Former Love Island star, Olivia Bowen has always been really honest about personal moments in her life - from her relationship with husband Alex Bowen, to opening up about her birth experience. We caught up with the mum-of-one to talk about her journey into motherhood, how she copes with anxiety and her ambition to use her platform to support and uplift mothers and women everywhere.
While navigating the hurdles of motherhood, Olivia discusses how fast the first year of being a mum to son Abel has gone and how her family are preparing for the first birthday milestone. She tells us, "I just can’t believe how quick it goes. Everyone always says 'enjoy every stage because it goes so fast' and I just don't know where the time has gone – he's just already doing so much. I remember him being a tiny little newborn, I just don’t know what happened."
Olivia on anxiety in motherhood and nurturing her mental wellbeing
Being a parent can feel like one big juggling act and those first few years can be a whirlwind of emotions, especially for a first-time mum. Olivia has previously spoken about her mental health and dealing with depression and anxiety from a young age. The 29-year-old has now opened up about how she has navigated through her first few months of being a mum, the highs, the lows, and the importance of having mum-friends.
“It (parenthood) is full on. I think I actually struggled a lot more when Abel was first born," says Olivia. "I don't know whether it was all the hormones flying around, or the breastfeeding was difficult, but it was all very new. I really did struggle, I had quite bad anxiety. At the start, I used to time Abel's naps to a T, I used to be obsessive about how much he ate and little things like that, but I do think a lot of mums do at the start...I think a lot of us do it.
"I feel like now I am settling into it a bit and have become a little bit more laid back. It’s huge on your mental capacity, because I don't feel like I think about much else, because you have no time in the day – I don't think I was ready for that. I don't think I was ready for how encompassing it (motherhood) is. It’s amazing, but there are days you're going to find hard. Some days I'd think ‘Oh my god, I'm so tired. I've got no energy,' but at the end of the day, you just got to push through, don't you. You don't have a choice."
Olivia on fellow mums and her support network
We all know how important it is to have friends in your life, and having mum friends in particular can be therapy in itself when trying to feel normal after going through such a life-changing event. Olivia, and as many can relate to, was never keen on the idea of spending her afternoons at a soft play or immersing herself in baby groups. However, since becoming a mum she has gained so much from connecting with fellow mothers at various baby friendly groups.
"Three of my friends have kids," explains Olivia. "They have slightly older kids – the youngest is 18 months. Soft plays are something I would actually recommend. I was never gonna be the person that went to like soft play. I didn't want to get involved in any of the baby classes. It (being a mum) is one of the best things you can do, but you do feel really lonely.
"I think you feel like you're the only person going through what you're going through. When you make these mum friends at these soft play places, they really help you sort of put things in boxes and make you realise that you're not the only one going through it. So I've made a couple of new friends with children similar ages to Abel, which has been so helpful. If I needed to text someone or you know, call someone, or just get a little bit of advice that has been a help to no end."
One overarching thought when becoming a mum is how lonely it can feel. The responsibility of having to now look after a tiny human can feel overwhelming, and at times with a new baby, adult conversations can become few and far between. Pondering about developing friendships and having "a normal" life again Olivia says 'you sort of wonder 'how can I have an adult conversation' after spending the day being mum, changing nappies, breastfeeding etc.
She says, "It is a really hard thing to get used to and I don't think I was ever particularly prepared to become a mum. I was always really like, not against being a mum, but the word always scared me. I sort of felt weird for a good six months even thinking that I was a mum – I feel weird referring to myself as that even now."
Coping with anxiety in motherhood and picking up on signs of depression
It's clear that Olivia is very passionate about helping and uplifting other women, and is constantly talking about how crucial it is to open up to people, and to seek help when you need it. Talking about her own mental health, she says, "I've suffered with anxiety pretty much since I can remember. I had depression, since I was like 18. I used to be on antidepressants on-and-off for about five years, so I've sort of been through feeling down and I really can recognise signs."
Olivia tells us, "I think a big piece of advice would be to try and note down those signs and if you start feeling either anxious, or if you feel depressed, just to try and recognise those small little signs. Things like, 'Oh, did I brush my teeth today?' Or 'Did I feel like I didn't want to get out of bed today?' Just little signs that you can sort of note down, because usually, when I started seeing those signs, I knew that I was about to spiral. And it's trying to capture that spiral earlier – it's easier said than done though."
Seeking help when you're having low moods or moments of anxiety is so important, and we would always encourage you to speak to a GP to discuss your options. Olivia talks to us about having therapy and how these sessions have had a positive impact on her mental health. "I had cognitive behavioural therapy to try and get to the root of why I'm so anxious all the time. And that really, really helped massively. I know the NHS is so stretched, and it's so hard to get, but if that is an option for you, I would always recommend doing that."
How Olivia helps boost her endorphins
Steering more into some every day things, one thing Olivia does to help ease the mental load is to write lists! We do love a list. Olivia explains that outside of delving into therapy and understanding her thoughts, 'some of the simpler things that you can do is write lists'. She tells us, "I think everyone has a running to do list in their head of about 100 things. But actually writing them down on paper really helps me. Just seeing them there and then seeing them crossed off, it's like I can cross it off in my brain. If I don't see it crossed off, it won't cross off in my head. So that's helped me a lot."
Another thing Olivia does, and one we're also big advocates of, is 'getting outside for fresh air'. "Just getting outside is amazing for you," says Olivia. "Just a walk, doing exercise in the fresh air and getting out, and just taking a breath really helps me as well. It is all easier said than done." Olivia goes on to explain, that 'a problem shared is a problem halved' and that above all speaking to someone about any problems that may arise can do you a world of good, "I do believe that speaking to people is one of the best ways to clear your head, because when you hear it out loud, it doesn't always sound so scary."
Staying active and steering clear of making social media comparisons
"I've always followed Mother&Baby on Instagram, and always see your articles that pop up and am always, always reading them - there's always something that I read where I'm like, 'I was thinking that the other day'", says Olivia. While there is plenty of positive information and stories on social media, the mum-of-one tells us how she strays away from making comparisons with other mums and encourages others to do the same.
"I think keeping fit just really depends on the person," Olivia explains. "And this is where social media is really difficult because we all compare ourselves quite naturally to each other, because we can see each other and what each other is doing, but I think it really depends on the person. If you feel like you need to exercise or you feel like you want to try and lose weight, or you feel like you want to turn up or you're not bothered, it's all down to you.
"It's not anyone else's decision. This is what is so key. You have to really just look inside yourself and say 'what do I want?' And for me, I love exercising, and I horse ride as well. I can't physically ride my horse without being fit and strong. So for me, I had to go back and I had to get myself feeling healthy, fitter and stronger to be able to do something that I love – and that was the be all and end all.
"It wasn't particularly for an aesthetic position because actually like, you know, your bodies are going to change throughout your life. I'll probably have another baby. So I don't want to try and, banish what my body looks like through what I've gone through – It looks like that for a reason. We've just been through the biggest thing ever (child birth), and that's what I think we all have to remember. But again, if it's something that you want to do and you want to feel better about yourself and that's what's going to work then you know, just go and do it. It is just hard to find the time. Like, for any of us, when they nap the last thing you want to do is be running around."
Learning not to compare your parenting journey to another’s
We all know that no two parents live out the same parenting journey, and Olivia is not naive to this – in fact the reality TV star is very much humble and honest about how lucky she feels to have the support network she does and praises husband Alex for being a part of that. "I'm not gonna pretend like I...I have a husband that is at home a lot of the time because we both work from home. So if I wanted to go and do a run, or whatever, it is easy for me. So I never want anyone to think, 'Oh, she's running, I should run', because it's not as easy as that when you both work full time jobs – you can't if you don't have the time. So I think it's just really learning not to compare your situation to someone else's."
Couple time as a parent
Olivia talks about the challenges her and Alex have gone through since becoming parents, and how important it is to have dates if you can. "It’s so hard, because me and Alex spent six years of our lives together before we became parents...we were always here, there and everywhere. We only had each other to put first, and I think that dramatic change to having this little person who is essentially part of your relationship now...it's a massive change."
"[Becoming parents] brought up a lot of hurdles for Alex and I, because we've always put each other first," says Olivia. "Then suddenly, you want to put this little man first, like it's a really weird thing, and we had to overcome a lot of difficulties. We had to have a lot of honest, frank conversations with each other, and had to really put some work in. I think me and Alex never really thought that we'd need to do that, because we've always just been, and it sounds cheesy, but so happy and love, but this came with its difficulties, as much as we absolutely adore it. It's the best thing we've ever done, but for a relationship it’s a challenge because we appreciate each other in a different way now.
"There's been arguments, there's been phone conversations, there's been a lot of trying to work things out for sure and navigating something so new. So I'd say to any couple that's just had a new baby, hang in there and be patient with each other because it does come back. It just takes a while and it will feel weird. And it does feel weird, but you will get there."
Date nights with Alex and looking after each other
One thing Olivia wanted to do early on after giving birth to Abel, was make sure she got in a date with Alex. "Because I needed to rip the band aid off," she explains. "We went out two weeks after Abel was born for a dinner. Because I was like if I don't do it now I don't know when I’ll do it. We just ripped the band aid off. So anyone else that's quite like that. That was a good idea.
"I also saw something the other day. I mean, again, it's difficult and it's all down to circumstance. But it was 'to not just leave the crumbs' for your partner like that. That's the person who created this little life, and remember they love you as well. Like they also want it to be put first sometimes and I think that goes both ways. I know at the end of the day you just sort of sit and watch telly, but if you can go on one date night, it does a world of good, it really changes the way you look at things, and you can just have an adult conversation!"
Olivia**'s fave baby products at the moment**
We love a baby product recommendation her at Mother&Baby and we're always trying to help parents out. Olivia says, "One that's really been useful lately are pull up nappies because I cannot get the child to stay still for two seconds. So Pampers pull up nappies has become our new favourite thing."
She tells us, "I also have a rocking chair (the Gaia Serena Rocking and Nursing chair) for Abel's room. I think a lot of people sort of told me that I wouldn't use it. I am in that chair numerous times a day and it has been one of the best purchases – it's helped my back and for him because he likes to cuddle, and so do I! So that is definitely one of my favourite purchases. We are always in that."
Ambassador for Frenchic and nursery décor
Talking about doing up nurseries, Olivia talks us through some ideas and inspiration for Abel's room and her partnership with Frenchic. "I did Abel’s playroom all in Frenchic. I was all over Pinterest and I love rainbows for him. I found this little poster and that was what we based our playroom around. Frenchic have so many different colours and so many lovely pastels. So we actually used about five different colours for his playroom. We did a rainbow colour in his room with a really nice taupe main colour.
"One of the main reasons we used Frenchic in Abel’s playroom was because it’s perfect paint and is safe for nursery furniture and children's toys. So if you have any like old toys or old furniture that you wanted to up-cycle it's all safe, which I think is really amazing, because a lot of paint actually isn't (safe)."
2023: What’s next or Olivia and family
Olivia's plans for the rest of the year include preparing for Abel's first birthday and working with women's support charity Refuge. "I'm starting to work a lot more closely with women's Refuge. I worked with them previously a little bit to raise awareness and we did ICAP day, which is this huge charity day. We do it in London, but I think after having Abel it sort of made me realise how important it is to support women and they do so much work with women and children. So that's been a charity that I hope to work with more closely this year. And make sure that they're getting the attention and the awareness, and the money, that they need to continue doing the work that they do.
"And for us really as a family, just enjoying his first birthday, it makes me wanna cry! So weird, but I don't know what we'll do for his birthday. Luckily obviously he's born in summer so fingers crossed for a nice day and just have some friends over, I don’t want to think about it too much because he’s not going to remember it."
To learn more about Refuge and how to support the charity which helps empower women to live without fear of domestic abuse, visit their website, https://refuge.org.uk/.