Martina Stewart

What is a significant part of “your story” that is important to you?

All of it, as every single part has contributed to the person I am today.

Born in Ireland, moved all over Ireland and England before settling in Belmont at eight years of age. Went into foster care at 14 because of circumstances. Married at 20, first child at 21. Did a degree in graphics then changed route to be a childminder to be able to rear my children and provide for them. At 36 years of age, after having four beautiful children, I went from council home to mortgage…one of the biggest scariest but most wonderful un-regrettable experiences.

When I first moved to Crawley to get my children out of London, I had just bought a house here and felt this was a new beginning. I was happy living in council accommodation till my children started to grow and the estate where we lived started going downhill. I knew it was only a matter of time before my kids grew and would be surrounded by influences I wanted them to avoid. I wanted to have something secure for them for their futures.

My first mortgage was interest only, at the time this was quite high but we knew with my husband’s and my wage combined we’d still be comfortable with the payments. We sold that house after a few years and set about buying another. I wanted Crawley as I knew I’d be near the temple and church. We planned to do this home up then resell for a profit and use that to buy a permanent home. My then husband had bad credit score so we used my name for the mortgage.

A week later I became a single parent to four young children, the youngest being six months. Becoming a single parent was one of the scariest times in my life, as I had no one to share the burden with, no one to discuss little issues that happened through the day, no one to laugh with when the kids were in bed. It was all down to me, how these kids were raised, nurturing, guiding and keeping a roof over their heads whilst making sure food and other needs were met.

I lived on adrenaline knowing I had to provide for these children and keep a roof over our heads. I set up an overdraft to pay the mortgage and would pay it back with wages every month before interest mounted. I worked days and studied evenings to get myself on track. I look back now and wonder how I did it. I trusted in God to guide me and He did.

I had very little savings at the time and used most of that to keep us going till I had enough jobs. That was my biggest worry: that it was all down to me to keep our home and provide an income.

I’d be wrestling or playing football whilst smiling through worries about how to make the next mortgage payment. We’d often combine a walk to Tesco on a sunny day with food shopping, which we’d carry back under the buggy as it was easier than taking three little ones on the bus.

The balance of working and maintaining family life with young children has taught me so much, I remember praying for patience and then wishing I hadn’t…the more I prayed the more experiences I got to learn it. I then decided to pray for guidance which worked better. It usually came at night when the kids were asleep and the house quiet. I did feel my Heavenly Father beside me guiding me through some very difficult times and pushing me forward to where I needed to be.

Trying to balance the role of mum and dad wasn’t always easy, especially with my son who is autistic; those times felt very lonely. Knowing my child had a syndrome and fighting to be heard. Trying to get him the help he needed whilst also helping him with the frustration of not having a dad around. That feeling hasn’t ended; we still have challenges.

It took time for my career to build. I had qualifications behind me but had no one to fall back on as I rebuilt my career in a new town. I [had] studied a degree in graphic design and graduated when my second child was one year old. When I was at uni[versity] and my child wouldn’t settle in childcare, I decided to study childcare on the side. I decided to combine childcare and design so I’d be able to earn an income, have time with my kids as they grew, but keep up my design through freelancing.

I was booked solid within a week and earnt enough to give up freelance. The childcare took off very quickly and I found I didn’t have as much time to do freelance as I’d originally planned, but I was earning such a good wage and having lots of time with my kids.

Describe a time as a mother when you felt genuine joy.

When I see how kind my children are to each other, when I see how they buy an extra sweet for the sibling who isn’t there, leave little notes for each other, help each other with homework. How my son lets his sister sleep in his room on his spare mattress just so she isn’t lonely, not just her but her many, many, dolls, teddies all lined up across his room as she didn’t want them to be lonely either. One of the most beautiful experiences, growing a baby inside you, talking to that baby as it grows then bringing them into the world. Amazing experience you can’t turn back from and don’t want to turn back from. The feeling when you look at your kids grown and see how far we have all come is humbling, especially when you see them make really good choices, hear them planning their future.

Martina Stewart

Crawley, west sussex, England

Age 44

This story has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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