I told myself I wouldn't neglect the blog again - but I most definitely have. And it's mainly because my day at the moment looks a little like this:
- Up at 5am after being up all night
- Daddy takes small child for breakfast and play while I sleep until 7:20am (yes, 7:20am. I have worked out the EXACT time I need to get up)
- Back on duty at 7:30am
- Breakfast while the boobie monster feeds from me. I do my best not to drop cereal and yoghurt on her head but I make no promises
- The day progresses in a normal fashion of snack times, nap times, play times, adventures, babychinos, various mundane chores that keep everyone clothed, fed and organised, sitting down is criminal
- Daddy gets home at 5pm
- Dinner. Or, more-so, cooking dinner that we eat cold and the small child does not eat. We offer various alternatives which usually end up being avocado and raspberries (there could be worse things I suppose)
- Shower with daddy
- Settling for bed with mummy (which involves about 50 thousand breastfeeds, going to the toilet 17 times and a Riff Raff Sleep Toy called Bandit)
- I want to have a cup of tea, I want a snack, I want to read a book - but I'm too damn tired. I scroll Instagram while I brush my teeth and hop into bed ready for round 2 - the hardest round.
So, as I near towards 2 years of sleep deprivation, feeding through the night and settling a wakeful toddler, I've been thinking about my journey with this so far. Part of me thinks I'm an amazing human being who has endured so much and surely there's only one more year or so of this to go. I've done the hardest work and feel at peace. I love that I can meet all of Cadence's needs and that she has never been left to feel insecure - our bond is so strong and our family has my hard work to thank for that. Another (perhaps equal) part of me feels extremely tired and burnt out.
When I speak with other mums, too, the theme is consistent - we definitely thought our little ones would be sleeping through the night by now. But we can't even imagine what that must feel like. This is so normal now that it's almost laughable and inconceivable that we will ever sleep.
I am a firm believer that sleep is a developmental milestone that babies and toddlers will reach when they are ready. I do not want to push Cadence by removing comfort or contact in the night (although we may begin a night weaning journey very soon - stay tuned for that!) But it took me a long time to reach this conclusion. Here's what I thought and felt along the way. You may be able to relate:
6 Weeks In - Quiet Confidence.
You have a newborn. It's all very exciting. You've somewhat recovered from the birth. Getting up in the night feels like an adventure. You and your partner fight over whose turn it is to change her nappy - because she's so damn cute. You check the time, it's 4am and you've had two hours sleep. But it doesn't matter - because this won't last for much longer (haha). All the baby books say babies start to sleep through the night between 8 weeks and six months (haha).
3 Months In - Confidence Wavering.
Okay, so you're getting tired. But again, it's okay because your baby is obviously going to sleep through the night at six months old (haha) so you're half way there.
6 Months In - A Sense of Accomplishment.
Anyyyyyyy night now.
12 Months In - Despair.
This is NOT cool. Babies of a similar age are sleeping through, they are being weaned, their mums are somehow coping back at work while you struggle to get out of your pyjamas by 11am. The night waking has actually INCREASED and everyone keeps doing that thing where they ask whether she's a "good baby" - which, in turn, means "does she sleep all night?" By that definition, she is a very bad baby and that means that you are a very bad mother.
15 Months In - Try All The Things.
You visit a chiropractor, you buy herbal remedies, you slather the small child in magnesium oil, you put lavender in the bath, you research melatonin, you are convinced something is wrong. A sense of disappointment ensues when you see little benefit to the time and money you've invested.
18 Months In - Anger.
By now, you're very tired - and somewhat confused. Being woken to breastfeed every 2-3 hours is getting a bit old. You try to night wean but it feels impossible. You listen to other mums complain that their baby woke once one time last week and they are still recovering from it. You were never normally an angry person, but this particular comment makes the anger and resentment that's been brewing want to spill over. You watch mums skip with their children to the park while you walk slowly with a coffee in hand. You lift your baby into the swing and notice how sore and tired you are. You think that a good nights sleep would fix this. More anger surfaces. Why me? How come I can't be a bundle of energetic joy who skips to the park? You feel overwhelmed and enter into a negative thinking pattern. You wonder whether you are depressed. But you solider on - because that's what mums do.
20 Months In - Relief.
You've found a mum who understands. You suddenly find millions of mums all over the world who haven't suggested that you read Save Our Sleep. You feel a sense of solidarity. You text aforementioned mum at 3am and she responds almost instantly - and tells you you're doing a brilliant job. When you look in the right places, you find resources on safe co-sleeping, the benefits of breastfeeding on demand, affirming research on secure attachments and normal infant sleep. You laugh to yourself about your naivety. You implement strategies to support yourself and your family whilst remaining true to your parenting values.
22 Months In - It's A Rollercoaster.
You have a few nights here and there (definitely just a few!) where your toddler sleeps until 5am - straight. You decide that the worst is over and you're definitely going to sleep all night very soon. But when it doesn't last, and when things start to feel overwhelming and the resentment builds, it's time to take a step back and remember that this will pass. You start to feel negative towards your lifestyle and your current situation. But remembering that the days and nights are long but the years are short, definitely helps to keep a calm perspective and to feel at peace. You also remember that this little being of light chose you to be their mumma - and you wouldn't want it any other way. Loving your child unconditionally, through every sleepless night and misadventure, is what motherhood is all about. It might not be what you signed up for in the beginning, but it's where you are now - and it's time to ride that wave together - as a unit. Seeing your child as someone who is separate to you is the first step to the resentment building again.
2 Years In - Who Knows.
Cadence is nearly 2 years old. Who knows what the future holds. I'm doing my best to release any expectations I have on how she sleeps in the future - which is something that flows. For example, we have a night of 4 hours blocks, and I'm ecstatic, full of hope and energy. And then the following night, we have a night of 45 minutes blocks, and I'm disappointed, drained and want to throw the towel in. And then to complicate things even further, I have a decent sleep and still feel tired and drained and at the end of my fuse. Sometimes I wonder whether sleep is everything.
If you're in the depths of sleep deprivation, please do your best to practice self-care. Please ask for help. This isn't silly or a failure on your part - this is a necessary aspect of motherhood that is almost always overlooked. We are not meant to do this alone. It takes a village. Call that village. Ask them to come and feed your little one breakfast while you catch another 60 minutes of shut eye. Order takeaway. And smile at the beautiful journey you are on - as this is what it is - a journey. It will change and flow with time and sooner rather than later, you'll wonder where the time went and miss those snuggly nights of cuddling and hushing in the dark. Breathe, mumma. You got this.
I remember very vividly the day I denied access to my intuition. The day I told myself that my thoughts and feelings didn't matter - because the words of that midwife or the woman who wrote a book with zero qualifications mattered more.
The day I left my daughter cry.
I was 6 months into parenting and totally consumed by motherhood. My sanity was escaping me and I placed a lot of blame on myself for the way things were going.
When I was pregnant, I had an idea of how I wanted this parenting gig to go. But even then - I was constantly told - by professionals, peers, family, friends and society - that what I wanted wasn't achievable - or even to be desired.
I wanted a natural, hypnobirth. "We'll just see what happens, shall we?"
I wanted to breastfeed for two years. "Why would you want to do that? You'll want your body back straight after the birth... There's no way you'll last two years".
I wanted to parent naturally. I threw out the Sudocream, Panadol and Banana Boat sunscreen.
I was interested in attachment parenting. "Isn't that for hippies?"
Yet when Cadence was born, all of this seemed so far from my reach. I was told in hospital that I needed to log everything. Poos, wees, breastfeeds, sleep. Sometimes, I'd be holding my crying baby with one arm, cannula stretched and stinging, so that I could log the start of the breastfeed on the clipboard. I was already going against my instincts. To put that bloody clipboard down and cuddle my baby. But I felt like everyone else knew better. And when you're in a hospital bed with a gaping wound in your abdomen, it's kind of hard to feel strong and important. You feel weak.
I continued to log when I got home because the midwives were concerned about my milk supply. I was one week postpartum and my baby hadn't gained enough weight. I was told to strictly feed every two hours but not before. My baby screamed. And I watched the clock - only to soothe her instantly with a breastfeed. No one told me about the fourth trimester, cluster feeding and how normal it all was. How frequent feeding would build my supply. How my baby had only been earth-side for one week and didn't know any different to my body warmth and constant closeness. The tongue-tie that went undiagnosed for four months also didn't help.
I started to lose touch with myself completely. My tiny baby would only be soothed with a feed and a cuddle. I couldn't put her down awake and leave the room. But I was "making a rod for my own back", I was "spoiling her", I was doing it all wrong. I remember sitting on a fitball, bouncing my tiny newborn to sleep in the dark - breast in her mouth - and feeling like the only woman in the world to be doing this. I feel so stupid and so defeated. "Why couldn't I just do it right? Why can't I just put her down, walk away and sleep all bloody night like a normal person?"
I succumbed to the promise of rest and an "easy" baby after reading a book that advocated for controlled crying. Although, it insisted that it wasn't really "controlled crying" - these were dirty words - and that it was "timed comforting". I cried on the couch as I listened to her scream. I did 5 minute intervals for 45 minutes (but who is counting?!). She didn't go to sleep. The book said I needed to stay strong and that I couldn't give in. If I did, I'd ruin any progress and she'd never sleep on her own. But it all felt so wrong. I went in, grabbed her and apologised profusely to this little six month old baby. At the time, I felt so guilty. But I also felt so pathetic, weak and like a failure. "Other mums can do this". It was even harder to get her to sleep after that. I felt like our mutual trust was broken slightly - cracked just enough to let the light of uncertainty creep in.
I then felt resentful. Why couldn't my baby just conform to the mould that society wants her to? Why didn't she read all these books in the womb? Why did she need me so much? Everyone was telling me that she should be sleeping through the night by now. And even at 8 months old in a mother and baby unit of all places - I was pushed to sleep train. I even had a referral to sleep school - which I absolutely hated. All the things I wasn't allowed to do - no feeding before solids, no breastfeeding whilst laying down, no picking up, no feeding to sleep - everything so mechanical, shameful and unnatural.
After a bit of soul searching (and Googling - you become an expert as a mother!), I found articles on cluster feeding, full-term breastfeeding, gentle parenting, NORMAL infant sleep, the fourth trimester. Oh my, I was in a heaven of relief from the loneliness, isolation and sense of failure that I felt. I felt like I'd found myself again - and I felt like I'd found home.
Another level of self-doubt appeared though when I was met again with the opinions of others - including health care professionals:
"There's no nutritional benefit to breastfeeding".
"Babies don't need night feeds after 6 weeks of age".
"You need to follow a feed, play, sleep routine - she cannot fall asleep on the breast".
"Crying is good for their character".
"You're stupid if you don't sleep train. And you have brought postnatal depression on yourself". - Yes, they actually said that.
What I actually learnt:
Breastfeeding for two years is the minimum as per the World Health Organisation guidelines.
Crying to sleep doesn't teach babies to be calm - it teaches them that no one is coming.
Cortisol levels often remain the same in an infant who isn't crying but wakes in the night.
Breastfed babies are designed to fall asleep on the breast. And breastfeeding helps sleepy hormones for the mother too.
You can read more here:
[resources I now avoid are usually very mainstream, government funded, potentially sponsored by formula companies (sad, but true in some cases), advocates of sleeping through the night at the expense of the mother/child/breastfeeding relationship and maternal and infant mental health]
I could go on forever about the disappointment, sense of loss and grief that I feel from the early days - where I was so very unsupported and very broken by the condescending conversations about myself as a parent. Do you know what? This causes a lot of disharmony between the mother and her baby. This also causes a distrust in the health system and can result in families feeling very unsupported and alone at a time where they need everything they can get.
I have felt this. I have taken my daughter to the doctor multiple times for various reasons only to be told that breastfeeding was to blame - or that the way I parent is the culprit. I have been to the doctor myself only to be told that the solution to everything was to stop breastfeeding and sleep train.
It is a shame that parents cannot simply be supported in the way they need because they don't fit the mould. It's like: "oh, you have values different to mine. I cannot help you". Why normal infant feeding, sleep and attachment isn't publicised so readily concerns me deeply. We are told from day one that mother's intuition is always right. However, we also live in a society where there isn't room for mother's intuition.
Finding myself again as a mother and a soulful human through gentle parenting has absolutely saved me. I was able to come off anti-depressants, stop therapy and follow my heart. The bond between myself and my daughter is strong. She is a courageous, generous, creative, loving and spirited little being.
She's almost two and we are still feeding - with much difficulty - but because this is important to both of us. She's not ready to wean. I respond to her cries in the night. I aim to remain calm, compassionate and child-focused through every tantrum and challenge. I don't always do it all perfectly - and I definitely don't always feel at peace - but the love we feel for each other is perfect in every way. And I will never look back on this time with a sense of regret for the sleep and body autonomy that I've lost. I will look back and be forever thankful for my internal strength to continue my gentle parenting journey through every bump - and everything I have gained through this experience. I used to think there was nothing worse than being a mum of a tiny human. "It's too hard, I'm not cut out for this". But now, I think it's the best - because I am true to myself and my daughter. I already watch my daughter blossom, feel safe and secure and thrive with our approach. I already know that she needed this from us. I only wish I was educated and this strong from day one.
To my darling daughter - I was, and still am, doing the best I can. It is enough for me and I hope it is enough for you. I love you.
Are there any other links you'd add for other parents who are struggling to parent gently in a society that often doesn't support this? Comment below!
There's always been debate about which is the "harder" (you'll need to read that with big, sarcastic quotation marks to get the full impact) aspect of parenting. That's why I don't say that it's harder to stay home or harder to go to work - I say that it's different. You actually cannot compare the two. There are too many variables. But as I write from my perspective, a stay at home mother, I think it's important to note that it's not all coffee playdates at the park and sitting down to blog when you're at home with a toddler (hence why this website has been neglected for several months).
You are always one step ahead.
When you're at home with a toddler, you don't often have the same luxury as you may do at work. You are constantly timing everything. Going to the playground is a definite must. But you have to time it perfectly. Not too close to nap time or she'll scream the entire way home. Not too far from the shopping trip or the tofu and orange juice will get wrecked in the car (although I'm sensing a constant here - maybe the car is in fact the culprit). If I go to the toilet now while she's playing with those blocks quietly, I may avoid having to clean up tampons from the hallway and the bathroom sink. Maybe she'll be happy enough to come with me to hang some washing on the line. Maybe not. Maybe she'll cry and try to bang her head on the concrete wall if I don't let her drink from the dog's bowl.
It's not the same as sitting at your desk and realising it's lunchtime and going to the tea-room and heat up your leftovers. No. With a toddler, if you realise it's lunchtime and you haven't appropriately prepared at least 3 different meals for them to reject, you'll end up with a hangry toddler (spelling error intended) and that is not something to be messed with. I realise that some days go swimmingly and you skip from task to task, you both laugh constantly and she doesn't throw food on the floor. I realise this. Sometimes, there is balance. Oftentimes, there is not.
There is no break.
Like, literally - none. At work, you are entitled to a lunch break and a few paid breaks here and there. At home with a toddler, your lunch "break" (extremely sarcastic quotations again) is usually spent preparing the other two meals (see above) and trying to figure out whether those tomato crackers have any nutritional benefit whatsoever while you tip a smoothie down the sink and throw perfectly good mac and cheese that's actually made with pumpkin in the bin (still not over that, as you can see). Sure, toddlers sometimes nap. But that time is usually spent cleaning up the mess from the morning's chaos and counting how many hours until daddy gets home from work and what activities could fill in that time.
You don't knock off. Ever.
This is something that I struggle with a little bit at times. My partner finishes work and comes in the door, seemingly refreshed from his day at work - I think because the excitement of seeing his daughter overrides any exhaustion from the day (again, another difference. The worker often misses out on the good bits as much as they miss the challenges). I, however, start going harder. I cook tea and do the dishes in a mad flap while our daughter is bathed and dressed. Sometimes the dog goes for a walk. Sometimes he doesn't. I call it "power hour". Literally because it's an hour of crazy cooking, eating, cleaning and then pretending that it was easy peasy. And then I take darling Cadence into her bedroom and settle her with a breastfeed and a cuddle. I often hear my partner on the computer. I sometimes die a little on the inside from jealousy that he doesn't have hurting, lactating boobs (he would if he could). But sometimes, I hear the toys being packed away and the cat being fed. When she's asleep, I do feel a sense of accomplishment from my day - always so full, sometimes manic, but mostly just busy - doing my bit to raise our daughter in a loving and fun environment. I sit. I do a puzzle and watch some trash TV or Netflix and go to bed. My shift usually starts at about 11. She's up. And then she's up every few hours after that. And the working partner stays in bed because they have to work - which is totally fine. I get it. The one facing the professional world needs to be able to function in a different way. I can wear yoga pants to bed and go to the park in the same attire. I long for a day when bedtime is actually knock off. *Sigh*.
You have more fun.
As much as I've outlined the struggles and challenges that we have together on a daily basis, let's face it, we have way more fun. It's glorious to see her come down the slide with a grin from ear to ear. It's beautiful watching her eat new things and help me with the daily chores. And it's positively amazing to have her fall asleep on my breast, sometimes unlatching to kiss my cheek, before drifting off. It's exhausting being a stay at home mum. Nothing can prepare you. But the truth is that I will look back on these times with such fondness and won't remember the times I cried or grit my teeth doing my best not to yell. And times like this, where I'm super sleep deprived yet still super organised with lunch in the oven and a sleeping baby, I'm able to sit and do something for myself and that is enough to get me through the day.
And finally - you are the boss.
LOL. Just kidding.
Try as you might, having 20 minutes to yourself to listen to a meditation track or practice some breathing exercises can feel near impossible. And even if you're lucky enough to have this golden 20 minutes, if you're anything like me, you can get into a trap of thinking that there are "better, more important things to do" or you sit and engage in mindlessness such as scrolling through social media.
I've outlined some techniques that have helped me in the past. I have found that the more I practice these simple ways to incorporate mindfulness and meditation, the easier it is to attend a yoga class or listen to a full meditation because my mindset is already positive about it and I'm already enjoying the practice and reaping the benefits.
1. Mini meditations during feed time
Whether you breast or bottle feed, do your best to use this time as an opportunity to notice the rise and fall of your breath. Notice any sensations in your breasts or body as you feed. Notice how your baby is cradled in your arms. If you're breastfeeding, you may like to close your eyes. When I do this, I notice that my milk lets down much quicker. Sometimes, I open my eyes and my babe is fast asleep. I think the calm of my body helps her to drift off.
I have noticed a massive improvement in settling time and my own well-being by opting to do this as opposed to replying to text messages/watching TV or just generally being distracted.
If you're bottle feeding, you might like to notice 3 things you can see, hear and feel as you watch your baby drink. Can you see her little cheeks moving? What can you hear? Is his hair touching your arm? Are her feet resting on your thighs? I find feed time really sacred and a beautiful way to connect with my baby and my body.
The longer I feed (I'm almost at my goal of 2 years!), the more it can sometimes feel like another task to do or a "hold up" (the number of times I've been late because Cadence wants a feed as we are walking out the door is amazing). But returning to the breath and recognising what's happening in my body has really helped ease this negative way of thinking for me.
2. Stay mindful during tasks
Thinking about the washing you're planning to do once the dishes are done is not going to get you any quicker to that laundry - contrary to popular belief. Do your best, without judgement of self, to stay present when completing a task. Use some breathing exercises. You might want to breathe in and upon exhalation, repeat (either out loud or in your head) an affirmation. "I do enough, I have enough, I am enough" is a good one. Thanks Brene Brown!
3. Playtime - the ultimate in mindfulness
When I was initially at home with Cadence, I sometimes found it really difficult to focus my attention 100% on play. Sometimes we can see play as "oh she's happy on her own - excellent" and an opportunity to escape to the kitchen or whip our phone out to check our emails. Play is amazing for building a connection with your child, to release stress and to stay present. You'll notice too that it's much easier to attend to the tasks that you need to if you've already engaged in meaningful play because you can include your child. My toddler is much more willing to hand me pegs while I hang some washing out if we've already spent an hour reading books and building towers. If you can immerse yourself fully in playtime with your child, you will notice a shift in your well-being and child. Playgroups and parks are great for this if you're struggling because you're not surrounded by your household tasks.
4. Log out of social media during the day
This is a hard one. Sometimes, as a stay at home parent in particular, it's too easy to access connection from others via social media without having to leave the house. These connections can indeed be meaningful - but at the same time, you're also potentially being dragged into reading and responding to less meaningful content and this can take up much of your time and energy. Believe me when I tell you that you'll notice a difference if you do this. Social media then becomes a nighttime treat. Having said this, I also recommend ceasing phone use just before bed and leaving your phone on the dresser or out of reach (I'm still learning this one!)
Turning off notifications from apps like Facebook, Instagram and the like can help significantly as you aren't being drawn to open the app every time you're notified. When you join a group or like a page, it can also be useful to check your notification settings in these so you aren't alerted each time a random person posts or responds to something you aren't even following.
If you're a bit addicted like I was and needing some help, there's a great app called QualityTime (I have no affiliation - just a fan) that can help you monitor your phone usage during the day. You could even ask a mum friend to do the same for solidarity - check in with each other at the park or at the end of the day.
I'm so very sorry for neglecting you. You see, there's this thing called Instagram - and it allows me to post snippets of my daily life, quotes, short messages of encouragement and effortlessly stay active in promoting my message.
Sometimes writing for you can be daunting. I worry about word count. I never know what to call you. I wonder if my posts are as funny and thought provoking as some others. I struggle to find time to sit at the computer and most my Instagram posts are written whilst breastfeeding a toddler.
But - my new goal is to write more often. I am looking forward to it.
In the meantime, this is what I've been up to:
"And in case people weren't sure what to prepare for lunch too. I've just roasted these chickpeas in cumin, corriander seeds, olive oil and maple syrup. I plan to serve them with some rice and some fruit for dessert. Yum!"
"Monday feels. It's a public holiday and I still somehow can't keep up!"
"I asked Cadence to pick out some special things to take with us to our playdate. The bag remained in the car."
"There is no shame in having a mental illness. There is no shame in asking for help. And there is certainly no shame in recovering. Although you can feel as though the stigma will swallow you whole at times. And the memories haunt you. But hang in there. You got this."
"Tea parties with my fave babe."
""Yes, my baby is 20 months. No, she doesn't sleep through the night. No, it's not my fault. No, I will not let her cry. Yes, I'm losing my mind. Good day to you, not so kind stranger". I have now come to dread small talk in supermarket lines and doctors appointments.
Currently standing in the kitchen on Instagram using borrowed time. The little munchkin will be awake any moment and I haven't done any of the housework I promised myself I'd do! Lingering by the stove counts as dinner prep, right?!"
"[ Self care. ] As a mum, this can be hard to manage. My self care at the moment is settling an unhappy toddler, coming out and having a chocolate biscuit before brushing my teeth and heading off to bed for the night shift. But it's easy to forget how much you can actually incorporate into your day. I had a week where I stopped wondering what hell would be like because I was in it (and not just because there's 2 days worth of dishes in the background). It's amazing what a difference lighting a candle can do to the vibe. Lighting a candle, diffusing some oils, putting on some music, opening all the windows or putting the kettle on the "keep warm" setting for when you have a spare moment are all achievable things! When we have the "I'm-a-mum-therefore-I-have-no-time" attitude, it can be hard to see past that and we neglect ourselves. So start small this weekend! And you'll be incorporating massages and long walks on the beach before you know it 😉"
"Friday night feels after I reflect on the week that was. Motherhood has thrown me a curve ball (after I'd just juggled the last few thrown at me simultaneously). I have to keep reminding myself how well I'm doing. And the little giggles, kisses and all the fun reminds me every day."
"What's worse than being sick? When your baby is sick. Attached to the boob, cried all day, won't sleep. Send me wellness and sleepy dust!!!"
"Okay people. What the HELL happens at 20 months?! I assume separation anxiety, perhaps 2 year old molars?
I'm weak. My aches are aching. Everything feels impossible. I'd love a pep talk. How do I get through this? I'm so sleep deprived I'm probably microsleeping right now. And I feel really alone. I speak to people and they say: "yes it's hell" but that doesn't even accurately describe it. Or they tell me I need sleep. Yes, I know. But I know I'm definitely not alone. Show of hands - who also got up 4 times last night and co slept on a shitty floor mattress and thinks about how dumb they were assuming their baby would sleep when they turned one?"
"[ BREASTFEEDING AND IRON ] I am by no means an expert on the subject. However, I learnt a few months ago that your recommended iron intake is the same as it was when you were pregnant. I had to really boost mine during pregnancy and avoided an infusion by looking at my diet. Once Cadence was born, I stopped worrying about it. Silly me! Sleep deprivation and borderline anemia AND hashimotos is actually no fun. I can vouch for that. And I've noticed in the past that iron supplements can make Cadence really unsettled. Since I've been supplementing iron, we've had the worst month of sleep. It's like I have a newborn again. Actually, it's much worse. And it's like I have postnatal depression again from the lack of sleep. I'm so foggy. I literally don't know how I'm driving a car. So I'm conducting a little experiment and not supplementing but looking at my diet again. This smoothie has 42% of my daily intake (note: I had more than one glass!) Red kidney beans, chia seeds, cacao, soy milk, dates, a little vanilla and water. Has anyone else experienced a fussy toddler whilst supplementing iron? I keep getting told there's isn't a correlation but my mummas instincts are telling me otherwise (and they've never been wrong)."
"Mums are amazing - whether it be what you're wearing, what you're eating, whether there's enough time all the day to do all of the things! No wonder we are exhausted. Always thinking, always planning, sometimes worrying."
Follow The Postnatal Project (@thepostnatalproject) on Instagram to see more!
But I'll also see you soon, blog.
Zelma B x
Hi Shannon. Nice to meet you. What's your story?
Well... I’m a 31 year old mother of three boys; Hamish - 4, Liam - 2 and Nate - 11 months. I’m also an Early Childhood Teacher and emerging Author. I’m a self-confessed perfectionist and worry wart. I live in Brisbane, Queensland with my husband, Sean. I am currently a stay at home mother. I plan to return to work teaching part-time next year.
What is Mamma Has A Black Dog and how did this come about?
Mamma Has A Black Dog is a young children’s fiction book I wrote to help explain mental health disorders like PND or anxiety - especially if a mother or caregiver is struggling. I was inspired to write it after my own experience with postnatal anxiety which came about after the birth of my third son, Nate, late 2015. Up until that point in my role of mother, I felt like I was doing it well and was managing to keep all my balls up in the air.
When a third child came along, the routines and structure I clung to didn’t work and I was constantly feeling overwhelmed and worrying so much what people were thinking of me as a mother. I got to a point where I needed to go away with my sister for a few days to mentally recharge before I had a breakdown. It was the best thing I ever did. It was then that I decided to write a story relating to mental health.
I wanted to explain to my two older boys, Hamish and Liam, that they hadn't done anything wrong and it was something that I couldn't control either. I remember seeing the concept of the 'Black Dog' used in cartoon format to depict depression in adults and from there I thought it would be a really tangible way to explain the feelings that constantly follow you everywhere you go when you're suffering with a mental illness.
If only we would all just peel back our masks just a tiny bit sometimes...
What is your mission and how do you aim to achieve this?
I hope my book can promote more open discussions about mental health to come about in society. There is still a lot of shame and stigma attached to admitting you have a mental illness to people; people are afraid to show some vulnerability. I would love to promote the idea that it’s actually only the brave who speak up and it’s much more common within society than people think. If only we would all just peel back our masks just a tiny bit sometimes... After discovering my story and my battle, the circles of mothers who I mix with frequently are opening up to me because I have shown a little bit of vulnerability.
You actually take some of the power and fear away from mental illness when you open up about it.
What would be your advice to parents struggling emotionally during the Perinatal period?
You don’t have to suffer in silence. You actually take some of the power and fear away from mental illness when you open up about it.
Don’t forget to look after your own needs. As parents, we are always putting ourselves last in every way for the sake of our kids' happiness but this isn't sustainable - as I have discovered. Trying to maintain a high standard of perfection is just a recipe for disaster.
Where can our lovely Postnatal Project parents find out more?
I have a website and a Facebook page.
Soft cover & Ebooks are available for purchase off the website. $1 from every copy sold will be donated to Peach Tree Perinatal Wellness. This organisation provides peer led support groups for mothers suffering from postnatal depression and anxiety.
Big thanks to Shannon of www.mammahasablackdog.com for opening up about her personal experience of perinatal mental health.
Originally published November 16 2015 over at Little Tsunami.
Nami, 36, is a mother to Mannus, 5, and Dulcie, 3. She believes the traumatic birth of her son played a significant role in triggering her experience of postnatal depression.
The birth of my son was incredibly traumatic. For days I was unable to even think about the birth without crying – I felt like I’d been in a car crash.
In the three days before Mannus arrived my contractions came and went and throughout this time I barely slept. I was behind the eight ball before the game began. My son had wedged himself on an unusual angle which prolonged active labour and I pushed for almost two hours. Midwives announced that I was minutes away from a Caesarian-section but we’d give it “one last go”. Suddenly I had a team of people around me and my legs were being stretched up above my head (I’ve since learnt this is called the “McRoberts Manouver”) and moments later a baby boy was being passed across the room. I held him for a few minutes but I think I was in shock. I felt that I’d been man-handled, that my body was not mine and it was necessary to do me whatever it took to get that baby out.
Mannus needed to spend more than 24 hours in NICU and this impacted the chance I had to forge a bond with him sooner. The first morning after the birth I arrived in NICU to find a nurse bottle-feeding him. I’d barely held him myself and there she sat with him tucked in the crook of her arm, explaining that after this feed he’d need to go straight back into his humidicrib to rest. My tears started again. My feedback to the hospital in the ‘extra comments’ section about my birth experience never saw a response.
When I should have been excited at the prospect of going home and starting my journey as a mother, I lay in my hospital bed not wanting to move. My son was brought to my bedside and I turned away, unable to look at him. I just couldn’t fathom how he’d done this to me. I left hospital in a wheelchair – still only able to shuffle for a few metres before needing to prop myself up against a wall. It took weeks to feel like I was starting to physically recover from the birth.
In the months that followed I began to feel increasingly disconnected from my son, my husband, and other people or things in my life. I dreaded going to social outings because I didn’t want to have to answer the question of “Oh, wow, do you just love being a mum?” No one expects a mother not to love motherhood. My husband encouraged me to talk about how I was feeling but it was impossible. I felt nothing, just emptiness.
When my husband started having days off work just to “keep an eye on me” I knew things needed to change, but I didn’t seek professional for postnatal depression until my son was six months old. Ironically, I felt I was struggling enough with a new baby that I couldn’t summon the energy to tackle postnatal depression as well.
Counselling combined with medication proved to be what I needed to stop feeling like life was slipping through my fingers. Gradually life felt brighter, weighted with more meaning and with fewer stresses that before had sent me spiraling into a rage or into a sad, dark & lonely space. I’ve come to understand that motherhood – and my son – is separate from postnatal depression, and the little boy I once turned away from is now undoubtedly one of the greatest sources of joy I could ever imagine.
COPE Facts about birth trauma and its impact on mental health:
For more information about coping when things don’t go to plan, recovering from a traumatic birth and seeking effective treatment for post-birth trauma visit www.cope.org.au
SELF CARE – the things you do to replenish your mental, physical and emotional health or “filling up your cup”.
When I first became a mum, all I could think of was my baby and his wellbeing. I also felt guilty if I was not 100% focussed on him. Ultimately, I forgot to take care of myself. Part of my recovery from postnatal depression was to think of self-care strategies that I could use particularly when my “cup” was starting to empty. Here are a few that I turn to:
People who know me, know that I am not a fan of exercise. However, I do enjoy taking our dog for a walk to the local park. We usually meet other dog walkers there and it makes me happy seeing him play and run around with the other doggies. Another thing I do which I never thought I would enjoy is yoga. I find the breathing exercises and different postures help me to stay focussed and de-clutter my mind. My favourite classes at the moment are power flow and yin.
In the past, I would never leave Leo out of my sight – this meant putting him in a bouncer and bringing him into the bathroom with me while I showered. As I started to recover, I really started to enjoy showering alone. Having that space to myself allows me to switch off. Some nights, I also love to put on a facial mask (nothing too expensive), soak my feet in a small tub of bubbles, and watch an old episode of Friends.
Those who know me, know that I love my RnB – hello Fox FM’s RnB Fridays! I make any excuse to get in the car with Leo and we (mainly me) bop along to the music. I am also a closet Taylor Swift fan and will put her music on when I am doing mundane tasks like folding the washing. In fact, Taylor Swift’s Shake it off was one of the first songs I really enjoyed when I started to feel better!
ASKING FOR HELP
I still find this difficult, but I am definitely so much better at it than I was in the past. I get help with the cooking, whereby, family will cook us lunch or dinner. I get help with babysitting so that I can go to my appointments or go out for dates. I also find calling my family and friends and having a good chat, particularly when I am having a bad day, really helps. I do believe in the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” and I only wish I had asked for help sooner.
SPEAKING TO A PROFESSIONAL
For me, this means once a month or sometimes once a fortnight, I will meet with my psychologist for an hour. Having that hour to talk to my psychologist helps make meaning of all my thoughts and feelings. I am usually reluctant to go prior to the session, but afterwards I am grateful I went.
You seem to be forgotten when you have your second baby… The presumption from a lot of people was that I knew what I was doing and that I must be ok… Some people who visited or sent well wishes after my first baby didn’t after my second. Even though I now have twice as many children as I used to, I am now lonelier than ever.
My name is Erin and among many things, I am a mum, a wife and a teacher. I have 2 beautiful girls. Scarlett is 3 and Josie is 8 months. When I was pregnant with Josie, Scarlett was curious about ‘the baby’ and wanted her to come out. When Scarlett came to the hospital a few hours after Josie was born, she completely ignored Josie. She didn’t really acknowledge or look at Josie. I thought I did everything right. I had a present ready for Scarlett from the new baby, made sure I gave Scarlett hugs, kisses, complements, you name it; but it didn’t work. Scarlett left the hospital in tears and I cried and cried after she had to go. It tore my heart out. I had told Scarlett that I would be going to the hospital to get the baby out, but I had forgotten to tell her that we would be coming home and wouldn’t be at the hospital forever.
The cry of a newborn baby really worried Scarlett. Less than a week after Josie was born Scarlett was asking, ‘Why did Josie come out of your belly? Can she go back in?’ Josie would cry and Scarlett would scream, ‘IT’S TOO NOISEY’ and she would start crying too. It was very overwhelming at times.
The night I birthed Josie, as I had her in a special section of the hospital called the birth centre, they would’ve been happy for me to be discharged 6 hours after Josie’s birth, as it was a natural birth with no complications and it was not my first baby. However, I more or less begged to stay one night and they allowed this due to my history with postnatal depression and anxiety. When I had Scarlett, my first baby, I felt quiet alone at the hospital and one of the midwives said to me, ‘this is your third baby isn’t it Erin?’…’Ummmm, No it’s my first!’. Their reply was, ‘Sorry I’ve been ignoring you, I thought it was your third.’ Even if it was my third, why should I be ignored???? Because everyone presumes that after you have had one baby that you are ok and that you know what you are doing….aaaah….wrong!
I know from just having 2 babies that no baby is the same. My girls look very similar, but they are so very different. Scarlett was a crying baby, everyone I saw - doctors, midwives, child health nurses - would tell me she had colic. She would drink 20mls and scream, and then she would be exhausted and fall asleep and then wake very shortly because she was hungry and drink 20mls and scream. The vicious cycle went round and round for days and days and that turned into months and months. We tried everything: A2 formula, goat’s milk formula, baby Gaviscon, different bottles and teats, wind drops, you name it. Josie on the other hand is a happy smiley baby who loves her food. It’s weird, as Scarlett was still the one who started sleeping through the night first, Josie is over 8 months now and still doesn’t sleep through the night. I think I’m part of the reason for this. When Josie cries we got into the habit of jumping up to her because I didn’t want her to wake Scarlett up. It was not uncommon for me to be sitting up in the middle of the night feeding Josie with Scarlett awake sitting beside me.
When Scarlett was a baby, I used to dedicate one of her day sleeps to having some lunch and having a little rest. That’s one thing I really struggled with when Josie was born. Scarlett was getting to the stage where she was nearly growing out of her day time nap and often by the time Scarlett would drift off to sleep Josie would wake up. I just couldn’t time it properly, I would get irritated and frustrated because I was tired and just wanted and needed a nice cup of tea and a rest. So I had to come up with a plan: instead of trying to force Scarlett to go to sleep, I would put Josie to bed and Scarlett and I would have ‘quiet time’ and I would put a movie on we would relax and watch it quietly. I’m not sure how many hundred times I’ve seen Toy Story now. I also found it difficult during the night when I’d finally get Josie settled and I would get back in bed and try to push all the anxious thoughts out of my head and finally start drifting off only to be woken by Scarlett standing at the side of the bed. Before having kids I would say things like, I’m never letting my kids sleep in our bed. All I can say is, how things change once you actually have kids. It didn’t take long before I just let Scarlett crawl into our bed. It meant more sleep for me and that’s what I needed and that’s what worked for me at the time.
To be honest, outings with both the girls made me very stressed and anxious. It’s actually only just recently that I have the courage to go solo with the girls. Adam, my husband, on the other hand, dove right in when he became a stay at home Dad and I returned to work when Josie was about 14 weeks old. He took Scarlett to swimming lessons, he did the groceries, went to the park. He would go out without anxiety or stress, even forgetting the dreaded nappy bag sometimes. Oh, the difference between me and Adam. That nappy bag for me was always well stocked. So much thought went into packing it before I would even dare leave the house. The dreaded nappy bag was now stocked for both Josie and Scarlett. I was at work one day when I got a text from Adam. It stated that he was at the park and Scarlett went down the slide and she had no undies on. Scarlett would often go to the toilet and forget to put her undies back on and if she was wearing a dress you wouldn’t notice. I text back and said that there were spare undies in the nappy bag. "I didn’t bring the nappy bag", he stated. I nearly had a panic attack. How we are so different.
As I was too anxious and stressed to leave the house with two first up, I would often do my groceries online and have them delivered. This saved me stress. Filling the car with petrol also caused me anxiety. The thought of having to get a runaway toddler and a little baby out of the car to go in and pay. Something so simple turns into something difficult. I found myself driving out of my way to a service station that I knew had pay at the pump, but I did it so I didn’t have to stress about it.
My goal before Josie was born was to have some frozen meals made and in the freezer. I thought this would make it easier as I wished I had have had this kind of thing ready after I had Scarlett. My good intentions didn’t eventuate when we moved house less than a week before Josie was born. All I can say is that I’m very lucky my husband does a lot of the cooking. We would often take it in turns; one would do the baths and one would cook dinner. Scarlett also enjoys helping in the kitchen which is good because she could be kept busy while I was getting things done. The slow cooker is also great as it makes preparing dinner so much less hectic. I’m not sure if it’s just Adam and I, but there was still this sense of who was doing more and who was working harder. We have a routine now that helps us and we have found that this works for us and is what we needed.
Another thing I said before having kids: I don’t know why people who don’t work send their kids to childcare. And I’m going to say again; how things change once you have kids. Scarlett still attends Rene’s Family Day Care a few times a week for 5 hours a day. It just made it that bit easier for me and after returning to work I know it made it easier for Adam too. It was also good for Scarlett, as she enjoyed going, was good for her social skills and Rene provided a great program and many more stimulating and educational activities than I ever could at home. I used to feel guilty about this, but knowing that it’s what’s best for everyone makes it easier.
Getting myself ready probably shouldn’t be a big deal, but it often turns stressful for me. When I was not going to work and was a stay at home Mum, I often found it difficult. I hated being in my pyjamas for too long, but couldn’t get myself ready until the first morning sleep time. When Josie goes back to bed for her morning sleep, I set Scarlett up on my bed with my phone watching an episode of something that’s taking her fancy while I get ready. I wish I could just get up and put my hair in a ponytail and be ready, but if you could see my bags under my eyes and my pregnancy pigmentation without concealer you would know why I’m self-conscious about this. Even if I have had a good night’s sleep, people still say I look tired, but this is just my face now.
These are just a few things I have experienced and am still experiencing with a baby and a threenager. It’s hard and I struggle at times, but my girls are so amazing. I’m so glad the universe picked me to be their Mum, even though ‘this is just my face now!’
Erin is a regular contributor for The Postnatal Project's blog. If you would like to follow Erin's postnatal journey, follow @just_being_erin on Instagram.
Paula Fletcher kindly shares her wisdom. For more information about Haven Yoga and Wellness, visit the Facebook page.
Yoga is a powerful vehicle for change. This science of whole wellness has been around for thousands of years. Some scholars believe that yoga has its roots in Stone Age shamanism. We in the West know yoga mostly as the physical practice of asana (the postures), and don’t tend to see yoga as anything beyond the physical. So when someone such as myself makes the statement “Yoga is a powerful vehicle for change” the reaction is “Really? How?” Yoga really is a powerful vehicle for change and hopefully I can explain how in this piece.
In my opinion, yoga is the most holistic wellness system that exists. Whilst the focus in any yoga class is, on the surface, purely physical, there is so much more going on. Asana makes up only one part of a yoga class. Pranayama, relaxation and meditation are also incorporated, whether they are specifically focused on or not. But there is also a deeper level that is touched upon, whether the student is aware or not.
Yoga acknowledges that humans are more than the physical being. Yoga holds that we have layers. These layers are called koshas. There is;
The physical layer - Annamaya
The energetic layer - Pranamaya
The mental/emotional layer - Manomaya
The Intellectual/Intuitive layer - Vignanamaya and;
The Bliss layer - Anandamaya, the layer that probably best equates to our higher self.
Various different postures (asana) will have an effect on different layers of our being – other than the physical; as do different practices like pranayama. Relaxation has an effect on our physical body - it relaxes us, releasing muscles and joints. Relaxation also has an effect on us at an energetic level - it helps us recharge effectively and energise. Rest does that, especially good quality rest. Relaxation also affects our mind, by quieting it, allowing us to de-stress. Relaxation also affects our emotions, because we become calmer and better able to cope with the stressors in our lives. And if the endless mind chatter, the “monkey mind”, is quiet, it allows our intellect to work better, our actual cognitive function to be improved. All of this put together shows how the act of relaxation works across all layers of our being, across all koshas. But what is this “energetic” bit? Sounds a bit woo-woo, right?
All matter is made of energy. Science tells us that. We are energy. We use it all the time. We measure our food in terms of the energy we get from it, in calories or kilojoules. We need energy, we can’t function without it. We get energy from our food which we eat and then is converted to energy…but if that energy exists in our “energy layer”, Pranamaya, how does it get to the physical layer, Annamaya? That’s where the Chakras come in.
There is a lot of focus on Chakras in the New Age sector, and from a Reiki perspective. There is talk of “balancing”, “activating” and “unblocking” our chakras. Chakras are actually a part of yogic physiology. That is where they come from- yoga. But they are often taken out of context. In yogic physiology the chakras function as the intersections between the physical and energetic. They exist in the energy layer, Pranamaya, and see that energy is passed from Pranamaya to Annamaya. They connect to the energy highways through our bodies, called the nadis. And they don’t need to be activated. In yoga the chakras can easily be balanced or cleansed, through yoga itself. Asanas, meditation, pranayama, and specific chakra shuddhi (a chakra cleanse), all take care of the chakras.
But what has any of this got to do with being a “powerful vehicle for change”? And what has any of this got to do with helping post-natally?
Because yoga works on so many levels it allows us to heal on all those levels. It helps us to be healthy on all those levels, to maintain our health, and gives us tools to help along the way. And yoga changes us on all those levels of our being. Quieting the mind allows us to have a look at what is going on inside us, to have a deeper understanding of ourselves, why we react in certain ways, behave in certain ways, and how to address what needs to be addressed. And that is transformative.
I began yoga at the age of 10 when my mum took me to her yoga class on her teacher’s advice. The teacher believed that yoga would help me with the bronchitis I would get every winter. When I had my own kids I reconnected with yoga, when my youngest was 3 or 4. It became a part of my daily routine. It helped my on a physical level. I had injured my back when I was nursing and yoga helped to heal, strengthen and maintain my back. The pain lessened. It also gave me skills to help me cope with life in general. And others noticed. Where as I had been quite well known for being temperamental, fiery, and extremely outspoken in a blunt, non-diplomatic way, I became more relaxed, less anxious, assertive without being aggressive, and far more insightful. I had always been empathetic, now I became more so. And the beauty of yoga was that I could do it anywhere, any time. It was portable. I could use pranayama to help calm me when any stressful situation arose. I could briefly close my eyes and centre myself, withdraw my senses (pratyahara) and turn inward, even for a few moments, to gather myself before turning back to the world and pressing on.
Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 39. My world turned upside down. Yoga was my touchstone. It was the base, the foundation, that helped carry me through, that helped me recover after treatment, that helped me endure. Yoga helped me to regain and rebuild my strength. It was few years after breast cancer that I was encouraged to study yoga teaching and a whole new world opened up.
This is when I learned that the chakras were a part of yogic physiology and that physiology is quite intricate and quite complex. I learned that what I knew as a Reiki practitioner actually tied in with yoga. It felt the same. It was during this time that I learned the Buddha was a yogi, and as Reiki has its foundation in Buddhism, it came from yoga, too. This all began to make sense to me. I then studied Pre and Post Natal Yoga Teaching, and then more recently I studied Yoga for Breast Cancer. And this is when things began to fall into place and make sense to me and a more complete way.
I was already teaching Mums and Bubs Yoga and Pre Natal Yoga. I had felt frustrated that there was not a lot of yoga for the mums in the Mums and Bubs class, by the time the bubs had had a massage and done some baby yoga, there was not a great deal of time for the mums. But I was noticing something that I had not taken into account- the connection that grew between everyone, the talking, the sharing…the union. This, I realized, was just as important as everything else- more so. And what is yoga? Yoga is union.
The Yoga for Breast Cancer course highlighted the need for exactly what I had observed in the Mums and Bubs class and called it Sangha, Sangha being Sanskrit for "association", "assembly," "company" or "community". Community is vital. It is as vital as rebuilding physical strength and regaining personal power. And I realised that the vast majority of what I was learning that was relevant to those with breast cancer was applicable to women post-natally.
In yoga, activating the pelvic floor and drawing across with the Transverse Abdominus is known as Moola Bandha. Moola Bandha is an energy lock; it locks in our personal power. Strengthening Moola Bandha, that is, the pelvic floor and the Transverse Abdominus, not only has the physical effect of regaining strength but also works on other levels, regaining personal power- it is empowering.
What can be more transformative than regaining personal power, being empowered?
Combine the physical side of yoga with the energetic, emotional and mental side and yoga has the power to transform. Add the community, the union, and it is more so. There can be nothing more reassuring than coming together with like-minded people who have a shared experience, and that shared experience is pregnancy and child birth, and caring for a baby.
All of this can aid with Post Natal depression. Yoga can calm and soothe through meditation, pranayama and relaxation. The physical aspect strengthens, and yoga as a whole relieves anxiety. Many studies verify the benefits of yoga. I have included some links to studies at the end of this article.
For someone with Post Natal depression it can be hard to know what is normal and what is not. It can be easy to lose that gauge. The same thing happens with breast cancer, as I have experienced. Coming together and talking openly, sharing experiences, can relieve that feeling of isolation. Yoga can open the door for that.
Yoga brings wellness and well being through empowerment, as yoga puts us in the driver’s seat with our own health, helping us to understand our bodies, our minds and our spirits. And it is through empowerment that we transform.
[ References ]
Georg Feurstein, The Yoga Tradition