The Happy Baby Project

A happy baby needs a happy mum


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BURNOUT

burnout

So this morning, I’m in bed. reading Country Life, with the cat. Because we have moved to the country. But more on that later.

But this isn’t a smug post, it’s an honest one. I’m in bed, because I hit a wall in a massive way recently. Burn out. It wasn’t nice. But more on that later too.

For now, let me catch you up with where I am as it’s been a while. My last post was in 2017 and in November 2018, after 2 more miscarriages, I had my third child, who we’ll call The Baby. It was another dreadful birth. You may remember my first child got stuck (shoulder dystocia), my second child arrived prematurely after a massive haemorrage and after 4 painful miscarriages, but my third child was a planned c-section. Oh this will be so much more relaxed! We laughed.

On 13 November 2018, after The Baby was lifted out of my tummy, I lost 4 litres of blood in a massive obstetric haemorrage. Given you only have 5-6 litres of blood in your body, it was pretty terrifying and I thought that I would die. Of course I didn’t die, and there were amazing doctors there to pump 4 units of blood straight back into me, but at one point both me and my poor husband who had been dragged with The Baby to another room as I screamed I couldn’t breathe, thought I was going to die. I make this point because it’s important to remember that this is trauma, for your body and your brain. We were told shortly after this (when I’d been handed a premature baby to hold and to feed, as I tried to piece my broken body back into life again) that we should never have children again. No chance, we thought. So the trauma – all those losses, all that pain, all those awful births – is over.

The Baby is almost 1 and life is pretty great. We left London to buy a large house in East Devon near the beach, and we plan to build a cookery school and glamping centre here. We have three healthy children, a cat, and we just bought a puppy. As we walk along the beach, looking at the kids running in the waves it all feels great.

But then there’s this thing. It’s inside me and it feels heavy. When I’m alone or when I’m exhausted, I think about what happened to me and my body, and a feeling rises up in my chest and its so heavy and overwhelming, and it makes me cry until I push it back down again. I push it down again because I have to get on with life and life is busy and I have three kids. But it’s there and it feels like I’m holding back a dam sometimes and if I let it go it would burst with such force it would wash us all away.

And recently with the stress of looking after the kids and the puppy and moving to a new house and doing up the house and starting work again after maternity leave and trying to lose a bit of weight, I hit burn out. So how does that feel? A body completely devoid of energy and a mind empty of motivation. An inability to do anything – I mean literally unable to stack a dishwashwer or get up off the sofa. A desire just to curl up and sleep, all day long. A feeling of being empty, of crying with helplessness and exhaustion. A feeling of hitting rock bottom.

Trauma 

It is, I now believe, partly down to this unresolved trauma. I  believe most of us carry some form of trauma and most of our parents carry it too – trauma from childhood, trauma from infertility or terrible births or miscarriages, trauma from health problems or parental loss.

It is possible to carry this trauma around – I have. And you can cover it for a while – denial, getting on with things, or in other less healthy ways – alcohol or striving for validation through over-achieving, over-work and people pleasing. But it has to come out at some point or it will eat you alive. Literally – insomnia and auto-immune conditions and stress-related disease.

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So how do you resolve this trauma? Well, there is CBT counselling, where you re-live the experience in the present tense (I’m lying on the bed and I can’t breathe and I think I’m going to die) but you add in the things you know now – that you didn’t die, that you were safe. And I can definitely see the benefits in that, but it involves time and investment and you would have to go to a very vulnerable place for a while.

So I guess the other way you resolve it is through talking about it, writing about it, releasing that dam little by little so it doesn’t feel so heavy. Realising what your triggers are and being conscious of when you feel waves of emotion that you didn’t really understand before. And that’s what I’m trying to do.

A stressful life 

Which leads me to other stress factors as a parent generally. I seem to be having more conversations, almost daily, with mums who are at their peak stress levels and wondering why its so hard and feeling like they are failing. And sometimes we question why it’s so hard for us because didn’t our parents do all this and not complain? But I think it IS harder for us, and here’s why.

First, we put massive pressure on ourselves as parents. I’m pretty sure my folks never read a single parenting book, but that’s probably because the parenting style at the time was a lot easier – to parent based on a certain level of detachment, fear and control. Children should be seen and not heard. Eat properly at the table. Kids should entertain themselves and be bored (ever spend days on end throwing a tennis ball up and down for entertainment?). We could run fairly wild then – I remember spending hours running round parks and back gardens with my neighbours’ kids from a fairly young age. Smack them if they are naughty (I wasn’t actually ever smacked. Well, once, for drawing on a newly-decorated nursery wall).

But now we’re all about perfect parenting. We have to cook healthy organic food, read about conscious parenting styles, be constantly empathetic and patient, spend time doing educational but fun games, and make sure they are doing extra curricular activities like swimming and scuba diving and frickin nuclear fusion club, and that’s after you’ve spent time reading every night and doing extensive homework. Sometimes it’s just too much pressure.

Secondly, we’ve lost our communities. If it once took a village to raise a child, it is now us, alone, in a crappy soft play centre in Brentford wondering what went wrong. We live far from our families, and our sisters, neighbours and friends don’t involve themselves with raising our kids anymore. It’s not their fault, we’re all just too busy. But we weren’t meant to do this alone.

Next, society adds others pressures on ourselves that we never used to, partly driven by social media. The pressure to be professionally successful and earn well, to “have it all” (ask me who the most stressed in our society is, and I will show you the part-time working mother). To entertain and have a full social life and great holidays. To have beautifully styled houses and gorgeous interiors. To look hot and slim and wrinkle-free with fabulous clothes and hair. If you are a perfectionist like me, it is impossible to keep up with it all and something has to give.

So what can you do about this? Well, this is what I’m working on and this is why I’ve written this starting blog post (which I’m writing in bed).

Ultimately, I need to lower my standards and work out what is actually important to me – so for example, I don’t need to look hot but I would like to be healthy and strong and fit for my kids. I don’t need to entertain my kids all the time, but I’d like to have special 1 on 1 time for at least 5 minutes with each of them every day.

I need to have more me-time and reconnect to who I was before I had kids – so I’m adding time each day for doing something just for me. Listening to a podcast with headphones on while the kids play or buying something frivolous and just for me like a wet suit. I’m planning days out with close girlfriends. And finding time in each month to pursue a hobby I already love – like yoga – and starting hobbies I’ve always wanted to do but never found the time – like painting and (don’t laugh) wild swimming.

Most of all, I’m realising sometimes I can’t keep face and say I can do things when I know it would lead to burn out if I pushed myself too far. And the most important thing is allowing myself to be vulnerable without being ashamed, and saying I can’t do it, and I need help.

Today is Day 1. 


As I said earlier, we have moved to East Devon and are planning to set up a cookery school/feast venue, but also one with a wellness side, hosting wellbeing events, talks and yoga. I will post details of this soon. I’m also planning (once I get my head above water!) to re-train in psychotherapy or life coaching. I’ll be documenting my journey in a separate blog and instagram page, which I will set up and also send details soon. Watch this space! 


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On Happiness & Motherhood

Note from Sasha: I wrote about happiness and being a mum on my other blog, The Happiness Project London, and I thought I’d share it here….

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And then there were three….

You will have to excuse my lack of blogging of late. But on 27 March 2013, I gave birth to my son and my life changed out of all recognition. And recently, 7 weeks on, I’ve realised some things about happiness that make the HPL rules more important than ever to stick to and I wanted to share them here.

It is only now, as my body releases the hormones I’ve had circulating in my system over the last 10 or so months, which kept my baby inside me and allowed him to grow, that I am able to reflect on how I’ve changed.

Firstly, I realise I had a tough pregnancy. I have a new-found affinity for Kim Kardashian in that I too grew to the size of a small bus while carrying my baby boy, to the extent that many people (including medical practitioners) told me I must be having a huge baby. I feel for her because while you can put vanity on the back burner as much as you can, hating photos of yourself, catching yourself sideways in a mirror and gasping at your sheer bulk, isn’t the best thing for your self-confidence or esteem.

And then there’s how the hormones affect you. For me, my body was allergic to the hormones, and while my body gave everything it could to make my son the beautiful and chilled out boy he is, it took something from me – my skin became red and sore and swollen and itchy, I didn’t look like me, I would look in the mirror and cry in pain and in sadness at the loss of something. Only now, when he is 7 weeks, and my skin has begun to look normal again (thanks, in part, to Waitrose Baby Bottom Cream, who knew?), I feel that I have regained “me” again, only a fatter me with droopier boobs.

Then there’s the moods, the loss of confidence at work because of baby brain and guilt about maternity leave and your career path, the overwhelming love and fear for your baby and your family, and the separation from old friends whose lives are now on a different track.

Then there’s the birth. Well mine was pretty bloody awful. It was brutal and traumatic and you can read about it on my baby blog here if you want to. It gave something to me, of course – it gave me a power and a confidence, especially as I did it without an epidural and mostly on gallons of gas and air, but it also made me cynical and angry at mother nature and at life, and its something I realise I need to recover from mentally and emotionally, as does The Chef who saw things I can’t even imagine.

And finally motherhood. The highs, those incredible highs – of picking up a sleepy warm baby in the morning, of the first smile, the picking his clothes and laughing when he does something funny, the watching him asleep, the cuddles and the love – that overwhelming love again – and the worry about anything that might happen to him. I feel such pride in my family, in him, this chilled out wee fella that The Chef and I made, who seems better than us, who seems so perfect, who I can’t wait to watch grow, who develops every single day.

But, at 7 weeks, as the hormones that made him slip away, I feel something new. A sense of change, of wondering who I am now, what I do from here.

I’m not working, my life is my baby and cups of coffee, endless coffees, with other mums. We talk about our babies and about our boobs and our stitches. I am fascinated with recording every feed, every poo, every minute of sleep.

I found myself telling a (male) friend of mine, in great detail, about how my son hadn’t pooed for 2 days and how it was great that he had finally done a poo that morning, explaining in detail how he went red and I felt bad for him but was also happy as he’d been constipated… and halfway through I thought – what on EARTH am I doing! I’m talking about my son’s shits in great detail! To a bloke! I’ve become one of those mothers….And I post photos of him on Facebook all the time. And when The Chef brings up something in the news I feel ashamed – I didn’t watch the news today, in fact my world is here, so small now, between the bedroom and the nursery and the kitchen. And between the coffees, I am here – in the nursery mostly – with him, loving him and cuddling him, but alone, lonely at times. Working us both up to the next coffee, the next GP visit, the walk to the park, that is the day’s activity.

My god I’m not complaining. I love being a mum – I’m good at it I think. I love him and I love our life together and I love my family. But I realise my identity, my happiness, my confidence, has taken a knock with all this, left me moody and on the verge of rage or tears fairly easily, left me not quite knowing who I am now, how I’ve changed, whether I will ever be the old “me” again. And so now, I realise how important it is that I work on my happiness, and in doing so, work out where I go from here.

And so to the rules again:

1. Be Active – important given I can only live in elasticated waistbands for so long. I’m doing a mother & baby yoga class to ease my creaky bones, and I’ve dug out my gym kit with thoughts of swimming and running.

2. Connect – vitally important for me right now. I miss my friends after 7 weeks of wanting to be holed up with my baby boy. I want to organise a girls’ night out and drink wine – wine! – and a night eating good food with The Chef. I want to drink a martini. I want to go to the cinema. I want to see old friends, and friends without kids, and phone people when I feel isolated with a baby stuck to my breast.

3. Give – my current bugbear, after awe-inspiring treatment by NHS midwives at Kingston hospital, is the proposed plans for the NHS – the fact that it is effectively being privatised from under our noses to an American-style insurance-based system with healthcare for the richest, from private companies, while the poorest will suffer. I need to see what I can do to get involved. As a mum I’m also filled with an empathy I don’t think I had before – so I want to make sure I give clothes and toiletries to charities that help women and children.

4. Nurture – easy. I do it every day until around 7pm when I put him down to sleep. But there are other projects too to get excited about – transforming my garden, planting new colourful flowers, transforming the house in which I spend so much time in nowadays. Projects, and economical maternity-leave budgeting ones at that, will keep me busy over the next few months.

5. Learn – I’m going to learn to cook. As The Chef knows, I can barely boil an egg, but I’d love to get better of it, to become a bit more domesticated, to feed my lovely family. I’m starting this week with doing a few simple meals. God help us all.

6. Be Curious – Since the hormonal fug of pregnancy has started to lift, the baby is able to sleep in his pram, and I’m mastering public transport, I want to go exploring London again. So many places I want to go – Eel Pie island (open house 22/23 June), the Polka Theatre, the Electric Cinema, some of the new restaurants whose openings I’ve totally missed.

Happiness, like confidence, is a transient thing, and one you need to keep working at. Getting married, having a baby, can be the happiest time of your life, but the changes they bring and emotions they evoke can be overwhelming at times. I’m glad I have the HPL rules to ground me, and I love a project to work on. I’ll let you know how I get on.