Family · Family Life · Loss · Mental health

A decade of Team McFowkes

A few ponderings about a whole 10 years of Claire and Andrew. This is my take; I’m sure Andrew will put his version at some point….probably.


The summer of 2019 saw the occasion of Andrew and I being together for 10 years. Now bearing in mind I hadn’t celebrated an anniversary with any boyfriend before him this is a minor miracle.

The event itself was marked by having a thoroughly fab time in Edinburgh.

And at the risk of sounding over indulgent and like Carrie Bradshaw: it got me thinking. How did we end up here? Together for 10 years, married for 6 and creators of 2 gorgeous girls and not forgetting owners of 1 ridiculous Humphrey Dog. And perhaps more realistically, how are we still together after the trauma of a neo natal death? Short answer: no idea.

The beginning is a very good place to start.

At the end of WINGS 2009

I’ll state straight away that I do not believe in soul mates and I do not believe that I was always destined to find and be with Andrew. That sounds incredibly dour but if you think about it; the whole concept it sets you up for failure: only 1 person in the whole world for you? I think not believing in soul mates is actually more positive: there are far more people out there who you can build a life with than the mythical “one”.

I easily could have built a life with a couple of my exes and I’m sure Andrew could have too with his. I also believe that it’s entirely possible to continue to meet “compatible on paper types” throughout your life.

I’ll also freely admit that when we met Andrew was absolutely not my type. Previously, I’d gone for tall and dark (think Kelly Jones from the Stereophonics) or tall and blonde (think Russell Howard); the crucial thing here is TALL. Before Andrew the shortest guy I’d gone out with was 6 foot. Now I’m 5’3 on good day if I stand up straight! Andrew well isn’t exactly a giant tall man; as my Grandma Rene put it so eloquently: “he’s a nice normal height isn’t he?!”

Scrubbing up well in the “After Summer Camp World” October 2009

Andrew and I met on a jamboree called WINGS in August 2009. We were both in very similar places in that we were licking our wounds from bad break ups in the previous years and had started to venture out into the world of internet dating. I’d met some perfectly nice guys but none that I thought could go the distance into a full blown relationship. So when we met we were both officially, painfully very single.

We were assigned to the same activity zone and got to know each other over the week. He made me laugh; proper belly laughs. I don’t remember laughing that much in any previous relationships. Being able to laugh is incredibly important to me. Unlike looks, laughter can’t fade. Well, the day Andrew stops making me laugh is when we all need to worry!

He liked the fact that I stood up to him and took over when he was getting the timings wrong on a game. (Making an absolute arse of it) I was unsure at first and our relationship basically started with an incredible bon mot: “oh F*ck it!” Towards the end of the week I asked Andrew if he wanted to see me after leaving the bubble of camp and he said yes.

Our relationship could easily have ended before it started: holiday romance, a distance of 300 miles between us and did we want to take a risk when it seemed like a lot of hassle? Well we did; because anything that’s worth doing takes effort.

After we’d been together for about 6 months we started to think how to decrease the distance. Andrew was living in Berkshire for work and I was in Northumberland. Andrew got promoted into the field with his job and my job was now making me miserable and so had to think what was worth more? My mental health was taking a battering due to the fact that I was actively disliked and excluded at work and a local Guiding volunteer didn’t like a young out of towner creating a vibrant unit that could be perceived as “better than hers”. *Eye roll* and people wonder why it’s so hard to recruit volunteers?! Once Andrew had got the promotion we started to look at how I could move to meet him quite literally in the middle – in Leeds.

Wedding Day May 2013 – Alex Knight Photography

Despite my best efforts I moved to Leeds without a job. I’d done something I said I would never do: give up my job for a man. Would I have done it if I was happy in Northumberland? Who knows but that fact that Andrew was willing to move too and live away from his family showed that he was willing to do the things he was asking of me: a partnership.

From there we bought our first house a few months later and eventually he got out of the sales job that we quickly realised was not for him. We set about creating our life by putting down roots: volunteering for Scouts & Guides, he joined an orchestra and I joined Buns and Roses WI for a time. We bumbled through my precarious Archive career that was never stable due to the nature of temporary/fix term contracts.

Mummy, Dady and Alexandra September 2015

We quarrelled but the difference was we knew we wanted the best for each other. We were on each other’s side even if we disagreed about the method. Besides if you don’t bicker sometimes you’re not doing it right! We got a lot of “new baby” type arguments out of the way with the dog. We argued about housework so we downloaded a points chores app – it proved Andrew didn’t do anywhere near as much as he thought he did!

Fast forward to 2015 our year of hell.

When we lost Alexandra it could quite easily have caused our break up. I know a few couple who have broken up and I often think why didn’t we? It’s narcissistic but I liken it to “survivor guilt”. I think part of the reason that we didn’t was that we agreed on Alexandra’s care, we didn’t disagree with any of the memory making activities that we were offered. We both believe in organ donation. At the point of deep fissures we were mainly a united front on key decisions. We also both wanted to try for an additional baby.

Ophelia bump Summer 2016 in Edinburgh

We both credit the counselling we received from Martin House for being just as much about marriage counselling as it was grief counselling. Through this we could understand that we would grieve on completely different time tables and in completely different ways.

First photo of Ophelia October 2016

Another reason I think we survived was that we were lucky in getting pregnant quickly and being able to bring Ophelia home. Although this brought up new grief as now we knew exactly what we had lost and Andrew’s anxiety went into overdrive. He’s never been someone to spend lavishly or travel loads as he couldn’t necessarily control the outcome. He is intolerant to uncertainty. So he pulled up his own big girl pants and got help through the IAPT service. I was so proud of him for knowing he had an issue and be willing to do something about it.

Losing Alexandra and having Ophelia has forced us to communicate more, we can’t afford to put our heads in the sand (even though it feels good!) and ultimately we have a shared experience that no-one else could have. We are the only ones who are Alexandra’s parents; the only ones that know how it felt to put her back into her cot and walk away without her.

And at the risk of sounding like Billie Piper; we’re still together “because we want to”.

Is that simple? Who knows? But we’re heading into our second decade with a different perspective and renewed passion for our core values. We’re a team.

Team McLennan Autumn 2019 – definitely more eye bags these days!

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