Updated: Feb 24
This post contain subjects which you may find triggering; if you have been affected by any of these issues, please do seek help. Resources for support can be found here.
Hi, I’m Kelly, I’m 34 and from Royston in Hertfordshire. I have two children, Leo aged 7 and Bella aged 4 (at the time of writing this it is 4 sleeps until her birthday which I’m reminded of at least 5 times per day!). I’m married to David who is incredibly caring and supportive and often hilariously honest.
I am also the owner of Kelly’s Kitchen. I make wedding cakes, celebration cakes, cupcakes and treats, which I absolutely adore. I have learned the hard way however, how to balance family life and business. I’ll come onto that a little later…
Firstly, motherhood. That is what this blog series is about and is something I have grown into over the past 7 years.I found out I was pregnant with Leo just 4 months after our wedding. I felt like I was fresh out of the wedding planning process and ready to plan our honeymoon. I was looking forward to enjoying married life for a little while before having children.
Leo had other plans! Looking back now, I can’t imagine anything else of course, he’s such a kind and compassionate little man and has really changed me for the better. But at the time, shocked was an understatement. The day I found out I was pregnant I was alone at home. I’d taken the test just before I was going to my friends house - she was nine months pregnant at the time. When the test came up positive my head was in a spin. I don’t know why I took it at that time, but what I do know is when I turned around to go out of the front door, I glanced at the kitchen and imagined a high chair being there in 9 months time. I felt like I was going to faint.
As I was sitting at my friends house, looking at her tummy ready to pop, hearing all about her birth plans, I felt like I was underwater.
I was having a baby.
This was going to be me in 9 months.
How was I going to cope?
What was I going to do?
I was always one of those people that would go and make the tea when someone would come into the office with their newborn for cuddles. I would literally sweat trying to avoid being asked if I wanted a cuddle. I’m also afraid to say (please don’t judge me!) that I was one of those people who didn’t think it was fair that parents would leave the office at 5pm while I was there until 9.30pm or sometimes until the early hours.
My career has always been in marketing. As soon as I graduated, I started working in a marketing agency and I loved it. I knew I had to take the plunge and go to London and join the big agencies. I did that for 3 years and loved it. Despite working all hours and sometimes being up all night preparing for pitches, I thrived on the buzz, the people and the career progression. Working in London meant no one drove to work, which resulted in bars in the office, social events on random Wednesdays and the line between work life and social life that was increasingly blurred. Safe to say there weren’t very many parents working along-side me. Which meant when there were, it was even more obvious that they were leaving the office early while we were ordering in take away ready for the night shift.
When I found out I was pregnant I wasn’t working in London anymore, but for a lovely agency in Hatfield. I was looking after the marketing for The Trafford Centre in Manchester. In many ways this was my dream job, organising fashion shoots, attending events, being involved in the development of radio and tv ads. But I was regularly commuting to Manchester, how would I do this and get back to pick up a child from nursery? I panicked. I spent the majority of my pregnancy worried about what the future held, rather than enjoying my growing bump and baby hiccups.
When Leo arrived, after a bit of a traumatic delivery, I spent the first 6 weeks determined to breastfeed. I had one particularly uncomfortable experience with an ‘old school’ midwife who tried to grab be to forcibly feed him. I was distraught and wanted to tell her to leave. It was so painful. I was so unprepared for all of this. I expressed for 6 weeks and then moved him onto formula. We were both happier but I was so tired.
When it came time to go back to work I walked the streets of Royston with my CV longing for a local flexible position. I tried window companies, offices, start up businesses. Everything. Fast forward a month and I landed a position in a local marketing agency which worked well until they moved to Cambridge, meaning the commute down the A14 with roadworks made me late for nursery pick ups.
I then fell pregnant with Bella. I succeeded with my breastfeeding journey this time after a lot of persistence. I personally wanted to do it and was in a better mental state than I was with Leo. I had a calm water birth with Bella and I felt that this made a difference to her temperament too, she was calm and settled and happy to fall asleep on her own. This was completely alien to me after having my little ‘velcro baby’ Leo. She also slept like a dream at first – until she was 4 months old. Then she became worse than Leo ever was haha.
It was then that I decided that I could start my own business and offer freelance marketing services to local companies. I just didn’t know what else to do juggling two little children. To cut a long story short I started working for an amazing local marketing agency helping them out with social media marketing and strategy. It was a dream come true, working from home, flexible hours, getting paid for the actual hours I worked. Not needing childcare.
However, Bella still wasn’t sleeping well, I had not had a proper night sleep at this point in 2.5 years. I was breastfeeding her to get her to settle, multiple times throughout the night. I remember being up at 2am working on a presentation, she cried out, David brought her downstairs and I fed her on a cushion while I carried on typing. I put her back to bed and carried on. Then I went into the office at 9.30am to present the work. I also remember working on her first birthday cake, again in the early hours of the morning. I started to feel sick and dizzy, I laid down on the bed and my whole body started shaking.
But I still thought I was untouchable, that I didn’t need sleep, that coffee would help me through. I was wrong.
September 2016 I burnt out, was diagnosed with exhaustion and a severe vitamin D deficiency and ordered to rest. I remember looking at the doctor thinking ‘how am I supposed to rest with a toddler and a baby?’ It was then that my mental health began to suffer again. I couldn’t even sit up long enough to change Bella’s nappy. I can’t really remember much of that time. But the hardest part was the recovery. I’d find the energy to have a shower but then fall asleep on the bed with wet hair because I couldn’t get up to go and get the hairdryer.
I was weak, tired, would get blurry vision and heavy legs that meant I could hardly walk.
My family were amazing and David had some time off. But there comes a point where everyone has to try and get back to normal, me included. I was so worried about the children. I’d leave cereal boxes out on the side whilst my husband was at work as I thought that if I lost consciousness at least they’d be able to eat. I fixed the TV to the unit with straps worrying that if again, I was unconscious and they climbed up the unit it wouldn’t fall on them. I removed the blinds from the conservatory doors as I worried they would get caught up in them and choke.
I’ve suffered with anxiety since my teens but it hadn’t peaked as much as it did at this time. Being self employed meant I was losing income too. As the months passed, I managed to start getting back to normal physically, but mentally it was really hard. I had good days where I felt almost back to normal but then the next day I’d get one of the symptoms back and it would knock me for six. I’m much better now although I still worry about fainting (even though this hasn’t happened) so I struggle to drive long distances with them in the car.
I always dreamed of owning a cake business.
From when I was little, my Dad owned a milk and bread business, delivering to the villages. We would pick up the fresh bread early in the morning from Days the Bakers in Ashwell and we would go and see Clive the cake decorator. I would watch Clive piping the edges of the cake while he chatted to my Dad and I was in awe. I have always made cakes for family and then for friends. But around this time I started making them for friend’s children and other people that I didn’t know. Some would cover the cost of the ingredients but most I did for free and I was happy to, I loved what I was doing.
When two close friends asked and trusted me to make their wedding cakes I knew I had to take the plunge and start the business. But how would I avoid over doing it again, getting into the same position and burning out? I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy! I knew I had to do things properly.
Start it up when both children had started school full time. Get registered, get my food hygiene certificate and inspection. Set up my branding and my business and marketing plan.
But more importantly to have a cut off point, not work through the night and take plenty of breaks. This has been the hardest part of starting the business - self discipline. But it is SO important.
I often see high profile entrepreneurs giving motivational speeches, encouraging people to ‘hustle’ and work hard - implying that they simply don’t have time for sleep. This terrifies me. That there are so many people, not just mums but anyone in any stage of life starting businesses thinking that they don’t need to sleep. Trust me, your body will tell you when you have no reserves left.
It has taken me 4 years to recover from the burn out, I still can’t walk long distances without getting a fuzzy head or have too many late nights. I also suffer from headaches regularly if I’m over doing it. But the difference is now I know the signs. If I have a dizzy spell, I stop what I’m doing, get a glass of water and sit down. If I feel that my legs are heavy I’ll drive to school instead of walking and have an early night.
Owning a small business is amazing, I’d highly recommend it. It is tough, sometimes relentless, and I learn something new every day. But one thing I do know is that it is secondary. Secondary to my health and my family. If there’s one thing I want to get across from this story (if you’ve made it this far thank you!) is to look after yourself first.
Sleep, drink water, plan and have limits.
You can achieve anything you want to achieve – but not without sleep.