06/10/2022

Parenting in my Shoes: ‘You’re in survival mode because it’s wrong to be told you can’t fix something for somebody’

Lots of women might relate to actor, writer, producer and mother-of-three Victoria Smurfits description of childbirth as an extreme sport but possibly less might describe their experience as hilarious.
I just kept bursting into these fits of laughter, Smurfit explains, describing the birth of her first child Evie. I just thought, this is ridiculous this cant be what happens.
Having followed her friends advice to go and enjoy giving birth, she says that it made such a difference. The pain is the pain but I kept on laughing, going it cant get worse and then it did!
But if laughter was the sentiment on the labour ward, a newfound fear became the sentiment on the streets as Smurfits perception of the world changed. Parenthood made me very aware of being mortal, she says. Suddenly, the world was a very scary place. I was barreling through life thinking, ah sure itll be grand and then suddenly I had this tiny baby. I remember walking down Grafton Street with Evie in her pram. Her dad was pushing the pram and Im in front of the pram waving people who are holding cigarettes out of the bloody way. Just get out of the way, cigarettes at the same level as my childs face, its just not acceptable. Suddenly there was danger everywhere.
Evie and Victoria.
Anytime Evie cried, or any of them cried, it was like my ovaries were going to fall out of my body. It was a physical pain so I couldnt let them struggle in anything that I could fix. As I found out later on in parenthood, theres stuff that you cant fix.
I look back on those days and think, although they were relentlessly exhausting, they were easier because youre in charge and youre in control and its only you who they rely on.
I was just about to start doing a play and I thought, youre just overwhelmed
Following the birth of her third child, Flynn, she struggled with postnatal depression, something she says was unexpected.
I couldnt really understand it and I just thought Im just overwhelmed, youve got three little kids. I was just about to start doing a play and I thought youre just overwhelmed, but I found myself staring at the door going, you could just walk out, you could just walk out. Theyll be fine. Their dad will be home soon. You could just go.
I was walking down the high street in Ranelagh to go and get my ex-husbands shirts from the dry cleaner. It was raining cats and dogs and the dry cleaner said it wasnt ready and I fell apart. I thought, what is happening ? 
And I thought, but thats such a crazy thought. Whats wrong with you? Thats such a crazy thought. And I would constantly berate myself for thinking these weird things and think, what is wrong with you woman.
One day I was walking down the high street in Ranelagh to go and get my ex-husbands shirts from the dry cleaner. It was raining cats and dogs and the dry cleaner said it wasnt ready and I fell apart. I thought, what is happening? Im walking down in the pouring rain from the dry cleaners to where I was living, and I was living right next to the medical centre, and in that moment my district nurse walked out and saw me sobbing my heart out and said, oh God, Victoria, whats wrong? She swept me up, she brought me in and sat me down and said, okay darling, youre struggling.
Postnatal depression is not for the fainthearted, says Smurfit. Its very, very real. You feel crazy. You genuinely feel crazy. Theres another person in your head and your bodys not your own and its quite scary because you wonder it itll ever go back. And you wonder if the previous you was the fake you and if this is the real you and the negative and the anxious is the real version of you.
Her postnatal depression lasted several months. Im endlessly grateful to the district nurse who just gave me a way to solve it and showed me some kindness.
I dont think we should expect the dad to be like mums and the mums to be like dads
When it comes to pressure on mums, and parental guilt, Smurfit says mums and dads are on different frequencies and I think thats done for a reason. Theres two of you dealing with different things I dont think we should expect the dad to be like mums and the mums to be like dads.
Smurfit thinks that wanting to be able to work and wanting to have a life outside of parenting has made life tougher on mums. Our generation is probably the first thats done it cohesively. The next generation may choose to stay at home. Having been a working mum and a full-time-at-home mum I can tell you that being a full-time-at-home mum is a much tougher gig than going to work. It is much harder, theres no two ways about it. I go to work for a break a thousand per cent. Because you have a singular focus.
When filming Trial and Retribution, Smurfit says she was getting up at 4.40 in the morning to be able to blitz all the food so that when the minder woke up with the kids and I was off arresting people at work, that she had all the food ready and that was part of my parenting guilt.
Now she could have easily fed all the kids without a problem, but part of my parenting guilt was, well if I make all the food, if Ive done all the nurturing then thats something. Then youre up all night with them and then you go back to work.
The parenting guilt is very real and I dont think it helps anybody really. But its sort of a natural state. Theres judgment in whatever you do and whatever youre not doing. I think one of the things that made life easier was getting older and thinking, I really dont care what anybody thinks.
One of Smurfits toughest parenthood challenges came when her eldest daughter Evie was diagnosed with macular dystrophy, a genetic eye disorder. I fell apart. I just had to go into right, whats the solution mode? I couldnt find one. I still cant find one. I spent most of my nights wide awake, googling. You dont sleep. Youre just in survival mode because its wrong to be told you cant fix something for somebody.
We found out when she was 12. Shes lost a lot of sight, her central vision. The perceived thinking is that will continue until she just has her peripherals. We are currently engaging in a trial that Im hoping will help. We were supposed to go [to the US] and then lockdown happened.
Evies siblings, Ridley and Flynn, are a huge support to their big sister
Shes an artist and shes a creative, so sight and vision are very important to her. Shes an amazingly resilient, emotionally intelligent young lady. Im endlessly impressed with her, says Smurfit of Evie, who is an ambassador for fighting blindness along with her mother.
Evies siblings, Ridley and Flynn, are a huge support to their big sister. They just automatically help her out, explains Smurfit. Ridley is incredible and I feel that at some point she probably had too much responsibility on her that I hadnt noticed. Because theyre two sister theyre together a lot and I hadnt realised just how much Ridley had to manage for her, simple things like, no dont cross the road now or Ill tell you whats on the menu or Ill tell you whats there, or go that way, dont go this way . I think as soon as I recognised and her dad recognised how much she was doing it felt less like a burden and more just right.
Smurfit is conscious to ensure her younger two children are not overlooked as she supports her eldest daughter.
Evie and Victoria.
Making sure that the other two dont feel ignored because one needs a little bit more help thats another very real thing youve got to navigate. Trying to navigate that and make sure the other two dont feel they get less attention or less focus. To work that out, I had to fail.
Seeing Evie speak in St Jamess Palace to HRH Sophie Wessex and Sophie Wessex … saying what an incredible kid
There have been plenty of parental highs for Smurfit along the way too. One such moment was seeing Evie speak in St Jamess Palace to HRH Sophie Wessex and Sophie Wessex coming in and saying what an incredible kid. Ridleys artistic ability is just off the chain, says Smurfit proudly. My kids getting their black belts. Great weeping, sobbing, OMG my kids are epic moments. And Im also extremely impressed with how theyve dealt with lockdown.
When it comes to regrets, Smurfit says she wishes shed asked for more help. I wish I hadnt thought I could do it all myself. I wish Id let go of the reins a bit more. I wish Id gone, yeah I will get a nanny or I will get help. My guilty parenting thing said I could only get help when I was working.
I wish I had more times raising the kids around family. Going to America was fantastic, she says. But we created our family there and its really nice to be back closer to family now. 
Parenting in my ShoesPart 1: Vicky Phelan
Part 2: Lynn Ruane
Part 3: Keith Walsh
Part 4: Victoria Smurfit