“Mrs Williams, when do you plan to leave?” “Umm, when she’s 18”, I replied with trepidation. It was five days after giving birth to my daughter in hospital. There had been no complications either for myself or my baby. In the sanctuary of the hospital surroundings, with nurses nearby advising how to swaddle my newborn, lactation consultants instructing on the best way to breast-feed, visitors arriving to peer at my baby, and staff delivering meals three times a day plus a cuppa and cookie in the afternoon. Who would seriously want to go home? Not this mum.
By the third day, I was in tears. The staff were wonderful, they’d seen this before. “It’s the blues, love. It happens to most mums in the early days.” So many boxes of tissues were laid near me, I could have started a pop-up in Maternity Room 11; there would definitely be a demand for this in the maternity wing.
The truth of it was – I was terrified. The nurse said that once I got home, things would work out fine. She had more faith in me than I did.
My husband was home for the first week helping with nappy changing, cooking, cleaning and other chores. Doing the late-night feeds, plus feeds throughout the day was exhausting. Breast-feeding was difficult, washing my baby created anxiety (they’re slippery little critters), finding time to eat, or just putting my feet up, it was tiring. I missed having me-time in me-space.
I felt helpless and useless and lacked confidence in my ability to fit within this new role called Mumma. Once again I was in tears, and not for the last time. It didn’t help that I lacked the one vital element which mums crave and which supports wellbeing – sleep. Sleep deprivation is a killer.
Loneliness is also the hardest thing. My daughter was born in November so many mothers groups and playgroups were winding down for the year. I had three long months of waiting for those groups to start again. It was extremely isolating. I visited shopping malls frequently to get some interactions. I ate many a cream-filled donut and slurped on lots of milkshakes. The loneliness was enervating and the food was my way of filling up the void within.
As a new mum, identity gets lost in the nether world, a black hole in the universe where my name was unspoken. Not Janice. I simply became “Mum”.
Oh how I wished that my baby had arrived with an instruction manual at birth, waving it in my face with lots of pretty pictures and arrows pointing to the correct method of swaddling a baby, changing a nappy, positioning a baby for breast-feeding, bathing a baby, playtime, I could go on.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being a Mum. I have two, a girl and a boy, and they are super-amazing, as is my wonderful supportive husband. Being a Mum, I have learned so much about patience, empathy, surviving on little sleep, how to have fun and be silly like a child, how to stop and notice the wondrous little things around me, being altruistic. So much to be grateful for.
So here are some tips I have learned from my experience and from talking to other new mums. I hope you find these helpful for your own self-care.
Tips on how to take the stress out of being a new mum
1. Get involved in playgroups and mothers’ groups. Motherhood can be lonely but joining a group of mums is a life saver. With Covid-19 in our midst, it can be difficult to physically attend groups. Join an online mum’s group for instance. Put it out there that you would like to meet some mums. There are many mums who love to catch up, even if it’s with just a small group during Covid-19. Break the isolation, you will feel so much better.
2. Be in the present moment. Visit a park or a creek. Sit quietly. Make this a time to listen, feel, see, smell, taste. Put aside your worries and focus on the here and now.
- Hear the rustle of leaves, the sway of the trees, the trickle of water as it skims over rocks.
- Feel the warmth of the sun and the breeze on your face.
- See the colour of the sky, the shape of the clouds, the variety of plants and bushes overhanging the creek.
- Close your eyes and smell the fresh rain-soaked earth, the invigorating scent of flowers.
- Taste a sip of water or notice the taste in your mouth.
3. Sign up for a mums and bubs yoga class. If you can’t attend a class due to Covid-19, look for classes online and do them in your home or on the patio. You and bubs will feel refreshed.
4. Use the human resources around you. This may be relatives, friends or neighbours. They could cook a meal or do a chore while you feed your baby. They can help look after bub while you have some rest or enjoy some retail or beauty therapy. There’s nothing like having a facial or massage to rejuvenate the soul. This is about self-care.
5. Partner. If you are partnered, ask them to look after bubs while you have sleep, or exercise or have me-time. Arrange for this to happen weekly. This will be beneficial for your wellbeing, and beneficial for your partnership, and your partner will have a greater experience of bonding with bubs.
6. Dates. In the early stages of motherhood, it’s hard sometimes to consider you both enjoying time out together. Ask a relative or friend to look after your baby, even just for two hours. Otherwise, have a date-in, order takeaway, and chill after baby goes to sleep.
7. Don’t expect a clean house like it used to be. Doing just one chore a day will help you feel much better.
8. After doing that one task, put some music on and dance around the house. Be silly, practice some dance moves. Who can you see you? Just bubs. You’ll probably bring a huge smile to your little babe’s face.
9. Catch up with a friend at a café or by phone. Real time conversations are energising.
10. Download the calming sounds of nature. There are lots of choices out there on google. Listen to the slow sweep of ocean waves or the trills of birds are relaxing and will help you to slow down.
11. Seek professional help. If you are teary, feeling anxious or feeling down, then speak with your GP. Don’t be alone in your feelings. See a therapist, who will listen to you and help you with your difficult feelings. Contact your local Child and Family Health Centre for advice on the development of your baby.
Janice Williams is a professional Counsellor and specialises in mother-daughter relationship counselling.
Janice offers in-person counselling, as well as online and phone counselling across Australia. Online counselling is available worldwide.