In the earliest months of my children’s lives, the lack of sleep could make me feel like an electronic device dropped underwater.
The thought, then, of driving anywhere didn’t just feel like an insurmountable effort, but dangerous; terrifying.
On those fuzzy days, nature brought me back to myself. I have always been drawn to cities’ energy, love living an easy walk away from independent shops and cosy cafes. I enjoy how exploring them makes me feel like a film character. But I also know I am most clear headed, the most ‘me’, when in the countryside; this was particularly true when on maternity leave.
A difficult morning could be rectified with ten minutes in the nearby, volunteer-preserved orchard, listening to the stream and the birds singing; a breeze tickling my face was more rejuvenating than caffeine. On more adventurous days, I would hike small portions of the Cotswold Way with a baby strapped snug to my chest, would talk to them about the cows and butterflies.
In some of the more built-up cities I have lived in, it wouldn’t have been possible to access places like this without a car. Buses all headed towards town, and even though there were parks and nature reserves nearby, they never felt truly peaceful to me, still permeated by traffic noises, phone calls, people briskly marching Somewhere.
I have contemplated how different maternity leave and my mental health would have been if my options for an afternoon walk were limited to such spaces or navigating busy pavements with a pram, or undertaking an anxiety-inducing drive to escape them.
For, when so much of my identity was being reshaped by motherhood, the countryside was where I felt most at peace with myself – the new and the old parts of it. I am constantly grateful that my children regularly have access to those green spaces, and to the mother, the person, I am within them.