In Her Words… In Memory of Natasha by Tanya Laperouse

Tanya and Nadim Laperouse are parents of Natasha and Alex.  In 2016 Natasha, aged 15, died following an allergic reaction to sesame seeds after eating a sandwich that wasn’t labelled with the full ingredients.  The tragedy led Tanya and Nadim to campaign for ‘Natasha’s Law’ which was passed through Parliament last summer and to set up the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation,  The foundation is raising funds to support important allergy research and allergy education, awareness and advocacy.

My beautiful daughter Natasha died from a severe allergic reaction on the 17thJuly 2016.  It was the first weekend of the school summer holidays, she was 15 years old and had a wonderful summer planned starting with a very special treat.  Natasha’s big dream was to go on holiday with her best friend Bethany and it was arranged that my husband would take the girls to Nice in France for four glorious days.  I would stay at home with our son Alex who had a friend coming to stay.  We had never split our holidays from each other; it was the first time we ever did this and it would be the last. 

We woke up early and I drove my husband and two excited teenagers to Heathrow airport as they were catching the first flight out.  At the drop-off, I gave them all a quick hug and wished them all a wonderful time and then drove home. Less than three hours later, I received a phone call from my husband. He was choking back tears and telling me that Natasha was extremely ill, so ill that he didn’t know if she would make it and that I had to get a flight out to Nice right away – not to delay – every second counted – I had to get there as soon as I possibly could. 

The next hours are a blur of memories.

Crying, praying while I booked a flight to Nice, trying to keep calm so I wouldn’t frighten my son Alex, arranging for Alex to be taken by friends to stay with his grandmother, cancelling Alex’s friends who I had planned to take to a trampoline park that day, sitting on the sofa, crying, praying with every ounce of my soul for Natasha to be ok, to survive, begging God not to take her, getting a lift from my friend Rose to Stansted airport, crying, crying, crying, desperate, on alert for my husband to call again, asking will she live?  Will she live?  Praying please let her live!  I want to be with my daughter…I was screaming inside my head – she needs ME!  I should be with her.  

My plane was scheduled to take off at 6pm that evening but it was delayed by 6 hours. At 7pm whilst I was waiting in the airport gate, my husband phoned me and told me that Natasha was minutes away from dying.  He put his mobile phone next to her ear and instructed me to say goodbye… to be quick as he also wanted to call Alex and her grandparents to give them an opportunity to say goodbye too. I said goodbye and collapsed.

Natasha died from a severe allergic reaction to sesame seeds in a baguette bought from Pret a Manger at Heathrow airport. The seeds could not be seen with the naked eye as they had been baked into the dough of the bread. Prior to buying it, she, her father and Bethany had all checked the ingredients label, were happy that it didn’t list anything she was allergic to and Natasha ate it quickly before boarding the plane. However, once on board, she started to feel unwell. Half an hour later, her condition started to deteriorate at huge speed. She began to panic and her father quickly injected her with an (adrenalin injector pen) EpiPen but it didn’t make any difference. He administered the second injector pen but again there was no improvement to her worsening condition. We had always believed that the injector pens were ‘magic wands’ that would save your life if you are having a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) but within minutes of struggling to breathe and begging her father to help her, Natasha passed out and went into cardiac arrest.

For the next hour and a half her father, air stewards and a junior doctor tried everything to save her life. By the time the flight touched down in France, Natasha had gone into multiple cardiac arrests. After the plane landed in Nice, five paramedics boarded the plane and rigged her up to a defibrillator. Her heartbeat came back but it quickly faded and after what seemed like a lifetime, they finally stopped CPR. It was over, all hope was gone. 

I am a mother whose child has died.  That is my new identity, my new self.  I am also the mother of a son who is very much alive, who still needs me.  It is what kept me from going insane with grief.

When I lost Natasha, my world collapsed in on itself.  I was plunged into a reality where I had zero choices.  I had been thrown onto a new life path; one where I was somehow still living and breathing air, alive even though my precious child was not. 

Natasha, we called her Tashi, was a wonderful daughter, truly.  She was a healthy mix of girlie and tomboy, she was kind and generous, she was fun and loved to joke around, she was as wise as she was good.  I can brag with pride that she never had a tantrum; she could sing all the words to a number of lullabies from the age of 18 months and that she had been talented in oh so many ways.  She would confide in me her deepest worries and we would look for solutions together.  It was my joy to help her – to take away her pain.  Plasters on bruised and cut knees when she was little and good advice and wisdom to sooth away her problems as she got older. But what I really desired to give her was a cure for her food allergies and this I was never able to achieve.

Following her death, we waited two years for her inquest.  It took place in September 2018 and lasted for one week. The Coroner raised many questions and finally concluded that a ‘loophole in the law’ had been used to avoid full ingredient labelling on the baguette that Natasha had eaten. He was concerned as to why the BA aeroplane had not made an emergency landing and had questioned the efficacy and the needle lengths of the adrenalin pens that Natasha had been injected with.  He also demanded an explanation as to why the defibrillator, that had been present on the plane, had not been offered to the junior doctor as Natasha had gone into multiple cardiac arrests? 

On that last day of the inquest, my husband read out a statement to the multitudes of press who had arrived and stationed themselves outside the coroner’s court and over the next weeks and months, Natasha’s young face smiled from newspapers and news channels across the country and her story travelled the world over.  It was two years and two months since her death.  

Soon after, Pret a Manger promised to introduce full ingredient labelling on all of their pre-packed foods within one year of the inquest and testament to them, they have kept their promise. The government took an interest as we campaigned for the loophole in the labelling law to be closed and ‘Natasha’s Law’ requiring full ingredient labelling for all pre-packed foods was passed through parliament last September and the law will come into full force in October 2021. 

My husband and I have been plunged into a unique situation where we have been able to speak and campaign on behalf of the millions of allergy sufferers in the UK. Up until Natasha’s death no one it seemed, had taken any real interest in allergy deaths, the seriousness of living with allergies, their everyday dangers and their effect on the mental health of both the sufferers and their families. 

We launched the The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation ( in June 2019 with a clear mission; to secure and fund essential and innovative allergy research which has to date been woefully underfunded. To look for and find a cure to end allergic disease is the foundation’s primary focus. We are also promoting the need for greater safety and public awareness of allergies and we are doing this through law, advocacy, education and awareness.

On the day of the charity’s launch, The Food Standards Agency (FSA) revealed that following a public consultation, Natasha’s Law would require full ingredient labelling (as opposed to partial) for all foods prepared, packaged and sold on the same premises. 73% of the consultation response had been from the public and they had voted unanimously for full ingredient labelling. There is good reason for this as we are seeing more and more people becoming dangerously allergic to a whole host of foods that aren’t in the 14 named allergens list. Allergy scientists have likened the sharp increase in the diagnosis of severe food allergies right across the world as a potential ‘tsunami’ coming our way. It’s not just affecting our children, but there has also been a new surge of adults who are becoming seriously allergic to foods they have eaten safely all their lives. 

I often reflect on my little girl – the child she was and the young woman she was becoming. I have faith that I will see her again one day but until then, I am working for her memory and for all those who suffer from allergies as she did. Natasha’s untimely death has instigated change for the better and I want to make sure it continues to do so. From my very worst moments of darkness and desolation, I have hope; hope for all those who suffer from allergies as she did; hope for Natasha’s Foundation to make a difference to so many lives; hope for a cure. 

For more information on the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, visit:

Twitter: @natashaslegacy

Instagram: @natashasfoundation

Facebook: @natashasfoundation

In Her Words… Life After Death by Abbey Craig

Abbey Craig first wrote for The Muse in June 2017, shortly after she had received a diagnosis of terminal cancer.  The diagnosis followed a year in remission after acute treatment for primary breast cancer in 2015 when she was 37 years old.

In 2018 Abbey was given the highly unusual option of a rib removal for her cancer to be further investigated.  A couple of months later, after a slew of tests it was decided that the damage in the rib had not been caused by cancer after all and was healing from time, not the cancer treatment. So, it was agreed, no secondary cancer.  The terminal cancer diagnosis was, in fact, a misdiagnosis and Abbey is now in remission from her primary cancer and continues with treatment to help maintain that.

We asked Abbey to write a follow up piece to her original letter (you can read it here if you haven’t done so yet) to reflect on her misdiagnosis and on how she lives now.

In Her Words… 

Life After Death by Abbey Craig

When I was dying, and we all thought I had a year or so left, I wrote a letter to the 11-year-old me on how to avoid pitfalls, in which I tried to guide the younger me down a better path.

“Be well, be healthy, be happy and be free…  Live! Make me proud to be me.”

So, did I really listen and hear my own advice? Am I living life the way I’d urged myself to?

I’ve tried to keep those words with me as my moral compass; it’s not always easy, bad habits can come creeping back.

I wrote about how the first diagnosis of cancer had un-encumbered me of self-loathing about my appearance. The ‘black cloud’ that had made my body and mind weak, sad and sore in many ways, had been lifted.  To live without that burden is joyous, and unlike before, I have many photos to prove it!

But what next?  Once I’d written that letter I still had months of the misdiagnosis ahead of me.  What else did I learn, if anything? 

Believing that I was dying, here’s what happened next…. 

I went into organisation mode, I am a control freak! It felt right to get things planned and in place for my death and its aftermath. So, the ‘The Death List’ was compiled and the next few months were all about completing it.

  • Funeral service and wake planned  ✔
  • Letters and gifts for friends and family  ✔
  • Banking and official documents sorted  ✔
  • Memorabilia binned or passed on, including old letters and anything that might cause confusion, embarrassment (old diaries!) or hurt in the future  ✔
  • Excess clothing and shoes given away  ✔
  • Suitable support organised for loved ones beyond death  ✔

This period of time was truly heart breaking because of the absolute focus on the lead up to death and of the lives of loved ones following my death.   But then came MY time. The list complete and the envelopes and boxes sealed and addressed, it was time to focus on the time I had left to be ALIVE.  I’d done all I could to prepare, so now I had to put aside the fear of death and illness, with the knowledge that I had it covered, as best as I could. 

“I had clarity and I felt entitled to achieve what I could, before I got too sick.  ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ became my mantra. I stopped planning and just ‘did’.”

Essentially I had to stop focussing on how people would cope with my death, because ultimately, that was their pain, there was nothing I could do about that. To continue to focus on that would have left no hope for happiness or pleasant new memories to be made and really, what the hell would be the point in that?  It sounds harsh but it was advice given to me and too important not to pass on.

I had clarity and I felt entitled to achieve what I could, before I got too sick.  ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ became my mantra. I stopped planning and just ‘did’. 

We made the decision for my husband to sell his successful business in London on the quick so we could move back to Scotland to be close to family, we chose a lovely cottage by the sea, owned by family friends that had a bedroom with a view of the sea which we imagined might have become my final view out to the world.

During this time I focussed on continuing to research for the children’s books I wanted to write with my dad.   Having a terminal diagnosis opens doors, I was granted extraordinary access to people, in hospices, in hospitals; children and families in their very homes.  A new world opened up and accepted me easily into it and I felt a belonging I’d not experienced for quite a while. 

“It came to me: The realisation that I had actually lived the least tragic life anyone could have hoped for!  If I’d died then, even if I die today, there will have been no tragedy.” 

My previous letter admits that I had laboured for a near-lifetime under the misconception that I’d be infinitely happier if only beautiful.  Whilst I was dying, the realisation came that it wasn’t just beauty that I had aspired to, but a romantic sense of tragedy.

From a young age I’d bought into the idea that being a tragic heroine, whatever the tragedy was, would validate my life.

I realised that internalising the tragedy-myth as a teenager and aspiring to be interesting and alluring, had in fact created real misery through insecurity, unintentional attention-seeking and poor decision-making and in the face of death I didn’t want to be sad or for anyone else to feel sad because of me.  It came to me: The realisation that I had actually lived the least tragic life anyone could have hoped for!  If I’d died then, even if I die today, there will have been no tragedy

Abbey performing stand up

Of course every death is heart breaking and untimely for the person who doesn’t want to die or for the people left behind, that’s a given.  But someone dying a long drawn out death when they’d rather be dead; a death going unnoticed; desperate life decisions leading to untimely deaths; deaths due to poor mental health; violent deaths; children who have so much still to experience or those who have suffered much of their life and didn’t experience how amazing living can be – Those to me are tragic deaths and none of those experiences applied to my life.

“To deny an end of life option makes living so much more painful and scary when you live with death’s presence so close.”

During this ‘awakening’ I read extensively about death and palliative care specialists guided me to books written about facing death. I realised that having no religious faith meant ‘being dead’ was not a scary prospect; there was no ambiguity in my mind.  How I might suffer on the way to death was scary, in-fact it terrified me.

My way of controlling it was to sign up to ‘Dignitas’ in Switzerland where I would be able to travel and be assisted to end my own life, peacefully.  This involved a traumatic conversation with my husband and parents to discuss my wishes and £8000 to cover travel, accommodation, the procedure and a cremation (which would make repatriation easier).

Once this was in place, the relief I felt was immense, indescribable in fact.  I’d spent months agonising over a possible alternative, stockpiling any medication or pain killers that I thought might do the trick, going without sleep and in pain sometimes to be able to do so.  

And so I had ticked something else off my Death List, I wished I’d known to deal with it first off instead of hiding from its darkness, the relief was so impactful on my whole wellbeing. 

  • Death options discussed with family and medical staff, arrangements in place  ✔

People live with physical differences, poor mental health, chronic pain, complex health needs, illness, tragedy, terminal illness and grief and the world as it stands disables so many of us from living life as well as we could. I truly believe, along with every single person I met during my cancer treatment, that to deny this end of life option makes living so much more painful and scary when you live with death’s presence so close.  

After becoming a member of DIGNITAS there is still a long and thorough process to be able to access the service. It includes many in-depth background checks and prerequisites not least the need to be of sound mind and able physically to self administer the drug (and to make the journey to the facility). Also, a member has to have a terminal illness, ‘an unendurable incapacitating disability and/or unbearable or uncontrollable pain’ for access to be granted. I believe the person in pain and/or dying should be able to choose when to end their own suffering and lawmakers should be listening to those people. Before my own terminal diagnosis I shied away from ‘taking a side’ on the assisted suicide debate, now I can say,  when following these guidelines, I support it 100%.

“People nearing the end of life because of illness or age are only in limbo if the rest of the world puts us there.”

During my own misdiagnosis I adopted ‘living with’ as opposed to ‘dying from’. Such a small but crucial phrase to adopt when talking about LIVING WITH illness, even if it is LIFE LIMITING.  The words ‘terminal’ and ‘dying’ sound so painful and final, as if a life has already concluded. ‘End of life’ or ‘palliative care’ mean something very different to me now because of everything I’ve experienced.  Yes, they partly mean, ‘helping to die well’ but far more than that they’re about ‘living well’. 

Sometimes when I was ill, it felt like I’d been written off already, like people were already disinvesting from the REAL me or even that people might be saying over a coffee somewhere, “Did Abbey die yet? Poor Barry, her poor parents. Are you having that slice?” 

It’s not the lack of actual emotion I object to, not at all, it’s the dismissiveness of a life that is still being very much lived, until it’s not.  People nearing the end of life because of illness or age are only in limbo if the rest of the world puts us there.

I’ve learnt that each older person or person living with a complex health need or illness is very much alive, even if they are changed, or not the same, to the outsider.  Everyone feels as alive and as vital as they’d always done and no one wants to be written off, not until they actually stop breathing for good. 

Everyone is dying. I’m still dying, I’m just not living with an illness!

“I made a vow to always keep my work/life balance tipped in favour of life and to only do work that I genuinely enjoy, believe in and that causes a minimum amount of stress.” 

By the time the misdiagnosis news came, we were already in the throes of saying goodbye to all that we loved (and didn’t love) about London. The repercussions of our decision to move to Scotland have been the biggest for Barry who left behind a thriving business that he undersold to set us free to move immediately, in doing so we lost the financial security that we’d been working towards.  But there are many things we cherish about being here and leaving London wasn’t the painful wrench I thought it would be because I’d originally thought I’d be saying goodbye forever. I visit as often as I can.

Abbey on the day of hearing of her misdiagnosis

Being by the sea, next to family and old friends and living a different pace of life, offers us more security.

Whilst my dad and I are still committed to and passionate about writing and illustrating the children’s books we have planned, finding the time to do so is more difficult now that I have to earn a living!  I made a vow to always keep my work/life balance tipped in favour of life and to only do work that I genuinely enjoy, believe in and that causes a minimum amount of stress. 

Barry and I started Tick Tock Together in Scotland. We offer interactive music and drama sessions for children under 5 and bring popular songs and rhymes to life using puppets and role play.  Tick Tock was established in London over 30 years ago by my friend who generously told me when I was moving that I’d be welcome to use it in any way I could.  It fitted with my new specifications for work, something I feel passionate about, that is relatively stress free and where I can connect with people; children in particular.  We’ve realised that we can incorporate some of the important aspects I want our books to include; a fantastical fun adventure for EVERYONE, inclusivity; we have puppets and characters to represent everyone in the world so Old MacDonald is a female farmer; our fairy tales include Queens who are men; we incorporate hearing aids and glasses without them always being the focus and being old or having a complex health need is just part of the norm for our puppets.  We hope this will familiarise children with perceived ‘differences’ so that they can explore and ask questions that they might otherwise not have the chance to ask or have even been told specifically not to! 

Abbey and Barry in action together for Tick Tock

As well as representing ‘every person’ in the sessions we’re trying to make what we do accessible to every person who could benefit from it. So I adapt our shows for much older people and/or people with dementia, or for young people with complex health needs. We think Tick Tock Together is perfect for doing what the name suggests, bringing people together. 

“My family and I have no interest in being angry or trying to lay blame for the secondary cancer misdiagnosis.”

I work for the Royal Voluntary Service running a singing group for folk over 50, one of the highlights of my week, there’s so much laughter, even if it’s at my expense!  Under the Tick Tock Together umbrella I aim to develop intergenerational work and hope to bring together the various groups I work with to contribute to other work happening in Dundee and Angus, all helping to create a ‘caring community’.  

With her singing group the Singing Buddies

I know that pain, in some form, is just around the corner, that’s the nature of having a life that you value and want to live fully, and of having people you love in your life.

I hope that I will be able to handle whatever life throws at me as stoically as I see many of my friends and family deal with life’s rollercoaster. I know that I handled living with cancer pretty well, but I was always sure the suffering was far worse for my loved ones and of course I was pretty fit and well and able to still enjoy life fully when I was ‘dying’.   

Every day I try to see people that I love and that I think I can give love to, and I choose to try to enjoy what is now, instead of being fearful of what the future might be.

I will be forever grateful to everyone who held me and my loved ones through that particular crisis in our lives and I hope I am moving forward in a way that my dying self would approve of!

My family and I have no interest in being angry or trying to lay blame for the secondary cancer misdiagnosis.  We understand that as badly as we may want it to be, medical science is not 100% reliable. We continue to be eternally grateful for the NHS and will fight in any way we can to prevent its continuing privatisation.

Pass it on:

Who would make brilliant guests on the Muse? Please suggest up to 3 people with their Instagram and Twitter handles and we’ll invite them to join us.

Marnie Baxter– My friend Marnie is an actress and her first short film, Bad Mother, that she co-wrote and directed, did really well last year winning several awards.  Instagram: @eidlass78

Fi Munro – Fi, whose blog is included in my list above, is incredible. She’s living with ovarian cancer and has written books including How Long Have I Got?  Her motto is ‘live like you are dying’ which, in her words means: ‘Embrace today. Live for the moment. Stop worrying about the future. Focus on today. Laugh more. Take the risks. Follow your dreams. Be unashamedly you. Make the day good.’   She’s fierce, funny, truly inspirational and says fuck plenty. 

Some of the books and organisations that help Abbey to live well are listed below:,_Death_and_the_Tulip

In Her Words…. Not buying new

Jade gave up buying new clothes over a year ago.  She launched @notbuyingnew on Instagram to document her ‘struggles’ to give up fast fashion and uses the platform to share what she has learnt about unethical and unsustainable fashion brands.

“For years I’d been feeling guilty about the amount of stuff I was buying. I found that especially after becoming a mother, l’d got a bit lost style-wise and was just buying bags and bags of new clothes to try and feel a little bit more like myself.  Of course, that didn’t happen and instead I just felt guilty about the money spent and the waste. l’d set myself mini- challenges such as ‘nothing new for a month’ but failed over and over again.

At some point I cleaned my wardrobe out and whilst I looked at the huge pile of clothes on the bed, I cried.  I came across the idea of #project333 and decided to give it a go.  It was 33 items of clothing for 3 months.  It seemed achievable -and it was.

During those 3 months, I really learnt how to live with less and what’s more – I enjoyed it.  I loved getting creative with wearing the same clothes differently and really began to appreciate each item. I bought some clothes second-hand and realised that I could buy much better quality if I looked hard enough and was patient.

I also watched a few great documentaries about fashion’s impact on the environment and the unethical treatment of people in the supply chain. Everything seemed to come together in my mind and I knew that I would never be able to buy fast fashion again.

Since then, l’ve been learning how to care for my clothing so it lasts longer (aiming for #30 Plus wears) and l’ve been learning about different fabrics. My style is slowly evolving because I’m choosing with longevity in mind, but I’d like to hope that it still retains something individual.

I now have a seasonal capsule wardrobe of mostly secondhand clothing and I’ve not bought anything new for over a year.   I’ve actually found the process enlightening, creative and pretty joyous!

My instagram page inspires me to keep going. There are definitely days where I can’t be bothered to take a photo of my clothes and feel a bit absurd writing about myself but I get messages from people saying I’ve helped inspire them to change their own-shopping habits and I know that it’s worthwhile. Also, in the early days when I found giving up shopping really hard, I felt accountable because of my Instagram followers and this helped me stay on track.

@notbuyingnew Instagram
@notbuyingnew – Instagram

I’m constantly learning too, and that’s a great motivator. I’m currently doing a @fash_rev course called ‘Fashion’s Future: The Sustainable Development Goals’ and I’m feeling inspired. I’ll keep sharing what I find out on Instagram. Also, other accounts such as @ethicalunicorn and @aconsideredlife are challenging and thought provoking.

I’m currently really enjoying some collaborating with some brands. I’m working with @blackandsigi on their #basrevival collection -turning broken or un-loved jewellery into something new and beautiful. I’ve also just done some work with @barnardos who are encouraging people to avoid ‘wear-it-once’ fashion for summer events like weddings. I’m really open to working with others, sharing their sustainable efforts and spreading the word. In an ideal word, l’d love to work with@Venetiafalconer and @liviafirth – both are incredible women who really deserve the title of ‘influencer.’ They are bold, brave and smart.

The best piece of advice I received when I started @notbuyingnew was from my husband who said, ‘just keep posting every day’. I think I’ve been able to grow and learn because I’ve been really engaged with the Instagram sustainable community. By posting everyday, I’ve developed followers, friends and, in the same way ‘just putting one step in front of the other’ helps you move forward.

I’m most proud of my number of Instagram followers. This sounds shallow but it’s really not about my ego. When I watch my numbers grow, I know that more people are searching out information about giving up fast fashion. I know the thirst for more sustainable fashion is growing and I’m truly honoured to be part of some people’s journey to a less wasteful wardrobe.

The biggest challenge I face on a daily basis is trying not to listen to the constant advertising and marketing from fast fashion brands. No matter how much I unsubscribe, I still get emails daily, catalogues through my front door, posters on my commute, adverts on the TV. It seems like everywhere I go, someone is trying to sell me clothes – often by making me feel bad about myself. The resistance is getting easier. I saw a brand selling a bikini for £I this week and it made me feel sick. How can workers be fairly paid? How can the fabric manufacturers be fairly paid? How well is that item going to last? How can people appreciate the item when it lost the same as a chocolate bar? (not even to mention that the fabric is plastic based and so will be around a long time). Oh, sorry, rant over…

I’m no longer chasing the image of the person I wanted to be, l’m content because the clothes I’ve chosen are sustainable and have caused less harm. I don’t have the best clothes, l’m never the best dressed but l’ve realised that really doesn’t matter. I’m passing on the message to both my children and I hope the respect for the environment and other people, most of whom you’ll never meet, will stay with them.

The Fashion Industry must become more transparent. When we have a true reflection of the waste and unethical treatment of workers, we’ll see the fast-faction industry for what it really is -toxic. Brands will be forced to make changes and the way we consume will be forever changed. Let’s not let them get away with “green-washing’ and pretending they are really sustainable. Let’s force them to tell us If they are paying a living wage across all stages of production, how much clothing is being dumped and burned because it hasn’t sold? How much polyester is being used in our clothes and the polluting our water supply or sitting in landfill? If we saw these answers, we might force them to change.

The easiest thing that everyone can do to lead a more sustainable life is to wear what you already own. You can stay on-trend by re-styling what you already have. If you need anything else, borrow or buy secondhand. Check my Instagram page for a mini directory of online secondhand stores if you don’t have much time, or aren’t able to visit charity shops.

If you want to make changes to your buying habits, it’s ok to start small and it’s ok not to be perfect. Buy less, buy secondhand if you can, buy from sustainable and ethical brands and wear everything you own already. I’ve started counting the wears and I’m aiming for #30 plus wears. You might be amazed at how long that takes. I think, even with a capsule wardrobe, most items will take 2- 3 years to get 30 wears.”

Right now l’m…

Watching –  Years and Years on iPlayer. It’s not the best thing I’ve ever watched but it’s definitely an eye-opener when it comes to thinking about the near-future dystopia unfolding before our eyes.

Reading –  I’ve just finished reading Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. It was Incredible! Honestly, it was one of the most unique narrative voices I’ve ever read and I was completely absorbed. Next on my reading list is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, which is a classic that I’ve been wanting to read for years.

Listening to –  The Guilty Feminist podcast. I’ve listened to the podcast for a while and recently went to the live show and felt so passionate and supercharged by the show.  She recently interviewed @larkrisepictures who was part of an all-woman expedition documenting plastic in the ocean. I cannot wait to listen to that episode!

Pass it on…
Who would you most like to see featured on this blog?  Please suggest 3 people with their Instagram or Twitter handles:


In Her Words… My Abortion

linksoflondon2Harriet Shearsmith is the creator behind Toby&Roo, an award-winning parenting and lifestyle blog aimed at sharing the wins and woes of parenthood. Living in the North Yorkshire countryside with her husband (@tobyandroodad) and three feral children (four if you count Yoda the dog who even has his own Instagram account) she is a self confessed coffee addict, nerf gun ninja and all out bad ass when it comes to hide and seek. You can find Harriet on her blog here and her Instagram here.

As an advocate for women’s rights and someone who claims to be stoically pro choice, I always wrote about abortion from the other side of the table, the lucky side, the side that hadn’t had first hand experience. That is, until I wasn’t writing about it as an outsider, but as one of the club, one of the women who had made the difficult decision to have a termination for all the reasons that made sense but didn’t necessarily help make it any easier.

I didn’t have an abortion recently either, this is a throwback to dark times three years ago and yet I still haven’t been able to talk about my experience first hand. For three years I’ve defended the right to have a termination – for whatever reason – but never actually felt like I could declare I had been through it myself. Friends who have confided in me, like they are admitting something shameful and harmful have been met with my kindness but never an admission, even though I could give one. I couldn’t find the words to say that I had been there. I couldn’t do it through a fear of being judged and because everything was so raw for so long. Termination is so shrouded in guilt and shame that even when we so firmly believe that it is a woman’s right not to have to continue with a pregnancy, not to become an incubator without thought or feeling, we struggle to make peace with it ourselves.  That is society’s fault, it is the fault of lawmakers and religious nuts who hide behind politics and religion to control. That is not on us.

This is my story of abortion.

The pill and the coil had had really negative impacts on my health in the past and I was still breastfeeding so I was incredibly limited as to what contraception I could take, so Adam and I decided to use family planning. It had worked for us in the past, only falling pregnant when we weren’t really trying to prevent and were happy to go with the flow. This time however, we had a pregnancy scare and I was mortified. We both were. Edith was 8 months old, we had 3 children 4 and under and there was no way, not a chance, that we were ready to welcome another life. Not for my mental or physical health with a tenuous section scar or Adam’s. No.

So onto the pill I went. Turns out that pregnancy scare? We will never know if it was a scare or just missed because I was so early, but 6 weeks later, a completely normal period and 6 weeks of taking the progesterone only pill, I was pregnant. Shit. We made the decision that I would visit the doctor and take what is affectionately termed the ‘abortion pill’.  Nice.  At the time I was showing as only 2-4 weeks pregnant so in theory we had caught this early enough, despite the failed pill and there would be no heartbeat and the tablets would be the simplest and most effective way to end a pregnancy without too much trauma.  A scan would determine whether or not I could have these tablets – which I would later find out have varying levels of effectiveness from 20% to 80% depending on which ones you wanted to take, which is a testament to how very shit our system is in supporting the women that need this: ‘it ain’t very effective, love, but it’s your fault you’re pregnant so you should suffer through this first’ is the undeniable subtext here and no one will ever convince me otherwise.
I wasn’t only 2-4 weeks, I was 6 weeks.  I sat, alone because Adam didn’t take time off work for the appointment – didn’t want to explain what was going on in order to ask for time off… after all, it wasn’t really his problem now was it? That is how it felt at the time – perhaps that wasn’t fair, distancing yourself is a good tool of self preservation, but at the time the toll it took on our relationship was huge. I took the tablets, first one and then after 6 hours another. I drove home alone, despite a warning on the tablets to have someone with you – there was no one, Adam went to football because he didn’t want to think about what I was doing, needed a bit of space. It’s one thing in our marriage that I don’t think I will ever forgive him for, but it’s a shining example of how men view abortion and why the laws in some countries are the way they are: it’s not my problem.  Even when they love you. It’s just not their problem. You are the one who is pregnant now, despite their involvement.

The tablets, which should have stopped the pregnancy and made me bleed so heavily that I felt sluggish and ill for days, failed. They failed. At 13 weeks and 2 days I went for a scan to ensure that the tablets had worked but they hadn’t, there was a foetus – a baby that had a heart beat and a 98% chance of having some kind of life limiting birth defect, that couldn’t possibly be discovered until 20 weeks, even with all the tests in the world. A combination of taking these tablets to end pregnancy and continuing with the progesterone only pill meant that the chances that this baby could survive and be born healthy were nill and if they did survive? The impact that would have on our family was not something that I was willing to place on my living children when the decision had been made weeks before, not something I intended to spend my life beating myself up over for choosing to end a pregnancy and it failing, so bringing a life I had damaged into the world.  No way.

I had to go through it all again, but this time an invasive operation that I had taken the tablets to avoid. The first time I thought I had grieved for what we both felt we couldn’t keep, but this time was different. Again, Adam didn’t get the time off work, he says he asked but I will be blunt, I never believed that he did and I don’t think that is unfair. It’s a self protective mechanism isn’t it? To distance yourself, to walk away. I try hard not to blame him for that, not to resent the fact that I felt so alone because, realistically, if he had been there I would have felt so alone anyway. You are alone in that decision. You don’t get that luxury of walking away from it or separating yourself when it’s in your body which is why the choice should always, unequivocally, be yours.

At this point the pregnancy was too far along to perform the D&C without a general aesthetic, so that is what happened, I remember such kindness and compassion from the staff – they didn’t judge, they were probably the only ones – as much as my mum said she didn’t, I always felt she did deep down and friends didn’t know.  I didn’t tell anyone until months after.  I remember waking up and I had been crying in my sleep, the nurse who handed me a glass was the same one who gave me the tablets in the previous clinic and she told me that they were ineffective but that they weren’t really allowed to tell women that. Great stuff.

I came home and Adam came back from work, he tried so so hard to be there, to make up for NOT being there when I really needed him but it was a bit little too late.  At 13 weeks, I didn’t really want to end that pregnancy at all.  That’s the truth. That’s what stings.  I did what was right at the time, I know that, it was right for my mental and physical health, right for my husband and right for my children, but it was not something I wanted to do.  It was something I thought I was preventing, something I took steps to prevent.
For weeks afterwards I would cry, sporadically. It damaged my relationship for a time and it damaged me in more ways than I care to admit.

Abortion is not the kind of thing that a woman (or most women) do flippantly.  The other 5 women in the room with me post D&C were all being collected by husbands or long term partners and every single one already had children but had made this decision for all the reasons that they felt were right. In fact, statistically, more than half of women who have abortions already have children and the majority of abortions carried out in the UK are on women in their thirties who have made a conscious and well-balanced decision.

Abortion clinics aren’t like you see on the TV, they are filled with women who are having this procedure for a number of reasons – they have no other options because the foetus isn’t viable, there is an issue with their health or mental health, they don’t have the house space for another child… so many reasons, but these were not teenagers who just couldn’t be arsed to get themselves on the pill – that is not the case.  For some, it’s just not the right time for a plethora of reasons and surely, surely that is better than birthing an unwanted child and placing it in a system that just doesn’t care.  I remember saying to a friend that I had been for a D&C and instantly her response was to assume that I’d had another miscarriage and it was something that I would be sad about, struggling with. It was, but for very different reasons, which only made me feel more alone and more ashamed.

I wanted to share my story, my personal experience for a few reasons – it’s cathartic to write about it is certainly one reason to write about it, but more than that, I wanted women who had been through the experience to know that they aren’t alone.

Statistically, one in three women will have a termination at some point in their lives but it is so rare that we talk about it.  They aren’t the only ones who have been there, who have found themselves in the position of not wanting to have a termination but feeling that there are no other options. Of choosing their living family, the ones that need them now over the potential life.  I wanted to share this because it’s an experience that so many women, far more than I ever would have expected, have been in these shoes but feel so very alone. The fear, the guilt and the self judgement are far worse than anything religious nuts or crazy pro-life activists can throw at you.

Talk about your experience and DON’T judge yourself.  You did what was right for your family, just like I did what was right for mine.
H x

body positivity

This article has been adapted from Harriet’s blog where she first posted it earlier this year.

Pass It on:
Please nominate up to three women that you’d like to see featured on The Muse

I love reading these three strong women’s posts on insta and beyond and the kindness that they truly practice and preach behind the scenes:

Hannah Flemming – @hibabyblog
Dommy Crick – @milk.mutha
Candice Braithwaite – @candicebraithwaite

A Letter To… my mum by Jo Olney


Mum (right), 1968
It’s been one year since The Muse launched and almost everyone I have mentioned the blog to has given the same reply… “You’ve got to feature your mum! Mother to seven women, SEVEN!”.

So, Mum, here goes…

A Letter to my mum

Dear Mum,

There’s nothing quite like treading your own path as a mother to make you reflect on your own dear mum. As you lay your head on your pillow only to hear the baby start up again, as you breastfeed whilst enjoying the spoils of norovirus, as you wipe another bum, another tear, another yoghurt splattered floor and think, my mum did all this – and she did it in days before dishwashers, iPhones, Ella’s Kitchen, disposable nappies and wipes (and yes, I know many people manage fine without these things, but I am not one). So first off, let me say thank you. When I think of all I do for my babes and think of what you did for us, THANK YOU! Lord knows it’s a largely thankless experience, but let it be known that I am SO thankful – for the birthing, the feeding, the clean clothes, the nursing, the teaching, the encouragement, the love.

In so many ways you set the bar high; you made our school dresses, you won every mothers’ race on sports day, you read to us every night even though you nodded off mid-story, you returned to work after raising us all and caring for your mum and you can turn out a mean roast for 20 people at the drop of a hat.

Mama G
Mum with six of us, that’s me at the bottom.
But do you know one of the things I am most thankful for? It’s that you let us see you lose it, that you got cross, and told us to shut up when we were bickering and later apologised for it. That you got stressed driving us around when we were scrapping furiously in the back! Every day there are moments when I regret the way I handled something with the kids and I am so glad you kept it real. I know that it is fine not to love every minute, to lose it, and to believe that when things get bad, it’ll get good again.

I can’t talk about my thanks to you without mentioning the birth of my sweet firstborn. What a long old night that was. That shock of your first. You gave me the confidence to believe I could have my baby at home and you were the one by my side as the seemingly endless night became day, telling me I could do it, and I did. And as we went off to the hospital to check on our poor meconium ingested babe, who stayed home to restore order? You, dear mum. Leaving a clean tidy home to return to and a note I will always treasure thanking us for letting you share in that experience. From that day your greatest gift to me has been to trust my instinct and make my own way.

Mama G and me
Me and my mum
But I feel it is selfish to keep all the wisdom of Mama G to myself, so I have a few things I’d love to ask if you’re game:

Going back to work – back at my desk after my third maternity leave, trying to find my feet and my voice again, I am even more in awe that you returned to work after a 15 year break. Was that hard? Did you struggle to find the confidence? If you did, I never knew.

I always had in my mind the idea that, at some point, I would like to return to teaching in some capacity. I remember walking as a new first time mum past a noisy school playground and thinking that I missed that environment. I didn’t think then that it would be seven children and so many years later before I took that step back to work!

To build my confidence I initially worked as a teaching assistant, gradually building my experience by working in three different schools, with pupils with a range of needs. So it was a gradual process back to teacher status and finally to coordinating the special needs provision in one of the schools.

Then it was the juggling act with which so many women are familiar, trying to run a home, meet the needs of family (including my elderly mother) and go to work!

2017 vs 1977 – I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on my generation of parents, so many books to read, so many labels to give yourself and rods to make for your own back depending on whether you choose to sleep train, baby led wean, bottle feed or cloth bum, work or not work. I love Instagram, but as a parent you have a much wider circle of women to compare yourself to and we are not always the kindest on ourselves. Are we all overthinking it? Did people just get on and raise their kids back in the 70s?

I think your last comment is quite accurate and there was really no option but to ‘just get on and raise your kids’ back in the 70s’. You are also right that there is a lot of pressure on parents now for the reasons you give. It was such a different world then. When we brought our eldest home from hospital in 1972 there were no car seats. I sat in the back of our tiny Austin A35 with her on my lap!  We had no phone or television in the house. There were no disposable nappies and most babies started off wearing terry towelling nappies and soft cotton nighties, as babygros were only just starting to appear.

Hugh Jolly Book of Child CareThere were a few child care books to which people referred. Probably the most well known was ‘The Book of Child Care’ by Hugh Jolly. (So very dated now!) There were clinics that babies were taken to where there were health visitors, but I didn’t find them very helpful. Unlike you, I was not bombarded with a confusing array of ‘methods’ on how to raise your baby and decided very quickly that no one knew my baby like I did and rightly or wrongly, followed my instincts. I didn’t have use of a car at home in the day time, so just got together with friends in a similar situation, or visited my parents who lived nearby in the early years. There were no baby classes to attend.

I’m sure that there are good things about the vast array of baby activities that are available now and indeed the choice of equipment. You are right, however, that there is the danger of feeling inadequate if you don’t join in all these things, or can’t afford to. Similarly the range of baby equipment is overwhelming. I certainly did not have the pressure to be seen with the ‘right’ pram of an acceptable make.

When does it get easier? – With a 5 year old, 4 year old and 1 year old, I’ve never felt more in the thick of it. This stage of motherhood is so physically demanding and exhausting, but is this the hardest bit? How do different stages of motherhood compare? My fear is that it is harder when they leave home and you’re just left worrying about them.

A dear friend said to me in my early days as a mother that ‘every age has it’s compensations’ and I have found that to be true.

There are many advantages of having a large family one of them being that you learn that challenging phases actually pass very quickly. The demands of a new born or the challenges of a toddler are gone in a flash and that recognition can change the way you approach things. You can even learn to appreciate and enjoy these aspects of a child’s development!

I certainly remember having four children aged five and under as being the most demanding time! Getting a five year old to the school bus stop at the right time every morning with three others in tow was very challenging!

In some respects with young children, it does get easier when they are old enough to play cooperatively. When subsequent children arrived there was more choice of playmates, which may be easier than having two who can’t stand each other! I felt that falling out with others within the security of a family was a good preparation for the harsher elements awaiting at school and beyond.

I never did find the teenage years to be the ‘terrible teens’ (although the ‘A’ level years had their challenges!). Perhaps there was safety in numbers and I watched with pride as you all became the wonderful women that you are today. Does it get easier? No it does not! Being in control of things when you were little was probably the easiest bit. Then you have to let your adult children go with love. Once you are a mother you are a mother for life and their pain is your pain whatever their age.

The sisterhood
The sistehood
Your village – One thing I observe in our generation is that there’s a well-trodden path for a lot of parents on leave – NCT to make friends, playgroups, baby sensory, baby swimming, baby signing, baby yoga. How did you meet other mums? I guess we are making our own urban village now, whereas maybe you had an actual real village of support!

In the absence of all the baby classes and groups, my ‘village’ consisted of family, friends and good neighbours. Sunday lunch was often a way we got together with our friends who had young families like us. After lunch we would all visit a local playground or park or walk in the woods.

No one really had a large network of mum friends and I was content to be in touch with our friends who were in a similar situation to us at that time. There were no mobile phones of course and not everyone had a phone in their house. It could be quite an effort to be in touch with people if you had to walk to the local phone box!

Raising women – Being a mother to seven women, did it feel like a big responsibility at the time to be our role model as a woman? Did you have a sense of how you wanted us to grow up?

I don’t think that I actually focussed on the fact that I was being your role model. Had I thought of it like that it would probably have been rather overwhelming! I was always aware of the times when I fell short of my own standards of parenting and I hope I always apologised at the end of a bad day for being a grumpy old cross patch!  Fortunately children are very forgiving and always seemed to forget about these things long before I did.

In answer to your question, yes I did have a sense of how I wanted you to grow up. I am sure you would all have a different take on how successful I was with this!

As you became adults I did try to dissuade you (not always successfully!) from making permanent changes that you may regret.( e.g. hair dying fine, but tattoos to be avoided!) Also, to be blunt, I really hated the idea of one of my daughters being someone’s one night stand. I decided that you have to have faith in the effort you have put in when raising your children and I would tell them that I trusted them to do the right thing. I was told years later that that approach had been more effective than threats!

I wanted you all to feel good about the amazing women that you are, although sadly there were inevitable wobbles along the way. Self worth is so important.  I knew that if you believed in yourselves you could achieve your ambitions, do a job that you wanted to do and you would also know that you deserved lovely friends and a kind respectful partner.

I am so proud that the sisterhood is strong and that you will always support each other.

I also wanted you to grow up secure in the knowledge that the love your dad and I feel for you all is totally unconditional. While we are able, we will always be there for you all and our beautiful grand children.

I will always consider my seven amazing daughters as my greatest achievement in life.  I love you all.

Mum and Dad with two of their nine grandchildren
Mum and Dad with two of their nine grandchildren.

In Her Words…. Sarah Topping

sarah-t-the-museSarah Topping is a freelance creative copywriter at Playing with Words. She lives in London with her husband, son and more books than they currently have room for.

The Child that Books Built

Last week I asked my four-year-old what he’d like to be when he grows up.

‘A SPACESHIP!’ he cried.
‘You mean a spaceman?’ I asked.
‘No! A rocket launcher!’ he replied.
‘Okay . . .’ says I, ‘anything else?’
‘A caroderodontasaurus!’ he exclaimed, before running off.
‘Okay,’ I said again, before Googling the above and calling after him ‘It’s carcharodontosaurus!’ (but 10/10 for even knowing what one is).

Aside from the fact it’s physically impossible for him to be either of these things, I like his enthusiasm. As my parents wished for me and my brother, I wish for him to be whatever he wants, as long as it makes him happy. Though not a drug addict. Or a criminal. Dream big, little one, and see where it takes you. Because you never know, one day, that thing you loved so much as a kid could become your career, if all the necessary ingredients fall into place to make your dream happen.


In these increasingly fathomless and downright scary times we face whenever we see the news, I’ve been thinking about dreams a lot; specifically, escapism. I’ve deleted the Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone because the bombardment of incomprehensible news is too much. And when it comes to escapism, I’ve realised how fortunate I am. I deal in escapism on a daily basis, for I am an avid, ardent, hopelessly devoted lover of books and reading. I thank my lucky stars this is the case. On the day things here began to seem so weird and uncertain, June 24th 2016, I found myself sitting on our sofa clutching this pile of books with an ice-cold G&T in my hands. I held them and concentrated very hard on what they represent. On this day that was so fuelled by lies and scaremongering, to me, these books stood for imagination and magic and humour and kindness and charm, wonder and adventure.

It helps to seek comfort in what you love, so I found reaching for the bookshelves a natural thing to do. But where did it begin? I have my parents, my English teachers and professors, and without a doubt, my school library and our local village library to thank for fostering and encouraging in me this unconditional love of stories and words (and spelling. Oh, spelling!). The hours I spent in that old Grade II listed building, with its nooks and crannies perfect for curling up in, with a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys or Point Horror, Sweet Valley High, Adrian Mole, Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton to name a few, are immeasurable. I didn’t know it then, as a frizzy haired kid with crooked teeth, but one day, my access to so many authors and illustrators and their imagined worlds would very much become my reality.

Because now, it is my pleasure and privilege to not only be a lover of books, but to have made books my career. For ten years, I worked at Penguin Books in London, moving from Penguin to Puffin and what is now Penguin Random House Children’s. When I see that Penguin or Puffin on book spines’, I see in my mind a place where book magic is made. A place where I spent hours surrounded by books, thinking about books, writing copy for and talking about books. When I read picture books with my son, I don’t just see the names of certain authors and illustrators; I remember a train journey I took with them or seeing them draw live at an event (yes, it’s Quentin Blake I’m thinking of here and it will forever be a Total. Life. Highlight.).


As someone who adores books, you can guess what a special place it was to be. Since becoming a freelance creative copywriter in 2014, I have delved into the wonderful world of Harry Potter via Pottermore, I’ve discovered How to Train Your Dragon, written about motherhood for Ladybird and how to celebrate World Book Day. I’ve happily revisited the worlds of the BFG, Matilda, Charlie et al, amongst many other delightful projects, for both adult and kids’ books. I’m not throwing these names around lightly either, please know that. I’m more than a little overwhelmed to know that this year, my blurbs will feature on some of Enid Blyton’s most iconic series’; stories I still have the bumper hardback editions of, complete with sellotaped spines and inscriptions from my family wishing me luck in my 1988 ballet exam. For that little girl, whose recently rediscovered 1988 school report notes ‘Sarah is a keen reader. She always has her nose in a book’, it’s a childhood dream come true.


It is a special and privileged thing to be able to do what you love, and love what you do. I know that. This is why, taking all of the above into account, it’s so unbelievably sad and frustrating that libraries up and down the country are faced with cuts and closures. Talented and dedicated librarians are losing their jobs and future generations of readers are being punished. And it truly is a punishment, when these community spaces are not valued enough for what they offer everyone who steps inside and into a room filled with shelves of life-enhancing information and imagination enriching stories. Beyond that, they are being denied the experience of these books; yes, an eBook is convenient. But what about the smell and feel of the physical book? Beautiful, enchanting illustrations that sweep you away? You can’t lovingly smooth the pages on the Kindle app. Tap vs touch; it doesn’t compare.

Yesterday this quote by Professor Stephen Krashen, illustrated by Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell, made me stop and stare. So simple, and so true. ‘Reading for pleasure, reading for life.’ It strikes such a chord because I am a case in point. I was, and still am, lucky enough to have access to so many books, as does my son and our new baby will too. I cannot imagine my life, or my children’s lives, without books. I’m so delighted when I see my little boy independently sitting with a book in his lap, gazing at the pictures and ‘reading’ the words he knows well, or when he asks me at 6.30am for a story. Well, obviously not delighted straight away because I’m so bleary-eyed, but once I’ve had coffee the answer is yes. It could never not be.


When it comes to reading, the doors it opens can’t be underestimated. And a love of reading cannot be supported if library doors are being slammed shut. ‘Ssssssshhh, we’re in a library!’ is a fond and familiar refrain, for these are places to be treated with respect and love. But there’s nothing to be quiet about when it comes to saving our libraries. Never mind ‘Sssssshhh!’. It needs to be a deafening roar.

Right Now I’m…
Reading: Most recently I loved Little Deaths by Emma Flint – devastating, mesmerising and I’ll have to read again, and Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough – can’t stop thinking about the ending.
And when it comes to children’s books, the top five picture books we return to time and again are Kicking a Ball by Allan Ahlberg and Sebastien Braun, Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants by Giles Andreae and Korky Paul, Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton, Something Else by Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell and Captain Jack and the Pirates by Peter Bently and Helen Oxenbury.

Listening to: The ‘Hypnobirthing Relaxation Audio Colour and Calmness’ app with Katharine Graves.

Watching: The last series I binge-watched was The Missing series two, v chilling. And over Christmas we watched Hunt for the Wilderpeople on Netflix and I’ve been recommending it to anyone who’ll listen ever since.

Pass it On…  Nominate up to three women that you’d like to see featured on The Muse:
Katya Shipster @chaletdesoie
Katya is Deputy Publicity Director at Michael Joseph, mother of two small boys and co-owner of the stunning Chalet de Soie in Morzine, which she and her husband renovated from the ground up in 2013, whilst living and working full-time in London.

Helen King
Helen is the former Head of Education at the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre and Head of Campaigns for the National Crime Agency. Helen is now Director of External Relations for Pause, which works to help women who have had multiple children removed, as well as being mum to four young children. That phrase ‘I don’t know how she does it?’ Totally applies to Helen.

Shannon Cullen @imwreckedmother
Shannon is a Publishing Director at Penguin Random House Children’s, mother of two and her brilliant new book, I’m Wrecked, This is My Journal, which she recently wrote on maternity leave with her newborn son, publishes in March.

In Her Words… by Jo Olney


Jo Olney is one of seven sisters, mother to 3 children and works as a digital marketer in the world of children’s publishing.  She is also co-founder of The Muse.

On Marching

As the fifth of seven children, I’m a natural born diplomat. Happier to maintain the order and keep all parties happy, than speak out at the risk of upsetting others. The last time I think I was actively engaged in a movement, was after watching Free Willy and finding myself enraged at the plight of the orca. I may have done a sponsored silence in their honour. So, it came as something of a surprise to find myself at the women’s march on London with tears pricking my eyes, seeing thousands of people united in love trumping hate, in upholding dignity and equality for all, and determined to safeguard our freedoms and our rights.

Women’s March on London

When I became a mother 5 and a half years ago, I looked my tiny girl in the eye and promised her, as I’m sure all parents do, that I would love her, care for her, give her the best I could in every way. The world was her oyster. Her gender never even crossed my mind to be a barrier to be overcome, that she’d ever grow up in a world where she had more to prove than her male counterparts to achieve the same – maybe I was naïve.

Olive and her Girls Rock! placard

Flo on Jo’s shoulder (let’s have a  moment for those panda gloves)

Being one of seven sisters I had a ready-made sisterhood. I don’t ever recall being aware of my gender in any way other than it being a fact – yes I am a woman, and? With so many kids, my parents were equally hands on, quite literally as I recall hair washing night! And beyond that early sisterhood, my career in publishing has been so female-dominated that 14 years in and I’m yet to report into a man. That gives a certain false sense of security perhaps. Until of course you attempt to work flexibly, and depressingly my sector was no more flexible than many others, at which point you see the talent haemorrhage out of the building at around the age of 35.

Jo and Dan with Olive

So it was with some embarrassment that I tried to explain to my 5 year old why I thought we needed to go and march in London on Saturday. To explain that a man who was publicly mean to women (massive understatement, clearly), to the disabled, to pretty much anyone not exactly like himself, so much so he wanted to build a wall to stop others coming in, was now President of the United States. To explain that some people think that women are not as good as men, that they shouldn’t earn the same money for doing the same job, that some girls don’t get to go to school and learn like she does and that we needed to march and say this is not ok. I was thinking she kind of got it, that all people are human and all humans are equal, until she countered, “No they’re not, statues are not human”. So yep, we still have some work to do.

The Olney family march London

So off we set, my husband and I, with a 5 year old, 3 year old and 1 year old, and not without trepidation. Kids walking in the cold rarely ends happily for us, but they were amazing because the whole damn vibe was amazing. That feeling of the power of unity, of standing together, of not just being a witness, but taking part and being counted. And as we stood in the sunshine in Trafalgar Square and she sounded out, as 5 year olds do, the placard resting on the lion “I. Am. Woman. Hear me ROAR!” To which she and her sister of course both ROARED, I felt those tears pricking again. I felt hope that their future would be good, that their generation would keep pushing on and making this world one of fairness and tolerance and kindness, celebrating our differences and not letting them divide us. I hope that as they sat on our shoulders looking out over the crowds, somewhere in their hearts and minds we planted something of an understanding that we are all citizens in this society and it is our responsibility to change it. But I also very much hope that 30 years from now, they’re not getting their placards out for this shit because I did not think in 2017 a pussy grabbing president could even be a reality and I sure as hell hope in 2047 it isn’t.

Right Now I’m…
Reading: The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson
Watching: I’ve just been to see La La Land
Listening to: Kisstory

Pass it On:
(Please nominate up to three people that you’d like to see featured on The Muse)
Sophy Henn: @sophyhenn – Whose latest character Edie would definitely have been marching on Saturday!
Sarah Topping: @sarahtopping3 – An ex colleague and good friend, Sarah is an exceptional copy writer

In Her Words… by Ann Eve

Ann EveAnn Eve is currently working with two of her favourite things: food and people helping each other out.  Communicating the good work that food charities do. She also enjoys mags, laughing too loudly, kitchen dancing, greyhounds and her two lovely kids.


A mixed ability martial arts class in Kent was not where I expected to experience a mental health epiphany.

I’d started going to martial arts to get fit, get strong and learn how to hit things.

I can barely tell my left from my right.  I have no co-ordination.  I don’t like touching people.  

First lesson: stare an unfamiliar man in the eye whilst running my hand along his sweaty inner arm, from wrist to bicep, then mock hitting him in the temple.  I would cringe, flail, apologise, get it wrong, pretend laugh at myself, make a joke.  “It’s okay, you’re learning”, I heard again, and again, and again. I loved learning how to hit, kick, defend myself.  I loved the beauty of the practice sequences and the crack when you accurately landed a punch in a mitt.

Our teacher, John, isn’t quite sure of my name (I go with a friend.  We look and sound similar).  When he’s tired, he expostulates.  I want to hit things.  In this hierarchical system, I have to listen actively and with intention.  I sigh about that.

Back in February 2015, I left a comfy job of 11 years.  The field was academic psychology.   We’d tease each other with mock diagnoses of addiction to hot sauce or booze, of obsessive desk-tidying or propensity to collect small change.  Gallows humour to help us deal with some of the sad, sad stories we’d read every day.

I’d read a lot of psychological questionnaires, designed to probe people to (unwittingly) divulge symptoms of depression, psychosis, addiction, anxiety.  Definitions of anxiety would come just that little too close for comfort.  My inability to stop worrying was only because of our awful, angry, noisy downstairs neighbours; becoming easily irritable – well, two small children. Feeling nervous for more than two weeks? Money. Inability to sit still? Just a fidget, always a fidget! And who’d blame me for being irritable and anxious at home?  Our building of twenty-eight flats managed one double murder, one unfortunately successful suicide and an electrical fire by our front door that left us without electricity and water for five days.

Robbie the DogOne year later, 25 miles and a world away from that fucking building, and then away from academia and my colleagues, my friends.  My desk was now the kitchen table and my only colleague a retired greyhound called Robbie.  I had the job I’d longed for, events and PR for a company that I’d admired for years.  Working in food, being around the kids more, no commuting! No more office politics and sad stories! Now in a house!  No drunk and incoherent neighbours!  No crime scene tape!

Despite being away from all this, I still couldn’t relax.  Every infraction would be given a catastrophic end point; leaving out the milk meant wasting money and environmental disaster; my kids back chatting me meant they’d walk all over us in the future.  I’d shriek and shout, boiling into rages, swearing and slamming doors.

John the Martial Arts instructor is flexing his considerable bicep.  “This is not strength, this is tension”.  Releasing the crunch in his arm, he swings his body back over his left hip, leaning his weight back.  His eyes seem to shut, but they are focussed on the boxing mitt ahead.  His left arm now sailing through the air, feet, legs, hips, core, chest, neck, head, all spiralling towards the mitt. As his gloved hand meets the crash pad, the black belt holding it is spun 180 degrees to his left.  “That is strength.  To be strong you need to be calm, be in control, and flexible.  Tension is not strength”.

Working in psychology didn’t help me to see what was plainly in front of me.  Putting myself in the position of novice & least able was what I needed.  Add to the mix a husband who supports me and is my champion.  

Familiarity with the science of anxiety and mental health issues was the foundation. We’ve all got out issues.  John’s martial arts advice was my epiphany.  Now I meditate, I’ve tried to get to what I wasn’t dealing with (work! money! ambition!), I make exercise as important as feeding my family or changing the sheets.


Now when we practice hooks my arm curves through the air, my gaze is on the pad and my body is learning to turn with my arm to increase power.  This term I’m learning to coil it back, hold it, then release and let my arm move with its own momentum.  If you set it up right, the punch will land.

I’ve learnt how to land a sound right hook.  I like to hit things and hear the crack of my fist.

Right Now I’m….

Watching: RuPaul’s Drag Race, Schitt’s Creek, Transparent, Parks & Recreation. Wish I could get ‘Atlanta’

‘Down in the City’ by Elizabeth Harrower.  Domestic violence in mid-century Sydney.

‘A Manual for Cleaning Women’ by Lucia Berlin. A collection of short stories, writing about motherhood, caring, alcoholism.  Sparse and provoking.

‘A Book for Her’ by Bridget Christie.  Saw Bridget at ‘End of the Road’ – funny, perceptive and smart.

Listening to: Courtney Barnett. 6 Music. 90s R&B.

Pass it on:

Kim McGowan @mcgowankim

Polly Robinson @FoodSafari

Read more from Ann at or chat food and greyhounds on Twitter at @AnnMEve


In Her Words… Losing Finn by Lora Price

image1Lora is a wife and mummy of four sons.  In 2012 her family were devastated when her third son, Finn was born sleeping.  

Her brave and honest account below was written to promote Baby Loss Awareness Week this week.


In Her Words… Losing Finn by Lora Price

My third little boy, Finn, is 4 years old. He would have started school in September, joining in his brother’s morning rituals which are sealed with a kiss goodbye in the school playground. I imagine he would be delighted and excited by the prospect of being a big boy and starting school.  I imagine. I imagine everything about Finn, as he isn’t with me anymore.

The aftermath of losing Finn was deeply wounding. The grief was engulfing and all-encompassing whilst my deep sense of guilt was choking. I lived on the fringes in the early weeks, as babies born sleeping seemed to be one of the great unmentionables.

Lora with Finn

I was angry. Angry at my own body; angry at those people who were still pregnant; angry at those who tried to comfort me with their own sadness of miscarriage (I have had four of those too). Finn was a perfectly formed 5lb 8oz little boy. He may have been stillborn, but he was still born.

Finn is irreplaceable, yet a few months after his passing my arms felt desperately empty and I became pregnant again. Interestingly, I felt more normal when I was, as suddenly friends who had gone quiet were more comfortable speaking to me again. At 34 weeks, our family was blessed with the arrival of our fourth little boy Joshua Finlay Martin, known as Joss. Our tiny miracle perfectly filled our yearning arms and helped us smile again.

With Joss in our lives, I felt strong enough to start the beginning of our new future. Sadly, this was short lived as one week post-birth I learned that my beloved father had, unbeknown to me, started an aggressive battle with cancer. (He had withheld telling me whilst I was pregnant as he didn’t want me worrying). He put up an incredibly strong fight with the bravest of faces, but four months later cancer took my Dad and enveloped me in the tentacles of grief yet again.

This grief was akin to carrying a boulder around with me all day. I struggled under the pressure, my knees buckled and my arms strained to maintain grip. But letting myself go through this grieving process, allowing myself to feel angry, to unapologetically feel like I had been wronged, that I was the victim, that life was unfair, was in hindsight key to starting the healing process.

It takes time to feel human again and I remember feeling a huge sense of pressure to seek professional help. For reasons that I don’t even understand myself, I couldn’t face this. I couldn’t tolerate the thought of exposing or sharing my deepest feelings with someone I didn’t know. I was much more comfortable being the shoulder to cry on, rather than the one doing the crying. Or maybe I just didn’t want them to take the pain away?

Lora’s dad with his grandson Joss

You can’t heal every wound and I believe that is OK. The ache in my heart is important and I don’t ever want it to fully subside. It’s what tells me that I love Finn so deeply, it’s how I take Finn everywhere with me and it’s my barometer which helps me evaluate what is important in everyday life.

However, I am not ashamed to admit that contentment and happiness are a big part of my life again. I spent the early part of this evening with Sonos belting out some big tunes in the kitchen whilst my husband, three other children and I busted some shapes amongst a furore of laughter! However, as I sit here writing this article with a glass of wine on standby, I am joined by tears rolling down my face and a very heavy heart and it got me thinking about how often I cry now. Is it daily? No. Is it weekly? I’m not sure. Is it about Finn or my Dad? I don’t know and really it doesn’t matter because I love and miss them both. But what I do know is that crying feels much easier and more manageable now, as I know that happy times are just around the corner again. I’d actually go further to say that shedding a tear is for me now is a therapeutic exercise. It’s always done privately, in a quiet moment at home or maybe on a contemplative country walk with my faithful four-legged friend, but for me it is like releasing the pressure valve which allows me to be the wife, the mummy and the friend I want to be. Crying (and writing!) are my own personal forms of healing it would seem.

In fact, I jest about writing, but actually in the early months after losing Finn I found myself enslaved to the computer as I completed a piece of writing which captured our two days with him. This documentation of Finn’s time with us proved to be somewhat cathartic. I was conscious that time could possibly erode the details and I was keen to preserve as much of that time as possible. It’s neither a heart-warming or uplifting read, but it is an honest and precious account, you can find it here: Forever My Finlay 

It is clear to me now that I was particularly fortunate to be surrounded by such a strong and patient group of people who gave me the platform to face the future again with renewed strength and hope. However, one of the most painful struggles I faced in the early months was the discomfort that clearly resided in many friends, dare I say some extended family members too. I get it. Giving birth to a baby who isn’t alive is a difficult reality for everyone to face. Many people don’t have previous experience to draw upon when dealing with friends in this situation. What do you say to them? Talking about said baby will only cause further upset surely? So, many simply said very little. At best ‘how are you?’ At worst, nothing. Certainly there was never any mention of his name. I don’t want Finn to become a forgotten member of our family or his name to be a taboo word in my presence. I yearn to hear his name still. Yes, it may bring tears to my eyes, but it also brings music to my ears.

Lora with her boys and husband David

So looking back now, how do I reflect on all this? I do believe I can see the world in many more colours than I did before we had Finn. Having witnessed both the fragility and blessing of life I am more self-aware than I was before, I count my blessings with much more commitment and I look to really enjoy and not second-guess the good times. To get to the place I am in now, I had a choice to make; I could stagnate and let the world move on without me or I could re-join the journey and start moving forwards again. I chose to jump aboard life’s train, in part, because I owe it to my incredible family unit, but also because I am so grateful to be alive. Many people didn’t go to bed last night or didn’t wake up this morning. But I did. And I am grateful.

I am also much more mindful now of how I react to others facing difficult times, whether great or small. I always try to step off the ledge and offer the comfort that I feel I didn’t always receive. To be honest, this has had a varied response, some have closed me down not wishing to go any further, but equally some have welcomed that subliminal nod which allows conversation to unfold.

I don’t profess to have a secret ingredient as to how best to get through times such as these, I think everyone’s road to reach their new normal is totally personal and unique to them. What I would say though is if I can, then you certainly can too. Also, for those readers who do have a friend out there who does need you, then don’t let your social awkwardness stop you from being the friend you want to be or the friend you need to be.

Everyone’s life will undoubtedly have ups and downs. I believe it is critical to appreciate and savour the ups because this creates the reserves of strength that you need to deal with the downs.

Finally, my advice when you are going through your own crisis: listen to advice but don’t allow this well-intentioned counsel to take you in a direction you are uncomfortable with. Trust yourself and you will find the right path back to happiness.

For anyone looking for support following the loss of a baby, the following charities offer excellent advice:

Saying Goodbye 
The Mariposa Trust 
Baby Loss Awareness

In Her Words…. by Abigail Tarttelin


Abigail Tarttelin


Abigail Tarttelin is the author of award-winning intersex novel Golden Boy, and editor of I Hope You Like Feminist Rants zine. Issue #2 on Motherhood is for sale online now at

Follow Abigail on Instagram @civilizedanimal



In the last week, I have made three long distance journeys in my car, to meet a newly-born relative, visit an old friend, and collect a colleague from the train station for a very exciting work project. I own a 2014 New Generation 1.2 SE Hyundai i10, with Bluetooth, a roomy interior, and leather steering wheel, and I love driving it. Before I bought it I made a list of requirements, then whittled it down to my deal-breakers: it should be five-door, economical, and easy on the eye. I scoured What Car? for vehicles that fit the bill, leased a Chevy Spark, visited several garages, and rejected all but one on the grounds that the lads working there assumed I didn’t know anything about cars, and asked if my parents would be paying (hell, no).

I couldn’t afford the optional stop-start technology but at £40 for 440 miles the standard SE is cheap to run, and, because I bought it new, came with five years of unlimited-mileage warranty, roadside assistance, and health checks. The engine is near silent and does 80mph on the motorway without hassle.

Yesterday I was filling up my tank, watching another woman disembark her vehicle, and thinking about how much I like to see women driving. I get oddly emotional about it. Stranger still, I also like seeing women at the petrol station. I asked myself: why?

First, I suppose it’s because just fifty years ago, it wasn’t the done thing. Even today, in parts of the world, it is forbidden on religious grounds (Saudi Arabia), or uncommon (for example, in Afghanistan or Egypt). These women are exercising a right which wasn’t theirs until recently.

Women driving has changed incrementally over the last 5 decades. In my family, my Nan never learnt to drive; my great aunt – a gutsy, single mother – got her license later in life, and my mother passed her test in platform shoes and drove to London the next day. My cousin remembers her as the cool auntie who would pile the kids in her estate and take them on adventures. She lived far away, on the coast, and had a hip, long-haired boyfriend (my Dad). In the UK, the percentage of women driving rose from 50% to 64% between 1995 and 2010. I am represented in this statistic, passing my test two days before my eighteen birthday in 2005, and then my advance driving test the next year.

Mum Tarttelin.JPG
Abigail’s mum

So, the swelling feeling in my chest is partly that each woman driving is a little victory in the face of history, but it’s also, for me, about something more personal than that.

These women are going somewhere, at their own volition. When the car runs out of juice (here comes the petrol station part), they will not be stopped, because they have the economic power to fill it themselves. A car is an intimate personal space, for a woman to be alone, an individual, an independently thinking and moving person; a momentary bachelor, no matter her personal or marital situation. She is the driver of her car, her life, her ambition. She is an active force, and not passively carried to her destiny in the passenger seat, or stopped by the headwind. She is an arrow, shot from a bow she strung herself, moving through the world at her own will, and in her own time. She strides valiantly through the oil moistened forecourt with her bank card in hand, as men (why are there always so many more men than women at petrol stations?) stare at her, wondering where this goddess came from, and where she is going. But they’ll never know, because she doesn’t rely on f***ing anyone.

Right Now I’m….

Watching: Chelsea Handler on Netflix

Reading: Wetlands by Charlotte Roche

Listening to: Beyonce’s Lemonade

Pass it on:

Who would you most like to see featured on this blog?

Brodie Lancaster (Filmmes Fatales zine editor) @brodielancaster

Sarah Winter (Versailles actress) @sarahelizwinter