Leonie Huie’s forthcoming book aims to help parents who are struggling to get back to work after having multiple births.
Leonie Huie is author of the forthcoming book The First Year is Survival: The Essential Guide To Parenting Twins & Multiples. A part-time teacher, she is founder of Empower Me which helps empower other mothers to improve their work-life balance and a female empowerment coach. Leonie’s book is full of advice and her own experiences of being a mum of twins, including her struggles to get back to work after maternity leave. She spoke to workingmums.co.uk about her book and why it is needed.
workingmums.co.uk: What prompted you to write the book?
Leonie Huie: There are two reasons why I wrote this book. Firstly, for my twin daughters so they knew what their mama went through during pregnancy and the first year of parenthood and, secondly, for other parents of multiples so that they knew what to expect and how to cope during the first year of parenthood. I struggled to find books on multiples to help ease my anxiety about becoming a mother of twins and I couldn’t find information. I wanted real life stories from parents of multiples and how they survived the first year so I decided to write a book myself.
workingmums.co.uk: How much information is there for parents who have multiple births on the day to day realities?
LH: There is information available, but I feel it’s not as accessible as the information available for parents in general. When you do a Google search on babies often information regarding one child appears. You won’t automatically see information about multiples unless you are more specific such as searching for twins or triplets. I know multiples births are not as common as having one child, but there should be more choice. However, in saying that there are organisations such as the Twins Trust that provide information, advice and support on multiple births.
workingmums.co.uk: How important do you think it is that there are more parenting books by Black authors?
LH: I think this is extremely important: there are a minority of Black authors in the UK (including myself) and we are underrepresented. Unlike what happened to me, I want my children to grow up in a society where colour isn’t an issue, but also to understand the importance of their culture and race and that black people have talents and can write books too. In addition to this, children should be exposed to a range of cultural books so they have a better sense of the world. My twins have books from Black, White and Asian authors, which I will continue to buy for them throughout their lives.
workingmums.co.uk: Your book starts with sleep – a huge issue for parents generally. Do you think the impact of lack of sleep on all aspects of life and your mental health is sufficiently recognised?
LH: This is the reason why I started my book with sleep because of how important it is. Whether you are a parent or not you can’t function properly on a daily basis with insufficient sleep. Now, just imagine you’re a parent with two newborns, like me, which was extremely challenging. People would often comment and say I should feed the twins at the same time, bathe them at the same time, put them to sleep at the same time, but in my case this didn’t always happen. For example, when Lourdes was awake, La Belle was asleep and when Lourdes eventually fell asleep La Belle would wake up, which meant no sleep for me.
I know mental health is talked about much more openly now, helping to remove the stigma that many people used to face. However, sleep is such a big part of this, especially in relation to post-natal depression and anxiety. Sleep should be spoken about more often as it can have an adverse effect on a mother with newborns.
workingmums.co.uk: What do you think contributed to your post-natal depression and how did you emerge from it?
LH: I had no idea I had post-natal depression until I was referred to see a psychiatrist due to my daughter La Belle being ill in hospital. Unfortunately, she experienced two episodes where she stopped breathing and turned blue around her mouth where I then had to perform CPR on her. This was the worst experience of my life. She was hospitalised for almost two weeks and I remember not crying once about the whole situation until the paediatrician looking after her came to my room one day to check on her and asked me how I was feeling, as he noticed I was in some sort of distress.
As soon as he asked me – I don’t know what triggered the tears – but I just cried uncontrollably. A well of emotion, tiredness, stress and separation anxiety from my other daughter had taken its toll and that’s when he referred me to speak to a specialist. During our conversation I was still crying and I remember the psychiatrist saying to me that I had experienced a very traumatic event and that I was expressing common signs of post-natal depression, which shocked me as my doctor, midwives, health visitor had not seen this. I was referred to my GP who offered medication, but I declined and instead opted for homeopathic treatments.
On reflection, I think the post-natal depression started the week I came home from hospital after giving birth. I couldn’t bond with the twins, I couldn’t breast feed, I couldn’t sleep and I was out of my depth. I think this was all linked to my PND. I received counselling for my anxiety and PND which really helped me overcome the emotions and worry I was experiencing.
workingmums.co.uk: You write about the rollercoaster of emotions on returning to work. How long did it take you to adapt to life back at work?
LH: Work-life balance was very challenging for me. I was due to return to work when the twins were seven months old in June 2018, but due to La Belle falling ill, I went back in September 2018 when they were 10 months old. I had severe separation anxiety and hadn’t quite managed the whole routine of parenthood and work. I started to plan and structure my time more efficiently, bought a large wall calendar which really helped, and after a Christmas break in Mexico with the twins and my husband, life started to feel normal again.
workingmums.co.uk: Have you been able to build a good support network and how crucial is this?
LH: Oh yes, this is so crucial, I can’t stress this enough. I come from a large family so had a lot of support and my twins have 10 Godparents who are hands on. They have grandparents on both sides of their family and my mother and sisters are there for me all the time. In my book there is a whole chapter about if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Here I explain the importance of asking for help and not feeling as though you have failed as a mother if you do so. A lot of new mums do not want to seem a burden, but if you need help you should feel comfortable to ask – whether it’s informal support for family and friends or formal support from your doctor or health visitors. This is crucial for mother and baby’s health and wellbeing.
workingmums.co.uk: What prompted you to found Empower Me and how have you built this alongside teaching and bringing up twins?
LH: Haha! Sometimes I have to ask myself how do I fit this all in? I started Empower Me last October as I wanted to help mums return to work and start their own business – I met so many mothers at playgroups who struggled with this or lacked the confidence to do it. I know there are mums who need more flexibility to get greater work-life balance and because we are mums it doesn’t mean we can’t have a career or business. So, I designed some masterclasses for work and business as well as providing mums with 1-2-1 business coaching. The masterclasses will now be moved online since Covid-19 – that’s the direction I’m heading in, which also saves a lot of time and reduces costs and the coaching has always been via phone or zoom. When I’m working at home my husband has the twins and vice versa – we make a good team.
workingmums.co.uk: How has Covid-19 affected you with regard to your work for Empower me? Have you continued to teach throughout the pandemic?
LH: I had to cancel some live masterclasses, public speaking appearances and a retreat I had planned. In actual fact it has given me the opportunity to move online, even though I’m more of a face-to-face person as I love meeting new people all the time. My Empower Me events and retreats will continue to be public, but I won’t make any plans until government guidelines have been published for this to be carried out safely.
I have continued to teach my students online, but since school is officially closed for the summer I can focus on planning for September and online masterclasses for Empower Me.
workingmums.co.uk: Do you have plans for any further books?
LH: Not at the moment, but I’d never say no.
*Leonie Huie’s book The First Year is Survival: The Essential Guide To Parenting Twins & Multiples is published by Hashtag Press, October 2020.