I didn’t feel like myself after I had my daughter for the first 8-9 months. It was a strange feeling because I was besotted with her and would often cry with pure love for her. Yet at the same time, I felt like my body wasn’t my own due to breastfeeding, I took a long time to heal after an episiotomy and I suffered from discomfort. I wasn’t sure who I was anymore because I had gone from being independent and able to do what I wanted, when I wanted, to now be depended on completely. It wasn’t just me, my hubby and the cats anymore. It felt so hard to divide my attention between everyone, human and feline! I was a super obsessive cat-mum and I couldn’t spend time with my boys like I used to do. I’d get a bit tactile defensive at times when they jumped up for a cuddle as I was constantly wanted and sometimes I just wanted a moment alone! I felt like this with my hubby too. I just felt so overwhelmed with it all at times. I eventually got through it but I hated feeling that way at the time. It really didn’t help add to my feelings of guilt of letting everyone down.
We moved to a new town when my daughter was 3 months old and I initially felt isolated. I remember going along to local a baby group and wanting to cry because no one talked to me. It had taken all my courage to go. I had to force myself to get organised and even things like not being familiar with the building caused me great anxiety. It seemed like everyone else found it so easy to talk to others, how did they do that?? And why couldn’t I do it? I felt awkward and didn’t know what to say. I wondered how they all had it so together, yet I was so shy. I felt like an outsider. I was new to the town so I hadn’t met anyone at any prenatal classes. It was such a big deal to get us organised to go to a group and it confirmed my worst fears when I went. I decided not to go back. I felt lonely for sure.
After you have a baby, you realise how hard it is to leave to the house! You go from just getting ready and leaving to suddenly getting yourself and a baby ready. Just as you’re about to leave, the baby’s sick or poops everywhere. Then you have a changing bag like Mary Poppin’s with a ridiculous amount of “essentials”. (FYI, my essentials reduced massively when I had baby number two!) And not to mention the car seat, the pram, the covers, and putting coats on and off as you get them in and out of their car seat. You get there and realise you haven’t remembered your nappies, or a change of clothes or the baby is sick all over you and you have no change of clothes. When you feel anxious about leaving the house, it becomes even more of an effort to push yourself to go out. Especially when you fear it will only lead to more anxiety once you leave.
On reflection now, that assumption that I was the one who didn’t have it together was all in my head. I know that there were other mums at that group who felt anxious. Maybe they felt just the same as me. Maybe they had pushed themselves to go again and again and had finally managed to speak to someone. Maybe they were just managing to hold their shit together outwardly but were cracking up on the inside. We can’t always control how others will behave towards us but we can control our reaction. That sounds simple enough but it isn’t easy in practice. Especially when we find it hard to be logical and rational with ourselves. Making assumptions heightens our anxiety. We don’t really know what others are thinking unless they directly and explicitly tell us or show us. This can be a really tough one.
Look at our social media accounts. How often do we see the perfect family photos and a snapshot of their perfect life? It doesn’t exist! Sometimes people use it to show their best side. To keep up the pretence of the perfect life. That’s a lot of pressure to keep up and it’s a lot of pressure on those who look at the photos. I’m quite happy to share the lows as well as the highs, we have our amazing happy moments, but we also have the crazy ones and the fails and I think sharing that side (if we choose to share at all) makes us more real. Social media has also become a place where judgements are thrown around at people. We all have our own way of thinking and when we see the strong voices of others, this can have a huge impact on how we feel too. For some, it’s all too easy to write things online which people wouldn’t say face-to-face. I’m often shocked at the level of negativity I see thrown towards parents. After all, shouldn’t we be supporting one another? This does nothing but add to the anxiety of an already anxious mind.
When it came to working on my anxiety of getting out and about, I realised I enjoyed structured classes much more. We started swimming lessons and music classes. I made some lovely friends which helped massively. It helped me deal with my anxiety much better to talk to other mums who were like-minded. I didn’t feel so alone and I didn’t worry so much about being judged. If I was having a rough day, I always felt better for going. I often found that because our kids were of similar ages, we were going through similar issues! I also eventually found another toddler group to go to and started to feel a wee bit more confident about speaking to the other parents, all be it still feeling like an outsider. Doing it the second time around with babe number two was somewhat easier and harder for different reasons. If I had thought one baby was a logistical nightmare, I had no idea how difficult it would be getting a 19-month-old and a newborn out and about! Sadly, swimming had to go as I didn’t have any regular childcare and I realised that everything was that bit harder. I was dividing my attention between two young children and juggling everything. It made going out that bit more challenging.
I loved my babies so much but I craved more adult interaction. The days were quite long and I would get excited when Jim got home. I’d spew out everything I’d done or thought about. I loved hearing about his connection to the outside world. The good and the bad! I’d left my job while I was pregnant so I lost that workplace connection myself. When I would meet up with my friends, we would be lucky if we managed to scrape out a few sentences about our lives in between crying, changing, feeding and entertaining the kids! It’s still pretty much like that now! Some friendships from pre-kids were easier to maintain than others. I really felt the loss of some friendships, yet I now understand that we all move on to different places in life. We may no longer see people as regularly, and for some, that friendship won’t ever be the same again. For others, it might be temporary and either way, I’m grateful for the friends, I had, the new ones I have met along the way and the ones I’m sure to meet in the future.
I did feel sadness for a long time for the life I no longer had, but I have moved forward now and I love my life. I feel that I have become much more comfortable with who I am. I’m discovering that more each day as I become more present in how I live. I have worked hard on my personal development as part of building my business. I now meditate regularly and it’s become a habit I love. I know that I’m a better parent when I look after myself as it means I can give myself much more freely to them. My kids are completely crazy and fantastic and I love my job. I no longer feel lonely. I’ve found a community of like-minded women in business, it’s an exciting thing to be a part of! It was important to me that I worked doing something I was passionate about and which also allowed me to do it around the kids. Being self-employed is one of the hardest things I’ve done but it’s definitely the best too! It’s not perfect and that all takes time. I still have my good days and bad days, but there are more good than bad now. I feel at ease with where it is all headed. That really helps me with my anxiety too.
I think that we need to give ourselves time to adapt when we become parents. Our biology changes. There are so many factors involved too. What was life like before we had children? What support do we have around us? How many other children do we have? What is our community like? What do we want life to be like?
We are often our harshest critics and finding ways to connect within is really necessary to help us to feel good. I have discovered the power of gratitude over the past year. I practice this every day. For some, it is powerful to write down. I don’t always write it but I always take time to think about it and say it out loud if I can too. I find it helps to bring me back to being present in those times where I resort back to old thinking patterns when I am feeling triggered. If I am not in the space for gratitude at that moment, I reflect on it once I am able to. Find what works best for you. What works for one person will not work for another. I also enjoy going for a walk in the woods as I like to reconnect with nature. I find it grounding. I find listening to music powerful as I have an emotional connection with it. I put on something I vibe with and it is guaranteed to make me feel good! As I mentioned, I try to find space to meditate. I either do a guided meditation, or I do my own. I love it.
Take some time to find out what works for you. Experiment and have fun with it! Perhaps you’ll try the ones I have mentioned. There are so many things you can do to connect within. Yoga, going to classes, reading, learning, running, sport and laughter. Bring into your life anything which gets you releasing those feel-good hormones.
If you are feeling anxious or lonely, remember that nothing is permanent. Each stage will pass. You will come out the other side. Be kind to yourself and remind yourself often of just how amazing a parent you are. You know your kids think so. If that all feels too hard for you, it’s ok not to be ok. It’s ok to reach out for support. To find someone who will listen and to get the sipport that you deserve. xx