In December 2017 our lives were turned upside down. The birth of our daughter Isabella left me struggling with my identity, in a dark depression and feeling incredibly alone, guilty and living in fear. My start into motherhood was a struggle and five months later I was diagnosed with post-natal depression.
In May 2018 I was barely leaving the house unless I had to. I was living mostly internally with my own negative and destructive thoughts and struggling to bond with my baby. I wasn’t looking after myself and it felt like my life as I had known it before Isabella had been destroyed. I was slowly falling apart, as was the relationship with those around me and I had completely lost sight of who I was as a person.
Before giving birth I was a full time teacher at a local College, looking after two Photography courses, over seventy students and running my own business alongside. I’d spent the two years prior to falling pregnant unwell and in and out of hospital undergoing tests, with no answers as to what was making me unwell. Our lives had been busy, stressful and in all honesty I never really rested. I liked to be busy, I liked to have something to do but this continuation of going at full speed would have a detrimental effect on myself and my life.
Then Isabella arrived and I continued to take life at full pelt, and barely rested in the days after her arrival. Instead, just hours after returning home I’d cleaned the house, unpacked the hospital bag, put a wash on, washed my hair and had a full face of makeup ready for visitors. I should have been in bed resting and spending time with our newborn baby. Throughout much of the first few months of her life I continued this way, always having something to do to keep myself busy.
Four weeks after Isabella arrived I decided to close down the business I had ran for two years previous, my heart wasn’t in it anymore and I had new ideas I wanted to try out. And so on 13th January 2018 Isabella and Us. was born. I spent hours working on my laptop sat in bed with a sleeping baby, ploughing all of the energy and creativity I could into building a new business. And although I was going through my own struggles and my mental health was at such a low point the business kept me going.
Through Isabella and Us. I shared my story as openly and as honestly as I could. I shared my journey with PND, sharing the low points, the progression I made with recovery, triggers and hoping that through me sharing my darkness it may help another mum feel less alone. I shared about the impact that had had on my marriage, my relationships with those around me, and how I felt it had affected my relationship with Isabella.
I began to realise that honest motherhood stories were so rarely shared, and that I needed to use the platform I had created to share those stories, to empower mums and to help mums feel less alone. And so I spent the rest of my maternity leave building my business around nap time and return to work days. Isabella and Us. is now three and a half years old and it has been quite a journey.
In September 2018 I launched the Positive Wellbeing Zine for Mums, a quarterly magazine that contained those honest stories, that was all about mums for mums (no weaning chat or how to get your baby to sleep chat) – just stuff that mattered to mums focusing on motherhood, wellbeing, creativity and self care. The magazine was a huge turning point for me because it allowed me to bring everything I wanted to share together in one beautiful publication and not only use my creative skills, but learn new ones too. But it also meant I needed to get better at balancing my work/life especially as I was returning to my full time job part time in October and then full time from the January.
Returning to work was hard but equally the best thing I ever could have done. Someone asked me why I would have a child if I wanted to work full time and I think that every parent is entitled to do what is best for their family unit. For us working full time is the only option for us to have an income for our family, but it also helps my mental health having a routine, ensuring I leave the house and that I engage with ‘real-life’ people. It also fuels my creativity as I am surrounded everyday with other creative people. I also know it’s the best thing for Isabella, she loves spending time with her childminder, and she spends her afternoons with her grandparents. It works for us, but it has taken some work to get to this point and for us as a family to find our ‘balance’.
When I returned to work first in October I found the transition to being back in the work place really hard and after four weeks I had to self-refer back for my second round of counselling. This second lot of sessions which started in February 2019 where the best thing I ever could have done. Don’t get me wrong dredging up the demons from the first time round wasn’t easy but I also got to a point of being able to work out the majority of my triggers, be able to get to a place that I can self-manage my mental health most days and most of all I have a better and stronger relationship with my husband and our daughter.
But then in September 2019 I nearly hit burnout. I’d returned to work from the College Summer break, having moved house over the summer, along with not resting enough. The weekend before I returned to work, I launched a Podcast and a new edition of the magazine. I was running at full pelt and then add in a full time job and my mental and physical health took a huge beating and I was nearly at the point of breaking. The balance wasn’t right and it wasn’t working. I made some changes, realised I had to slow down and then in March 2020 our lives were turned upside down again.
Overnight our support network disappeared and we were both suddenly working from home, with a toddler in tow. All of the self care practices, resources and support I had had in place to help me to look after my mental health, to help me to run my business, for childcare where gone and we had to find a way to make it work.
A few weeks in it became really clear that I wasn’t coping, I was barely leaving the house, I wasn’t sleeping or getting dressed properly and I wasn’t showing us as the parent I wanted to be. I reached out for help and support from those around me, and although it was mostly virtual support it made such a difference. My husband made sure I left the house for a walk each day, I slowed down in my business and I took some real time to rest.
Over the past three years I’ve realised I have to slow down, I can’t work at the same rate as other small businesses and other people, and what is more important than anything else is my health.
One massive thing I’ve learnt is that it’s okay to slow the pace. It’s okay to say no or not now, it’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to take a little longer to do things. And in fact these things are a huge part of self care and looking after your health and wellbeing.
I’m a huge advocate for self care and how it doesn’t need to cost anything, it isn’t about spa days or getting your hair done (though these things are nice), it’s about sitting for 5 minutes in peace, taking some deep breaths, talking a walk in the fresh air, drinking enough water or getting some good quality sleep.
I’ve made it a priority in whatever I do now that my needs, both my mental and physical health needs aren’t being compromised. Self care is a huge part of putting my needs first, but it isn’t selfish, in fact I believe it is one if the most selfless things you can do. After all how can you look after everyone else if you aren’t well yourself?
The juggle of everything we do as a mum, as a woman and as a human being, is always going to be hard and sometimes the scales don’t quite balance how we would like. But I think it’s important to remember that that’s okay, it doesn’t mean it won’t feel a little easier the next day, even if the day after that is hard again too.
The Motherhood Library is nothing without your stories. There is such power and solidarity to be found from sharing your experiences. If you would like to share your story about motherhood, sisterhood or womanhood, we would love to publish it so that others may find comfort, inspiration and strength.