Meet the Super Mum who has managed to juggle parenthood, with a second pregnancy during the pandemic, and launching a business in lockdown. The lovely Gemma is founder and creator of Cheeky Little Smiles and Mum to two small humans. We wanted to know how she did it, and how she is doing now…
What was your experience being pregnant during the Pandemic?
It was certainly a strange time. Not knowing much about the virus but being told pregnant women were high risk made me incredibly anxious. At the time my first born daughter was in the nursery so we made the decision to keep her at home so she could isolate with us. That made it incredibly difficult to work from home, prepare a decent handover for my maternity cover and ensure she was entertained enough throughout the day too. I’m so glad we had good weather so I could go outside in the garden because I was too nervous to venture anywhere else. Ava was born right at the end of the first lockdown but all the rules were still in place so once she was born, I was completely alone in the hospital.
How was the transition from 1-2 small people?
This was incredibly difficult without support. I had a complicated c section surgery, followed by a painful recovery. It took about 5 weeks before I could move comfortably. My husband had to step up and do everything; look after both children, the housework, cooking, as well as work from home. I look back at those days and feel like he was my hero. I honestly saw him in a completely different light and am so grateful to him.
Did you take maternity leave?
I took the whole year. I feel that you can always make more money but you can never get the time back. Time is so precious, particularly after the past 2 years where we have missed out on a lot.
What was the aha moment for Cheeky Little Smiles?
This was when Ava was 8 months old. I had written a journal for my first daughter, Lucy and I suppose I was feeling a bit sorry for myself; that my maternity leave was not what I hoped for. Then I realised in the loneliest and strangest of times, my children were bringing me so much joy and I wanted to write all about it.
I looked for a baby journal for Ava, but so many had prompts and I felt we were missing out on some of these typical experiences, like first holiday or visitors at the hospital. I wanted to create something beautiful that I could use to record her unique first year and tell her story in my own words. Then i thought other parents may like this too.
And so Cheeky Little Smiles was born.
What was that experience like having a baby and a new business?
Honestly, not easy. As a result of the lockdowns, Ava is not familiar with anyone outside her immediate family. At 9 months old, she had extreme separation anxiety. This is still ongoing, although improving slightly since starting nursery. It has been mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. When she is awake, she just wants to be held. If I attempt to do something like cook a meal or go to the toilet she will cry hysterically. When she is awake, there is no chance of getting anything else done. Fortunately, she sleeps very well, so once she goes to bed or while she was napping, I could work on my business.
How do you juggle your new roles, both as a founder of a start-up and as a new mum?
Currently I work flexibly in my day job. I am fortunate that I can finish at 3 to do the school run so between 3pm and 7pm is my time to enjoy with the girls. Once they are in bed I work on my baby journal business. It’s a passion project of mine, I really enjoy it.
What’s your support system?
My support system is mainly my husband. The nursery staff are also amazing with Ava. It’s sad to say, but Ava is more comfortable with them than her own family. We have asked the nursery girls to babysit for us on one occasion so my husband and I could attempt a date night.
Tell us what milestones you would write about and why they are important?
Our baby’s journeys are going to be some of the most unique stories to look back on. It’s all those small details that are going to make it so interesting to read back and make our children realise how strong we were as parents to go through this and what a bizarre time it was to be born.
When you first met.
Lockdown births have restricted us from so much, such as not having visitors or even having your partner unable to attend the birth or important dates such as scans. However, no one can take away the moment that you first met your newborn. The moment you took in their beautiful baby features, touched their soft skin and heard their first sounds. This moment will be even more unique to write about considering the unusual circumstances; from everyone wearing face masks, being told not to let anyone hold your baby to having to spend those first few hours/days alone with your newborn.
Baby’s first smile and laugh
These have to be standout special moments for every parent. When you know it’s no longer wind and they are actually smiling back at you. Treasuring the image of their faces lighting up when they are so tiny is so precious. Then hearing their first chuckle at you doing the smallest or silliest of things, then repeating it over and over just to capture that beautiful sound. Even more so in lockdown as the joy in these tiny little people is infectious.
When your baby cuddles you back.
We spend so long holding our babies, rocking them to sleep, cuddling them, longing for the moment when they will cuddle us back. Then they get a bit bigger and stronger and finally put their little arms around your neck and hold on tightly. Such a tender moment between baby and parent making our bonds even stronger.
Did your baby lull you into a false sense of security by sleeping well as a newborn only to hit the 4-month regression and wake you almost every hour? Have you been lucky and blessed with a really good sleeper or a cheeky little one who likes to keep seeing you all night long? Sleep is such a big factor when becoming a parent and I am sure we all know what it’s like trying to get through the day on very little sleep; even harder when you’ve not been able to go anywhere or have anyone to help you. But that day when they finally sleep all night, or even just a long chunk of sleep for the first time is the most amazing feeling. In these strange times it’s great to celebrate these moments.
This is always a fun time. Experimenting with food, figuring out if they prefer purees, finger foods or just like playing with it. Watching their little faces and sounds when they enjoy something for the first time or equally funny, witnessing their disgust when they don’t like it at all. Did you feed your baby yourself or allow them to try it themselves? Even though weaning can be a messy journey, it’s great to capture their grubby faces or the mess they make all over the floor to show them when they are older.
Hearing your baby coo for the first time or babbling with different sounds is such a great moment. Then watching them as they start to recognise your voice and the words you say. Seeing them wave when you say bye bye or looking towards you when you say their name. All these milestones are very precious but when the babbles mean something for the first time and they say their first word, it’s very exciting. Did your baby say mum or dad first or something completely different?
Baby’s developmental milestones
There are so many exciting milestones in their first year like when they get their first tooth or move for the first time; from rolling over to crawling to walking. The first time they recognise your voice and face. When they start copying your actions like waving bye bye, giving cuddles and kisses. Remembering the stories behind each milestone is so special, like crawling for the first time to reach something they love to play with.
Being stuck inside for so long has probably made you even more aware of things that bring your baby joy. A favourite song they move their body to, a book they love to read and a game they love to play. Is there something they take comfort from like a soft toy, dummy or a cuddle with you?
Baby’s first birthday
You’ve made it. They’ve turned one. You have watched your beautiful baby grow and develop over the past 12 months and have done this pretty much all by yourself with little support. This feels like such an achievement. I hope the restrictions have eased enough for you to be able to celebrate their special day. It’s a lovely time to reflect on the past year and look back on all the precious photos and memories when they were so small.
Hopefully some normality. I would love to start doing more things with the girls, taking them to new places, exploring and having lots of new adventures together.
Finally – What’s the biggest lesson you want to teach your children?
As much as it’s been a very crazy and unsettling time having a baby during a pandemic, it’s important to remember, it’s the small moments that matter most. The love you have for each other and the strong bond as a result of being together all the time is what they will take from this year. I’m sure they would love to know all about their first year.
If you would like to capture your baby’s most precious memories, you can visit Gemma’s website: www.cheekylittlesmiles.com