Having a baby changes everything, including your most important relationships. Such a seismic event will make many of those relationships stronger, and sometimes, weaker. Yes, becoming a mum can be a really lonely, isolating time but if you have a supportive, loving tribe around you, you will flourish.
Being a mother is so overwhelming. Other mums understand the daily struggle. You don’t have to put on a front. Your mum friends won’t judge you if you haven’t managed to shower that day, brush your hair, or your house is upside down. Your mum friends are the first people you’ll turn to with feverish questions about any strange spots on your baby’s skin, the non-stop wailing, weird coloured poop. It’s a massive comfort to know that your best friends have your back when you’re feeling crap.
This September, I’ve been championing Mummy Social, an app that supports and encourages mums to be brave and get social with other local mums. Sadly, maternal loneliness takes a lot of us by surprise and Mummy Social wants all mums to know they are not alone. It can do you and your little one(s) – or not so little one(s) the world of good to get outside into the daylight and meet other mums who are on the motherhood journey too. Coffee is the holy grail when you’re a sleep-deprived mum.
I’m very lucky to have close friends who are also amazing mums. It does feel like you’re on this incredible, crazy journey together. I recently had a cinema date with a close mummy friend, minus the cinema. We ended up chatting for hours over wine and it was brilliant fun. It’s so important to feel that connection with another human being and sharing motherhood makes it all the more special. It’s quite surreal to watch your mini-me playing with your good friend’s mini-me.
It might be the end of September but it is definitely not the end of getting social! Mums supporting mums make the journey of motherhood a happier, healthier, easier and less lonely one. Maternal loneliness is real, it is all too common and we need to keep talking about it and do our bit to help.
As author Douglas Pagels says: “A friend is one of the nicest things you can have and one of the nicest things you can be.” Amen to that.
Download the Mummy Social app and if it’s something you’d like to get involved with, drop them a DM!
I’m on the red-eye shift as I cradle my nine-week-old son with one arm as he sleepily gulps his warm milk, pausing at times to make appreciative sighs before hungrily going back for more. With his ravenous appetite sated (for at least two hours I hope), he melts back into my now aching arm, drifting off to a satisfying slumber. I gaze in a trance-like state at his pink, perfect face, happy that he’s content before realising that I need to burp him. I gently sit my squirming baby on my lap with his back as straight as he’ll allow and proceed to rub and pat until I hear the glorious sound of a burp. He grimaces and squeals, deeply irritated at not being able to allowed to remain asleep. But he’s totally reliant on me to help him with his bodily functions until he’s old enough to burp and fart for himself.
I wrote this almost a year to the day ago. It seems crazy, starting a blog when your baby is just nine-weeks-old and yet, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I spent most of my twenties and thirties aimless, wanting more but not doing more. It’s the definition of madness to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. Life gets in the way, you think, you get a job that pays the bills but it’s soul-destroying. You’re terrified of change. I’ve always wanted to start a blog and a long time ago I did. I published my first blog, excited to put my voice out there. I’ve always loved writing and I knew I was good at it. I got a horrible message straight away. I have my suspicions who it was but it was enough to knock me off course. Why would anyone want to read about what I had to say? I had no self- belief, my self-esteem had been battered by jobs, by men. I kept getting the same results.
Nothing changes if nothing changes. It’s beautifully simple. Life is simple, it is us that makes it complicated. Losing my job earlier this year has been the best thing to ever happen me. Once I got over the initial terror of not having a monthly income, I quite liked having days to myself – especially as a first-time mum – and no, they’re not really days to yourself. Getting to grips with being a new parent is tough. Your life is flipped upside down. You are exhausted, thrilled, frustrated, hopeless, happy, sad. It’s utterly life-changing and you know your life has changed for the better. Becoming a mum has changed me, from my core. I don’t sweat the small stuff, I hate drama and negativity. I spend my days enjoying life, enjoying Sonny’s many expressions, his funny sounds, holding him tight, kissing his soft pink cheek (that smells so good). Yes, he is annoying too. My living room constantly looks like I’ve been ransacked. Sonny delights in emptying drawers, cupboards, the bins. He screams and cries and it’s so, so hard. But there are also moments when you think your heart will burst.
Blogging for me is therapy. It’s a chance to sit down when Sonny is in bed and write about how I’m feeling. It has also opened up my world so much. I’ve been so lucky to meet some incredible, energetic and positive people. I’ve met blogger, author of Mumboss and beautiful mamma of two boys, Vicki Psarias aka Honest Mum. I’ve worked with some amazing baby brands such as Baby & More, Babease, Beaux Baby Boutique, and Kate & Moon. I got to experience the new Center Parcs in Longford with my family. I’ve blogged about first aid, sleep training and lately, meditation and self-care. So many opportunities are still coming my way and it’s all thanks to my blog.
Becoming a mum is undoubtedly the best thing to ever happen me. It’s so fulfilling, shaping a new life. It’s so joyful, seeing your son collapse in giggles because of you. If you are still reading, I am so happy for your company and I hope you will continue to follow my journey as my baby becomes a little boy. Maybe I can even inspire you to start writing or to think outside the box that you have created. Life is short, why would you want to spend it pleasing people, or working for the cash machine? I’m so grateful and lucky that I’m where I’m at. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. No, life is not perfect, I am not perfect – I’m human after all. But, it’s pretty close.
If you had three minutes to talk about how you were going to look after yourself for the next few weeks, what would you say? Would you run over the three minutes or would you run out of things to say after 30 seconds – as I did? When it comes to showing kindness, we rarely offer it to ourselves. We should talk to ourselves like a best friend, because, you are your best friend.
There are three steps to self-compassion. The first is to acknowledge your suffering – it’s what unites us the most. The second is to know that you are not alone, it’s known as our ‘common humanity’. There are 8 billion people in the world and just 15 emotions – an incredible statistic, isn’t it? The third is to give kindness. It is, as enthusiastic teacher Bridgeen Rea-Kaya of Immeasurable Minds, Belfast says, “always the appropriate response”.
Self-compassion is the first step toward compassion for others.
As well as a range of yoga classes for all ages and levels, Namaste Yoga Centre offers mindfulness meditation and workshops like the one I attended. I wasn’t dressed for yoga, I had been stuffing my face at a bloggers buffet beforehand so was bursting out of my skinny jeans. I slipped off my ankle boots, picked up a yoga mat and sat cross-legged on the floor. This wasn’t the most comfortable position, and we were invited to get chairs by Bridgeen Rea-Kaya, who is the perfect advertisement for mindfulness. She glows and has a warm, bright smile that puts you at instant ease. To begin, everyone had to introduce themselves and give a reason for why they were attending. Many of the answers were similar to mine, with some quite new to meditation and others wanting to deepen their practice.
Kindness is always the appropriate response.
Next, we lay on our mats for a body scan. We were invited to use pillows or blankets – which I made a beeline for. The point of a body scan is for you to focus on different parts of your body and develop a mindful awareness of your bodily sensations and thus relieve tension. She told us to watch out for sensations such as tingling and tightness. I know I carry all of my tension around my neck and shoulders. A body scan trains you to ‘just be’ with pleasant and unpleasant sensations. I didn’t feel anything too out of the ordinary but it was really nice to lie back, listen to a soothing voice and not be disturbed by a screeching one-year-old who is having a face-off with the cat.
In between mindful breathing and a few activities, Bridgeen read poems, one by Mary Oliver called Grasshopper was particularly special. I love poetry and studied English at university. I wrote a poem when I was 15 which won an award. I’ve always been a thinker, not the academic type, but someone consumed by thoughts, largely negative. That is changing.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
The best thing for tension is moving about. You know the Taylor Swift song ‘Shake it Off’, well, it’s the perfect example of a mindfulness song. So, we all started, quite literally, shaking it off, although sadly not to the pop princess. Usually, I’d need a few glasses of wine before considering dancing, so I went for it, secretly hoping not to bump into anyone in the class ever again. The next thing I knew, we were running around the room giving each other high fives. It was a bit awkward and strange, I’ll admit, but it certainly got us all giggling, albeit nervous ones.
The final exercise was picking a partner and sitting on the floor shoulder to shoulder. We were instructed to tell the stranger next to us things we were going to do to look after ourselves for the next month. Three minutes is a long time. I rattled on about stuff like going for walks, meditating, having lunch with friends, doing yoga (a white lie), but I ran out of things to say. My female partner sat and listened, as she was instructed to. I felt my cheeks burn, I didn’t know what else to say. Still, she remained silent which unnerved me all the more. Eventually, sensing my awkwardness, she said that she wanted to give me as much time as possible to just talk about how I was going to look after myself. How little time we spend thinking about ourselves. When it was her turn, she spoke at ease about all the wonderful things she was going to do. My job was just to listen but I found myself biting my tongue when I felt compelled to interject with “oh, that sounds nice”, or “I’d love to do that”. The exercise taught me about the magic of listening, of making a person feel important, and of being, truly in the moment.
To be happy, we must practice gratitude. The brain has a built-in negativity bias that causes us to focus on bad things. This may have helped our ancestors avoid being eaten by a mammoth, but in this modern age, it isn’t helpful. We need to rewire our brains to focus on the positive. Yes, life is busy and stressful but, with mindful practice, you can change it. Of course you will feel fed up from time to time but the important thing is to respond with kindness. I’d absolutely recommend this workshop, it’s so important to love yourself – and shake it off.
Are you done? Are you done building your house? It’s been around for a while, it may have a little structural damage, some rooms a little shabby, perhaps some furniture that’s no longer used, but it’s still standing. You live in it, it’s home but you feel sometimes you need to shake things up, rewire, redecorate, renovate, make it a place that makes you happy and fulfilled. I’m talking about houses in a metaphorical sense of course. I’m talking about the house that takes us through life – our skeleton, skin, and bones. Mine is probably more than halfway through its lifetime. I’ve not been kind to it. It’s been filled with mental litter, some spaces are in desperate need of a makeover, others are dark and dusty with no natural light. I’ve welcomed in strangers but didn’t have the strength to make them leave. Others have left their footprint, and I’m happy to call them life long friends. But, I’ve certainly not used my house to its fullest potential, it has weathered a lot of storms, dramatically affecting its worth. I’ve spent too long feeling sorry for it, its value never recognised.
So, in the interests of increasing its value, I’ve started meditating. I have over the years tried it and gave up, not able to quiet my busy, hamster on a wheel mind. A very good friend has suggested more than once that I should try it. I’ve found a meditation I like and it’s having quite a profound effect. I’m less anxious, less irritable, more relaxed, more in the moment. A family member has said that since having Sonny, I’m more present. I’m done living in the past, I’ve made peace with it. I’m so excited about the future, I feel like a new day is dawning. It’s all down to my son, everything I do is because of him, and for him. The world owes me nothing, I owe the world.
As I continue to work on my house, make it a calm, happy place, make it a place I want to live in, I have begun building another. I want that house to be structurally sound, to be wired correctly, to be a place of sanctuary. I want my darling son to know that even when there are storms, he can weather them because he is resilient, like his mum. Building a house is not easy, it’s stressful, it’s expensive, it’s frustrating and sometimes you want to give up. But, you know that eventually, you can look at your house in admiration, proud of what you have achieved and content that you’ve done everything in your power to make it a happy home. I will learn from the mistakes I’ve made in my own house. We are architects of our own fate.
They say life begins at 40. Now I know the true meaning of that. Am I done? I’m just getting started.