Last night I sat on the bathroom floor feeding my hysterical newborn, holding him in one arm as he balanced precariously on my knee. I was using my other arm to stop my toddler falling off the toilet seat as she screamed blue murder that my invisible ‘third arm’ couldn’t hold up her storybook. This was my most testing day yet in my six short weeks as a mom of two.
Everything that could have gone wrong that day, went wrong. I was late for playgroup pick up. My wedding ring fell off on the way out the door with no time to search for it. I forgot my daughter’s snack for the ride home. I couldn’t find a parking spot near our house. My son only sleeps on me, in the sling. The sling got tangled, my son got hysterical and didn’t sleep for hours. My daughter watched TV this whole time, frustrated and bored, appeased by candy. There were tears from the baby, tears from the toddler and even more tears from me.
Being Aware of My Mental Wellbeing
You may be thinking things could be a whole lot worse! Yes, every little thing on its own is manageable. But combined with sleep deprivation (baby has FOMO), postpartum hormones and all-consuming mom guilt, I felt overwhelmed by a sense of failure and thoughts of ‘I can’t do this.’
I battled with postpartum depression and anxiety as a first time mom and my biggest fear is a recurrence. Testing days like this can trigger a wave of anxiety and in the middle of my frustration, I panicked. It’s often hard to differentiate between a really rubbish day and PND/PNA symptoms creeping up – especially when surviving on 3 hours of broken sleep. Either way, I needed some tools to help me feel like I am coping.
I can’t change the fact that my toddler will have a meltdown of apocalyptic proportions because I – heavens forbid – put butter on her toast. I can’t make my son sleep into the wee hours (I’m told his sleep will get better. These well-wishers need to know his sleep is getting worse!). But what I can do is stop the self-inflicted mom-shaming and be kinder to myself.
These small steps help me feel like I am coping:
Being Kind to Myself
Self-care means different things to different people. For me, it means:
- Make time to exercise. I like to work out with Yoga on YouTube and HIIT sessions with my second husband Joe Wicks @thebodycoach.
- Make time for myself. I like to write a blog post, drink piping hot tea in silence, go to the movies with friends, and sleep (as if).
- Ditch an unnecessary part of your daily routine. For me, that means washing my hair less. I washed my hair daily since I was 14 – that’s 6,935 washes! Ditching this daily fix has been life-changing! How I washed it every day with my firstborn remains a mystery.
- Go easy on the mom guilt. I say no to the screentime shamers! Netflix is my friend – especially when cooking, feeding the baby, or just because.
- Use childcare. My daughter attends a DPR Cooperative playgroup and loves it.
Say Yes to Help
I am terrible at asking for help and even worse at accepting it. I live abroad, and my family can’t just hop on the next Aerlingus flight out of Dublin if I’m having a bad day—although I have no doubt that they would.
My DC friends have been kind beyond measure since the birth of my son. They keep me company with cappuccinos, drop off home-cooked meals at all hours, and drive my toddler to and from playgroup—I can’t thank them enough! I’m learning that people truly want to help and that there is no shame in graciously saying yes.
Being Kind to My Husband
When the sling wouldn’t work and my baby’s legs were poking out of it at right angles, for a moment I truly believed it was my husband’s fault. Ridiculous, yes. But when it’s 4am (or 3pm, for that matter) and I’ve been awake for hours, all rational thought escapes me. I need someone to blame, so I blame him. Isn’t this what we do – hurt those closest to us?
At 4am, all we have is each other. If we are to weather these endless nights, I know I need to be kinder. Apart from when he sleeps so soundly, he doesn’t even hear the baby wake…!
The bittersweet truth about raising babies and toddlers is that everything is temporary. I know each phase will pass. But my mental wellbeing is a constant, so I hope these small steps help me remain kind to myself through the hazy childrearing days. If you have any tips of your own to share, please do!
P.S. I found my wedding ring after it had spent a whole day glistening on the sidewalk—so the day wasn’t all bad!