Having a child is quite simply the most amazing blessing that we can have bestowed upon us - or so we are told. However once all the hype surrounding the birth of said child dies down and you are left at home, alone, cleaning and changing and trying to get out the front door without another apocopoo occurrence, the voices of thousands of Mums on various platforms across the globe are telling us that becoming a Mum has been one of the loneliest experiences of a their life.
Isn't that a sad fact. Let's sit on that for a minute. Motherhood can be one of the most isolating and lonely times in a woman's life. How can this be? There is hustle and bustle and a new baby and so much to do and, and, and...........the list is endless.
For me, it was in this never ending to do list that I, little old me, did not feature. I had slipped out of focus and before I knew it, nothing in my life was about me, and everything was about my little boy, and the chaos, and disorganisation, and mess everywhere and how my husband never seemed to be around or "did not get it" (he was and he did as an NB here, I could just not see it in my dark cloud state).
Now it seems, this is nothing but usual for all new parents and for Mums especially, however the problems arise when being everything to everyone except yourself comes at a heavy price - for me, my mental and physical health and wellbeing. I wasn't lonely as in minus other people, I was lonely in my heart as felt that no one understood me or what I was feeling.
In the first two years of motherhood, I can remember giving myself permission that it was okay not to care about myself. That everything should be about my baby and if I did everything right with him then I was a good Mum and I was getting motherhood right. "I" did not matter. Who cared if I looked exhausted and was wearing clothes with bits of food on? Who cared if my dog walking jacket covered in god knows what was my staple coat as it was baggy and comfy and it did not matter if filthy baby hands were adding more grime to it daily? Who cares if my hair was not washed or brushed or if I wore no make up?
At the time, I can remember thinking "I have more important shit to worry about than how I look!", and "I don't have time to do my hair, I have too much to do". Looking back now, I can see that my lack of caring for myself or giving myself care and love in the small daily ways that women with healthy hearts and minds do, was purely me physically demonstrating my thoughts about "how I didn't matter" or, more sadly, "that I did not deserve to love or care for myself" because somehow, in my heart and soul I felt like I was failing.
I felt like I was failing my husband, as my body did (and still has not!!) "bounced back". This felt shameful and embarrassing to me.
I was failing with my health and fitness goals; friends were out running marathons and completing triathlons, I was 6 months postnatal and still in pain from my pelvis issue in pregnancy (SPD).
I was failing myself, as thought I was not coping with being a Mum as did not wear cool clothes, have nice hair or leave baby at home to go out on nights out with my Mum friends.
All in all I was romping around brave facing to the world, even my closest family and friends, that everything was fine and I was happy with my new Mum life. It was my Mum in Law that was the first to spot my appearance and try and highlight gently to me that I might want to take care of myself a bit more. How do you say that to someone without it sounding like you are saying they look like shit? Perfect!
I can remember I immediately felt defensive of her comment. "I look fine" and "I've just had a baby" (10 months postnatal) and "There's more important stuff to do" and then "Do I really look that bad?" (the penny drops). And then I felt even more embarrassed about myself and life. More self-depreciating chat ahoy.
She explained it was not that I looked a certain way, it was more my overall appearance and attitude to myself that she was concerned about. She explained that since she new me, I had always been someone that liked to dress well (I am talking the basics of clean clothes here not expensive posh wear!), and someone who liked to have my hair done or wear make up or eat well and do exercise - the basics of good living. She explained that she could see I was "nowhere on my 'to look after' list" and how this was not such a good path to tread long term.
As you can imagine, I shrugged off the conversation muttering to myself as I walked away to go and focus on Finn and the housework etc. The conversation played on my mind for weeks and finally I decided to look at myself in the mirror. I looked properly. I actually saw what she had seen. I looked, how can I describe it; crumpled. A little bit odd, kind of disheveled and like I had left home in a bit of an emergency with mismatched clothes, crazy hair, half my makeup on and my cardi inside out (that's a low point, but still a common occurrence even now :) )
It was then - and we are probably talking at least 20 months postnatal here - that I needed to start understanding what had happened to my opinion of myself - why did I not feel worthy of my own attention and care?
This is where the real work began - working on my opinion of myself. Deeply researching what self worth was. How do we place value on ourselves where we know, inside and out, that we are worthy of our own and others love? What knocks us to stop us believing in our worth?
I can remember reading an article on the importance of talking to yourself with kindness. Conversing with your inner voice in the same way you would speak to your own child or best friend if they appeared to be struggling or unhappy. Finding the same compassion for yourself as you easily show to others when they are down or not quite right.
Slowly but surely, after weeks and months of reading about making me a priority again, and trying to find a place in my mind where I did not feel guilty for spending time actually doing something with my hair or nails or going to the shops to browse for a new top or asking my husband to not get mad whilst I spent actual time getting ready to go out for lunch which was more than 5 minutes (!).
Some of you may be reading the above and thinking - what? You did not do your hair or you had to ask for time to get ready? The thing is, I did not think I needed that time. I did not think I was relevant enough to want that time or use it. I had lost so much respect for myself via all the postnatal depression and anxiety "stuff"that I just did not think of myself as someone who should look after themselves in that way. I did not think that showing up for myself and taking care of me was the right (or most important) way to be a good Mum.
Once I started taking regular time for me and resetting my boundaries on how much time I needed to look after myself properly, WOW - the benefits starting rolling in!
No.1 - Happier outlook from me - I felt cared for. Because I wanted and showed that I cared for myself, close family members began to care more for me too. Because I believed I was worthy of care - so did they.
No.2 - I began to realise that I have a valid voice and grew confident in setting my boundaries in relation to how much I can actually give in caring for others balanced with how much time I need to look after myself. I need to be a priority too, not an afterthought.
No.3 - As I began to spend time caring for myself, other people noticed I was looking better. Both in myself and in my clothing choices. I got compliments when I took time on myself. I must have simply looked fresher or more well, dare I say, happier. I enjoyed receiving compliments so this was self fulfilling for me. The more I received the better care I began to take of myself more often.
No.4 - My little boy (who is now 3 and a bit) started commenting on how nice I looked, or how my hair was pretty or saying "Daddy, look at Mummy all swishy". I loved thanking him and telling him how "looking after ourselves is part of being healthy". #Life lesson 101 - always learning ;)
The list could go on.
The whole thing is a self feeding circle. The more you look after yourself and the positives grow, the more you want to look after yourself. It takes time and courage to speak out and get yourself back and high up the priority list but when you do life and you will begin to feel amazing.
So, please my fellow BAM's, if you are not feeling yourself, or you're not prioritising time on your own needs for whatever reason, I ask you to show up for yourself more frequently.
It's not about makeup and hair and clothes (these are just the outer layers that others can see and ones which I enjoyed doing for me), it's about being confident to ask for space in your day, week or month to take time out and do something which makes you feel loved - even if that's as simple as a cuppa in bad under the duvet in the afternoon.
Other activities which are on my "to me, love me" list, have been and still are, getting some fresh air whilst walking my dog by myself so I can go at adult pace not toddler pace gorgeous as that is, going to a cafe alone and drinking really hot tea (what a treat), catching up with friends whilst exercising, giving myself time and space to train when I feel like it, hanging with friends even if it's for an hour on the sofa one evening because we are still too knackered to go out after 9pm (!).
Make time for you and your needs, because, and HEAR THIS LADIES, if the helm of the mothership goes down, the whole crew is in serious trouble!
How are you going to show up for yourself a bit more this week?
Look after yourselves chicas