I’ve not written in a while. It’s hard to find the time when you have a tiny human (quite literally) snapping and wailing at your heels. Sonny is a big ball of energy – shrieking, laughing, crying, torturing the long-suffering cat. His only words ‘maaaama’ and ‘ooooh’. I’m dizzy in love with him though. I think I could gaze for hours at his perfect crystal blue eyes, his outrageous dark lashes, his chubby wrists, even his squidged up nose when he’s completely overwhelmed by his emotions.
After a fairly peaceful period of relative normality, January hit us hard. Sonny picked up a nasty tummy bug, but took it like a (little) man and fairly nonchalantly vommed as he toddled around grinning. We were equally bemused and horrified at this unexpected turn of events. Sonny, meanwhile, wasn’t that bothered by his bodily functions. While keeping an avid eye on his temperature, we put it down to a common childhood illness.
Unfortunately, the next morning, my poor husband announced he wasn’t feeling the best. This usually means my beloved needs to lie down for a few hours. This time though, it was more serious. It seemed the tummy bug had jumped ship from Sonny to Andrew. He took to bed and moaned a lot while making regular trips to the bathroom. I sighed, thinking another bad case of man illness. I got on with the day’s tasks but I started to feel a bit ropey around 7pm that evening. I swayed up the stairs and declared I was about to die.
Yes, I was also succumbing to whatever it was that had taken over the Gordon household. I climbed into our bed, feeling rubbish, riding the waves of nausea. Times like this, you need a few bathrooms. Still, even though we were feeling horrible, I felt grateful for the fact that Sonny was OK. That he was clambering on us and smacking us on the face as we were horizontal, wishing we had a magical fairy godmother to look after our darling child until we were both better.
Parenthood is the craziest, most magical thing that has ever happened to me. I’m incredibly grateful to have a son who brings me so much joy. He has completely changed my life. Becoming a parent awakens something in you. For me, I want to step up, be a great parent, the type that he will want to become in the future. Becoming a mum has awakened something else inside me, the need to emerge from the person I’ve hidden behind for too long, the weak, scared, insecure girl. I feel the best I’ve felt in a long, long time. I care so much less about other people’s opinions and it’s very liberating. I’m ready to live and it’s about time.
Being a mum comes with pressure. You are responsible for nurturing and shaping another human being’s life. It’s a huge responsibility and one that comes with endless sacrifice. There’s no medal for motherhood. It’s the hardest job you’ll ever do.
It doesn’t help that in this digital age, we are constantly being bombarded with saccharine images of motherhood being ‘perfect’. On Instagram, we see cleverly composed, perfectly lit images of beautiful nurseries and supposedly ‘candid’ shots of a mother with perfect makeup and hair and a spotless, beaming baby. It’s enough to make you feel entirely inadequate. As an Instagram user, I have on occasion been guilty of some of the aforementioned ‘fake news’. No, my dear son isn’t always pink-cheeked with shiny hair. A lot of the time he’s covered in food, his hair unkempt, his face contorted with frustration. Most of the time, my hair is scraped back, my pale face make-up free, dark circles under my eyes, my sweater stained from Sonny wiping his streaming nose. However, as a brand new bleary-eyed mum, I felt compelled to take endless snaps of my tiny baby. I even bought Sonny cute clothes, specifically for Instagram posts. I’d sweat buckets trying to get him in the right pose. It was far, far too much.
No, my dear son isn’t always pink-cheeked with shiny hair.
I didn’t even realise that I was putting myself under ridiculous pressure until a good friend suggested I take a break from social media. I was anxious, depleted, exhausted, feeling like I had to show the world that I was coping – when I really wasn’t. I felt guilty for feeling overwhelmed when so many other mums seemed to have it together. I felt I shouldn’t complain, ‘you’ve only one’, some would say, ‘what if you had two or three?’. I’d take unhelpful anecdotal advice with a pinch of salt – ‘I know my baby best’, I’d say inwardly.
Being a mum is no easy task
The early days of being a new mum were incredibly testing. I’d never even changed a nappy before Sonny was born. There is so much to learn and you question absolutely everything. I catastrophized constantly, scared myself to death with horror stories I’d read online. I was afraid to sleep, needing the constant reassurance of Sonny’s soft, even breathing. I was in a state of high alert, drinking far too much coffee, drinking wine to take the edge off, eating rubbish. It was only a matter of time before I crashed. This was my reality. Now, I can look back on the first year of Sonny’s life and acknowledge it was really difficult (it still is) but I got through it.
Motherhood has utterly changed me as a person and I’m so grateful that I got pregnant easily, at 38. Sonny was planned but I’d no clue as to what to expect. I’d enjoyed my 30’s, I was completely cushioned from the wrecking ball through your life which comes with having a child. I don’t even recognise the woman I was before Sonny. Now, I’m very much living in the present. I cherish those moments where Sonny buries his head in my neck as I’m climbing the stairs to put him to bed. I live for his adorable laugh, his toothy grin. I feel like I wouldn’t even make sense without him now.
I don’t even recognise the woman I was before Sonny.
Becoming a parent has changed my career trajectory too. I was made redundant shortly after returning to work from maternity leave. I now work for The Mummy MOT, a service that provides a specialist postnatal examination for mums after natural and C-section deliveries. It’s so important for me to do work that is fulfilling having spent most of my career in sedentary jobs, working to pay the bills and have a few nights out. Sometimes I feel like I wasted a lot of years, but I know that every second of my life has led to where I am right now and I’m in a great place.
Self-care is key
I had a Mummy MOT, a specialist postnatal examination about a year after Sonny was born. It was empowering and it made me realise just how amazing my body is. I’m also really lucky to work with some amazing brands that I believe in. As a parent with responsibility, I feel accountable for what I consume and what products I use. I’m ashamed when I think of all the non-biodegradable baby wipes I’ve used because they’re cheap or just convenient. I’ve recently started using Natracare baby wipes which are made with organic cotton. Not only do they smell lovely – they’re saturated with organic chamomile, apricot, and sweet almond oil – they’re so much gentler on Sonny’s bottom. I also love their cleansing make-up remover wipes. Although I’m much better than I used to be at taking off my make-up, sometimes I can’t be bothered with lotion, so these wipes are a super quick way of cleaning my skin before collapsing into bed. I love Natracare’s ethos of providing women with a viable, eco-friendly alternative to pads, panty liners, and wipes. Using this brand, I feel a bit less guilty, and that’s a big plus for me.
As a parent with responsibility, I feel accountable for what I consume and what products I use.
A conversation with a lovely neighbour led me to start meditating and deciding on what I want from life. I’m unapologetically ambitious and driven. I know what I want and I’m undeterred by what some people may think. Meditation has really helped me, and while I let it slide sometimes, I know that spending just 20 minutes in the morning, being mindful and expressing gratitude, sets me up for the day. I’m also working out three times a week, another thing to make me feel good about myself.
Taking a break from social media was the best thing I’ve ever done, and it also had a domino effect, encouraging me to focus inward and be sensitive to my own needs. You have got to look after yourself if you are going to look after someone else. It’s that simple.
You’re doing amazing, mamma
I’m approaching my 40th birthday, excited for the future. In some ways, I feel like my life is just beginning. I’m doing great a job of being a mum – and so are you.
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 was lucky to have an uncomplicated pregnancy. I didn’t gain much weight despite binging on Fruit-tella and doughnuts. I had no morning sickness. My ankles didn’t swell and I didn’t feel uncomfortable until the last few weeks. My darling, lazy son Sonny didn’t come on his due date, preferring to extend his cozy stay for another week, while I waddled around our home looking like a hot mess, cleaning windows (so unlike me) and anxious to see his little pink face. I was booked in for an induction so I prayed for my waters to break, trying the usual things that are recommended, curry, herbal tea, and a little red wine. I waited for signs, had a false alarm, furiously scrolled on my phone, sighing loudly at unhelpful comments “you’ll know”. Heck, was that true. My contractions started in my lower back on Sunday evening. I was on all fours crying like a total wuss while my husband (unhelpfully) massaged my back like he was shown in antenatal classes. As my contractions got closer together I called the hospital, sobbing from the acute pain. That was nothing – mother nature had a lot more up her sleeve – was this some sort of karma for having an easy pregnancy? As a first-time mum, nothing can prepare you for what labour is going to be like, no matter how many hypnobirthing books you read. The pain was excruciating but, somehow, I sort of coped with gas and air. Sonny arrived in the birthing pool at 10.10am on Monday weighing 8lbs and 7 oz. I remember the sun streaming through the windows – Sonny was a fitting name. I had only minor tears thankfully and it wasn’t long before I everything returned to normal. I was lucky. Many, many women suffer complications and experience birth trauma. Many women suffer prolapse with symptoms of bladder and bowel dysfunction, urinary stress incontinence, pelvic floor dysfunction and in some cases, fecal incontinence. It’s horrifying. While I didn’t suffer any issues, it doesn’t make any less passionate about highlighting them.
Mind the (tummy) gap
Still, when you have a baby, you feel invincible, like you can face just about anything. I mean, you’ve carried a human being for nine months – and pushed it out. As I climbed the stairs to the clinic where I was to have my Mummy MOT, I thought (and panted) to myself, “well, it can’t be that bad”. Well, you’ll be very glad to know it wasn’t. A Mummy MOT is a specialist postnatal examination for women following both vaginal and caesarean deliveries. Giving birth is an endurance test that requires a massive amount of effort. While it’s a natural process, it’s obvious that giving birth is going to take a massive toll on our bodies. A Mummy MOT assesses how your posture, pelvic floor muscles, and stomach muscles are recovering after birth. Up to half of all women experience weakness in both the abdominal muscles and pelvic floor muscles after pregnancy and up to a third still have a gap in their tummy at eight weeks post birth which can cause instability or poor core strength leading to women developing pelvic pain or bladder, bowel, and sexual dysfunction. Sobering stuff. Following your Mummy MOT, you are given a personal exercise and activity plan.
I sat down with my lovely physiotherapist Sally Laverty. We went over my medical history and I gave her the details of my birth and if I was having any postnatal issues. My body is fairly unscathed but lately, I have been experiencing what can only be described as a ‘creak’ in my lower back when I twist and some pelvic discomfort when I sit down. I had to perform simple exercises like bending over, squatting and lunging. So far so good. Next was the examination part. I lay on a bed and Sally felt all around my torso, establishing weak, tight spots. Sally also felt around my neck and shoulders, commenting on the extremely tight knots. Yes, I have a bad habit of hunching over when I am nervous or anxious. I knew what was coming. The Mummy MOT includes an internal pelvic exam and so you are required to remove the bottom half of your clothing. It’s really not as bad as it sounds. Believe me, I am the most squeamish, scaredy-cat you will ever meet. For some context, it takes longer than a smear test but it isn’t as uncomfortable. To be honest, the worst parts of the Mummy MOT were my tight muscles being pressed and massaged. An hour elapsed fairly quickly and Sally gave me exercises to do at home to strengthen my body – and even develop a six pack! A few hours later, an email pinged in my inbox and Sally listed her findings. In the interests of openness (and doing Sally justice), I’ve listed them below.
Tight hip muscles, notably hamstrings, piriformis and adductors.
Some increased muscle tone on the left of the pelvic floor.
3.4/5 muscle strength on a pelvic floor contraction.
Poor endurance of the pelvic floor muscles.
Good recovery of the abdominal wall (only a 1cm separation of the rectus abdominus muscles with good tensile strength of the linea alba underneath.
Flaring of the left rib cage.
I’ll admit, I haven’t heard of some of the terms used and I giggled at how much ‘rectus abdominus’ sounds a lot like a dinosaur. ‘Poor endurance of the pelvic floor muscles’ made a lot of sense seeing that during labour, I wasn’t pushing. Well, I was pushing, but I certainly wasn’t using my pelvic floor. On a serious note, I was blown away by how comprehensive the assessment was. Here I was, being smug about how my body had ‘snapped back’ while all these underlying issues were going on. It’s a very serious matter and if I take my health seriously, it’s up to me to be responsible – especially if baby number two was to come along. Sally also recommended that I drink more water (which I’m terrible at) take probiotics, do yoga each evening and use a meditation app like Calm – “body scans are fantastic,” she said. Sally says some women can feel quite emotional after a pelvic exam as it’s a release of tension. I didn’t experience a surge of emotions but I definitely felt a lot lighter.
All mums should have an MOT
Maria Elliot, mummy, physiotherapist, and founder of The Mummy MOT says: “All mums should have an MOT. Pregnancy takes a lot. The body is lengthened and stretched and then you deliver your baby with a person you’ve never met. Pushing weakens the pelvic floor so it’s important to do postnatal rehab exercises.” She says the most common postnatal issues women experience are prolapse symptoms, which is akin to heaviness and dragging and fear of organs falling out, pelvic floor weakness and urinary incontinence. Some women even have pelvic girdle pain up to 12 weeks after giving birth.
Maria’s mission is that women’s postnatal issues are resolved or fixed before going back to work. She recommends that women book their Mummy MOT between six and eight weeks for a vaginal delivery and before 12 weeks for a caesarean. Her message is clear – postnatal rehab works. As a new mum, I couldn’t recommend a Mummy MOT enough, in fact, I’m going to make sure I tell every mum I know about it. Your baby is everything, but so are you. Self-care will make you the best mum you can be, and don’t we and our babies deserve the best?