Hi, I'm Olivia. I’m a coach, wife, mother of two, daughter, sister, friend, colleague... I am also me.
‘Me’ is a reasonably together and positive sort of person, able to enjoy life’s ups and bounce back from the downs. And as a women’s wellbeing coach, ‘me’ has lots of lovely colleagues and handy techniques to turn to on the bad days. But when I stopped work to have my first baby, it hit me like a train, and ‘me’ got a bit lost under the rubble.
Here are three things that floored me in the first year:
1) Expectations: I had always wanted to have children, loved spending time with other people's, had read a stack of parenting manuals and sat through the antenatal classes… We were ‘ready’ and excited. Then the reality hit. And I don’t mean the neverending nappies or the bone-aching exhaustion. I felt completely disoriented in an intensely unfamiliar and judgemental new world. Bruised from being catapulted out of the hospital after the barbaric forceps delivery of our whopping 10lb-er, and broken from crash landing without warning into this bleak, lonely, refluxy reality. So it was the stuff people don't tell you about: not recognising the person in the mirror, not really liking the baby very much sometimes, wishing you could go back and sign up for something else, and feeling totally defeated and inadequate and not at all cut out for the job.
2) Emotions: My confidence lay like little crumbs on the kitchen floor and I had no idea how to pick them up. What defined me now? The milk? The ninja wiping skills? The zombie brain fog? Dozens of different emotions in the space of ten minutes - grief, disbelief, anxiety, guilt, blame, boredom, anger, regret, fleeting joy... but this was what I wanted, so why was it so hard?! The word 'depression' was never spoken, but I'm sure it was lurking somewhere, and I now know that for many mums it throbs away under the surface, ignored or undiagnosed. With a background in psychology and coaching, I felt like I 'should' be able to recognise and deal with problems as they arose, but it turns out that it's really hard to fix a problem from inside the problem.
3) Each other: Many of my existing relationships suffered and I struggled to form new ones, including the bond with my own baby. Despite a wonderfully supportive husband, loving family and amazing big sister who had done it all three times, I was terrified of admitting that I wasn't ok - that just felt like complete crushing failure. So I clung on to "I'M FINE!!" from behind a pane of foggy glass and hoped that the relationships that mattered would still be there when I emerged.
Around the end of the first year, I climbed out of the hole, redefined my happy, and learnt to navigate the new normal. By the time I had my second baby, I knew that whatever was happening, it would pass - so I learnt to embrace the good days and shrug off the bad. Plenty of chaos still came crashing in, but deep down where it mattered, I fell back in love with my life.
Here are three things that helped:
1) Choices: I reminded myself that of all the moving, unpredictable parts in this complex new system, I was the part I was in charge of. That of the dozens of competing roles I now filled, I could choose which one to focus on and try to do it well, instead of trying to do everything and getting nowhere. I learnt to press pause and be present in the moment, instead of always spending down time either dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. I chose kinder words than ‘failure’ and ‘your fault’ and 'should'. I accepted the fact I could never go back, and instead decided to embrace the now and the new. Maybe you can do it all, just not all at once - so most of the time, good enough is perfectly good enough.
2) Connections: I started listening to my instincts and stopped worrying about what everyone else was doing. I asked for and accepted help. I said the scary stuff out loud and the scary got smaller. I reconnected with the things and the people that made me feel like me, and made peace with the stuff that didn't belong anymore. I realised that if I ever wanted my children to find confidence and compassion in the mirror, that I had to find them for myself first. The rise of the ‘mummy blog’ came just at the right time for me to realise that so many others felt the same way (as opposed to what they were projecting on their shiny online profiles), and I witnessed the power of "me too".
3) Calm: I came back to the practice of mindfulness and gratitude and forgiveness and took more regular exercise - all of which gave my mind more useful things to do than to keep on telling me I was doing a terrible job. I slowed down and started to breathe again. I felt calmer, so the days felt easier, and we started to have fun again. I made time for refilling my own tank with the things that brought me joy and energy and perspective and freedom. And it wasn’t selfish, because it was good for the whole family.
Of course we all still have plenty of ugly, messy, shouty days, but I no longer let these crappy choices define me as a terrible parent or bad person. Because those days pass, just like every other. So if you’re feeling bruised or broken by anything on this intense rollercoaster, I want to tell you that it’s going to be ok, that it’s possible to emerge as a happier and stronger you. I now have two dazzlingly spirited little girls and I love them with all that I am. They are a huge, loud, brilliant part of my world, and I also prioritise other things that make me happy.