Interview with Emma, ‘After Henry’ blogger, living her 17th century French homestead dream

Antonia writes; I found Emma and her @afterhenry blog on Instagram (oh, I love Instagram!). I loved this idea that she had committed to a big dream and changed her life, shortly after having a new baby as well!. So many of us dream of doing these things and Emma and her family committed to it. I wanted to find out more.
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Emma moved from the UK to the Dordogne in France to let properties. Emma, her husband and two kids (and donkey, cats, dog, chickens, goats…) now live on a 17th Century former tobacco and dairy farm. They will have three properties that can sleep up to 30 guests (link at the bottom to view and book her gîtes). This will be their fourth year letting the properties and they’re almost fully booked during the summer. Emma looks after both the boys, she takes care of the websites used to advertise the gîtes, responds to booking enquiries and issues contracts. She also welcome guests and deals with the huge amount of washing and ironing they have…
We discuss what inspired the big move, how they deal with a new language, what her daily routine looks like, how she dealt with PND, what a crunchy mum is and the ever present need for self-care and hard that can be.
Interview with Emma, ‘After Henry’ blogger.
How did you come up with the blog name, ‘After Henry’

Emma; So, when Henry was a baby and we lived in the UK I was chatting to a neighbour and in conversation said ‘…after Henry’. She laughed and said she used to listen to a radio play called ‘After Henry’, and the name stuck with me as I can kind of divide my life into before and after Henry. Weirdly, I’ve since found there’s a shop in Islington called ‘After Noah’.

How did you get started with your blog?

I started my blog in Autumn 2016.  It had been in my head since Henry’s birth, but I kept waiting for the ‘perfect’ moment to start, when I would magically have a decent chunk of time to devote to it. Eventually I decided just to start writing, and I blog as and when I can. I have a ton of topics in my head, I love photography and writing, and it is great to have a personal, creative outlet and a chance to connect with other mothers.

Who lives in your home?

At home, there’s my partner, 4 ½ year old Henry and Noah, who turns one next month. We also have Sam, a 5 year old black Labrador, a rescue donkey, two goats, three chickens and an ever-changing number of cats and kittens.

Is there time for anything outside of parenting and the blog?

Outside of parenting and my blog we also have a new-ish business running gîtes. We live on a 17th Century former tobacco and dairy farm and, once our new home is ready, we’ll have three properties that can sleep up to 30 guests. This will be our fourth year letting the properties, and we’re almost fully booked during the summer. I take care of the websites that we use to advertise our gîtes, respond to booking enquiries and issue contracts, welcome guests, plus the huge amount of washing and ironing we have. Thankfully since Noah’s birth we’ve found a brilliant cleaner to help out, which has really made things easier.

What made you take the plunge and move to France?

We moved to France when Henry was around 18 months old. We had our own business in the UK and it was completely consuming. I worked in sales and marketing before we moved to France. We were never ‘off’, and I worked up until going into hospital to be induced with Henry, and was back at work the day after I got out of hospital, just three days after his birth by emergency c-section. It was an awful time, and triggered post-natal depression. We knew our lifestyle had to change and, after my partner suddenly lost a dear friend, we started exploring a move to France. Six months later we found our home.

How long did your post natal depression last for, if you don’t mind talking about it?

I’d say my PND lasted a little over a year. I had a brilliant, supportive health visitor, who would come and see Henry and I once a week to teach baby massage and just to chat. I’m still in touch with her now and she’s brilliant if I have any concerns about either of the boys. Honestly, there are amazing women from around the times I had the boys whose kindness I will never, ever forget. When I had my six week check up after Henry I burst into tears during the appointment and the GP basically said I could make another appointment whenever I wanted just to talk – isn’t that amazing?! But really for me, it was just time, it felt like a gradual lessening. Henry also woke pretty much hourly until 18 months and I started work straight away, so sleep deprivation probably played a massive part.

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How did you find your French home?

We used a property finder to help us find our home. It was an expensive service but something I’d really recommend. We gave Jacqueline all our criteria (rural, close to schools, with the potential to run gites, in an area popular with tourists etc) and she provided a huge list of properties for us to narrow down, remotely. Once we had a shortlist she visited each property and managed to glean information we would never have been able to. For example one property looked perfect on paper but was right next to a field of pesticide sprayed crops, so that was a no for us. Once we had a final shortlist we came to France, visited six properties and fell in love with this one. It was originally out of our budget but the agent selling it was a friend of Jacqueline’s and knew the owners were keen to sell. We simply wouldn’t have found our home without her help.

How are you getting on with the massive renovation project of your 17th Century home?

Right now we’re living in a barn conversion that is lovely but huge; there’s three bedrooms and we all sleep in one at the moment, and a living room with really high ceilings that is hard to heat in winter. Really, it is too big for us, and would make a lovely gîte. My partner has always loved the idea of building a home, and so we decided to convert some of our outbuildings (cattle sheds and hayloft) into a ‘forever’ family home. It is going to be mainly open plan with big windows to let in lots of light. It is long and narrow with exposed beams and low ceilings, and looks out over our orchard, vegetable patch and open fields, so we’ll have a little privacy when we have guests staying in the gites. We’re hoping to move in in May.

Did you all speak French before moving out?

We’d talked about moving to France 10 years ago then forgot about it, and then my partner brought it up again when Henry was about 9 months old. I could speak French a little and have improved enough to get by, but it is definitely harder than I thought it would be. Henry is speaking more and more. He’s been going to school for just over a year but I think he’s only recently begun to engage properly and find speaking a different language fun, he seemed resistant before that.

What does your style of parenting look like?

I’ve always wanted to be a mum. When I was pregnant with Henry I read Gina Ford’s Contented Little Baby book and thought she made absolute sense; routine, controlled crying, all of it, and we decided to follow her advice. Once Henry was born it just didn’t feel right, and I wasn’t comfortable not responding to him when he needed me. I bought a soft sling so I could carry him without hurting my c-section scar and have my hands-free to work, I was lucky that breastfeeding was very easy for us, so it made sense to continue past the initial six months I’d planned to nurse him for, and his frequent night wakings and my sleep deprivation meant that after a few months he slept in our bed. My wonderful, supportive Health Visitor suggested we were attachment parenting by instinct. I’d never heard of this but when I read up on it, it felt instinctively ‘right’ to me. I breastfed Henry until he was three, he’s in his own bed in our room now but Noah still sleeps with us, and I’ve only recently started using a pushchair instead of a sling because Noah is enormous and my back can’t take it anymore! We’ve never used a baby sitter and, unless Henry is at school, the boys are with one of us all the time. It is hard, and I’m only recently learning how important it is to make self-care a priority, but it is what works for us. I would never in a million years imagined I’d be a ‘crunchy’ mum!

What’s a crunchy mum then?

A ‘crunchy’ mum is hippyish, makes their own granola (hence the name) and is into attachment parenting, baby wearing, co-sleeping and extended parenting.

We’ve also recently started following a mainly plant-based diet as Noah has a dairy allergy and we watched some horrifying documentaries about the environmental and health implications of eating meat and animal products. We’re not strictly vegan as we eat eggs from our chickens and honey, and Henry eats whatever he likes to at school – he’s the only English child in a rural French school and I figure he is different enough already. We do limit processed foods and refined sugar, and grow as much of our own veg as we can. We have a ton of fruit trees too; apple, pear, plum , peach, apricot, fig, hazelnut, almond and walnut, and we’re overrun with brambles. Henry enjoys cooking so we make granola or healthy biscuits and cakes together a couple of times a week.

Have you met new friends in France, has it been easy to socialise speaking a different language?

We have friends here but it is harder to connect as communicating in a different language can be quite draining and I worry a little about cultural differences, like if I’ve accidentally massively f*cked up and offended someone, or if there’s some subtlety that’s gone completely over my head. I’m introverted and quite shy, but try to push myself, especially after reading about the importance of social connection with regards to self care.  That is also one of the reasons I love blogging and using Instagram, as you can connect with other mums, and I’ve found a real sense of community, people support each other.

Are you happy with your move to France?

Living here suits us, and I don’t think we’ll ever move back to the UK.

Go on, we want to live the dream, talk us through a day in your life…please?

On a typical day I’m up at six to let the chickens out, check on Eeyore and the goats and walk Sam. Then it is breakfast (usually some form of oats) and the morning routine before school. Henry is easily distracted, especially now he has a brother to play with, so I try and allow lots of time to get ready so I don’t have to rush him. School is a 15 minute drive away through country lanes; yesterday we saw deer by the roadside and last week we watched hares boxing in a field. Once I’m home it is time to clear away the breakfast things, do housework, feed Noah and make lunch, before picking Henry up at 1pm. I try to make 2-3pm time for Henry; we might do some yoga, bake, craft, read or play with his toys. Just recently we’ve been making Easter cards and weeding and planting Spring flowers outside the farm house, ready for guests this weekend. 3pm is snack time for the boys, then Noah has a nap in the sling or pushchair while we feed and groom Eeyore, check for eggs and walk Sam. Then it is time to make dinner while Henry helps, plays or uses some French Learning apps on the iPad. Then after dinner it is bath and bed for the boys. They go up at 6.30 and I stay with them both until they’re asleep, usually (if I’m lucky) by 8pm. We’ll have a story (right now it is Fantastic Mr Fox!) and an audiobook, and I diffuse lavender oïl which seems to calm them both. Then I have two hours to rush around getting ready for school the next day, dealing with emails, tidyig up from the day and writing blog posts when I can. My partner and I try and grab half an hour with a glass of wine or herbal tea and a snack before bed and catch up on our day. It is pretty rigid, although weekends tend to be a bit more relaxed, and it works for us.

Emma on self care;

I’m great at preaching the importance of self care but absolutely rubbish at following my own advice. Suzy’s book (Suzy Reading, you can read her blog post here and see where to find her book) was a great reminder. I don’t have a huge amount of time but I’ve tried to do little things during the day, such as a walk in nature with our dog, Sam. We’re lucky enough to own some ancient oak woods at the bottom of our farm, and there’s a track running through them. Walking at my own pace, inhaling clean air and noticing the changes in my surroundings depending on the season makes me feel lighter. I’ve moved my nursing chair in front of a bedroom window that overlooks open fields and always try to remember to take a nice drink with me when I feed Noah. I try to sit and have a healthy afternoon snack with the boys, instead of inhaling leftover baguette as I empty the dishwasher while they have their snack! I love reading and try to build pockets of time to read in the day. I’m currently reading a Brené Brown book when putting Noah down for his naps, and French edition of The Simple Things magazine in the school car park when I’m waiting for Henry. I love aromatherapy and try to have a bath every night, with a herbal tea, book and candles if I can. I’ve been using a oïl blend for depression/anxiety for about 15 years that combines geranium, bergamot and lavender, and I think I’ve been using it for so long that the scent instantly calms me. I’m also obsessed with Neal’s Yard and Dr Hauschka products.

If you want to read more about Emma’s life then check her blog out here

www.afterhenry.com

You can view and book Emma’s French Gites here; www.dordognegiteholidays.com

Emma’s social media links are;

Instagram @afterhenry

Twitter @afterhenry

Facebook @afterhenry

 

 

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