This week marks maternal mental health week, with a focus on #makingovermotherhood. In today’s social media curated society, we’ve all experienced the pressure to be that ‘perfect mother’. The mother that has everything under control, never needs to ask for help, has the immaculate house, the nutritious meal on the table each night and the full face of makeup for the 8am school run. In reality, we all know that motherhood can be isolating, exhausting and overwhelming, and the extra pressure to conform to the ‘I can do it all’ image leaves us feeling stressed and guilt-ridden when our plates are already overflowing.
To help make motherhood that bit easier, I spoke to Silke Thistlewood of Nourish to Thrive. Nourish to Thrive, based in Tonbridge, aims to help overwhelmed and time starved mums regain calm and capability through realistic self-care and stress management tools.
After the birth of my first child, I set up a business offering healthy snack foods for mums. I found during those first few years that I just wasn’t eating healthily so I began educating myself about good food. Then after the birth of my second child, four years later, I had so much knowledge and food prepared and I thought that it was going to set me up brilliantly but I still really struggled with post-natal depression. I then started looking at what else there could be to help me. I self-referred to CBT therapy, but for me it just felt unrealistic – I was advised to take breaks from the children and to get lots of sleep. At the time I was breastfeeding and neither of those things were realistic for me. What I needed was to find something that would work in the moment and help get me through an anxiety attack or when I was feeling overwhelmed. So, I put myself on a little quest to find realistic self-care resources. I found a way to adapt the methods I was researching, so whilst I may not have had time to mediate for 10-20 minutes, what I could do was take some deep breaths in whilst pushing the pram on the school run. To me it was about developing realistic self-care practices for mums, as I just felt there really wasn’t much out there at the time.
If you’re a first-time parent give yourself lots of space and grace to just get used to it all and ride the waves of parenting. Allow yourself some time to see what kind of child you have and what type of parent you are – you may have plans to co-sleep, exclusively breastfeed or try attachment parenting but in reality that may not work for either of you. Let go of your expectations of parenting – look at your real situation and be kind and patient with yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others and do what feels right for you.
In terms of anxiety, I would say don’t compare yourself to other people; work out what is important to you and then stick to your guns and don’t worry about what everyone else does. If you and your baby are happy with what you are doing, then what others are doing shouldn’t matter. Try and keep your parenting blinkers on and not look at what others are doing, this can help to reduce anxiety. Also, opening up to what you are anxious about – embracing and making space for it. It’s important to be open about your boundaries with children, partner and friends. It’s ok to say to friends that you’d love to see them but actually this week is just too much for you. Find ways to work with it; it’s not something you have to get rid of, you can manage it and be open about it. It’s ok to say you are not ok.
My top tip for combating isolation is to get out of the house, go to the shops and chat to the people at the checkout, join a group and connect with fellow mums. Human interaction is important.
I think it’s important to acknowledge that you are allowed to grieve for your previous self-care and your previous life; it’s ok to feel lost. You might not be able to go for a pedicure or lunch as a new mum, but it’s not forever. For a while that’s not your life, instead focus on the things you can do and begin to develop the basics of self-care. So, working on deep breaths, mindfulness and being present. For example, if you are out for a walk, look around and take in what you are seeing, be present in that moment and side-line the to-do list. Instead of scrolling through your phone whilst your child is in the highchair, do some stretches, write down what you are grateful for or do a bit of journaling. Prioritising rest is really important; try to stop pushing through things and during those short nap times take some time to rest. We hired a cleaner as I just couldn’t see how I could look after the house as well as keep a small person alive. In hindsight I wish we had gone a step further and paid for a post-natal doula or some home help.
I think being OK with having things done ‘not perfectly’ and perhaps not the way you would have done previously. Planning is also hugely important. I go for ‘structured flexibility’; make a plan but have room to be flexible and change. Prioritising is also important to me as I have times when I am really busy with lots of things going on and I have learned that it’s OK if some things fall off the plate for a little while.
You can find out more about Silke and Nourish to Thrive here.
If you would like a helping hand, you can register with Close to Hand and connect directly with local helpers who can pop in as and when required. Many Home Helpers registered with us are mums themselves who have been through similar experiences and can provide much needed company and support, without judgment. Find out more about our new mother’s help services via our welcoming community.