Annabel Bower is an Australian author of Miles Apart, food stylist and a mother of five, four who she will watch grow and one who was born still. Here she shares her #MyStayHomeTale...
2020. I’d held so much hope for what it might hold. I’d dreamed of a year full of joy and purpose, one that could perhaps – in some small way – help to counter the grief and anguish which’d consumed me in 2019. But years don’t adhere to a neat roster of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and after my best laid plans for 2020 were turned on their head, what surprised me the most was that this wasn’t actually a bad thing. Perhaps this messy, isolated, interrupted version of 2020 was exactly what I needed, it was a perfectly, imperfect diversion from the path I’d thought I ought to be on.
2019 had begun in the depths of despair. My 4th child Miles, was stillborn days before the turn of the new year; it was a dark and lonely time. While still wracked with grief I fell pregnant again; I was simultaneously overjoyed and consumed with fear. Would the worst imaginable thing happen again? Would I get to bring this baby home with me? To cope I kept insanely busy whilst simultaneously hiding myself away; I was in self-isolation long before it was even a thing.
Thankfully 2019 ended with immense relief and happiness. Tom arrived safely 10 days before the 1st anniversary of his brother’s birth and death. By March I’d emerged from the delicious newborn haze and I was ready to re-enter the world; to allow myself to relax and have some fun. But the Coronavirus had other ideas, and whilst the impact it’s had on me seems so superficial and insignificant compared to the devastation it’s brought others, this change of plan initially left me feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.
I felt like saying to anyone who’d listen, “I didn’t sign up for this!” I was finally ready to be out, engaged with people, and seeing projects and plans come to life. I’d already been in a self-imposed lockdown of sorts; I didn’t have the inclination to do it all over again. But knowing there was no alternative, I had to shut down my one-woman pity party pronto and accept that the year wasn’t going to look anything like what I’d imagined.
Homeschooling my boisterous 8 and 10-year old’s, negotiating with a forthright 4-year-old and somehow still finding time to soak up precious moments with my last baby felt daunting to say the least. Combining this with finishing and launching my book as planned seemed completely impossible. I soon realised that my parenting strategy to date of signing the kids up to every sport imaginable to wear them out, was no longer tenable. I was going to have to go back to basics and embrace a style of motherhood which was slower, messier, and much to my delight, happier.
I realised that by signing my children up to endless activities, I hadn’t been leaving much time to do things with them myself. After racing from band practice to football training and then home for homework and dinner there was no time left to play Pictionary or bake a cake for afternoon tea. We were always racing from one thing to the next, always together but not engaged as we whizzed from one thing to the next. The sense of urgency and anxiety attached with always having to be somewhere evaporated instantly, giving us time to hang out and get to know each other all over again.
I’ve learned so much about my children and myself during this time at home together. Alfie, my eldest loves a soul chat, if the two of us could escape for a walk once my husband arrived home, he’d ask endless questions about my childhood, my work, and what he was looking forward to when school reopened. I caught him in a magical moment between his childhood and tween years. He matured before my eyes and by pure chance, this all happened in the weeks we were home together.
Ted, who’s 8 going on 38 became my sparring partner, I’d never fully seen how similar we are, which is why the daily lesson plan was never going to run smoothly. He doesn’t like to be told what to do and can argue that the sky is green, and the trees are blue. He wants everything done yesterday (perfectly), and to skip all of the boring bits, especially admin. But my goodness he’s funny, creative and could charm the birds from the trees.
I’ve realised there’s a very good reason why my third child, Bonnie, has been in nursery school almost full time. I was feeling so guilty that she was there so much last year, but she lives for her little friends, singing, craft, and glitter, all the glitter! Lockdown confused her so much, too young to understand what was going on yet old enough to know that all was not normal in her world. She made me realise that it wasn’t just the adults who were having trouble adapting, little hearts were also hurting for the routines and rituals they hold dear.
As for the baby of the family, Tom, what a world you’ve experienced in your first 4 months. You’ve been constantly surrounded by adoring siblings, oblivious to the fear and devastation beyond our front door. You never complain that I have no time to pat you to sleep, you’ve quickly worked out how to do that yourself despite the noise and the chaos in the background. I was so looking forward to our peaceful days home alone together as I worked but the big kids gatecrashed that dream and instead, I got to whiteness the pure delight of your big brothers and sister playing with you and making you giggle. Now I wouldn’t wish it any other way.
I sometimes wonder where Miles would have fitted into this scene. Would he have taken his first steps or said his first word amidst the madness? We’ll never know. But I’ve felt his presence with us, reminding me that even though I’m craving a moment to myself, and a clear mind to focus on my own work, this crazy rambunctious tribe is exactly what I’d always wished for. I’ve felt stretched, I’ve been stressed, I’ve muttered FFS under my breath more times than I care to admit. And despite my initial dread of us all being holed up together, it’s been surprisingly fun, and I know I will always look back on this time with great affection. Not everyone will be so fortunate to find a positive during this global crisis, so I am especially grateful for mine and all that it has shown me.
Annabel Bower’s new book ‘Miles Apart – A heartfelt guide to surviving miscarriage, stillbirth and baby loss’ is available via www.milesapart.online. Annabel can be found on Instagram @miles__apart and for all things food @foodbyannabel