Fiona Doyle is the owner of a small chain of childcare facilities in North London and a volunteer for the UK’s largest parenting charity NCT. She’s a single mum who has a 4-year-old daughter, Ciara. Fiona is a supporter of NCT’s #HiddenHalf campaign to bring postnatal mental illness out of hiding. She’s also coordinator of the charity’s Haringey branch.
Fiona had to find a new home and a new way to make a living after becoming pregnant. In support of NCT’s #HiddenHalf campaign, here’s the inspiring story of how she went from struggling with postnatal depression and living on a tiny income to running her own successful businesses.
Over to Fiona…
My pregnancy was a surprise to say the least. I’d just come out of a well-intentioned but short-lived marriage and was preparing to live life to the full as a young, free and single twenty something. However, to cut a long story short, my first foray into single life led to two blue lines on a stick and a feeling of sinking horror at how this was all going to pan out.
Post-divorce, I had been living with my long-suffering parents and this baby-to-be was a most-unexpected move on my part.
I knew the first thing I had to do was to find somewhere new to live so I migrated to the epicentre of North London Mums: Muswell Hill. The rent was eye-watering but I had a good job in teaching and was able to manage it by myself. My plan was to take a year off from work when the baby was born and return part-time. I was telling myself all this without actually calculating the long-term costs and finances. I couldn’t think about it clearly because every time I did, my heart would beat at an abnormal rate and I’d start to feel sick and dizzy. So, I ignored it.
Had my plan worked out, I might have just about managed everything. I would have been able to pay my rent and with a bit of help from my daughter’s dad, the nursery fees too. I may have had to stop eating, but that was ok! What I didn’t foresee were two huge curve-balls which steered the course of my life in an entirely different direction: post-natal depression and my employer’s reaction to my pregnancy and maternity leave.
I don’t wish to dwell on the ins and outs of it, but the upshot was that after nearly a decade in teaching, working incredibly hard and with four promotions under my belt, I didn’t feel welcome in my old job and that devastated me. My teaching career had been my entire world before I became pregnant. I had given so much time and energy to it and seeing it all going down the pan was incredibly painful. I take responsibility too- in a haze of depression, I didn’t handle the situation in the way I would normally have been able to. I cut ties with my former life after a year of maternity leave and a difficult period of stress-leave, with no clue about what I was going to do. I had gone from being an over-achiever to feeling like I had lost everything and it didn’t sit well with me.
The money pot was running dry by this point and I was living off own-brand supermarket cheese and onion pasties (at a bargain 79 p). I felt I was faced with two choices: either to give in and accept my fate or get up off the floor and fight. I somehow found the strength to fight.My driving force was, of course, my daughter. I wanted her to grow up with a mother she could be proud of. I didn’t want her to feel any of the things I was feeling on a daily basis- panic, fear, loneliness and dread about the future.
I had skills in teaching, so I decided to re-invent myself by training in Early Years. Having been immersed in the world of babies for the best part of two years, it was an area I felt I could contribute to. I studied at night when my daughter was asleep and went on courses and gained qualifications to open my own nursery business. I took a massive financial risk and used the very, very last of the money I had to open my new business. My daughter and I lived on the premises to keep costs down.
One thought kept me going through all of this: ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ I’d been through so much at this point that I truly felt that as long as everyone was still alive at the end of the day, anything else could be dealt with. It wasn’t about having the confidence to go for it, or about being savvy and having business sense…For me it was about survival but survival with a sense of self-worth. I still had an iota of that, if nothing else.
Thankfully, the gamble paid off and the business became successful in a short period of time. A second childcare facility soon followed and more recently a third. I could pay my rent and still eat and, most importantly, my new job meant I was able to spend lots of time with my daughter before she started going to school. Now, I can drop her off at the school gates and pick her up every day and this means more to me than any financial gain or business success.
Out of curiosity, I asked my daughter recently what she thought my job was. ‘Nothing’, she replied. After a brief second of being mildly offended, I realised that she hadn’t noticed any of the stress and struggles I had experienced to reach this point. All she knows is that her mum takes her to school every day and then annoys her with questions about what she had for lunch and where all her hairbands went when she’s picked up. This pleases me no-end. Things have worked out better than I’d ever hoped or envisaged in the throes of postnatal depression, and that’s a marvellous feeling.
Fiona is an NCT volunteer supporting the charity’s #HiddenHalf campaign to get postnatal mental illness out of hiding. Find out more about the campaign here: https://www.nct.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/hidden-half