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Meet the Co Down woman who baked her way back to happiness after the trauma of four miscarriages

After suffering the devastating loss of four babies, Co Down woman Lynsey Bleakley gave up her job in nursing and has turned an interest in baking into a successful business. She tells Claire O'Boyle how she's been able to help those in need during the lockdown

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Right recipe: Lynsey Bleakley, baking

Right recipe: Lynsey Bleakley, baking

Right recipe: Lynsey Bleakley

Right recipe: Lynsey Bleakley

Lynsey with her daughter Yazmin

Lynsey with her daughter Yazmin

Close bond: Lynsey with daughter Yazmin

Close bond: Lynsey with daughter Yazmin

Lynsey Bleakley

Lynsey Bleakley

A box of Bumble and Goose goodies

A box of Bumble and Goose goodies

Taste sensation: some of Bumble and Goose’s products

Taste sensation: some of Bumble and Goose’s products

Taste sensation: some of Bumble and Goose’s products

Taste sensation: some of Bumble and Goose’s products

Right recipe: Lynsey Bleakley, baking

For more than 10 years, Lynsey Bleakley adored her job. Working as a health visitor, the mum-of-one treasured the time she spent with new mothers and their babies, and thrived from the feedback she got.

But when tragedy struck, not once but four times in quick succession as Lynsey tried desperately to add to her family, the job she once loved became too much to bear.

"I had four miscarriages within two years," recalls Lynsey, from Bangor. "I knew I was lucky to have my daughter Yazmin, who's now 19, but when I married for a second time in my mid-30s, my husband James and I dreamt of having more children.

"I don't know why we thought it would come easily for us, but in the end it really didn't - and eventually we accepted that it wasn't to be."

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Close bond: Lynsey with daughter Yazmin

Close bond: Lynsey with daughter Yazmin

Close bond: Lynsey with daughter Yazmin

After hitting rock bottom two years ago as she struggled with her grief, Lynsey gave up the job she loved and turned to baking to lift her mind and her spirits.

And remarkably, in an outcome she never imagined, she has now built a successful business called Bumble and Goose, selling luxury cakes and personalised biscuits, buns and brownies from a bespoke and stunning bake house in the back garden of her home.

"It was something I never dreamt of or planned for," says Lynsey (43).

"I turned to baking on the advice of my therapist, someone I saw for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), to help me take my mind off what had happened.

"It was a way to be mindful and to concentrate on something other than my grief. The fact it's transformed into what it has over the last year is just as much of a surprise to me as anyone else.

"It's given me a sense of purpose again. I feel like it found me, rather than the other way, and in spite of all the sadness over what happened, it's been very important to find an outlet."

Even since the strict lockdown restrictions came into place as a result of coronavirus, Lynsey has been busy fulfilling a high demand in orders.

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Right recipe: Lynsey Bleakley

Right recipe: Lynsey Bleakley

Right recipe: Lynsey Bleakley

"It's been such a strange time, and I haven't been across the door for weeks," she says. "But unbelievably it's been an incredibly busy time for Bumble and Goose. I thought at the beginning that we'd be shutting up shop, but because we're a bakery we're allowed to stay open.

"No one is coming to the house though. There are no collections, and I don't have anyone working with me at the minute. Which is crazy because we are swamped with work. It's not what we expected at all, but what we're doing is so heartwarming that it's really lifting my spirits to be involved with it.

"We've had companies come to us to ask us to send gifts to people working from home, as well as employees who have been furloughed. They're just doing their best to let them know they're valued and that they're still part of the team.

"We also sent a huge batch of biscuits to the NI Hospice from management working from home to staff still there every day caring for patients. We've sent biscuits to midwives, dieticians and brownies to a doctor recovering from Covid-19. We've had people ordering treats for their mums who are in isolation for their birthdays, and in a funny way it's been nice to know we're helping to put a smile on people's faces through all this stress. We've sent deliveries UK-wide, and I have an order going to Dublin next week.

"It's really helping to keep my mind off it all too of course, because I'm often working until 10pm."

And Lynsey is getting some extra help from close at hand.

"As well as sending some things through the post, my daughter is doing doorstep deliveries," she reveals.

"She's got her gloves and hand sanitiser, and she sets deliveries on the doorstep before ringing the bell and moving back a good distance. It means we're keeping everyone safe."

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Taste sensation: some of Bumble and Goose’s products

Taste sensation: some of Bumble and Goose’s products

Taste sensation: some of Bumble and Goose’s products

Looking back now, Lynsey is grateful for all the success she has achieved following a series of desperately tragic events in her life.

It was two years after her intimate Edinburgh wedding to businessman James (41) that the couple first visited a doctor to discuss concerns about their fertility.

"For more than 10 years it had just been me and Yazmin, and when James came along he just fitted into our little family of two very easily," recalls Lynsey.

"I was 35 when we met, and we were married within 17 months.

"We knew very quickly we'd both found 'the one' and we both wanted children straight away.

"We knew of course that I was in my mid-30s, but we joked and hoped we could squeeze three in.

"After two years of trying, we went for some fertility advice - and ironically a week after the first appointment, I found out I was pregnant."

Tragically, just a week after the news which had left the couple "completely over the moon", Lynsey felt unwell and went to hospital.

"I had a miscarriage," she says. "I'd have been just around six weeks pregnant at that point, and it came as such a shock.

"Before then it had never occurred to me that I would have a miscarriage. I don't know why, because lots of women do, but it was devastating."

Lynsey took a break from her job as a health visitor at that point, and four months later found out she was pregnant once again. However, again, the pregnancy didn't survive.

"This time I went back to work," says Lynsey. "I started having CBT at that point, and the support helped. The whole basis of my job was going into people's homes to support pregnant mums and new mums, mums with their babies and their young children.

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Taste sensation: some of Bumble and Goose’s products

Taste sensation: some of Bumble and Goose’s products

Taste sensation: some of Bumble and Goose’s products

"It was really, really difficult and I suppose looking back it was a bit like that toothache you just keep poking, but I was determined to go back because I felt the job I did was important, and the women I worked with really benefited from my support."

However, just over a year after returning to work, Lynsey was pregnant for a third time.

"That was a very short pregnancy, and I lost the baby again," she recalls. "I didn't take any time off work and just carried on."

When it happened for a fourth time though, in 2017, the cumulative impact of the grief became too much for Lynsey to cope with.

"The fourth one (pregnancy) had actually seemed more positive," she says. "So when it turned out that wasn't to be either, well it broke me. I just thought, what are the chances of this happening four times? I was heartbroken, as was James, and we realised we just couldn't bear the thought of it happening again."

Four months after her fourth miscarriage, Lynsey returned to work. This time, she called it quits after six months.

"I was the last person to realise, or maybe to accept, the impact that it was having. I was seeing maybe five, six, seven women and their babies every day. It was only when I stopped I realised what an enormous amount of pressure I was putting on myself. I thought, 'I can do this'.

"There was this sense of failure that I couldn't make and grow a baby, but I could damn well do my job. When you're a health visitor you give so much of yourself to your mummies, you're so invested in them and their outcomes and emotional wellbeing. But it was obviously doing nothing for my own."

In the end, the pressure became too much, and Lynsey stepped down from the job she'd once loved.

"I'd carried on with CBT right throughout the whole process," she explains. "And when I stopped working it was a very emotional decision.

"For almost all my adult life, I'd been a nurse, a health visitor. Your job is what defines you in a lot of ways, and I was incredibly anxious about making that leap.

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Lynsey Bleakley

Lynsey Bleakley

Lynsey Bleakley

"But honestly it didn't take long after I'd done it that I felt the relief setting in that I didn't have to worry about the people I was meeting every day.

"That I could concentrate on worrying about me. In health visiting you worry about the mums and the babies, especially the ones who struggle to look after the babies.

"When I finally made the decision it was like taking back control, and I felt it was my opportunity to help myself rather than being a passenger in the whole thing.

"James and Yazmin, who's studying at Queen's University, were enormously supportive, and my mum had been saying for a while that I should rethink what I was doing. I think I was the last one who accepted the change needed to happen."

But with long, empty days looming ahead of her, previously busy Lynsey was nervous about how to fill her time - and when her CBT therapist told her to find a focus, she turned quite quickly to baking.

"It was something I'd done a lot when I was younger with my mum, and when you're baking, you need to focus and concentrate. If you want things to be beautiful and to work perfectly, your mind can't wander. It was a huge help with any feelings of anxiety I was having.

"More importantly, especially at the start, it gave me something to do. I'd get up and get ready, and it gave me a sense of routine. After a such a long time working it can be unsettling not to have a routine, so I'd make a cake, some brownies, whatever notion took me."

To begin with, Lynsey would hand her creations out to her family and friends, and the neighbours did well out of it, too.

"Yazmin would bring Tupperware tubs packed with brownies to school and the kids would stop her in the corridors to ask if she had any left," recalls Lynsey.

"People were constantly telling me I should sell them, so I thought I'd give it a go and sell a few for kids' parties and things like that. I thought it'd be an outlet for my baking and an extra bit of money."

But with a background in engineering, James, who owns his own tiling and stone flooring company, teamed up with Lynsey's dad to create a bespoke bakehouse for her in the grounds at the back of their Ballyholme home.

"It was pretty amazing of them," says Lynsey. "They got their heads together and designed and made my bakehouse, which is a standalone building at the back of the house.

"They had lengthy conversations with building control and environmental health, and in the end it was absolutely beautiful. They built it between them, with some help on the plumbing and electrics."

Lynsey's bakehouse was up and running from last year, and already the modest business she'd envisaged has evolved beyond anything she'd hoped for.

"It's been a huge success," says Lynsey, who now employs her mum Joyce to help her, as well as another baker, Chris, one day a week.

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Lynsey with her daughter Yazmin

Lynsey with her daughter Yazmin

Lynsey with her daughter Yazmin

"James built the website, which has brought us to people's attention much further afield than we'd aimed for.

"And while we'd planned initially for children's parties, the cakes we're making are really very special and indulgent. The packaging is a beautiful luxurious pink and gold, with more masculine black and gold options.

"We've been posting our brownies UK-wide, and at Christmas we sent a lot of orders to London as well as Cornwall, Devon and different parts of Scotland."

In fact, one commercial client in London sent their order of biscuits across the Atlantic to Kansas in the US, as a thank you gift to their suppliers, as well as others in Austria and Germany. An order went to Dubai last month.

"We also did Bill Wolsey's (the hospitality magnate) little girl's birthday cake, which was such a pleasure," says Lynsey. "I dealt with his wife Petra who was such a lovely lady to deal with, and their daughter was a delight too."

As well as a clean slate of 5-star reviews online, and a huge number of return customers, Lynsey's company, Bumble and Goose, is making huge inroads through word of mouth recommendations.

"I think that's a good sign," she says. "I never thought of myself as a businesswoman. I never thought of myself as an especially amazing baker. But things just come along when you least expect them. I needed to bake as a way to get through what was such a difficult time.

"And while I'm really happy about how it's going, I still struggle. I still have anxiety and I have to work hard to keep on top of it, especially on days like Mother's Day and on the anniversaries of the losses.

"But I walk and meditate, I take my dogs to the beach. Things didn't pan out the way we thought, and it was a very big thing for us.

"But I know I'm very, very lucky. I have an amazing daughter and husband, but it can be a very big adjustment from what you think you're going to do and what ends up happening.

"You see lots of stories about women struggling with fertility and the lengths they'll go to, the torture they'll put themselves through to get what they think will be the family they want. But it's not always possible.

"The perfect pictures of people on social media don't always help. The 'family days out' and everything targeted so much at people with young kids.

"I know my situation is just that, my own personal situation, and I know the sadness doesn't go away.

"But you can take back a little bit of control and find something good for yourself, to find a sense of fulfilment that perhaps you thought you'd lost. There is hope - and I think lots of good things are still to come."

For further information, visit www.bumbleandgoose.co.uk

Belfast Telegraph