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Parenting

07th Jan 2015

Corkonian stylist Eimear Varian Barry on raising baby in Surrey, UK

Katie Mythen-Lynch

Eimear Varian Barry is a globe-trotting stylist and Vlogger who has worked everywhere from the set of Sex & The City to the Aussie outback. Originally from Cork, she now lives in Surrey with her boyfriend Daniel and their 12-month-old daughter Saoirse. Follow her updates on Instagram @eimearvarianbarry.

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Where do you live?

“I live in a small town in Surrey, 40 minutes on the train from London.

When and why did you move there?

I met Daniel when I was travelling around the Northern Territory of Australia in 2012. We fell in love over a jug of beer and he moved to Melbourne to me, where I was working at the time. A few months later, he was dying to move home but I had a dream job and sponsorship. For the first time, I thought about my future properly (I never wanted to tie myself down to anything) and I chose love. It guess it was time. I had a track record of clashing my love life with my “career”. We moved to Richmond in London in March 2013. Then…pregnant! Help!

Is your move permanent or temporary?

Permanent, although Cork is my real home and my heart will always be in Melbourne. But now that I have a family and Saoirse is a grandchild and a niece, realistically, I couldn’t live that far away.

 What were your first impressions of the UK?

The accent. Oh how I love an English accent! It’s fashion forward streets and its cheeky sense of humour appealed too. I also experienced a definite, (intimidating) class distinction, which I hadn’t experienced in New York or Melbourne.

What were you most surprised about?

Daily life in Ireland and Britain is very similar, so there were no extreme cultural differences. But with an Irish girl and an English boy living together, arguments will occur on a regular basis. Like about whether Chef or HP sauce is nicer! I love going for a coffee and a stroll around London’s ethnic neighbourhoods. There’s always something interesting to see or eat and it’s out of my Surrey norm, which I love. Now that I think about it, when I was at Heathrow a few weeks ago there were policemen walking around with machine guns. You definitely wouldn’t find that in Ireland.

How does the cost of living compare?

It really depends on how much you’re earning. There’s lots of money in London but most people I know are living from pay cheque to pay cheque. I think it depends on what your standards are and what you deem expensive. There’s better value in England with certain things because there’s more choice. There’s just more on offer, from doing your weekly shop, to support and services when having a baby. For instance, I was shocked and felt extremely lucky when I experienced the health system when pregnant. There’s a tonne of services and aftercare for free. I couldn’t believe I didn’t have to pay for a thing. But then you have to take into account things like water charges and council tax too. Obviously when I head into London, the price of a lot of things increases, but if you plan and do your research properly, you can always manage to have super fun days on the cheap.

What’s the food like?

I’m always cooking and I love English food! Lock me away for a winter and I’ll make pies and bake until I burst the scales. It’s so similar to the food in Ireland. Hearty and filling. I’ve introduced Daniel to Taytos and I always have the Kerrygold in the fridge. England does bigger Yorkshire puddings, which I’m totally okay with. When I’m home, I love going to The Old Mill cake shop in Cork for certain cream cakes, which I can’t find here. They remind me of my childhood. I bought five there recently and ate them all in one day!

How do you manage childcare?

I haven’t experienced the childcare system in the UK yet, but for your average, middle class couple, it’s expensive. I have a few friends who have now gone back to work and juggle it between their families. I envy those with their mums around the corner to help now and again and that would definitely give me more options right now, but I guess that’s one of the prices you pay for living away from home.

What’s the local attitude towards breastfeeding?

I’ve learned that this is a tricky one to talk about. And I’ve learned to TRY and keep my mouth shut about it, each mother to their own. I just feel so strongly about it. I guess it comes from my mother (hippie, free spirit, poet, one of those ‘comfortable walking around the house naked’ people). She breastfed us all for a year and openly chatted about it with us as kids. When I say chatted, I mean educated. So when I was having a baby, I was educated about the benefits of breastmilk and how it would positively affect my health too. I was adamant about not giving formula. I know it’s not poison and Saoirse has drank her fair share of it, but breastmilk really is best for our babies.

In my area here in the UK, I haven’t met many women who breastfeed and I feel like it’s because there isn’t enough education about it. It pisses me off when I think that I never saw articles popping up on my Facebook feed with the heading ‘The Benefits of Breastfeeding’, but now I regularly see ones like ‘It’s Okay not to Breastfeed’. I just don’t understand why some women don’t even try because it’s easier not to. I know how difficult it can be. I screamed in pain trying to get Saoirse to feed. The first five weeks were so hard. Saoirse was tongue-tied, she was latching on wrong and the pain was indescribable. I didn’t feel I bonded with her. I was sleep deprived and so uptight about timing my pumping because my breasts would gorge so quickly. Thinking back at it stresses me out!

I pumped with the electric pump every three hours for five weeks while we practiced and practiced and finally got her to latch. It was the most challenging thing I have ever done.  I had no idea it would be so difficult. And the contraction of my uterus while I was feeding! What nightmares are made of. But I remember I spoke to one woman next to me in the hospital and she said she “couldn’t be arsed” to breastfeed and joked about how lazy she was. This really angered me because she didn’t even want to give it a go. I respect any woman’s decision but personally, I think the low percentage for breastfeeding in the UK is shocking.

 What are your opinions of the local health system/ pregnancy care?

A lot of people complain in the UK about the NHS. I don’t think the staff (especially nurses and midwives) are given enough credit and people need to understand that compared to other countries, we are extremely lucky to have a great standard of free healthcare. Like Ireland, staff are overworked and underpaid. Even though I experienced the disadvantages of this when I lost my second baby, I reminded myself that I needed to be patient and understanding of what they are going through on a daily basis.

I was rushed to the hospital and mid miscarriage contraction, a nurse was asking me for my details. I was in such pain and moaning/breathing pretty loudly. She looked at me and rolled her eyes. I tearfully/angrily asking her “did you really just do that?”, which led her to her realising her behaviour was totally unacceptable and breaking down in tears apologising, saying how it had been such a crazy day and to “please not report her”. My heart went out to her. I told her to go away and have a cup of tea, because tea solves everything. Apart from that, when I was in the hospital following the procedure the women were absolute angels. The nurses and midwives in the Special Care Unit after I had Saoirse were so fantastic and supportive too. There were different people for different things coming in and out to me all the time and I couldn’t have been happier with the care. They’ve just built a huge birthing centre at my local hospital too which is awesome!

The only thing I think the pregnancy care lacks in the UK is its approach to mental health. I had horrible post-natal depression and was pretty much suicidal. I tried to be excited and happy but it felt so forced. I thought my life was over. My hormones were all over the place and I was in no way prepared for the reality of having to deal with being solely responsible for a human being. Thankfully, about a month after I gave birth, I actually felt happy and the black cloud left me. I think it would make a huge difference to women if they had more mental health support during and after their pregnancy. Because it’s damn hard to be a strong mom and put on a “oh everything’s perfect over here” face all the bloody time.

What’s the best thing about living in your adopted city?

Well there’s the little Surrey town I’m in, which is cute, but I go into London as much as I can. It’s one of the most cosmopolitan and exciting cities in the world and there’s something different to do every time. From the markets, the culture, the architecture, the style, the cafes, galleries, the cool bars, amazing hotels, (I have a thing for hotel bars) and the motivation; I love the creative open mindedness of the people.

 And the worst?

London’s class divide. And non-parent assholes who bash into your pram on the tube.

Does your new city offer an improved work/life balance?

Absolutely not. Well not for us anyhow. Commuting in London and its surroundings makes it almost impossible to enjoy a work/life balance.

What’s your favourite thing to do at the weekend?  

I adore Ireland but life here in Surrey isn’t all that different. There’s just a lot more choice. I just think things are a bit bigger and better here. It’s hard to get bored! I love paddleboarding and kayaking so I can’t wait to do more of that when it gets warm again. I love Brighton and I hang out there a lot, getting lost in The Lanes and eating chips on the beach. I think we’ll be going to more places where Saoirse can be entertained as she’s getting older… I’m so excited to take her to Peppa Pig World! We like heading off early for the day and exploring a little English village or a farmers market.”

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