When you become a mother, the comments and old adages tend to reverberate. You hear them … a lot. ‘Sleep when the baby sleeps’, ‘never turn down help’, ‘ask people to come around and do the dishes instead of snuggling the baby’, ‘make sure you have a date night with your partner’, ‘get hubby to do the dream feed so you can get some rest’. This is actually great advice, but let’s face it, when you’re in the midst of newborn sleeplessness, confusion and absolute chaos, it just seems ridiculous, unrealistic and downright outrageous.
So, I won’t tell you do any of the aforementioned things in order to stay sane (I promise!), but what I will tell you is the real stuff. The stuff that is so near and dear to me; the stuff that helped extract me from the abyss of postnatal depression, isolation and anxiety. The tools that I’m going to outline for you are those that transformed my experience in motherhood. I went from anxious, confused and nervous to informed, resilient and in love.
But first, let me set the scene. I’m a mum to twin girls, Riley and Billie (they’re almost 9 months old now!), and they were born 9 weeks early. They spent almost 6 weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit, so while they were in there, I was working hard on establishing a good milk supply so I sat vigilantly on the pump every 2-3 hours, around the clock. I would visit them 3-5 times every day in order to bond and to breastfeed, and every day I would go home empty handed. It was exhausting, emotionally draining and demoralizing to say the least. When we finally got to bring our bundles of love home, they were on a 3-hour feeding schedule. So I would feed Riley for an hour, Billie for an hour, pump for half an hour, and have half an hour to myself to eat/shower/sleep, and then the process would begin again. We did this for a couple of months and I can honestly say that at the end of that period of time, I was a zombie.
I barely left the house, I didn’t see anyone, I rarely slept, and in fear of sounding ungrateful, I didn’t enjoy motherhood. I lost a lot of weight and was stressed almost constantly. I was too scared to tell anyone how I was actually feeling in fear of them thinking I was cold hearted. So I went further and further into the cave of motherhood and isolated myself more than I ever thought possible.
And then my innate determination kicked in, and I decided that this wasn’t how I wanted my journey to feel. And it certainly wasn’t the type of mother that I knew I could be. So, I got serious about making changes. Here’s what worked for me;
No sugar coating, no glamourizing, no exaggerating. Just tell it straight to someone you know will meet you on the other end of the conversation with empathy. I found my voice on social media. I started to share the reality of my experience with my online community and WOAH; the support, empathy and love flooded in and it made me feel less alone. And guess what!? So many other mums totally got it. They’d been there, done that. It felt great to know that they survived and were now happy and enjoying motherhood. And at our very core, human beings want others to experience love and happiness, so of course the support is aplenty.
2. Bring in the experts.
If you’re having trouble with your bub/s, get advice and help from people you love and trust, or from experienced professionals. When our girls were about 2.5 months old, I found a lady (who had 4 children of her own, and her youngest two were twins!) who would come around once a week from 6pm-midnight to bath, feed and settle our girls to sleep, as well as clean the house and do the washing, while Rory and I went to bed. I lived for Thursday nights when this beautiful woman would come over. It was the best money we’ve ever spent. Not only did we get 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep, but she taught us so many things that have completely shaped the way we parent. I’ve also engaged the services of a Sleep Consultant who helped us get our girls sleeping through the night. This lady was also a godsend and reinvented bedtime for us. So, whoever it is that you need to reach out to (a family member, lactation consultant, babysitter), do it!
3. Do something for you.
This is something that I gravely underestimated. I thought I could be an incredible mother by obsessing over my girls, being there 24/7 and just generally never leaving their sides. But what I know is true for me, is that I need something that fills my cup first. As they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup. I started an amazing essential oils business when I was 5 months pregnant and took a hiatus from this when the girls were born. After the initial 6-8 weeks of madness, I started to get more serious about my business again, and I can honestly say that this is the main thing that saved me. It contributes to my happiness in so many ways, but mainly, it lights me up. It’s something I do for me. I fit it in during nap times, or I work from my phone during breastfeeding, or I listen to a podcast as we’re playing on the floor. There’s definitely an art to working in the midst of motherhood, but I love it. It’s something that takes me away from mum life, babies and home duties, and throws me into mentoring, health, learning, education and creating.
4. Self care.
You’ve probably heard this before, but looking after yourself first is so important.
Here’s my equation:
Happy mama = happy home
It’s that simple.
Ways that I look after myself include; breathing in all of the essential oils that help to bring peace, calm and reassurance to my mind, yoga and meditation (often in 5 minutes blocks because #mumlife), surrounding myself with great people, using natural products on my body and in my home (see point 5), asking for what I need and making requests of others (contrary to popular belief, our partners cannot read our minds), and sometimes I just leave the housework. I used to be one of those people that said “I can’t go to bed until the dishes are done/washing is folded” etc. I can. It’s not that I can’t, it’s just that I didn’t want to. But, I want sleep more than I want clean plates, so bed wins …. Every. Single. Time.
5. Reduce your toxic load.
Toxic load can exist in the body from polluted air we breathe, products we put on our skin (think perfume, moisturisers, deodorant)/on our dishes/in our laundry, the food we eat, almost anything. It shows up in our bodies in a number of ways; sleep disturbances, irrationality, emotional instability, behavioural issues in kids, fatigue, headaches … the list goes on. So I set about replacing all of the potentially harmful things in my home and I have seen it have a dramatic effect on our health and happiness. This is part of my self care regime, and it’s one that is so often underestimated. It doesn’t make tiredness go away, but it does mean that our body and mind is in the best possible state to be resilient and handle the physical and emotional stress of motherhood and all of the weird and wonderful things that come with it.
I also read a study which analysed the chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies, and on average, that blood contained more than 300 synthetic chemicals and foreign materials. That’s scary. So, by eliminating all of the nasties in our home, I am building an amazing foundation of health for our family, which brings me so much joy.
Maintaining relationships can be challenging when you feel like all you’re doing is wrangling small humans, but it is so utterly important to our happiness and sanity. One of my favourite researchers, Brene Brown, always says that the reason we are all here is for love and belonging. This is why when we decide to isolate ourselves, thing become even tougher and more challenging. When we don’t have that feeling of love and belonging, we can’t truly be happy. So, connect. We’re in the most amazing era of technology, so embrace that. FaceTime, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, What’s App, Voxer, even just tag a friend in a meme, have a chuckle and carry on. My friends always say that when I stop tagging them in memes, they know that something is wrong. Any level of connection with our close circle of friends and family is great, so do it. Or, even better; leave the house and have a coffee!
7. Be unapologetic.
I was listening to a podcast with a woman who had interviewed 150 successful business mamas (i.e. they earned at least 6 figures) and the thing that they all had in common was that they were unapologetic in who they were. They owned their choices. And, they had no guilt about working, doing something for themselves, saying no, making requests, standing their ground, holding firm, and making decisions. This applies to the way we parent, communicate, operate in business, build relationships, and make choices. So when someone passes judgement about using a dummy, or feeding your babe to sleep, or being a single parent, or anything else, be unapologetic about that. Don’t justify it, just own it. The same goes for when you are invited somewhere or asked to do something; if it’s not a HELL YES, it’s a no. Stand firm by your boundaries.
8. Understand that emotional health is a maintenance.
This was a game changer for me. You’re not emotionally ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’. You move up and down on an emotional spectrum depending on so many internal and external factors. So, maintaining your emotional state is a practice. It’s something you will always work on. So assess each day, and each hour within each day as a separate entity. This also comes down to self-awareness, and being able to give yourself what you need to feel level again. For me; the outdoors, essential oils, yoga, binaural beats, talking about it, a cuddle, and smiles from my girls. That’s what works for me.
So, there you have it. 8 ways to stay sane during motherhood. I hope you’ve learnt something and feel like you have some tools to implement into your life.
If there is something in here that sings to you, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Instagram @brit_thenaturalmama
You got this, mama!
Love, rest + coffee,