Giovanna Fletcher talks motherhood, lockdown and why she's after Michelle Obama

2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, with COVID-19 imposing restrictions and confining us to our homes, uniting us all in a rollercoaster of emotion, challenges and self-discovery.

Parents across the world have especially been forced to step up, juggling full-time child care and teaching duties with careers of their own.

It's hardly surprising therefore that people have been turning to Giovanna Fletcher's popular podcast, Happy Mum Happy Baby, even more than they were before.

Originally created to give new mums honesty about the very real feelings that come with motherhood, Happy Mum Happy Baby has grown into a community of support. From the podcasts (six seasons of guests from Kate Middleton to Dawn O'Porter) to the amazing Happy Mum Happy Baby Facebook group where parents can ask questions and seek guidance without being judged, HMHB has become a lifeline to parents across the country.

MC Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot sat down with the wonderful Gi to catch up about this year, from parenting in lockdown and adapting her podcast to her dream future guest.

How have you been this year?

It’s been a strange time. I think there’s an overriding feeling of being very lucky to be in the situation that we are in during this pandemic - just simple things like, we have a garden, we are able to put food on the table and we’re stable in our jobs. It has definitely been a strange time though. I think we’re people that constantly keep going and keep driving forward to the next thing and don’t actually ever stop, so it has been strange to learn that stopping is actually alright in many ways. We’re never going to have this prolonged time of being purely in each other’s company ever again, so I think we’ll look back on it as somewhat of a special and unique time.

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Has it been challenging to adapt your podcast?

We have always filmed in a studio, so now I would say the most nerve-racking thing is having to press record myself. One recording actually stopped working right before we started the interview - just before I had actually said ‘hello’ - so thank goodness I noticed before we actually started. It has been different. I think there’s a lovely thing about being in the room with someone. You can reassure them and when you’re properly with each other, you open up and it’s wonderful. But, being in lockdown, and being the only person that person has properly spoken to in days outside of their family, I feel like everyone has needed to have a chat. When we are in the studio I think we probably record for one hour but I think some of these chats over lockdown have been about two hours - we just kept going. I think these talks are needed now more than ever.

Happy Mum Happy Baby has really become more important than ever...

People aren’t able to properly access the communities and support groups that they are a part of right now or for a while, so being part of this new community for them has been really important. I know the Happy Mum Happy Baby Facebook group has been delightful - I dip in and out of there all the time and see all the comments and the way that people are chatting to each other. It’s such a wonderful, inclusive community that we’ve built, and I know that during this weird phase of our lives where it’s so easy to feel cut-off and isolated, it’s so important to have a place where people are actually not alone and do belong and can ask questions and get support without feeling judged.

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Have you felt a responsibility to keep the Happy Mum Happy Baby channels active at such a difficult time?

Yes, definitely. What drives me a lot is a statistic I heard a couple of years ago - the leading cause of deaths in new mums is suicide. The podcast was already going, but hearing that gave me a bit of fire in my belly. Becoming a mum is overwhelming and your life completely changes overnight. It’s so important to know that you’re not on your own, that support is out there and that actually you might feel differently in a week, two weeks or six months. It’s so important that these conversations are happening - that we’re talking about miscarriage or baby loss or IVF, because some people that go through it can’t talk about it or they can’t express how they’re feeling. To hear someone else speak and give their account is the best thing because they’re hearing how they feel and realising that what they’re experiencing doesn’t make them a failure. It’s not about them, it’s the situation that they’re in and I think they can get a lot of comfort from that.

How have you found being a parent over lockdown?

I’m not going to lie, it has been intense. There was a point actually when Tom’s mum and dad took Max - our two year old - out when we had to take Buzz and Buddy to their first day at school. We came back and I think Tom had gone to the loo and I was just sat downstairs by myself and I was like ‘I can hear the hum of the fridge. That is a beautiful sound - I have not heard the hum of the fridge for I don’t know how long!’ You’re constantly switched on, you’re constantly refereeing and something is constantly being asked of you. I’m sure other families are more chilled out, but for us personally everything is high energy, everything is instant - it’s all constantly go, go, go.

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People are becoming a lot more open about their struggles...

Yeah exactly. I imagine a lot of friends have just phoned each other and gone, ‘How are you really?’ And I don’t think that actually happens a lot in real life. I think that we’re all on our own separate little hamster wheels - going constantly, never getting off, never stopping - and actually it has been a moment where we realise how important those conversations with your friends are. When a friend says they have been in a really dark place, we always wish that they had come to us and told us, so now with everything going on, I really hope that people are able to talk about mental health so much more. That’s a massive reason why we work with Mind as one of our charities. We don’t know what the long-lasting effects of this or the knock-on effects on people’s mental health are going to be - different challenges are going to pop up, and because of what we’re about to face or are still facing, I think it’s really important to support charities who are doing such amazing work.

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It must mean a lot to hear how much your community has helped people...

It’s one thing when a DM lands in your inbox and someone says ‘you’ve really helped me’, but then when you’re out and about, there’s something special about meeting and seeing people. I’ve had it happen a lot where I meet a mum and I see her baby in the pram and I’m literally having a chat with her about how I’ve helped her through the first few months of motherhood and how the podcast has been a support network for them. Whether we’ve helped through the night feeds or helped them realise that whatever they’re experiencing or feeling is completely normal or when it’s actually time to seek help (something that’s an empowering thing in itself), it’s those chats that make me go ‘Yeah, this really does mean something’. I feel like I’m going through therapy every time I have one of those chats - I literally feel like I’m coming out of it having learnt something, and so it does mean a lot that it helps others in those ways too.

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What led you to initially create Happy Mum Happy Baby?

I had written four novels at the time I believe, and on book tours I would constantly be asked, 'Are you ever going to write a book about being a mum?' There were definitely lots of advice books out there, telling you how to do the right thing, and I didn’t want to add to the noise in terms of - this is what you should do. At that point I was sharing quite honestly online, so I went away and thought, If I was to write a book what would that look like? And I thought that actually the best thing you could give a new mum was honesty of how you found it. Leave out how wonderful it is and how blessed you are to have your child. What about the tears at nighttime? What about when things don’t go right? What about the feeling of never being enough and the feeling of being alone and quite inept as a parent? Let’s focus on that. To be honest, I started Happy Mum Happy Baby not really knowing how much I was going to keep in, and I just kept thinking that I would write it all down, get it all out and then I could edit bits out, but at the end of it I just thought, 'No I don’t want to because that’s all part of me'.

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And how did that become a podcast?

Then, going on that book tour, meeting mums and realising how important that conversation was, I didn’t want it to end. I wanted it to continue because we all know, whether it’s books or music, the majority of them come for a certain amount of time, are spoken about for a certain amount of time and then people move on, and I just knew that as a new mum I wanted that conversation to carry on to give people that support. So, I dreamt up this idea of having a podcast, but it was no longer really about me but about the guests that came on. I sent a message to 10 different people that I knew, all a bit varied, and they all came back and said that they would like to be a part of it. To be honest, everyone around me was a bit hesitant about me starting a podcast - none of us really knew anything about podcasts, but I just loved them so we went for it. Now, we’re on series seven and alongside that we’ve got the Happy Mum Happy Baby Facebook group. It’s amazing to know that we’ve built this community of people who look at other parents in a non-judgemental way and who know that their words around parenting can be encouraging and uplifting. It's pretty amazing.

Did you have any idea how big it would get?

I think I always hoped, but no. I remember doing interviews on the first series, and asked who my dream guest would be, and I plucked out Kate Middleton, thinking ‘Well, as if, but I’ll say her because that’s a long shot’, and it always made the person interviewing me laugh because it’s ridiculous. So, no, I never realised how big it would be but I knew how important it would be. And for me, I don’t care if it’s listened to by 50,000 people or 5 people who really get it and need it. It has been amazing to see it grow.

Do you have a dream guest now?

I think it’s Michelle Obama - I want to know what it’s like being a parent in the White House. Who knows if it will happen. I’ll say her name enough in interviews and hopefully she’ll hear about it.

Jenny Proudfoot
Features Editor

Jenny Proudfoot is an award-winning journalist, specialising in lifestyle, culture, entertainment, international development and politics. She has worked at Marie Claire UK for seven years, rising from intern to Features Editor and is now the most published Marie Claire writer of all time. She was made a 30 under 30 award-winner last year and named a rising star in journalism by the Professional Publishers Association.