Thank you so much, Annie, for sharing your matrescence story. Annie is a Nutritional Therapist and can be found here
A woman’s journey into Motherhood is very personal. It is shaped by factors that aren’t always known to us or discussed in mainstream healthcare or media. As well as bringing a lot of joy, love and happiness, this transition also brings about invisible pressures that can make mothers feel like they are carrying the world upon their shoulders (as well as a baby in their arms).
Although my pregnancy was physically pretty plain sailing, my husband and I were going through a lot of changes in our lives. We relocated hundreds of miles from home, our financial situation changed (not for the better), we moved house, then we bought a house, I set up my first business and Dan was settling in to a new job. It’s fair to say I went into motherhood carrying not only my little ‘Boo Boo’, but also a substantial amount of stress.
To support this stage of my Motherhood journey I consulted with fellow Nutritional Therapists to get the best advice for me regarding nutrition during pregnancy. I saw a chiropractor regularly to support my physical body and nervous system throughout the process, and I joined a prenatal yoga class to provide the mind-body support in preparation for the physical act of giving birth. My husband and I also came up with a birth plan using the generic NHS template. So, all in all, I felt informed, supported and prepared.
But what happens after birth…….
On reflection, my mentality was very much “live for the moment”, “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it”, and if all else fails…… “Wing it!” In all seriousness though, I was fearful and concerned about my new identity as a mum, and I could not see life beyond the new born baby stage. I was also busy with my business, which I think may have been an unconscious distraction, as it was something I could control during a transition into the unknown.
However, I was comforted by the fact that I had the best team mate ever in my husband, and whatever came up, I knew we would overcome together.
It is common today that the first child you take care of, is your own.
As a culture, we western, 21st Century humans, have lost our evolutionary tribe mentality and replaced it with a ‘supermum’ culture. In a nutshell this is seen as a feeling and expectation that we must do everything ourselves and be everything to everyone. Navigating the minefield of parenting can be quite isolating. Constant decision making, comparison to what others are doing and lack of support can make you question your gut instincts and ultimately lead to loneliness. The saying “It takes a village to raise a child” is very true, but equally as valid is
“It takes a village to raise a mother!”
On top of this isolation and loneliness, I found that the current parenting message is very much geared to “There’s no manual” and “Enjoy every minute, it goes so fast” and “Parenting is so rewarding.” But what happens when this ‘baby bubble’ isn’t all baby moons and bunny rattles? What if you don’t “enjoy every minute” because you’ve put so much pressure on yourself that “it will go so fast”? And what does this “reward” thing look like anyway?
Now, I must interject here and clarify to you all, that our little Bonnie Boo Boo is pure love and joy. She is in fact a complete gift to us. We love her to the moon and back and couldn’t imagine life without her! Parenting, on the other hand, or more specifically, parenting in the 21st century environment, has been hugely challenging and there have been times I didn’t think I would get out alive.
One thing that I was totally not prepared for, and something that has been the breaking of me, was the lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation has had a profound impact on my all-round health and wellbeing, but most significantly my mental health, emotional resilience, ability to focus and memory. I was shocked how foggy my brain had become. Lack of sleep also had a huge impact on my food choices, my gut and digestion, my ability to work and socialise but also my identity. I went from an energised and high vibe ‘radiator’ Annie, to an on edge, distracted, paranoid, anxious, overwhelmed Annie. I felt much more like a drain than a radiator.
What made this so much more difficult to deal with and induced a further feeling of isolation is how trivialised and accepted sleep loss is within our Mum society. ‘You’re a mum, of course you’re not going to sleep well’ and ‘of course you’re going to be tired’, ‘get used to it’ or even worse, ‘get on with it’. These are not complaints, these are cries for help and as a society we are missing a huge piece of the puzzle by ignoring or downplaying them.
If we think about language for a second, and in particular the word depression.
We may have some solutions staring us in the face! The body needs time to recover, regenerate and recalibrate. I know that every time I hear a mum say that they are tired, they have my full attention.
We are now undergoing a cultural shift that encourages people to open up and talk about their mental health issues. This is awesome. However, it’s important to acknowledge that as much as we’re encouraging people to talk, we must be educating people to listen! Listen with an open heart and open mind. Listen to hear, not just to respond. Listen free of blame, shame or judgement. This is crucial to changing how we address and improve our mental health system.
Something else that I’ve found and still do find very challenging is my lost sense of self and identity. I love being Bonnie’s Mum, but my energy is not as it was. Again, something that is generalised and accepted. This is just as much, if not more so, about our emotional energy as it is about our physical energy. Energy is everything, emotions are energy in motion. Overwhelm, comparison, worry, stress, anger, are all ‘heavy’ emotions. They cause the electrons in our cells to spin at a much lower frequency, so they become more like physical matter than a vibration.
Joy, love, laughter, happiness on the other hand are all much higher vibrational states. When we experience these emotions, we are functioning at a higher vibe. But what does it take to have more energy, emotionally and physically?
Answer: Sleep and restoration.
So, not being one to just to accept this struggle through the lower vibrations as my life from now on, I made a commitment to myself to better understand my situation. I wanted to move from surviving to thriving, not just for myself, but also for the love I hold for my amazing husband and most awesome little B!
Here’s My Story - My Matrescence
For me things reached their worst after having my little B (born June 2016).
I was completely overwhelmed, exhausted and depleted. I loved this little person so much, I was overwhelmed with fear of not being enough for her.
I felt all the vulnerabilities and insecurities I had as a woman had suddenly been entered into a competition and broadcast for the world to see! I was on stage, I had to perform, I had to succeed, and I couldn't let anyone down.
The best way I can describe this was feeling scared and fearful, but instead of this fear being something tangible; a thing, a person, an event or something I had to face in the external world, it was internal. The fear was the fear of myself! Fear that I wasn’t enough. I could not run away, and I could not hide.
During this time, I experienced an array of physical and emotional symptoms, including paranoia, stomach cramps, bloating, crying, dehydration, dry lips and dry mouth, pain in my lower back, heightened senses, noise aversion, lack of spatial awareness, and at times I didn’t want to be alone or have any company. It was painful and frequent.
Things were unbelievably tough. After reaching a rocky enough bottom for me, I made a commitment to myself that I needed to feel better. This had to change, and I was going to make it happen. I'm not sure I fully believed myself at the time, but I didn't want to die, nor did I want to merely survive. I wanted to live and thrive and be a Mum my little B was proud of and the wife my Dandles could count on.
At the time of writing, this has been more than a 2-year journey. A lot has happened, and a lot has been achieved. What follows is an insight into my journey to date.
The road back to a happier, healthier me…
Self-Acceptance and Self-Awareness
Awareness is the first step before change.
First, I had to accept my situation and my role in it. This also meant accepting me for being me. “I accept the way things are, but I’m not OK for things to continue this way, and I need to make some changes.”
The truth is, if we want to achieve long-term health and happiness and cultivate habits that become second nature, we must first achieve awareness to better know and understand ourselves, and our individual needs.
For me this was, first, understanding and then, secondly, working on releasing my 'emotional anchor' that I had associated with ‘mum-shame’, guilt, and my feelings of not being enough. These anchors were so draining on my energy and totally disrupted my inner frequency. I wanted my energised, higher vibe Annie back!
Part of this emotional release process meant I had to 'Own my role in my situation.’ Not in a self-critical way, but acknowledging, understanding, and accepting my own contribution to how I was feeling with honesty, courage and kindness. I had to cultivate self-compassion over victim mentality. Dr Gabor Mate, one of my heroes, describes becoming responsible as Response-able, or able to respond to our own needs.
Awareness required me to be present and create mental space and stillness. My overthinking, worrying and self-criticising became overwhelming, so I had to quite simply declutter my head.
I tackled this by:
Taking some time out from work - In order to work through this muddle, I needed to ‘lighten the load’, specifically the mental load I felt I was carrying.
Taking some time out from parenting – With Dan starting a new job Bonnie was able to start nursery 2 days a week.
Talking therapy – I was introduced to a local psychotherapist who I connected with. She was a safe person and provided a safe space for me to open up about how I was feeling. Her approach suited me, and I found it educational as well as therapeutic.
Community healing - I attended a local support group once a week which was set up to support mums with their perinatal mental health. 'Juno' provided a safe, relaxed space to talk, be heard and be me, judgement free. It was so comforting to be surrounded by other mum's who were either going through or had been through a similar experience. This was the first time I didn't feel so alone. I remember coming home and telling Dan how 'this' is a 'real thing' and (unfortunately) it is very common, and that I wasn't on my own. I strongly recommend you check them out for the wonderful work that they do: https://www.juno.uk.com/
Sleep strategy – This was one of the most influential changes we made, it was by no means perfect and has relapsed a little into toddlerhood. Our sleep plan included changing our sleeping space, night weaning Bonnie, short meditations and taking supplements to support restorative sleep (in the event that longer sleep was disrupted) and napping or ‘controlled recovery periods’ as Nick Littlehales describes them in his book ‘Sleep’.
Self-discovery – Getting to know me inside and out
‘’We are not defined by our struggles, but by who we become in the face of them!’’
I followed a functional medicine approach to dig deep down in to my personal history and symptoms to investigate my health. Part of the approach included the use of a timeline to help me map out my story and health journey from birth to the present day. It took me back to when I was younger, specifically 13, when I felt like I didn't fit in or belong, and I felt completely lost. Following that experience I began to develop a pattern of people pleasing behaviours, perfectionism, high self-expectations and rebellion.
I developed safety behaviours to help numb and escape how I was feeling. Ultimately the thing I was trying to run away from was me, so these were never going to offer long term, healthy solutions. I now understand that these behaviours added fuel to the fire and further altered my physiology and psychology - on top of my existing pain and stress. I also believe they contributed further to my feelings of lack of self-worth and lack of self-belief.
I had to identify the cause before I could put in place interventions to deal with the effect.
What I did – this is where a lot of stuff happened:
Functional Testing – I tested my gut and digestive function, I tested my full thyroid function and I tested my genetics. As you can imagine I was presented with a huge amount of actionable science to work with. A few instrumental findings included;
my inflammatory markers were raised (we now know that inflammation is the primary cause of depression and anxiety),
I had an imbalance in my gut bugs (dysbiosis) – which meant my physical body was under stress.
On top of this my gene storybook showed I couldn’t ‘deal’ with stress and its biochemical products very well.
I also couldn’t receive Vitamin D in the optimal ways which is a huge finding for me.
Postnatal Depletion – I discovered the work of Dr Oscar Serrallach. Dr Oscar’s work on postnatal depletion added a significant missing piece to my mummy puzzle in terms of recognising postnatal depletion as an actual condition. Also, the influence of his work and his approach to supporting mums through postnatal depletion has been especially encouraging. If you haven’t read his book The Postnatal Depletion Cure I suggest you put it on your reading list straight away. (Postnatal depletion and postnatal depression and anxiety, are sperate conditions, however, postnatal depletion is the start of the slippery slope in that direction. You can read more about this in my blog here.)
I became curious – I am a little addicted to learning, which in some ways doesn’t help me, as I don’t actually have an ‘OFF’ switch. TED talks, audiobooks, webinars you name it, I’ll listen to it. I know that I learn in a specific way, so I love to watch and listen to material rather than reading and writing. I discovered Brene Brown, and I truly believe that her audiobook Braving the Wilderness, along with the inspirational work by Dr Gabor Mate around childhood trauma and addiction, helped recover ‘me’ from my life.
I’m an Empath – through engaging with a distance Reiki healer, I discovered I was an Empath. This was a huge revelation and also a little bit obvious once it had been identified. I’d never really looked into the term empath, but I was very familiar with empathy. I pick up on the energy of my environment and people in it, which means I experience another person’s pain quite intensely. I am getting better at managing this but when I was at my lowest, it made the situation more unbearable, which on reflection is probably why I subconsciously withdrew.
Self-care: This is all about taking action, even if that action is doing nothing for ten minutes.
Self-care, for me, is all about taking the abundance of self-wisdom gained through practising self-awareness, acceptance and self-discovery, and using it to nurture and nourish your current needs.
Self-care is all about making an informed, conscious choice to give yourself what you need in the present moment. The future You will only benefit.
This is what it looked like for me:
Exercise – As well as trying to get outside as much as possible, I started going to gym classes twice a week. This brought back a bit of my past ‘fitter’ me that I really liked.
Connecting with my mum tribe – I was fortunate to have an amazing breastfeeding support service on my doorstep. Through it I’ve made friends for life and having this connection I felt so supported and was able to share everything. That frazzled look that needed no explanation. They just got it…Boob buddies for life!
Sugar free January – It was so inspirational and comforting to be part of a social group undertaking this challenge together. The health benefits were so noticeable too that it is something I try to incorporate into my daily life.
Creativity – I truly believe expression is the antidote to depression (alongside deep-rest). Creating BeYouMum has enabled me to express myself and share my creativity for others to benefit and my daughter to be proud of. I believe that unused creativity can manifest as symptoms of poor mental health. Brene Brown said: “Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgement, sorrow, shame.”
Music – going to more gigs and listening to, often loud, music! Daily! Music raises my vibration big time and I also find that song lyrics can be hugely self-resonating. We can connect to them and they are a way of articulating what we feel and what is in our hearts. An artist who truly does this for me is Florence Welch.
I slowly started to apply my knowledge and use the functional medicine approach on myself.
Our physiology and psychology are closely related. Jo Gamble, (another huge inspiration to me) in her webinar for NutriAdvanced, describes mental health as being “The body's response to stress!” This might sound obvious but it was the first time I had heard it be explained like this and it made so much sense. This description perfectly correlates with my findings and feelings. Also, this was language that made sense and that I could understand. But more importantly, it’s something that I could act on!
Whether it’s emotional, psychological, physical, environmental or chemical, the body responds to a stressor in the same way. It also responds the same way whether the stressor is live and real or whether it is only fictional or perceived. Chronically, with little recovery, this pattern can have a profound impact on both our physical and mental health.
Health, wellbeing and these aforementioned steps are a constant evolving process. If we want to thrive and be happy and confident in our own mind and bodies, we need to stay in tune and be open to growth and change. Just as importantly we need to be proactive in making this happen. Be the agent of change in your own health!
Being a Mum, it's quite usual to forget ourselves in the midst of looking after everyone else. This is not intentional, neither is it about putting other people first, second or yourself last. It can simply be that we care so deeply, and love our children and families so much, that we easily become distracted and disconnected from our own needs.
But why do I care so much?
The NHS predict that 1 in 10 women will suffer with postnatal depression within a year after giving birth. There is now research to show that postnatal depression can peak 4 years after giving birth.
According to a BBC news article in November 2017: Suicide is the leading cause of maternal death in the UK. Mental health problems around pregnancy are thought to cost the country £8bn a year. And the impact on mothers and children can last for decades.
I have always sought ways to care for and help others which is why these statistics resonated with me so deeply. It doesn’t have to be this way and things can change. I am hugely committed to positive and supportive attitudes towards mental health issues, both personally and professionally. Mental health is something that I acknowledge and honour in every mum I engage with. Education, alongside the correct support, is the lever for change, and through BeYouMum is how I intend to make that change.
I’m going to leave you with a thought, as I've recently been listening to Brene Brown's 'The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting'. In it she asks:
“You can never love your child more than you love yourself. How can you give something you don't have?"
So, go on, be kind, be courageous, be curious, love yourself and be you!