My Journey Into Motherhood: Dr. Zoe Williams

My Journey Into Motherhood: Dr. Zoe Williams

Television presenter and This Morning’s resident GP Dr. Zoe Williams was approaching 40 when she started exploring the idea of donor sperm and becoming a single parent. Then, on a trip to Portugal, she met her partner Stuart McKay in a busy Lisbon bar. Months later, faced with the prospect of a global pandemic and a nationwide lockdown, the two moved in together and started talking about having a family. In May, their son Lisbon Lion was born. Here, she tells us more about her less-than-conventional route into motherhood, and what it’s taught her along the way…

My partner and I met in September 2019. We’re not married – marriage is something we might do one day, but it’s not high on our priority list. In February 2020 we moved in together – it was largely a response to the looming prospect of lockdown, but it turned out to be the right decision for us. In 2020, I also turned 40, and while Stuart and I had discussed the idea of having a family as early as our fourth or fifth date, the conversation turned quite serious quite quickly that year.

Before I met Stuart, I had explored the idea of being a single parent with in vitro, sperm donors and I eventually chose to freeze my eggs at 38. I’d come out of a long-term relationship around 35 and it was my mum who really urged me to explore it. When she passed away (I was about 37), it coincided my making a show about egg freezing for The One Show. I knew by the end of the first day’s filming that I should do it. I was lucky enough to be able to extract seven eggs – although the chance of eventually conceiving was still quite low.

After Stuart and I met, I didn’t want to stop pursuing my dreams of motherhood. Thankfully, he was on board with the idea of having a baby and I ended up conceiving naturally and reasonably quickly of us making our decision to try – within three months. We’d given ourselves a six-month window (seeing as we were both 40 and neither of us had tried to get pregnant before) but I was shocked it happened so quickly.

I knew I was pregnant because my period was late. Even so, my first thought was not, “Oh, I must be pregnant.” Instead, I was worried I might be perimenopausal and that my periods might be becoming more irregular. I was in the clinic that day, so I thought I’d take a pregnancy test to be sure. I couldn’t believe it when it turned out to be positive. I did a second just in case. Throughout my pregnancy I was very lucky – I did have a bit of mild morning sickness and experienced things like back pain, heartburn, sleep disturbance… the usual symptoms. As a doctor, I knew what to expect, so I was able to manage it all quite well.

I knew I was pregnant because my period was late. Even so, my first thought was not, “Oh, I must be pregnant.” Instead, I was worried I might be perimenopausal.

As an older first-time mum, I did have a bit of extra anxiety. It was possible I could have miscarried or that the pregnancy might not have been viable. Having a bit more medical knowledge can be a blessing and a curse – as doctors, we’re meant to be experts at finding problems or medical issues, but we’re not midwives or health visitors who are specifically trained in all sorts of areas of parenting. It perhaps made me worry more, because it’s my job to spot things that are wrong. Sometimes you’re looking for problems that don’t exist.

I’d always thought I’d have an elective caesarean. As part of my GP training, I’d worked for six months in obstetrics, so I knew it would give me maximum control – even though it’s not necessarily the lowest-risk route. But as I got into the latter stages of my pregnancy, the doctor side of me got quieter and the maternal side grew stronger. I did a hypno-birthing course and had the opportunity to work with a doula. By the end of my pregnancy, I’d decided on a home birth with my doula and Stuart present. The baby was ten days early and the midwife never managed to get there – even though my labour ended up being about ten hours in total. I do think we sometimes ‘over-medicalise’ the idea of childbirth and I was fascinated at how my primal instinct took over. 

We didn’t find out whether we were having a boy or a girl ahead of time. When Lisbon was born, I picked him up out of the birthing pool and we – with Stuart – had a long cuddle. Our doula went to make a cup of tea and came back to see if it was a boy or a girl. We hadn’t even looked! His name came from the city where Stuart and I first met – we had a sneaking suspicion from our last 3D scan it was going to be a boy. 

I felt very protective about having a newborn. You tend to get lots of visitors during that first week or so, but part of me wanted it to be just the three of us – my perception of the world suddenly felt very different. Aside from the unconditional love that washed over me, there was also this feeling of immense responsibility. But everyone experiences this time differently – as a doctor, I know how important it is not to press upon women how they should be feeling, but to know that all feelings are valid and to try to roll with them as best you can.

So many parents judge themselves too harshly. And what’s worse is so many mothers don’t say anything because they don’t want other people to think they’re not coping. Recent research from The Stokke says up to 71% of new parents don’t want to ask for help and nearly a quarter are worried about being labelled a bad parent. But those first few weeks are difficult – for everyone. It’s no coincidence that actual torture methods include sleep deprivation and the noise of a baby screaming. Plus, mothers are recovering from childbirth – which is still a major trauma no matter how smoothly it’s gone. But the social pressure to look like you ‘have it all together’ is so real. Very often, people just need permission to express how they’re really feeling.

If you are struggling, my advice would be to try and reframe things for yourself as much as possible. Try to see the humour in things – those first few days, Stuart and I laughed a lot; it worked wonders in the tough moments when we felt so exhausted or out of our depth. And if you need it, ask for professional help. 

Breastfeeding is something I really wanted to do. I persevered and have continued to breastfeed Lisbon, but it was much more difficult than I ever anticipated. It’s such a personal decision – some women desperately want to and just can’t, and that’s okay. The good news is we have such a good alternative in formula. We don’t have the same alternative for stable mental health, so there should be no shame or guilt around bottle feeding. As long as the baby is nourished, that’s what’s important. 

There are some products I wouldn’t be without as a new mum. A BABYBJÖRN carrier for a start, the Freerider Co. slings and the Love To Dream swaddles are all great. Muslins are the most under-rated invention ever – we had a baby that was sick quite a lot, so we probably got through about 50 a day! The large ones from aden + anais are the best. Etta Loves does lovely sensory muslins, too – they’re great for hanging over the pram. I also used two different breast pumps. A Medela one for pumping at home and the Elvie for when I went back to work. I used the latter under my dress at the National Television Awards! I also didn’t know our Stokke Tripp Trapp highchair (which grows with your child) was compatible with newborns, so I wish we’d used that sooner. The one thing I wouldn’t be without is the SNOO baby cot. It’s an investment, but so worth it.

Becoming a mother has given me a completely new perspective on the world. The things that make me happiest are much more straight-forward than they used to be.

My over-arching advice with products is give them a test run before the baby arrives. I wasn’t prepared and trying to read a 50-page instruction booklet after giving birth was no joke. Also, don’t feel like you have to spend thousands on loads of toys and accessories. Lisbon’s favourite toy is a piece of sensory foil. I think he thinks it’s a spaceship or something. He also loves bells, bubbles and balloons – the simple things.

Becoming a mother has given me a completely new perspective on the world. My life – both professionally and socially – used to be so busy, but I now appreciate the little things like going to eh park as a family or having time to myself to go get a coffee. The things that make me happiest are much more straight-forward than they used to be. It also makes you realise what’s worth stressing out about and what’s not.

Stuart and I have talked about adding to our family. On the one hand we’re so happy we have Lisbon, but it would be lovely to give him a sibling. Right now, it’s only a conversation, but the future looks exciting – regardless of what happens next. 


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