Motherhood Diaries: Francesca Geens
To kick-start our inaugural series, we talk to Francesca Geens, founder of HappySelf.Read more
Motherhood Diaries is a testament to modern-day parenting; from life-changing tribulations, to joyous milestones - and all the chaotic bits in between. Each month, we’ll uncover a refreshingly honest account from the Liberty community, with the aim to support women who might otherwise feel frustrated, isolated or overwhelmed. Here, we invite all maternal figures to speak openly about their journey to motherhood, find light in each narrative and ultimately, a sense of solidarity.
The first to feature in our monthly series is HappySelf Journal creator, Francesca Geens, a pioneering figure in children’s mental health, well-being and happiness. Mother to Felix, 11 and Amelie, 15, Geens shares her own experience, from blocking out the noise of societal pressures, to the joys of maternity leave.
I knew I always wanted to have a family, but I’m not sure I ever thought of myself as a mother until I had children. Motherhood is all about love. It’s a huge privilege. It’s so complex in how motherhood becomes intertwined with your identity.
Both my pregnancies were quite the adventure. For my first pregnancy, the early stages were difficult enough due to morning sickness, but as soon as this started to pass, I was involved in a traffic accident. A truck jumped the lights whilst I was still crossing the road and knocked me over. I ended up in hospital with a broken elbow. The combination of not being able to take proper pain killers and the uncertainty of the pregnancy made for quite a traumatic experience. Having to wait in A&E and deal with the injury, and only much later be able to have a scan to check the baby was difficult.
It felt almost impossible to ‘get it right’. I realise now that there was no right or wrong, but only what was right for me at the time.
Luckily, all was well with the baby and I the bravely put up with the pain and heavy cast for six long weeks. I suffered from PTSD, experiencing flashbacks and anxiety about crossing the road for months. As if that wasn’t enough, soon after the cast came off and I was starting to get back to enjoying my pregnancy, I felt unwell and went to see the GP. She took one look at me and picked up the phone to call the antenatal ward at the hospital to get their advice - she had just diagnosed me with chicken-pox and I was 23 weeks pregnant. I had to be admitted to hospital to be put on an anti-viral drip.
Getting to hospital in central London on the day of a tube strike meant we couldn’t find a taxi. I ended up walking, welts all over my face, down Fulham Road. There was also a heatwave. It was a very uncomfortable four days in hospital. I am pleased to say though that after all this, the pregnancy continued as normal and I gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Four years later, I was pregnant with my son and knew the pregnancy couldn’t be anywhere near as bad as the first. But it was still bad. This time I suffered with really bad morning sickness. There was not a single minute of relief from the nausea - and nothing seemed to help. I was off work for months. It was hard to look after my daughter. I hated every minute of it. I had to wait it out until it finally passed towards the end of the pregnancy.
So much has changed these last 14 years - my daughter was born in the days before smartphones (I took photos of her from a digital camera! Remember those?). Most of my information came from books and antenatal classes. I was also a little bit obsessed with the then equivalent of “One Born Every Minute”, showing the nitty gritty of labour. I felt that the more I saw what the pain was like, the more I would be prepared to cope with it. As with so many things, fear of the unknown is worse than the reality, so I tried to make sure I was as informed as possible.
I remember being very worried about breastfeeding and the pressure of this ‘working’. There is also a constant stream of advice on all the things - sleep, bottles, weaning, schools which was ever-changing. It felt almost impossible to ‘get it right’. I realise now that there was no right or wrong, but only what was right for me at the time. But it was hard to see this when you are in the midst of it all and just want to do what’s best for your baby.
My greatest challenge was with my employer when I wanted to go back to work after my second child. Let’s just say this did not go well and lawyers had to get involved. It was deeply humiliating. It’s so sad that so many women still face discrimination on their return to work. It has taken a very long time to heal from this experience. However, looking back, this dark moment also set me on the course of self-employment (a rollercoaster!) and this is what eventually led to me starting HappySelf. HappySelf is like my third child- a very proud motherhood moment for sure!
What with the broken elbow, chicken pox and morning sickness, I was genuinely impressed at what my body was able to go through and deliver two, perfectly healthy babies. And I loved my pregnancy bump when I finally got to enjoy it.
I really loved being able to take maternity leave and cherished this time with the kids. I spent many happy hours walking around London’s parks and museums with the baby in the buggy. One favourite route involved walking to Peter Jones on Sloane Square where I discovered the Parent and Baby room - a haven of breastfeeding chairs and toddler toilets! But living in central London at the time, meant the daily practicalities were often not easy. Tiny flats with no space to store all the baby ‘stuff’, living on the fourth floor with no lift and not being allowed to store the buggy downstairs, no garden - that kind of thing just added unnecessary complexity. We planned to move out of London whilst I was pregnant with my second child and ended up in Kent when he was a few months old.
Balancing work and domestic/childhood duties was a huge challenge. Childcare in central London is astronomically expensive. My husband and I both worked full-time and would take turns doing the nursery run and all the other things. When I was pregnant with my second child, we realised that London living just wasn’t going to work for us - the pressures of finding a school place for my daughter and nursery care for my youngest whilst wanting to move house was just too complicated. When we moved to Kent and everything became a lot easier - space, childcare, school places etc…
Once we had kids, we realised we were always home and too tired to enjoy what central London had to offer, so it wasn’t worth paying the premium. Our social life naturally changed as our friends were also having children at the same time, so evening drinks turned into playdates and meet-ups in the park. Even now going out for dinner or to the theatre is a huge treat - and we do love a London staycation with the kids.
My advice to my younger self would be to enjoy it. It’s all going to be OK. You are doing great. And remember whatever you are worrying about ‘it’s a phase’.