only held him for an hour a day for the first few weeks - I wonder if it’s beneficial to have him and that time to get to know each other.
Is there anything that you would say to anyone going through a similar process that you have found helpful- from someone who suffers from high anxiety
Trying to take the pressure off yourself. Am I doing the right thing? Is he stimulated enough? It is damaging.
I think that being honest, every mum needs to be more honest with how hard and how lonely and how bloody boring it can be. I love him with my bones, but you give up who you are and you’re at home with this person who can’t really respond to you.
Trying to be more honest about that and not being afraid to ask for help. That’s why my WhatsApp group is so good.
There’s a lot of pressure. To begin with, I was my own worst enemy.
You can’t know everything. Apparently, there’s a stat, as long as you meet a babies needs something like 30 percent of the time, then they’re happy.
What are your favourite things about becoming a new mum?
Watching him achieve things. For us it feels extra special, watching him figure out how to climb the stairs and how to pick things up.
He was so wanted, because he was an IVF baby, so that has been one of the best parts of it, when you bring him in to bed in the morning for a cuddle.
He is funny. He is sassy.
From the first minute I saw him, he has just got this inner determination and he’s very ‘within’ himself. He’s got a real strength to him.
What are your top goals going in to 2021
I would like to get my business off the ground and ideally I would like to get married!
I would settle for not having another lockdown.
To try and worry less.
To try and not be so obsessive about bad stuff and focus more on the good stuff.
There is a lot of good stuff.
He starts nursery in March!
To keep him happy…And to try and run quicker.