My Journey Into Motherhood: Willow Crossley

An author and floral stylist to mega-brands like Oka, Boden and Jo Malone, Willow Crossley lives in Oxfordshire with her husband Charlie and their three sons Wolf, 10, Rafferty, 8 and Kit, 5. From starting a family in her twenties, to balancing motherhood with a career, she tells us what being a parent has taught her…

I had my first son, Wolf when I was 25. It felt very young, as none of my friends were even thinking about having children. We were living in France, as newlyweds, and I got pregnant straight away. The pregnancy itself was pretty straightforward, and I really enjoyed it, despite the occasional days when I felt sick or tired.

The birth, however, was pretty traumatic. My waters broke very slowly – not like they do in movies! The water was green, which meant the baby was in distress. We went to the hospital and they gave me an epidural and induced me immediately. Ten hours later the baby was stuck and I was rushed into surgery. It was touch and go for a while; he was so stuck that they had to tip me upside down and the epidural ran down into my head, which meant I couldn’t really breathe or speak. The rest was a bit of a blur. After Wolf was delivered, the anaesthesia didn’t wear off for about eight hours, which was terrifying.

My other two deliveries were a little more straightforward. I had two more caesareans, as the doctors were afraid the same thing would happen again. With my third son Kit, I had something called placenta accreta, which is when the uterus attaches itself to the placenta. It’s quite rare, but pretty dangerous. We only discovered I had the condition mid-surgery, just after Kit had been delivered, so we had a scary hour or so after that. They managed to separate the placenta from my uterus bit by bit. I was very lucky to have such a good obstetrician. After that, I was told having another baby would be pretty risky – the more caesareans you have, the more likely you are to suffer from placenta accreta. 

In those early days with a new baby, I remember being completely shell-shocked. But at the same time, I found the whole thing magical. In France, they keep you in hospital for longer and I couldn’t walk for at least five days. Charlie slept on the floor next to us the whole time, and I always think of that week as one of the most special, precious times in my life. There’s no feeling like holding your new baby in your arms for the first time.

I was self-employed when I had all my boys, so I didn’t give myself much time off. I was writing a new book when both Raffa and Kit were born, and while my publishers were very relaxed if I ever needed more time, I wish I’d been kinder to myself. 

It took me a lot longer to get pregnant the second and third times. Getting pregnant with Rafferty took about six months and for Kit it was just over a year. I was about to start taking Clomid, but as soon as I had the pills in my hand I fell pregnant naturally. Sometimes I think these things can be psychosomatic.

I have definitely changed as a mother since having my first child. I still worried throughout each of my pregnancies but when Kit came along, for the first time, I felt confident I knew what I was doing. I also enjoyed him as a baby much more. I think because I knew he was our last, I kept reminding myself to savour every second. The nights were easier because I knew I wouldn’t be doing it again. I clung onto him that much longer and breathed in his smell that much deeper. I didn’t worry so much when he ended up in our bed that I would never get him out. It all felt easier, somehow. Being one of three siblings myself, it felt completely natural to have three children of my own.

When you become a mother, your priorities change. You can’t be selfish anymore. The babies always come first and your desires and needs go to the bottom of the list. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s just human nature – it’s not a conscious decision you make. 

Now my children are getting older, they need me in different ways. There’s less spoon-feeding and bottom-wiping and more emotional nurturing and being a chauffeur. I find this stage much more enjoyable – they can all have proper conversations and are great company. There is a lot of juggling, but I thrive when I’m busy.

For me, the hardest part of being a parent is the worrying. Rafferty, our middle child is so accident-prone. When he was three, he had a terrible accident with his hand, which required over 20 hours of surgery. I’ve never known stress or worry like it and still feel traumatised thinking about it. As a parent it’s tough knowing we can’t protect them forever, as much as you long to keep them safe in a little bubble. It’s my biggest fear that something will happen to them.

I’m strict and laidback in equal measure. There are certain things I take very seriously like being kind and having good manners. The rest of the time, I’m quite laid-back. With school, as long as they try their hardest, I'm pretty relaxed about the grades. 

The main thing I want to teach my children is to be kind. We spend a lot of time talking about the importance of kindness and sharing, as well as looking out for and standing up for people who may not be able to do that for themselves.

Once I had my children I knew I’d have to find a way to work around them. My career had to be flexible so I could be there when they needed me – going to school plays and matches is really important to me. As I work for myself, I’m able to pick and choose the work I accept. That said, jobs are like buses – they all tend to come along at once! I manage it by taking on fewer but bigger events. When I write, I can work around the kid’s schedules more easily – getting up early and working late into the night when they’ve gone to bed.

My fourth book, The Wild Journal, focuses more on mental health and wellbeing, and is inspired by my own struggles with postnatal depression. I first experienced it after having Wolf. I was in France, away from friends and family, and I've always been a bit prone to anxiety. I also suffered with it after the birth of my other boys, but by then I knew what signs to look out for. I felt so guilty that I had these beautiful babies and nothing to complain about, but still didn't feel good. Nature and being outside definitely helped pull me back – I found great comfort in the beauty of the countryside. It was a tough book to write, but I’ve been so overwhelmed and touched by people’s reaction to it. 

Much of my childhood was spent outside living a very wholesome, outdoor life. I try and bring as much of that into my boys' lives as I can. Both of my parents worked for themselves, so it feels normal to make my job work around the children. My mum is a writer and painter and has definitely inspired and encouraged my creative side. We work together a lot. In fact, she edits everything I write before I send it to my editors.

Nothing compares to how much love children bring into your life. I can’t get over how brilliant they are and how much they make me laugh. Their personalities are really developing, and I love seeing the people they are turning into. 

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