NEOM Organics has been on my radar for a while, but it wasn’t until I started Calm Mamas Club and discovered the divine scent of their De-Stress candle that I became hooked. I burnt this candle at my very first event and I just adore it. So as soon as they released their Wellbeing Pod it shot to the very top of my birthday list and thankfully I dropped enough hints.
When renovating our house I was keen for our bedroom to become a sanctuary where I can read, rest and relax, so the pod fits into this space perfectly. During the day when I’m sorting out laundry (hiding from the kids) my favourite scents are either De-Stress or Boost Your Energy, which has a gorgeous lemony scent. Then at night we switch to Sleep, which smells more traditionally of lavender, sweet basil and jasmine.
Not only does the Wellbeing Pod look stylish and discreet, it is also super simple to use. In fact even a sleep deprived mum of three can manage it! But what I love most is the option to set a timer, which means you can leave it running breathing in the calming oils and slip off into a deep slumber without worrying you’re going to burn the house down. The only slight down side is having to remember to empty the pod and not let the water and oils sit for too long, as this will cause damage that won’t be covered by the warranty. However I can imagine this will be the case no matter what brand of oil diffuser you use, and this is definitely a reflection of my forgetful memory than a criticism of the device itself.
To be honest this is the first oil diffuser I have used so I am unable to write a review comparatively, however I do love the NEOM Organics collection and the Wellbeing Pod certainly doesn’t disappoint. Put simply, it is a great investment piece that I use daily. In fact I can’t wait to fire it up for bedtime now.
You can purchase the Wellbeing Pod and browse the full NEOM Organics collection at neomorganics.com
Back in my normal life before lockdown began, the mornings would be pretty hectic getting two of us, plus one little person, out of the door on time and off to work and nursery. Then I come home and transform my little home into a professional workspace before welcoming my first client of the day. Sometimes I do the odd mobile appointment, or a workplace treatment day in London, but more often than not I have back-to-back clients at home. It’s pretty lush to be able to work from home; I love welcoming my clients and seeing them relax relaxed in my cosy environment. I usually have 3 or 4 clients per day, ranging from deep tissue massages to relaxing reflexology treatments to pre and post natal massages, sometimes with little babies in tow! I usually grab a quick lunch break in between clients before I do all my washing and cleaning, write up my notes, respond to client messages and then dash off to pick my son off from nursery. I have a lovely few hours with him and put him down to bed then one night a week I pop my Practitioner hat back on and do an evening appointment. It’s a busy day but in a lovely way and without the pressure of commuting. I’m glad I only work one evening a week though as I’d totally burn out otherwise! Plus I love my PJs too much.
I would love to know why you decided to become a massage therapist and reflexologist?
I must say that I wasn’t exactly dreaming of being a Massage Therapist from the moment I could speak! I was a late bloomer. The first time I had a massage was actually in Thailand; in my head I had visions of a lovely relaxing massage and then the experience of a full body Thai Massage was a bit of a shock! I then didn’t have another for years, so it was a slow burn. It wasn’t until I started working, commuting and feeling the pressure that I turned to complementary therapy for a means of a healthy escape. After that, massages became a steady part of my life and I really relied on them.
As my job became more and more stressful and started taking its toll on me in more ways than one, I used to sit on the tube every day and think about what I should do, look at every other person commuting around me and wonder what they did. I kept coming back to Massage Therapy; I viewed it as the dream job being able to help people look after themselves, work for myself, work from home. So I just went for it! I did a weekend course to check that I liked it and became a bit obsessed, then handed my notice in a week later. For a risk-averse person this was very out of character but thankfully paid off!
You recently qualified as a reflexologist, what specifically drew you to this?
I started having reflexology sessions when I was pregnant with my son Theo. I saw wonderful Kate @thewellnessmidwife about once a month from 20 weeks onwards and it’s been a part of my life ever since. Nothing makes me relax like reflexology and I became really fascinated by the physiology behind it and the connection to Chinese Medicine philosophies. It can take a lot to make me switch off but reflexology succeeds every time, so I really wanted to know how I could help others feel the same way. I also love how you can treat people with a whole range of conditions through reflexology; it’s such a non-invasive form of complementary therapy. I definitely owe a lot to Kate, and her passion for reflexology. She got me hooked!
After my maternity leave with Theo, I really wanted to ‘apply myself and do some more studying’ when I returned to work. I both laugh and cringe now; the qualification for reflexology requires 100 case study hours outside of the weeks of lectures and examination study time! Every day I thought WHAT WAS I THINKING?! Returning to work after having a child is definitely applying yourself enough and I often felt really stressed and overwhelmed by this extra pressure I had put on myself, which is pretty much the opposite of how you’re supposed to feel about reflexology. Thankfully it paid off but in retrospect I was totally bonkers; lesson learnt.
What’s the most favourite part of your job?
Definitely seeing the change in my clients from when they arrive in my treatment room to when they leave. Every one of my clients is so different, and often I don’t know why each new client has been motivated to book with me and what they need from me until they arrive. And that need might change from one appointment to the next with the same client too. I really love this; every day is different and it keeps me on my toes. I never assume to know everything or that I have seen it all before, I really am always learning. But seeing clients leave in a better state than when they arrived, be it physically, mentally or both, is an amazing feeling. In my office job I sometimes struggled to see the tangible difference that I made, whereas now it’s immediate and that feeling is so powerful and fulfilling.
What piece of advice would you give to a mum looking to change her career?
Go for it, it will be tough but worth it. I think every Mum out there is used to things not always going as planned, we are used to hard work in raising our little people, and we have all learnt to become more resilient. I think these are all qualities that will be invaluable. Plus a stubborn strong will comes in super handy when you are your own boss. For me, a big motivation to change my career was to have a job that would help me have a family too, so that was my driver to make it work and still keeps me motivated when I have a tough day. I do find it lonely at times, so having someone you can rely on as a sounding board for ideas, and who can give you honest feedback is a real lifesaver. As lovely as my job is, any self-employed person will tell you it can be bloody hard work, and challenging to properly step away from it and switch off at times. However, being my own boss as a mother is priceless and my quality of life is a million times better than it would have been with my previous job.
What practices do you keep in your self-care toolkit?
I book in my little slots of self-care time regularly and look forward to them so so much. Often they help me get through the toughest times during the day. When I say book in, I mean plan them with my husband! I go for short bursts, as we find little and often is more likely to happen, especially since lockdown has started. My husband is able to work from home so it’s pretty much me and my little sidekick all day during the week. I love my son but if I didn’t have pockets of time to myself I would go bonkers, just to give me time to recharge and feel like things aren’t getting on top of me. I mostly just use this time to have a bath, my most favourite thing to do! I realise I am very lucky to have some bursts of ‘me time’ right now and this is a luxury many are not able to enjoy.
I’ve definitely learned the importance of this time to myself the hard way – a few months after returning to work after maternity leave, and a couple of months into my reflexology course, I totally burnt myself out. I picked up a virus (this was over a year ago, safer times) and it totally floored me. I was off work for two weeks, the first time I’d been poorly since starting Massage and Me. It was a big wake-up call that I’d been putting everyone first but myself; burning the candle at every end and had become unable to take care of myself in the same way I did for my clients. It forced me to put measures in place and has helped me to spot the signs early on if I’m starting to take on too much.
Obviously I practise what I preach and having regular complementary therapy treatments is a must for me. I alternate between reflexology and massage therapy. This is my time and I savour every last moment, from the drive there and back to the early night I have afterwards. One hour every couple of weeks for me is do-able for me, and I allow myself this time without feeling any guilt.
Finally, this is usually a bit of a secret but….one afternoon a month, I finish work early and before collecting Theo I turn my phone off, I take a book/kindle, I buy the most gigantic coffee and slice of cake I can find and I put my headphones in, shut off from the world and come back feeling more like Jo than ever.
Do you have a favourite brand or product that you use during your treatments?
Neal’s Yard Remedies are my absolute favourite brand to use on my clients. I just love them; their natural products, their helpful guides on how to get the best of their products, their consideration for pregnant women, mothers and babies and their sustainability policy. I use their pre-blended essential oils as an added extra for my clients’ treatments, and also have a couple of Aesop oils up by sleeve as they are beautiful for face massages especially. Neal’s Yard products use more natural and organic ingredients though so that will always be my preference.
Name one Instagram account we should all follow for inspiration.
Oh golly this is tough! I have so many that I look at every day without fail!
I think my go to is always Steph Douglas (@stephdontbuyherflowers) She has a son the same age as my little one, and started up her (beautiful) business two kids in. She is so down-to-earth and talks really openly about the struggles of owning your own business and having a family. Plus she’s hilarious. In my head we’re pals.
Eating cake with the people I love…then disappearing on my own to have a bath.
Never has there been a more important time for us to invest in our wellbeing. But with kids to homeschool, work to juggle, clothes to wash, and potentially a partner to bicker with, there doesn’t leave much time to wade through the overwhelming options of classes and materials available, let alone actually do any of them.
So below I have listed my very favourite online wellbeing classes and services, which are helping to keep my mind chatter and anxiety at bay, and allowing me to dedicate a bit more time to myself. An essential part of keeping sane in isolation (and most certainly not selfish or a luxury – not matter what your busy brain tells you.)
I hope there is something here for everyone, but I would also love to know what you recommend. Please do get in touch on Instagram or Facebook, or email on firstname.lastname@example.org
Calm Mamas Club yoga teachers Madeleine Hart and Louise Foglia are both running fantastic yoga classes online at various times to suit you. So if you’ve been to an event and enjoyed a class previously, you’re in luck!
Sonia Noy is an incredible pilates teacher, and her mother and baby classes were a lifeline to me after having my third baby. Sonia is running regular classes via Zoom and also a Wednesday morning Barre class, which I’m super keen to try.
Lou Murray is a Health & Mindfulness Coach over at Live Well With Lou and is currently running a special Power Hour – Latte with Lou session, where you will receive 1-2-1 coaching for an hour. The session will assess your current lifestyle, concerns and goals to create tailored recommendations for your specific goals. You will receive practical nutrition, lifestyle and self-care knowledge, tools and practices that will move you towards reaching your personal goals. You will be given exercises to build healthy habits into your life to support your lifestyle and behaviour change and of course there will be some delicious, nourishing recipes included too! The session will end with a wonderfully nurturing mindful meditation session.
If you’re anything like me, I spend the day exhausted and then when it comes to bedtime I watch the news and I can’t switch off. A recorded yoga nidra is perfect for this, which helps you relax and drift off into a wonderful sleep.
I love the recorded sessions from Sara Johnson at Connect to Calm, available to buy for adults and children. Use the code HOMERETREAT to receive a 20% discount, or you can join Sara on Monday evenings at 8pm for her free Facebook Live sessions.
You may already to know but I am currently training to become an accredited Ten of Zen Mindfulness Teacher, and I am loving my journey with mindfulness. I have a mind that doesn’t know when to quit and, despite the relentless chatter (even during the meditations, this is no bad thing people), it is still having a massively positive impact on my state of wellbeing.
Nikki Wilson’s Ten of Zen meditations are perfect for busy mums. A short 10 minutes, which encourage you to get comfy and switch off. They are also free on the 10 of Zen website and meditations range from “I made a crap choice,” to “top yourself up.” I couldn’t recommend highly enough.
These are unprecedented times for sure, which will be affecting the whole family. The shutdown of schools with the instruction to remain at home is a huge change, which is bound to bring up a whole range of feelings and emotions. If you feel like you need additional support to navigate this there is help available, including Dr Martha Deiros Collado, who is a Clinical Psychologist for Children, Young People and their Families.
Martha is available for therapy sessions online, which can be booked by contacting her on Martha@DrMDC.co.uk Or alternatively Martha hosts a live Twitter session for any questions 8-9pm every Wednesday evening.
PREGNANCY & FAMILY YOGA
I was lucky enough to attend Kat’s pregnancy yoga classes with my second and third pregnancies so I know how incredible they are. Kat is running pregnancy yoga classes online via the Bababoom Loughton Instagram page on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Plus Kat and her beautiful daughters are running Yoga Kats kids classes, suitable for the whole family.
Finally, my week wouldn’t be complete without our Boggle Beats zoom classes. Run by professional singer and kids entertainer Jodie, my two year old daughter adores the class and, even in my shittest mood, Jodie has never failed to cheer me up.
I am writing this post with a white wine hangover, the wine that also accompanied a side order of cheese burger and chips. So if you’re looking for a post on a strict no-sugar regime this isn’t the one for you. However after limiting my sugar considerably over the last four weeks, what I realise this post is all about is finding your balance with food and, most importantly, enjoying your food with no guilt attached.
I don’t know about you, but I am an emotional eater. Accomplished something good? Have a treat. Have a shit day? Have a treat. The only problem was that every day something was going on and the treats became less treat-like and more everyday. Coupled with a stressful Christmas, and a need for food to just be quick and easy, I had found I had fallen into a trap of over-eating fast convenient food on a daily basis. I no longer felt comfortable in my own skin and I was exhausted and sluggish.
By the beginning of January, I had bread sauce coming out of my ears and I knew it was time for a change. However in order for me to really make strides with something, I often need a plan. So I bought The fast 800 calories recipe book for inspiration. I had no intention of limiting my calories to 800 as I have three small kids to run around after, but I have found the insights in the book very interesting and I have tried out quite a few of the recipes too.
The big takeaways being that food high in fat is no longer a sin, so high fat dairy products are all good in the hood – within reason of course. However the sweet stuff, including refined white carbohydrates is not. So this is what I have dramatically reduced. This is where the recipe book in particular came into its own, as I could follow their meal suggestions. Carbonara with courgette spaghetti and cottage pie with a cheesy cauliflower topping being my favourites. After all, anything mixed with cheese and cream has to be a winner. Although obviously not suitable if you’re a vegan or allergic / intolerant, but this is just what made it more palatable for me. With a load of fruit and veg for good measure.
A big game changer was also upping my water in-take. We all know we need to be drinking roughly 2 litres of water a day, but how many of us actually do it? Certainly not me very often. But keeping a litre water bottle in my car and taking regular swigs really helped, and I wonder now whether the sluggishness was actually dehydration.
After a few weeks eating this way I started noticing the benefits and feeling better. However I love food, no I REALLY love food. And I wanted to still have the occasional treat and enjoy it without feeling guilty as soon as I’d eaten it. I didn’t want to watch my family tuck heartily into Grandma’s apple crumble and custard and sit on the sidelines salivating. Life is just too short for that. So I did indulge, and it was delicious. But instead of throwing in the towel as I may have done previously, breaking into the biscuit tin, I just carried on with my new habits the following day.
I have been a yo-yo dieter all my life, trying to manage my weight to meet a skinny ideal. And I would be lying if I told you that losing the Christmas bulge didn’t hold an appeal. But actually, I am happier with my body now than I ever have been, despite the crinkled mum tum, raging cellulite and pendulum boobs. Because I’m past just eating Weight Watchers zero point foods and other such bollocks. I feel healthier inside and I’m enjoying my food again, without guilt or feeling unrealistically restricted by calorie counting.
Obviously I’m only a month in of my new eating habits, so it’s hard to say whether or not they’ll stick. But I hope that by finding my food balance I can continue to feel healthier and happier, and I indulge in a beautiful cheese burger for good measure.
Please note; I am not a nutritionist or a trained professional in any way, so please seek the correct advice when it comes to your diet. Especially if you suffer from any medical problems.
Christmas can be magical, but it can also be bloody hard work, requiring both military precision, and the enthusiasm and resilience of Challenge Anneka. But there are ways in which we can keep calm(ish) and survive silly season with our families. Here are my top tips:
KEEP IT SIMPLE
The pressure to have the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER can be immense. But it doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive. Get outside for long walks, play some board games (bracing yourself for a few tears first) and give the kids some time to play with their new toys.
DON’T FORGET IT’S YOUR CHRISTMAS TOO
There is a notion nowadays that Christmas is all about the kids, but it’s your Christmas too and it’s important to factor in your wants and needs. The temptation in our house is to throw any routine out the window, but actually it’s crucial for me to keep a reasonable bedtime in place so the kids are rested (and less of a nightmare!) and we have a much-need break before the next day.
GRAB DOWN TIME WHEN YOU CAN
Christmas is FULL on so grab a guilt-free 10-min breather when you can to relax and reset. Read a book or a mag, listen to a podcast or hide in the loo if necessary (let’s be realistic!) The Nourish app also has some amazing relaxation advice and short meditations from self-care gurus such as Suzy Reading and Nikki Wilson, which will definitely help you feel calmer amongst the Christmas crazy.
BE KIND & BITE YOUR TONGUE
Christmas has all the perfect ingredients for bickering at best, or a big old barney at worst. Try and remember to be kind to your partner and bond over the boring-ness of Aunt Brenda’s stories and the kids bouncing on the walls, rather than taking it out on each other.
PLAN FOR 2020
There is probably the only time of year when most of the world stops for a few days, so make the most of it. Reflect on how you would like 2020 to pan out, and what small changes you can make to improve your life. For example, next year my plans are to start regular Pilates to build up my knackered body and to start journaling. How about you?
Crafting has changed my life. This may sound like a bold claim, but crafting consistently eases my anxious mind and puts a smile on my, often very tired, face. I make pottery, and working with clay and its earthy texture has had an incredibly positive impact on my daily life.
So what is it about crafting? Maybe it’s the distraction from the norm, or the sense of creativity. Maybe it’s concentrating on something that focuses the mind. Whatever it is, craft has the power to sooth and relieve anxiety in the most effective way.
I am a Mum to 3 kids (1, 5 & 7) and have struggled over the past 2 years with anxiety and feelings of sadness.
Cancer can do that to you, it can take away your sense of control, and of course it can make you feel very, very sad. But it wasn’t my cancer; it was the cancer attacking the body of my 3-year-old daughter.
The white blood cells in her skull had started to malfunction, eating away at her tiny bones. We embarked upon a year of heavy meds. I say we, because as any parent of a sick child knows – it feels as though you take the meds too. Chemotherapy and steroids caused her little body to swell as her resilience was tested to its limits.
I was also 20 weeks pregnant when we got her diagnosis at Great Ormond Street Hospital, and I wondered just how on earth we could welcome a new baby into our lives now.
I don’t know how, but we did get through that year somehow. The challenges of a new baby, chemotherapy, lengthy hospital stays and virtually no sleep, were a concoction that inevitably took their toll on my mental health.
A wonderful nurse at my daughter’s local hospital referred us for some sessions with a specialist cancer therapist, and she helped our little family unit to unpick a variety of messy tangled emotions.
My husband and I started gradually finding our feet again, emerging out of the state of trauma. Day by day things seemed a little brighter and our daughter was recovering well. We were incredibly lucky to have a support network around us of family and friends; something I know not all families in our situation have the fortune to rely upon.
It was around this time that I stumbled upon my craft, which very swiftly turned into a second form of therapy for me. One morning I randomly happened to pick up some craft clay that had been gifted to my girls at Christmas. I made a few bits and pieces with the clay, and it made me smile. The naivety of it, and the feel of the clay between my fingers was so joyful. I decided to buy some inexpensive proper mud clay, and this is when it clicked for me. The earthy organic nature of the material in my hands was just so calming. Every day I tried to sit and make something while the baby napped, no judgement, just to make something.
I began to delve more deeply into the craft of pottery, and after watching hours of YouTube videos when the kids were in bed, I decided to take a leap and purchase a bargain battered old 1980s pottery wheel on eBay. I quickly fell in love with it and decided to do a short intensive course at Turning Earth Studios in East London. This course gave me the confidence to take my hobby to the next level.
Thankfully my daughter is nearly one year clear since the end of her treatment, and we hope for the best going forward. I still suffer with bouts of anxiety and the constant question of – will everything be ok in the future? My craft gives me a focus, it calms my mind, makes me smile and assists me in navigating the web of complex emotions relating to our experiences these past couple of years. I grab blocks of time to myself when the baby naps and the kids are at school, or when my husband is at home. I nip out to the shed (my studio) and create.
I get that crafting might not be for everybody, but if you are curious then just give something a try. There are so many wonderful crafts out there, and so many day courses or free lessons online; you don’t necessarily need to spend much money. You can often pick bits up for free on the web, or inexpensively second hand. Be it knitting, woodwork, clay or good old colouring in, it is good to focus the mind and get the brain working on something positive. Just dip your toe in and give something a go. I did and it’s been one of the most positive decisions I have made.
To purchase a piece of Jenny’s beautiful pottery, please visit her website where her collections are now available for sale www.jhpottery.co.uk
To be in with a chance of winning the stunning Nesting Bowls featured in this post in Satin Aqua & Satin Cloud glazes, please check out our competition featured in the Calm Mamas Club Instagram page.
“It is by putting one’s own house in order that one’s mind-set is changed” Marie Kondo
I must have spent the first four or more CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) sessions I attended for generalised anxiety disorder, discussing the dire state of my house. Obsessed with the never-ending monotony of tidying away toys, emptying dishwashers, and loading washing pile after pile, only for the house to look in a worse state than I first started. I was never able to make any progress, and there was never a reward. No sense of satisfaction that lasted beyond a few minutes, before the tiny tyrants were un-doing all my hard work and the washing pile was back to Mount Everest scale proportions. To say it was soul destroying felt like the most major of understatements, and there days when there was just no end in sight.
After several months of therapy I now recognise the state of my house as being one of my main triggers when it comes to my anxiety or feeling out of control, and my biggest red flag as to when I need to take some time out.
But it’s just a few toys on the floor? Some loose change and old receipts piled up on the side or a collection of dirty shoes at the door? Right? Well yes and no.
Of course I needed a change of perspective. Number one, I have three small people at home who quite literally couldn’t give a monkeys that there is yoghurt on the walls or that mummy has picked up the pens and the paper for the fifth time that day. They just want to have fun, and rightly so. They are just kids after all, and I would hate to think their little lives had been peppered with mummy’s daily outbursts because milk had been spilt on the sofa…again.
Number two, I’m pretty certain that on my death bed I’m not going to wish I had made time to clean out the fridge that summer back in 2019, or that I somehow magically found a way to make the kids keep the toys “in the bloody play room!” As far as I’m aware, the world hasn’t stopped turning because the dried washing remained on the sofa for a week, or the kids’ happiness hindered because I hadn’t found time to put away the winter coats.
However, I truly believe that when the stars align and the house feels clean and tidy (be still my beating heart) I really do feel happier and my mind feels clearer. I feel calmer and more organised, and much more productive and ready to face the day. And I don’t think I’m the only one (am I?) What do they say; a cluttered house equals a cluttered mind?
As I’m learning, with most things in life, there has to be a balance. When it comes to nap time, and you have one blissful hour to yourself, do you reload the dishwasher or relax with a good book (or an episode of Made in Chelsea?) #MiC every time! The dishwasher can wait and that hour has to be about you and whatever allows you to refill your cup.
But can we learn a few simple systems to help reduce stress, or dedicate a couple of hours to de-cluttering that will pay dividends in the long-term? Not to try and create a show home (it’s never going to happen), but to help improve our mental wellbeing and mind set? Hell yes!
This is why I am super excited to be working with Organisational Guru and all round lovely lady Sheila Azouji-Benjamin, founder of Tidy Me Please, who will be co-hosting my next Calm Mamas Brunch Club on Monday 24thJune at the yummy Salway Cookhouse. Tickets cost just £25 each and include a delicious brunch and hot drink or juice, the workshop with Tidy Me Please, an exclusive Calm Mamas Club goody bag, and a 10% donation to the PANDAS Foundation UK – who provide crucial support to parents who are suffering from pre and post natal mental illness.
To purchase your ticket simply visit www.calmmamasclub.co.uk and while you’re there, why not sign up to our newsletter to be the first to find out about Calm Mamas Club events, offers and discounts.
Don’t worry, you’ll get back to normal soon.” Said a well-meaning relative a few days after having my first baby. Only my “normal” pre-pregnancy meant working past 8pm most evenings in my fast paced PR job, and if I managed to get out any earlier, bashing back a couple of bottles of Sauvignon with friends and doing pretty much whatever else I fancied.
The reality was that my life was going to be nothing like my old “normal” for quite some time, and that is, in fact, completely normal. After all, I had just squeezed a human being out of my body and my husband and I were now solely responsible for keeping that tiny being alive. In my world, there was nothing normal about that, but something quite extraordinary.
Yet it didn’t stop me striving for my old version of “normal.” It didn’t stop me walking miles to a local café with my family literally the day after I gave birth and had an episiotomy, because everyone else wanted to get out and about. Leaving me with weeks worth of antibiotics for an infection downstairs, and developing a particularly stubborn case of nipple thrush to match.
It didn’t stop me piling the pressure on myself as I desperately tried to get my baby to take a bottle, even though I had thankfully established breastfeeding, because I felt like if I didn’t go out with friends for a boozy night out I would be forgotten.
It didn’t stop me lining up a PT exactly six weeks to the day after I had my second 9lbs 7 ounce baby because I wanted to get my “body back,” leaving me with weeks of back pain and a hefty physiotherapy bill to boot.
As with most expectant parents pre kids I had perhaps naively imagined that the new babies would just slot into life, as I knew it. Not that my life would be turned upside down, and that I would spend the next six months and beyond trying to turn it right side up again. Never quite realising that the old life I was so desperately trying to cling onto, as I had previously known it, no longer existed. But little did I know this was no bad thing.
I should have allowed myself to fully float in the beautiful baby bubble, rather than worry about what others were thinking and allow the weight of that worry to hold me down. To concentrate on my new “normal” and what I needed, as a mother. Rather than solely focus on the baby and getting her into a routine so I could try and reclaim my life and time as my own again. After all, let’s be honest, it was a battle I was never going to win. In the last six years, it has been rare for me to visit the loo without a companion.
However, third time round, I’ve become much more accepting of life as a new mother and all that it brings – both the baby joy and the inevitable, but temporary, limitations. Self-care has been crucial in retaining some balance, particularly carving out time for myself in a noisy house of five, and taking note of what my mind and body need. Whether it’s escaping for a few hours to go on a solo-shopping trip, or inviting a friend round for that bottle(s) of Sauvignon and a takeaway, when going out for an evening feels impossible.
But despite all of this, retaining a sense of self and who you were pre-kids is also incredibly important. Remembering all the things you enjoyed before the stoppers were temporary put in place, and finding time to do them again as soon as the time is right, is vital in order to retain our sense of identity, which can so easily be lost under a pile of pampers and nipple cream.
I guess what I’ve learnt is key is to listen to myself more, and to try and switch off the outside noise and influences. To even out the priority list, with myself at the top alongside my partner and babies, and to find your “new normal” once you’re ready.
Ever since Swifty’s Bad Blood music video was released officially featuring her ”squad”, women everywhere have taken the opportunity to praise their own tribe/squad/pack of pals. Photos have been tagged, features have been written and female friendships have been celebrated (and Amen to that). But what about those who are yet to find their tribe, or in my case, are having a tricky time finding them second time round?
Before I continue I have to say I have the best NCT group a girl could ask for thanks to baby number one. As with all the finest mummy mates, it wasn’t long before we were sharing birth horror stories in much the same way I used to divulge my drunken antics to my bonkers work buddies. We overtook cafes in a pack – buggies parked, breasts out – and it wasn’t before long we were meeting on a weekly, if not daily basis. These women, who I would have walked past in the street just a few weeks before, suddenly became my lifeline and the saviours of my increasingly delicate sanity (mummy meltdown anyone?)
But as the babies got bigger, our little group got smaller, as one by one each mum finished her maternity leave and returned to work. As the only stay-at-home parent in the gang I suddenly found myself alone with a small person to entertain and a lot of time to do it in. One baby soon became two (very thankfully) and once again I was up to my eyeballs in crappy nappies and coffee cups, but this time with a toddler who could suck energy more efficiently than Dracula can suck blood, and none of my squad on hand to save me.
Being brave enough to bounce up to other parents and make friends when you have one kid is hard, but meeting mostly new mums on maternity leave when you have a loud, scream-y toddler in tow, that’s nigh on impossible. Of course there are my fellow stay-at-home mums to hang with but its not as easy to form friendships as some may think. Much like the early days of dating there is certain etiquette to be followed and pulling a Sharon from Catastrophe simply won’t do. There are also the mums who are lucky enough to still have their squad, who appear in playground in pairs or more, deep in conversation and as likely to share a friendly word, as theyare to share their hot Starbucks.
They’re even up to it online. Social media suddenly became awash with women celebrating other women whether it be their friends or other females they admired. Of course women should be bigging up other women (I am a big believer in this), but for all the lovely ladies out there feeling lonely who AREN’T included in these lists, these features can only serve to make them feel a little bit sad and their day a little bit shit.
But I’m not quite the Belinda-no-mates I have painted myself out to be. Whispered chit chat with other mums whilst singing Old MacDonald has turned into real friendships, which now involve nights out and wine (hallelujah). The old NCT bunch are now pushing out their second sprogs, meaning a whole new wave of maternity leave fun and frolics to enjoy. The work buds are still bonkers and I have my very best pals from university, school and beyond. So what I am trying to say? I’m saying that not everyone is lucky enough to have a Swifty style squad to rely upon. That being a mum is a bloody lonely business. That even if a mum appears to have their shit together,they probably don’t, and at some stage they would have felt the same crippling loneliness to some degree too. So the next time you’re in the playground with your mate, sipping your hot Starbucks (and screaming at little Jimmy to stop jumping off the top of the bloody slide), try and say hi to that mum on her tod with her toddler and new baby. At worst, you would have made her day a little better, and at best? A new mummy mate to hang out with, and we can never have enough of them.
This thought ran through my head over and over again for years, but particularly the months after the birth of my three amazing babies. Interspersed with feelings of unparalleled love and deep devotion, came waves of frustration, of being overwhelmed, unable to cope. Then of course came the inevitable exhaustion, irritability and the all-consuming guilt for not being “fun mum,” “happy mum,” “care-free, easy-going mum.”
I had more “Arthur Fowler” moments than I care to mention. After leaving a fast-paced career in PR, being a mum was my full-time job. But even the long hours I had previously ploughed into my career had nothing on this new 24/7 role. Every day was devoted to providing my children with, what I considered to be at the time, the best possible care. But amongst this almost obsessive need to tend for my growing family I had forgotten one person that also needed looking after.
Not only had I lost sight of who I was, but I had also started finding it impossible to dedicate any time to myself. Instead I tortured myself with never-ending to-do lists and impossible expectations. No wonder I felt like a failure, I had raised the bar so high it had become unreachable.
I am thankful to say that through the fog I had a moment of clarity and reached out for help, and this has been in the form of regular CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) sessions. This has been a game changer for me. I had first become aware of the term after a friend had undergone treatment herself, and after confiding in her, she recommended I self-referred. I have now had eight sessions with my therapist on a weekly basis. I had suffered from anxiety and depression before and had sought help, but this form of therapy was different. Rather than delve into past experiences and spend hours unpicking childhood events, CBT was able to give me clarity on my core beliefs, which helped to explain why I was feeling the way I did. Finally I could truly understand that in order for me to look after my family, first I had to take care of myself. Whoever said, “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” was in fact bang on.
Over the course of the last few months I have made significant changes to my lifestyle, which I want to share with you today. Now I have to state here that other than a very basic counseling course back in my 20s, I have absolutely no psychotherapy training and I am not in a position to treat anyone suffering from mental health issues. Please, please contact your GP or an appropriate advice line such as the Samaritans or PANDAS Foundation if this is the case.
But for those who are perhaps feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, these tips have really helped me and I hope they help you too.
Sod the housework – this sounds ridiculous, but at the beginning of my treatment I could not stop banging on about the state of the house. Nothing set me off into a rage quicker than stepping on a piece of Duplo ten seconds after clearing it away. Often I would spend every spare minute in my day, of which there weren’t many, tidying and cleaning, only to find the house in a worse state post teatime than it had been in the morning. Soul destroying. Now, if my baby gives me a half decent naptime I watch Grey’s Anatomyand inhale a sarnie on the sofa. Instead I do the tidying at the end of the day – if I can be bothered. Yes my house isn’t a show home but I’m a darn sight happier for it.
Give permission to enjoy yourself – Ah mum guilt, we’ve all felt it. But loving your kids does not mean having to spend every minute with them. You’re entitled to a girls’ brunch, a date night or simply an extra half hour in the bath to read your book. In fact, it’s vital. Book yourself that trip to the cinema or cheeky massage and give yourself permission to enjoy it. You really do deserve it.
You’re not surviving, you’re thriving – I’ve often walked into a therapy session and declared I’m in survival mode, particularly after a crap night with the baby. First off, survival mode is just fine. Of course you want to sit on the sofa and eat biscuits whilst the kids watch a Nick Toons Loud Housemarathon when you’ve had bugger all sleep. But chances are, you’re not just surviving, you’re thriving. Are you kids loved and safe? Are they happy, warm and well fed? Examine the evidence and you’ll find you’re doing a stellar job.
Postpone your worries – When my anxiety is particularly bad, I can lose days worrying. I just can’t shake it. Obsessing about hypothetical ‘what if’ scenarios that most likely will never happen. I have learnt (although it is never easy) to postpone my worry by writing it in a notebook, distracting myself with something different, then dedicating a quiet time, when the kids are in bed, to concentrate on my worry later. If it’s a genuine problem, I will try and tackle it in a practical fashion. If it’s a ‘what if’, the distraction has often worked and I have moved on. Although nothing is a fail-safe method, this has saved me from reaching fever pitch a few times.
Don’t search Google – Name a mum who hasn’t googled their baby’s symptoms late at night, bleary eyed, desperate to find a solution or answer. Only to be scarred witless by what they find. For someone who is also prone to a bit of health anxiety, Dr Google is the devil’s work. Be kind to yourself and trust your own judgment and intuition. A mother’s gut is rarely wrong.
Talk – Anxiety can be so isolating, and it’s so easy to believe the voice that tellsyou everyone else is coping apart from you. It’s lies. And this is from someone who has spent far too long listening to my own internal critic. Please talk to your friends, partner or parents, or GP if needed. You shouldn’t have to suffer in silence and sometimes just voicing these concerns out loud can help relieve some of the worry. Please believe me when I say you are not alone, and talking is thevery first step to feeling better
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