Life as a new mum is always a shock — a potent mix of elation, fear, anxiety and extreme tiredness — but less attention is paid to how hard motherhood can be the second time around.
For Ruth Crilly, the former Vogue model, who has become a successful beauty blogger over the past ten years with her site A Model Recommends (53 million views to date), it was the birth two-and-a-half years ago of her son, Ted — 18 months after the birth of her daughter, Angelica (now four) — that threw her into a place she admits could easily have become quite dark.
‘With the second baby, I thought: “Is this me now? Is this how I am?” It was so hard to work out who I was any more.’
Becoming a first-time mother has the ‘wow factor’: bouquets from friends; grandparents meeting their new grandchild; the blissful cocoon of your partnership, now in a more grown-up phase with this little person.
Ruth Crilly, 38, (pictured) has launched an app for mothers who experience lows, following her battle with anxiety and isolation after the birth of her second child
But, as Ruth explains, giving birth for the second time, which we may carelessly assume to be an event of less magnitude, can, in fact, be profoundly disorientating for a woman’s sense of self, especially if the babies arrive close together.
For so long (or what feels like it), mothers are solely focused on their first child. With their second, life is turned upside down again, in a different way that is sometimes more complex: ‘I was like a zombie [with tiredness] with my first, but when I look back, that was a walk in the park.
‘When Ted was born, my husband looked after Angelica while I did all the feeding. And I felt such guilt. She had been my sole little person. I felt so deeply that it wasn’t fair on her, that I couldn’t give her that attention, and it really weighed on my mind.’
Her sense of guilt was exacerbated, she explains, by the isolation she felt. ‘When I was feeding Ted, the rest of the house was asleep. I wanted time with Angelica, but was stuck to the baby. During the day, I could hear family life continuing without me . . .’ She trails off.
The nights were the worst. Beset with exhaustion, but knowing she couldn’t fall asleep during feeds, anxiety kicked in (as it often does in the night).
With Ted on one breast, she would aimlessly scroll the internet on her phone, typing anxiety-fuelled questions into Google about her C-section scar and ‘finding myself down a rabbit hole of threads from mums’ forums which would make me feel worse’.
At other times, she would comb the online shopping site Asos, bored, exhausted and alone, looking at things she neither wanted nor needed: ‘It would sometimes be so bad I’d give myself motion sickness. My eyes would go funny and I’d start to feel seasick.’
Despite the fact Ruth is an English literature graduate (she managed to get a First studying with The Open University during her busy modelling career, followed by an MA in creative writing), she found she couldn’t read a book as it made her feel too drowsy. That, in turn, fuelled her anxiety, because she worried she might harm or even suffocate her baby by mistake.
The former Vogue model (pictured) became fixated on selling her family’s home in Essex, as she felt trapped in her bedroom
Added to all this — or because of this — Ruth, now 38, became obsessed with selling the house in Essex that she and her husband, a portrait photographer (he took Ruth’s first modelling shots 18 years ago), had just spent a year gutting and refurbishing.
‘It was this urgent panic to get out to somewhere other than where I was,’ she says. ‘It was post-natal “something”. I’m not sure I was post-natally depressed, but, even if you aren’t, it can still work with your mind. I just thought: “I can’t be here a minute longer.”
‘When I look back, that’s not normal behaviour. I think I felt trapped in my bedroom. I was in it for 23 hours a day. I just felt the need to escape.’
The family decided to move, first temporarily to Bath and then to rural Somerset. ‘My husband kept saying: “Are you really sure? This is crazy!” ’ Although she knows ‘he was right to pull me up on it’, she remembers being determined to move, in pursuit of what she calls ‘the salve of the countryside’.
When we meet in Somerset, in Ruth’s beautiful Georgian house, it seems that the frantic move — when Ted was just eight months old — has ended well.
I felt trapped in my room. I had this urgent panic to get out . . .
It’s testament to Ruth’s positive nature and constant drive — ‘I’ve always been someone who wants to get maximum use out of a pocket of time’ — that what came out of those dark days was a new, revolutionary app to help other mums going through similar lows.
Called The Night Feed, the app was born out of her feelings of isolation following Ted’s birth. Ruth wants mothers, awake in the night to feed their children, to feel they have ‘a million big sisters’. ‘I want it to feel as though an amazing cafe for new mums is on the corner of your street, open all hours, so that when you are at your most tired and lonely, you can go there and sit, read a paper or chat, knowing you are surrounded by other women.’
Ruth’s (pictured) app has been brought by around 5,000 women, offering them a place to take part in discussions and track feeds
Newly launched, the app costs a one-off £3.99 (the price of a coffee) to download and has already been bought by around 5,000 women. It is not like what Ruth calls ‘Wild West’ mothering forums, where comments and discussions are controlled by members and the debate can quickly get heated and, frankly, full of judgment.
Who wants another mum telling you you’re doing it all wrong when you’re already worrying that you are? Instead, the app’s threads and discussions are controlled by Ruth and other moderators, and members have to sign a code of conduct to ensure that there is nothing other than support.
There is a timer on the app so mums can record the length and times of feeds, ‘whether that’s by breast or bottle’, and, if breastfeeding, whether it’s the left or right breast: ‘Because I was so tired I could never remember, and then I would wake up with one breast completely engorged.’
Ruth is fully immersed in the success of this new community.
‘I was blogging when my own children were tiny, so when people ask questions such as: ‘Does your baby make this strange noise?’ or: ‘How are you finding feeding?’ I can look back and read what I wrote about how my body changed, how my boobs felt, how my scar was healing, how I felt mentally.
‘A community forms itself: I will start something off, but there will be people asking each other for advice and helping each other.’
Ruth (pictured) who is an influential blogger, has decided to share less about her children as they get older
As an influential blogger, Ruth tries hard to protect herself from online negativity. She has started writing less about her children, she admits, giving a ‘life update’ only once a month on A Model Recommends ‘because the older Angelica gets, the more I shrink how much I share about her’. On a day-to-day level, life is about to change again: ‘You’ve caught me in the midst of a massive seismic shift of who I am. Ted has started nursery two days a week this month, Angelica started school last month. I feel like it’s a new era.
‘I suddenly feel more settled. Ted is sleeping through the night — and, even if he does wake up, I now find myself thinking: “Harness this feeling for The Night Feed.” ’
Technology is changing the landscape for new mothers. That Ruth is at the centre of this revolution may just influence her decision as to whether to have a third child, she admits. ‘Babies are wonderful little bundles, and I have loved watching mine grow into toddlers,’ she says.
‘It’s getting better and better, and I imagine how I could keep going [with children]. But I’m getting a little bit of time back for myself now as a person, and I’m in this new zone. Also, being on The Night Feed . . . you get to see how tired mothers are!’
For now, at least, Ruth is happy to be a supportive ‘big sister’, and all for the price of a cup of coffee.