Cork women at different stages of motherhood share their stories in a special feature ahead of Mother's Day

Ahead of Mother’s Day, SARAH HORGAN caught up with five Cork mothers, at different stages in their children’s lives — from pregnancy right up to adult children
Cork women at different stages of motherhood share their stories in a special feature ahead of Mother's Day
Hilda, Martin, Shannon, Matt and Joshua Griffiths near Fermoy, Co. Cork.Picture: Denis Minihane.

MEMORIES of seeing her babies for the first time still leave Ballyphehane mum Claire Pepper with goosebumps.

Long after her daughter Amelia, aged four, and eight-year-old Faye’s birth, she is still just as smitten.

It’s not surprising to learn that motherhood was something Claire had wanted from an early age.

“When you’re young, there is such an emphasis on what you are going to do with your life but being a mum was all I ever wanted,” Claire said.

“I remember growing up with my own mum around and how nice it was to have that.”

The childcare worker said that while motherhood is rewarding, it isn’t always easy.

“Social media paints an ideal picture of how motherhood should be, but that’s not reality,” she said.

Motherhood didn’t come without its difficulties for Claire, who finally overcame postnatal depression after the birth of her second child.

Claire Pepper with daughters Amelia and Faye.
Claire Pepper with daughters Amelia and Faye.

“I remember coming home and feeling numb. It was hard to understand why I felt this way. I would have been happy to have experienced any emotion at all. I kept telling myself that I’d be fine, but I wasn’t fine.

“Looking back, I realise I wasn’t weak for asking for help. It was only a year after having Amelia that I realised I needed to make myself a priority,” she said.

She described how life slowly began to improve after seeking counselling.

“It’s important to be honest with yourself and other people. Counselling helped me break down that wall,” she said.

“I also was prescribed medication. I remember my first time taking the tablet. Somebody had told me not to look it as a tablet but like a vitamin that would improve my overall health and that made things a lot easier.”

She described mothers as like the captain of a ship.

”A ship can’t sail without its captain. That’s why it’s so important for a mother to take care of herself. Talking to other mums and knowing that they are feeling exacatly the same way makes you feel better.”

The onset of Mother’s Day has elicited fond memories for Claire.

“I can remember seeing Faye for the first time. Despite being covered in everything imaginable, there was nobody as beautiful as her. Time stands still when you see your child for the first time. It’s complete bliss and something I’ve never taken for granted.”

Claire has some advice for new and expectant mums: “Don’t compare yourself to others and remember that you’re doing just fine. Becoming a mum can be a lonely time too so don’t be afraid to talk to other mums and remember that we are all in this together. “

Hilda and Shannon Griffiths, Fermoy, Co. Cork.Picture: Denis Minihane.
Hilda and Shannon Griffiths, Fermoy, Co. Cork.Picture: Denis Minihane.

NOT many teenagers can boast that their mother defied the odds to become a captain in the South African army.

However, Fermoy-based Hilda Griffiths is not your typical mum. In fact, “typical” barely enters the family’s vocabulary.

The 45-year-old, who was born with one arm, has managed to fulfill her dreams through the most inventive ways possible.

From holding a gun in the army to changing nappies with the use of just one arm, Hilda has been an inspiration to many — including her daughter Shannon, aged 17, Matt, aged 11, and Joshua, aged eight.

From the time they were very small, Hilda’s kids have strived for greatness — just like their mother.

“They used to copy everything I did,” she recalled with a laugh. I remember catching Joshua tying his shoe lace with his mouth one time. He had watched me doing it and thought that was the way it should be done. I had to intervene and explain that he had two hands so he didn’t need to use his mouth. I told him that “daddy would teach him.”

Hilda, Martin, Shannon, Matt and Joshua Griffiths near Fermoy, Co. Cork.Picture: Denis Minihane.
Hilda, Martin, Shannon, Matt and Joshua Griffiths near Fermoy, Co. Cork.Picture: Denis Minihane.

Hilda talked about the challenges she faced as a first time mum to her now 17-year-old daughter Shannon.

“We were living in the UK while I was pregnant with Shannon,” she said.

“I wasn’t one of those blooming mothers you see. I was frightened and miserable because I didn’t know how I was going to manage. I wasn’t a natural mother. Finding how to do the things that mothers do with a disability was a learning curve. Learning how to bath Shannon on my own was probably one of the most frightening parts.

“If I was dealing with a plastic dolls it would have been different, but these were dolls I couldn’t break. However, I told myself ‘I’m going to do this’.

Hilda did just that by coming up with creative solutions to everyday problems.

“I learned to bathe Shannon by supporting her head using my foot. Fortunately, I managed to do all the things that mothers do, including breastfeeding.”

Preparation was always key for Hilda, who relished being a new mum.

“When I took her out to the shops I had to wear shoes I could easily slip off. This meant I could change her nappy with the aid of my foot. I always took an extra mat that allowed me to sit on the floor.”

Hilda is proud her now teenage daughter is growing up to be a strong and capable character.

“One of the things I love about my daughter is that she doesn’t follow the crowd. Shannon realises that people will like her for who she is. Whether something is Nike or Reebok doesn’t matter to her. She’s just excited and grateful. If two people are fighting she listens to both sides. She accepts people for who they are and doesn’t want to change them.”

The mother-of-three described how having a family member with a disability has made her daughter more sensitive and open-minded.

“If someone is having trouble mastering something, she will show them different ways of doing it in such a gentle way.

“When people stare it doesn’t bother me or Shannon. We realise that everyone is different.”

She dished out some practical advice for parents raising teenagers.

“If they are having a tantrum you still need to be consistent and open to negotiation.

“That doesn’t mean you like the behaviour but the most important thing is that they know you are there for them. Children — particularly teenagers — need to know that you love them unconditionally. Unconditional love means that even if your child goes off the rails for a while they will always come back.”

Adam and Miriam Slattery and actor Shane Casey from The Young Offenders. Picture: Dan Linehan
Adam and Miriam Slattery and actor Shane Casey from The Young Offenders. Picture: Dan Linehan

MOTHER’S Day will be a bitter-sweet occasion for Mahon woman and mum-of-four Miriam Slattery.

Six years ago she lost her beloved husband Denis.

While she still misses him everyday, their grown up son and three adult daughters serve as a constant reminder of the beautiful life they made together.

Despite much heartbreak, Miriam knows there will be plenty to celebrate on Mother’s Day and that’s exactly what she plans to do on Sunday, March 22.

She paid tribute to her son Adam and daughters Rachel, Kate and Eve.

“I adore the ground my children walk on. Since my husband — their father — Denis passed away they have saved my life.”

Mother’s Day always comes full of surprises for the devoted mum.

“If I asked for the moon they would still try and get it for me,” she said of her children. “Sometimes I’m afraid to mention I like anything because I know they will probably have it bought for me a few weeks later.”

Miriam confessed that, unlike many other women, she never dreamed of becoming a mum.

“I never planned on having kids but I knew how desperate my own mum was for a grandchild and that made me reconsider.

“When I saw Adam’s face for the first time I felt I wanted 20 more.

Miriam Slattery. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Miriam Slattery. Picture: Denis Minihane.

“I was dreading having kids because of the pain but when my first child arrived I forgot all about it. I had the others in quick succession.

“My late mother, who died at 96, said her life was made when she had grandchildren and my own dream is to be a grandmother one day myself.“

She recalled her first Mother’s Day as a mum with vivid clarity as her husband organised for a special message to be printed in the Irish Examiner, saying; ‘To my darling mum, from your loving son Adam’. “I still have the cutting from that day. I keep it in a photo album so I know it will always be safe. “

Miriam added that years later, when the children had all grown up, they posted their own Mother’s Day message in this newspaper — similar to what their dad had done when Adam was born.

According to Miriam, one of the hardest parts of having adult children is being apart from them.

This is particularly true when it comes to her daughter Kate, who has made a name for herself as a fashion designer in France.

“I prefer writing letters to phone calls as sometimes it can be difficult hearing her voice knowing that she is so far away,” Miriam said.

She reiterated the little things that make motherhood so rewarding.

“The best thing about my children is their love of people and generosity of spirit. They would give you their last penny if they could. As families go we’re all a bit mad.”

Emer O'Hea with husband Alberto and two sons Beckett and Javier.
Emer O'Hea with husband Alberto and two sons Beckett and Javier.

MEANWHILE, as the senior producer on Cork Red FM’s The Neil Prendeville Show, Emer O’Hea appears to be taking pregnancy in her stride.

However, the Ballincollig woman, who is already a mum to three-year-old Beckett and one-year-old Javier, admits that it’s not always plain sailing.

With a third child on the way in June, she is looking forward to putting her feet up this Mother’s Day.

“I can’t say I ever enjoy the pregnancy part but the end result is worth it all,” she said.

“I know a lot of women sail through pregnancy unphased and glow for most of it but I’ve always struggled through my pregnancies, so, for me, my favourite thing about pregnancy is having baba arrive safe and sound at the end of it!”

One of the hardest parts of pregnancy for Emer is the constant nausea.

“It has been hard going. I had severe nausea for the first 18 weeks. Things have settled now thankfully but it’s definitely tougher the third time round, especially with two toddlers and working full time. Life is very busy but I’m hugely grateful to have my gorgeous boys.”

The soon-to-be mum-of-three admits that motherhood has been a learning curve.

“I remember taking a flight to Spain on my own with Beckett when he was new-born. He cried for the entire two and a half hour flight, despite me trying everything to calm him. I was so anxious and embarrassed when the flight landed, it was horrible.

“A fabulous Cork woman came over to me and said; ‘You’re OK now. You are doing an amazing job’. At that point, I was a blubbering mess but it meant everything to me.

“Society needs to support new mums and dads, especially when you see they are struggling. It’s not easy balancing life with smallies and a full time job.

“We get a lot of calls to our radio show from new mums who are judged for breastfeeding in public, judged when their toddlers have tantrums, judged for having babies too young or for having babies too old. Just live and let live and be kind to new moms. They’ve probably had a tough day.”

Emer never takes being a mum for granted, especially on Mother’s Day.

“I suppose it’s a day of reflecting on how lucky I am to have the boys. Every week in work, I hear so many sad stories of families who are struggling, whether I’m speaking to parents living in hotel rooms with their children, or talking to mums who have seriously ill kids.

“I am grateful every day to have happy, healthy babies. In that respect, I don’t take anything for granted.”

She reflected on some of the advice she received from her own mum.

“My mom is a proper ‘Irish Mammy’ and I like to think that I’m the very same as her in terms of child rearing. If you decide to throw a tantrum, you stay there on the floor until you’ve calmed down. You respect your elders, you do your chores around the house if you want pocket money and you make tea for the guests when they call. I don’t think you can beat the Irish mammy mentality. They keep it real.”

“Sometimes, these days, kids rule the roost. It’s not a good way to raise kids because you end up with spoilt teenagers and young adults who can’t fend for themselves throughout life.

“I make mistakes rearing my boys every single day but I know if I’m even half the mother that my mum is to us, I’ll be doing okay.”

Aoife O'Neill, husband Jason and son Ronan.
Aoife O'Neill, husband Jason and son Ronan.

AOIFE O’Neill's first Mother’s Day will be a time for reflection as she casts her mind back to a whirlwind five months filled with joy and new beginnings.

The Midleton woman smiles while recalling the day that cemented her path into motherhood.

“We were in the latter stages of finishing the house when I guessed I might be pregnant. I felt I couldn’t wait to find out so I did the test on my break from work. On my return back to work I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. It was so hard to believe that we were going to have a baby.”

It wasn’t long after their wedding that Aoife and Jason realised their shared dream of becoming parents.

“It’s been really exciting“, she said. “We built a house and got married in the space of a year. This was something we knew we wanted straight away”

She described the labour as short, adding: “Ronan came in a hurry. That’s always been the way in my family.

“The labour lasted three hours and while it was traumatic, I was glad it was all over so fast.”

The image of Ronan’s arrival remains etched in her mind and heart: “The feeling was indescribable. This was the seventh child on my side and the first on Jason’s side. Three hours is magic.”

“There hadn’t been a boy in our family in 16 years so this birth was particularly special. It’s nice to be able to bring joy to their lives as well.”

What followed was a hectic few months that was both blissful and exhausting in equal measures.

“The first few weeks were daunting. We were still getting to know each other after all. “

She described some of her favourite parts of motherhood: “I love seeing people looking and smiling at him, knowing that he’s ours.”

She urged other mums to prioritise their mental and physical health by looking after themselves this Mother’s Day: “When they’re small you want to be with them as much as possible but you really need the break both for your mental and physical health.”

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