You imagine that the news of your first pregnancy will be met with absolute delight and excitement. You hope that everyone around you will be as giddy as you are. For me, that wasn’t quite the case. Getting pregnant at 19 in the summer after my first year at university, was considered by most people in my life to be a grave mistake. I was studying Japanese in Edinburgh, a city where you can rarely see the sky because the Gothic architecture obscures everything. I had fought my way there, after dropping out of college two months before my A-levels when my brother died. I had to convince the course leaders that I was worthy of my place. They let me in due to my predicted grades, letters of referral and sheer tenacity. When I told my child-less lecturer that I was pregnant, she encouraged me to continue studying, raving about the on-site crèche facilities. I remember clearly stating that I wanted to raise my child myself, if I was going to be a mother I was going to be the best mother I could be to that child. She was the first of many to claim that I was foolish, that I was throwing my life away. With determination set in my jaw and a hand on my growing bump, I walked away, pride intact. The blessing of having a baby obscured any doubts or fears and I’ve never once regretted that decision. I know that many women continue to study or work full-time during pregnancy, but for me that wasn’t the right choice.
Skip forward 13 years and I have a global book deal, a book all about birth and pregnancy. A book that I could never have written if it hadn’t been for my wonderful, creative daughter. All the hunger for education and information that led me to university in the first place meant that I learnt everything I could about pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. I gave birth without pain relief in under 6 hours. I embraced the concept of active birth, tapping into your instincts and breathing through the pain. I was desperate to use this knowledge to help other women to feel empowered and capable during their own birthing experiences and even considered training to be a midwife or a doula. We didn’t have the money to think about education and with my husband working nights there was no chance of me skipping off to attend other people’s births. When I became a single mother before my daughter turned 2, my life choices became even more restricted. Through sheer determination, I built our kingdom around her. When she started at nursery I was able to go back to college studying anatomy and physiology, nutrition, complementary therapies, massage and business studies. I studied through the night, learning muscle groups and writing up case studies while surviving on very little sleep and income. I spent my days building memories with my beautiful child. My parents were a wonderful support while I waitressed at a small restaurant. We were barely getting by, but my daughter was happy and she brought me so much joy.
Setting up a business
Eventually I set up my own massage therapy business, my daughter started school and I worked with stroke victims and young people with learning difficulties. I was making a different to people’s lives and I loved every moment. My daughter was thriving. We moved out from my parents and rented a small place of our own, filling our evenings with music and laughter. Without my controlling ex-husband on the scene my friends started to pour back into my life. Money was tight and the future was uncertain, but I focused on the positive and didn’t dare to stop believing.
7 years ago I met my second husband, he was out of work but had a kindness and spark that drew me to him. Through mutual support we’ve been able to achieve our dreams. He now works freelance as a musician and a producer, my daughter has grown into an exceptional young woman and an immensely talented pianist and guitarist. We’ve built a house full of love. It hasn’t always been easy, the early stages of cancer threatened to topple my world and we lost a baby. There have been times of intense darkness, but we are finally flourishing in our chosen fields and our home life feels glorious.
My massage business grew until I was able to train in pregnancy massage too. I started running classes at local children’s centres, teaching expectant women birthing techniques, aromatherapy and pregnancy yoga. It felt wonderful to finally be able to share all the passion and knowledge that stemmed from my own birthing experiences. Things were going well, until I started to get crippling migraines that meant I had to cancel my classes. I needed something that I could do from home, and when a good friend suggested I write some articles for magazines I fell in love with the idea. 6 years a go I sent off my first pitch to a magazine. Now I make my living as a journalist. I am a columnist for The Green Parent magazine and write on a freelance basis for numerous international publications. My work as a travel writer has taken me around the world from Singapore to Sweden. The cherry on the cake was when I secured a book deal. My book ‘The Natural Baby: a gentle guide to conception, pregnancy, birth & beyond’ was co-authored by my good friend, Mumma Love Organics founder Samantha Quinn and is being sold globally from February. We’ve also written a couple of ebooks to accompany the main title, and I’ve launched my own business Natural Mumma which has a website offering free resources as well as a youtube channel. After years of setbacks and worry, I can finally devote my life to my real loves; my darling daughter, my husband and my mission to help empower other parents to make the choices that feel right for them.
My 5 top tips for realising your dreams
1. Don’t let the voices of others block out the sound of your heart
So many people told me that leaving university was a terrible mistake. People also told me I was wrong to walk away from my first husband, but we were too young when we got together and were clearly wrong for one another. We were making each other deeply unhappy and I was worried about the effect that would have on our daughter as she grew older. As is stands, we’ve both gone on to get re-married and are so much happier. I was told that students don’t throw away places at top universities and wives don’t walk away from the father of their children. Both times, the raging in my heart was louder than the voice of convention and I am eternally grateful that I made the right choices.
2. Don’t be afraid to dream big
After leaving home for university, I didn’t ever expect to be returning especially so soon. Coming back to live with my parents after being married (with a toddler in tow!) made me feel like a real failure. That first night, I sat in the room that had been my brothers and thought of all the years that had been stolen from him. I made a list of my wildest ambitions and most urgent dreams. I wrote about the places I wanted to visit (including Japan where we went on a family adventure 2 years ago) and I also wrote that I wanted a book deal. No one else saw this list, but giving myself the permission to really go for it sparked a fire in me that kept me on track.
3. Never give up
When life is difficult it can feel deeply unfair, like other people get all the chances or all the luck. We had a devastating amount of family tragedy in my teenage years and being a teenage mum and divorced by 21 was far from easy. In all honesty I can say that the hardship simply made me stronger, more resilient and more determined than anyone else I know. I truly believe that my success has come from the warrior spirit that I’ve had no choice but to develop. So if life is especially trying, just know that all this experience is simply making you stronger.
4. Listen to who you are
Since I was very small I would spend hours writing and reading. Words were my sanctuary, they helped me through the darkest times, they gave me comfort and companionship, they offered me direction and hope. I built a world from words, but I didn’t ever consider making a career from writing until it felt like the last option imaginable. It took someone else to suggest it to me. I almost needed permission. Society often dictates what we should do, school makes us feel like our choices are limited. Which is why when my daughter tells me she is going to be a musician, I simply agree with her. She has boundless talent, passion and drive. In my eyes, all she needs is a dash of luck and she’ll make it.
5. Surround yourself with people who encourage you
Being a single parent can be heartbreakingly lonely, but nothing like as lonely as being in a relationship with the wrong person. Having friends who don’t understand you, or don’t support your dreams can feel utterly deflating. I think it is so important to have people in your life who know how to listen, who aren’t jealous and who understand your commitment to your work. Writing the book was a very intense, exhausting and all-consuming process but I loved every moment of it. It meant that I had no time for anything else outside of my family and home life for over a year. I lost a few friends over the course of it, but I also learnt who was really there for me. As you grow older you appreciate that the handful of really close mates who get you are far more valuable than scores of fair-weather friends.
Above all, you have to keep your mind and eyes open. New opportunities can present themselves at any given moment. Make choices that feel right for you, remind yourself that every journey starts with a single step and always love yourself enough to know when it is the right time to leave, as well as the time to put yourself out there and make your dreams a reality.
Holly’s book ‘The Natural Baby: A gentle guide to conception, pregnancy, birth & beyond’ is out through Green Books on February 9th and will be available through all good booksellers. Holly is a freelance journalist, and a columnist for The Green Parent Magazine. She also runs Natural Mumma, which offers free resources to help families live healthier and happier lives.
Her YouTube channel offers healthy recipes, pregnancy yoga routines, breastfeeding advice, personal parenting stories and much more.
Home page image: Holly Daffurn