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Tears and trials of living far from grandma: the Northern Ireland families who understand Meghan's sadness


Meghan Markle with her mum Doria Ragland
Meghan Markle with her mum Doria Ragland
Family ties: Rachel Annett’s parents Christine and Doug Gilmore with their grandchildren (left to right) Charlie Gilmore, Chrissie Annett, Pip Gilmore and Jamie Annett
Rachel and husband Michael with Chrissie and Jamie
Support calls: Florina Rusa with daughters Daria and Alessia
Valuable help: Anne Dunlop with her mum Angela

By Linda Stewart

The Duchess of Sussex’s mum, Doria Ragland, recently returned home to Los Angeles after spending a month in Windsor to help out when her grandchild, Archie, was born. Linda Stewart talks to three mums about the challenges of long distance relationships with your parents when you have babies of your own.

'I talk to my mother in the US every day, but she'd love to be here to hug and cuddle the kids'

Rachel and husband Michael with Chrissie and Jamie

Rachel Annett (31), originally from Denver, lives in Rathfriland with her husband Michael (47), an engineer, and their children, Jamie (2) and Chrissie (1).

The pair both worked for the same company, Michael at the parent company in the UK and Rachel at the sister company in the States. They kept in contact after meeting on the job and their friendship deepened into love.

They married in June 2016 and Rachel discovered she was pregnant in August, but had to return to the States because she still didn't have her visa sorted out. She had her first few maternity appointments in the States before she was able to move to Northern Ireland for good.

"I couldn't have been happier with the NHS and how they run things," she says.

"But I didn't really know anybody who had babies to ask questions of - even questions on how things work here. I didn't know."

But Rachel was still able to talk to her mum Christine (60) at home for support.

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"I talk to her every single day on Facetime. My son even takes the phone from me when I'm on Facetime and goes off and talks to her in baby language."

Rachel's mum has been over a couple of times since the birth. She first came over to help out two weeks after the due date when Michael was returning to work after paternity leave.

Family ties: Rachel Annett’s parents Christine and Doug Gilmore with their grandchildren (left to right) Charlie Gilmore, Chrissie Annett, Pip Gilmore and Jamie Annett

Rachel says she doesn't miss out on her mum's support because she talks to her all the time, but she does wish she was present.

"It's just that she loves babies and she would love to see and hold them every day," she says.

"She recently came over and the thing she misses is that face-to-face interaction. She loves to see them all the time and be able to take them for walks and stuff.

"Even as a new mum you're tired and if Jamie woke up she could go and pick him up at night and feed him and cuddle him and all that stuff while I was able to recuperate.

"She came over when Chrissie was born as well and helped with the recuperation. Chrissie was being breast fed and we had to co-sleep, so if Jamie woke up she was able to go and calm him down when I was focusing on Chrissie."

Rachel says that technology, such as Facetime, has been invaluable but admits you still need more.

"It's that physical interaction that you need - you just need a hug and cuddle," she says.

Rachel says the hardest part of being away from her mum is that when she's around she can count on her for support.

"Sure, I have my husband's family here that I can call on in an emergency, but it's not the same type of support you can get with your own family that you grew up around," she says.

"There are times I feel that, if I need somebody to mind the children for a short time, I need to rush there and back because I don't want to be a hindrance to them.

"Whereas if it's my own mum, who I feel more comfortable with asking, I would take my time and be more relaxed while I'm gone because I know them," Rachel adds.

'My mum sends parcels from Romania, but  I miss the feeling that  she could call in for a wee chat any time'

Support calls: Florina Rusa with daughters Daria and Alessia

Nurse Florina Rusu (37), originally from north east Romania, moved to Northern Ireland with her daughter Daria (now 8). They live in south Belfast with her partner Andrei, also a nurse, and daughter Alessia (3).

Florina decided to move to the UK after she had Daria because incomes were so low in Romania - "I wanted her to have a better life and more opportunity".

The plan was to move to England to find work in nursing, but Florina was offered a job in a nursing home in Northern Ireland and fell in love with the place.

Daria was born in Romania, where Florina had the support of her mother Maria (60) and father Florin (61), but Alessia was born in Belfast.

"I do feel the difference without them, a little bit, because I was on my own. My mum has been here twice, the first time with my dad and last year she came for three months," Florina says.

"I wasn't worried for myself as much as I was worried for the girls. I was tired and I couldn't give them as much support as I could if I had a granny with me. It was just me and Andrei, and it was harder, obviously.

"Although Facetime helped a lot - I could call my parents any time I wanted and I could ask for advice and we could see each other.

"After the first couple of months, Andrei's mum came over and she stayed for a while, and then my mum came over and stayed for a couple of months.

"When Alessia was one we started going over in the summer so that the girls can spend time with my parents. The girls spend the whole summer there."

Florina says she does miss the love and affection that you get when you're with your mum.

"It's that support, to know that somebody is there, just in case," she says. "But I'm a very positive person, so I always say that I am going to make it.

"But they call me all the time. Every time we talk, she tries to support me, help me and give advice all the time, and that was reassurance for any worries."

Florina's mum sends the family parcels from home filled with home-made foods such as jams and syrups made from fruit at home.

"I'm very close to my mum and dad. We can talk about anything - they're very open-minded," she says.

"I miss that feeling that you can call at any time. When your mum is in Northern Ireland she can come even if she is an hour-and-a-half away. But my mum can't get on a flight straight away, so if she feels she would like to come and have a wee chat, she can't," Florina says.

'We were living in Botswana and I missed having her about... I think she was worried sick'

Valuable help: Anne Dunlop with her mum Angela

Novelist and housewife Anne Dunlop (50) was set to move to Botswana with her husband Nick (58) when it was time for her first child to arrive. She has four children - Maud (19), Rex (18), Florence (17) and Beatrice (16) - and is currently living in Belfast.

Anne and Nick met in Bahrain in 1994 when he was working for an international building firm and she had just arrived to work for a Middle Eastern airline.

"We met the first week I arrived. He was someone who was based in Bahrain and I was flying a lot, so he was always there when I got home," Anne says.

"We got married in 1998 and a couple of months after that he was moved to Oman to work."

However, there was a hitch with the start of the job and during the delay Nick went to work in Botswana, just as Anne was expecting her first baby.

With everything up in the air, Anne came home to stay in a house on the family farm in Castledawson and her daughter Maud was delivered in Magherafelt.

"Because we were in transition, we didn't know if we were going to be in Oman or Botswana," she says.

"It was very hard because I knew nothing about babies. When I was a girl in the 1980s there was such a drive about women being educated and having it all, but I missed out the bit about babies. I just assumed it would come to me naturally. So it was just as well that my mum was there."

Anne's mum Angela was living on the same farm, "not quite within shouting distance", which meant she could be around for the first 10 weeks until Anne and Maud moved to Botswana.

"My recollection was that it was fine - I may have blanked out the bad bits! The breastfeeding went okay - I don't recall any problems," Anne says.

"It was my first time going to Botswana and my parents came out with me on that flight. I remember we each had a dummy safety-pinned to our clothes in case she wanted it."

But she found she was able to cope after her parents returned to Northern Ireland.

"It's more because you're breastfeeding and the buck stops with me - you simply can't hand a baby over if you're breastfeeding. I might have been more panicky if I had a bottle-fed child and was used to handing her over," she says.

Anne returned home to have her next two children, Rex and Florence, but by the time Beatrice was on the way, the family were well settled in Botswana and she was born there.

"The most difficult time would have been with my first child because I had nobody to help," Anne says.

After Maud, there was more help around the house in Botswana because there were staff to help with chores, but Anne says it wasn't the same as having her mum about.

"You can't really beat having a loving helpful mother who is there for you, really. Your mother is really the only person you can let your guard down with," she admits.

"Your mum is the only person you can make a complete twit of yourself in front of and get away with it. When you're tired and tearful or you've made a mistake, your mum will back you up and she will support you unquestioningly. Thinking about it, I probably did miss her a lot more than I realised."

Anne says a long distance relationship is much easier now because at that time she had very little contact with the outside world, but these days it's possible to email, text or even chat daily on Whatsapp.

"I think my mum was worried sick most of the time actually. But I've become a very capable person - you just have to," Anne says.

"It must be absolutely lovely to have the granny around all the time because she is really the only person that you allow to mother you when you have a baby. The buck stops with the mother and the only person that can help you out is the granny.

"I probably wish that she had been around a lot more, but you develop coping mechanisms if the person isn't there, although it's much nicer if she is."

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