Creative Non-Fiction – Balance! Balance! Balance! – Allie Atkinson

“Well, having a third baby didn’t quite go the way we had planned…”

Illustration by the incredible @cstoneart

Balance! Balance! Balance!

Well having a third baby didn’t quite go the way we had planned… 

Our first two children have just sixteen months between them and they were both with me full time. It had its lovely moments that were full of love and giggles, and other moments that were full of frustration and tears, including my own. Our second baby had been a complicated pregnancy and was born with a rare lymphatic condition so with an unclear view of the future, we decided to wait and see where the path took us before deciding whether to have another baby.

Two years later, the path had been much less bumpy, and it all seemed to fit into place when we learned that baby three was due in April 2020. The ‘biggies’, as I nickname them, would be at preschool, allowing me a little bit of headspace and time to bond with our tiniest member.

Ooh but 2020 you were not just an ordinary year, were you? No! You watched us all make those exciting plans and then squashed them with your huge, Coronavirus foot! 

Our baby was born in May 2020 and there was no preschool. There were no play parks. There was no family. No friends. No visitors. Everything that you expect to be part of having a baby, everything we were relying on to soften the journey into becoming a family of five was stripped away with lockdown. 

Now you would think that the first lockdown was the toughest. Two young children and a newborn sounds stressful. And at times it was. Newborns always bring that little bit of chaos with them in the form of night feeds, nappy leaks and ear-splitting cries. There were occasions when the days rolled into one and the light at the end of the tunnel looked like it was just a moving train. 

But actually, I coped far better than I had predicted. Maybe it was because my focus was to do the best I could do in a unique situation. I knew there would be other mums experiencing the same as me, and the idea that it was ‘just the way things were’ actually helped me through. Somehow, I found time to do activities with the biggies, to play in the garden, and to sit down for snuggles. Of course, newborns sleep a lot more during the day than an older baby, which helped with balancing the care and attention needed for all of the children. 

It was the second lockdown that I found much tougher. By this time, I was struggling with postnatal mental illness that was exaggerating all of my pre-existing anxiety and low self-esteem. My eldest had started school in September which had once again been closed. His younger sister had settled into her preschool setting and although it remained open this time, she wanted to stay at home like her brother. Weekend clubs were cancelled too. And this time, I found the pressure of all three much harder. 

Perhaps it was the cold, winter weather, or the busy feeding schedule of a weaning baby, or just the way I was thinking about it all. There were days when I felt so lost that I just wanted to run away or call someone for help… but of course, in lockdown that was not an option. Everyday felt like a battle, and I was losing it drastically.

There was also homeschooling for my son this time. The work set by his teachers needed a chunk of focused time from me each day, and my three-year-old often wanted the same amount of connection. To find one window in a day was difficult, but to find two was proving almost impossible. 

I could see what she needed. 

I could understand why she needed it. 

I just wasn’t always able to provide it. 

And I’m sure every mummy out there can guess what kind of feelings that stirred for me. Guilt. Shame. Both of which often manifested as frustration and rage when the situation became overwhelming, and I felt I was failing to get the balance right. 

And of course, by the second lockdown, our youngest was a crawling baby that had developed her ability to grab everything she could find. This meant constantly looking for any little bits, toys, pencils, lids, rubbers, dice…. The anxiety of keeping a lookout whilst keeping up with the daily routine was exhausting. 

We had all got used to life outside of lockdown. The children had space at school and time at home. The baby could explore more freely, and Mummy had started to find little pockets of self-care. The absence of that balance between family time and having our own space made the second lockdown so much more difficult. 

So, what were the lockdowns trying to teach me? The importance of balance, not just in lockdowns or as a mum, but in life itself. The work-life balance. Social and alone time. The fun, exciting times and the quiet, calm times. The digital world and the real world. Indoors and outdoors. Healthy and unhealthy. Caring for others and caring for ourselves.

Our entire lives need balance and that could look different for each person. The lockdowns highlighted areas where that balance was perhaps not right for many of us. For some, the lockdowns have carried a new awareness of the importance of family and friends where perhaps work was heavily weighted, or a new appreciation for the outside world that had been missing previously, whilst for others, it shone a torch over our individual need for personal space or one-to-one connection. 

Does that mean I have that balance worked out now? 

I would love to say yes but I think we all know it isn’t that easy. There are still times when the children want their own space much more than it is available, or Mummy is struggling to meet the needs of three individuals. And self-care or ‘me-time’ remains a constant battle. But it does mean that I am making the extra effort to maintain some balance as much as possible, and when things are tipping slightly the wrong way, I know I must take a step back and reflect on what needs adjusting. 

Originally from Dagenham, Essex, Allie lives in Leicestershire with her husband, Chris and is a stay-at-home mummy to their three children. In 2020, Allie co-authored the ‘Love Thy Body Project – Real Life Stories: Volume One’ which became an Amazon bestseller in ebook and paperback. Since then, she has launched her own blog, Just One Mama, sharing her thoughts and feelings on some of her motherhood experiences, alongside wonderful guest writers, in the hope of providing support, comfort and inspiration to other parents.

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