It’s taken me a long while to sit down and write about this topic of motherhood. Six years, just about. It’s complicated to write about something that has changed you so much, and taught you so many lessons. I write about it because in my experience with myself and my clients/friends, mothers generally relate and quickly bond in many ways - and one of these ways is that we are often overworked & under-cared for, mentally overloaded, or even burnt out. But we go through it all with a positive attitude and grateful heart, because there is also SO much magic in motherhood. Motherhood is a unique challenge (especially in the early years) in that it combines so much physical work with emotional and spiritual work. As moms, our nervous systems have been overwhelmed for years, and our culture still has a lot of learning to do in how to support us better so that we can thrive more easily. Ive gone through many different phases within motherhood, and this is my story of how riding these waves has led to a current quest for doing less, and a mission to spread the good word of rest (where we can get it).
For me, after the elation, joy and many happy tears that were shed after meeting our first child, the first big stop along motherhood was the Depletion phase - the overwhelm and exhaustion that came like a postpartum tidal wave. This came shortly, and I mean very shortly, after my first son was born, as I had a pretty long, traumatic birth and difficult recovery. The bliss of meeting and holding my child melted into something else as I struggled so much with such a drastic lifestyle change and physical set backs. I couldn’t sit in a chair for many weeks due to birth complications. There was shock and awe. I was hit hard with how difficult the sleepless nights were (11 months of them for us!), the physical recovery time, the around-the-clock breastfeeding, and the lack of professional help. The constant vigilance I felt in my bones was amplifying in a way, but also exhausting. I was classically ‘wired and tired’. My husband had only the short 2-3 weeks of paternity leave. The load on my nervous system was significant at this time and back then I didn’t know how else to support myself besides taking my supplements and “napping when the baby naps,” and we all know how easy that is to do. I know this is not a universal postpartum experience (and I hope one that is less and less common with time), but I also know I share a similar story with many.
Secondly came the Get Back to Me phase. I stepped back into part time work after 3 months mostly because I was afraid my practice would fall to pieces if I stayed away too long. I started to exercise slowly, started to see clients, find my rhythm with my practice again, got massages regularly, and regained some personal time each week. It felt good, but I was still tired, recovering, and hesitant. I was initially content that I didn’t have too much on my plate as work was slow starting back, but there were also feelings of doubt. How would I get back to my normal schedule… would I ever get back to seeing so many clients each week like I had before the baby… what if this was a mistake to not push myself harder right out of the gate… would I ever be able to contribute financially to our home as much?
Then came the Identity Crisis phase. What WAS I doing in my work? Did I want to be away from my son? Was this the kind of work I really needed now, being tied to an office all the time? I felt more creative energy inside myself and started considering all kinds of jobs from interior design, to opening a retail store, to throwing in the towel and getting a basic part time job so I didn’t have to run a business at all! It was a never ending parade of thoughts, potential turns, changes and needs that I had no clue how to navigate. I also didn’t have the wisdom to be gentle with myself yet, and I started to feel lost. The grass always looked greener when I looked at other moms and imagined what their lives were like. The mental load was very heavy and this rocky phase lasted for a long time. I made some new mom friends, kept treating clients and did some interior design jobs on the side to dip my toes into new water. New work path (maybe?), new friends, new baby, new role, new lifestyle - I didn’t realize what an enormous transition period my life was in and how it had really turned me upside down. My Earth center had shifted so sharply that I truly didn’t know how to nourish myself in this new life. I obviously needed something, but I didn’t know what it should be. It was a very confusing time. I was looking for ways to get footing, but not landing on anything solid.
Then, about 18 months after my first son was born, I got pregnant again. I was thrilled it happened so easily as I felt quite underweight and deficient (hello, body on overload) and had been to my acupuncturist for a couple months to seek some restorative care, but there we were! I got severely ill during my pregnancy with morning sickness in my first and second trimesters. I was vomiting 5-6x day, cancelling work, not able to do much besides worry and rest for days. Another hit to the nerves! But my second birth was a dream compared to my first, the recovery was much simpler and easier, and now we had two healthy boys (& our second didn’t sleep through the night for almost 2 years)! My postpartum period was so much smoother this time around as well - I had more support in place, our lifestyle didn’t need to shift drastically, I knew how to nurse and pump and I didn’t have any new physical trauma from the birth, I also was tremendously more flexible with myself and my second baby. I appreciated every second of being home with my kids this time around, knowing that it goes by so fast. But having a baby is a particular kind of upheaval on its own - full of the most high and low intensities life can bring - and every new mother should know it’s normal and expected to experience great shifts after such a transformative event, even if it was 100% positive.
With my new uplifting experience of birth and the first few months postpartum, I went into an I Got This phase of motherhood. We started plans to renovate our house, we moved out for a year to get that done, I got a new office space, I amped up work because of this new office space, I forged ahead throwing energy into these new projects and started to feel more confident in my parenting of two and myself. I was inspired and motivated, but I knew I needed a better support system of friends and colleagues if I wanted to sustain my work life outside the home. So, I found that by creating it myself and formed my own women’s business networking group (basically creating yet another job for me)! Life was full & good and I felt so fortunate to have all this momentum and creative energy around me in both my work and personal lives. I felt fulfilled, encouraged, tired, yes, but also knowing that was part of the gig.
As all this happened, I quickly accelerated into the I Can Do It All / I Can Do Anything phase. At first this was so exhilarating, it was like a high. I was doing so much during this period in both my work and personal lives that in retrospect, it seems totally bonkers to me. I was also dealing with an ever-increasing list of health complaints that never seemed to improve. My hair that had fallen out after my second son was born didn’t grow back. I was underweight again. Fatigue was setting in. Anxiety was flaring up. I could not eat enough to fuel my needs if I tried. I started making small adjustments as I realized I probably had too much on my plate. I felt myself getting maxed out, but couldn’t fully stop what was a very exciting train to be on. I capped off my number of clients I saw per week to allow for a few hours of down time. This down time usually ended up being spent cultivating a social media presence for my business or dealing with matters from the quickly growing business group. Or dealing with other life issues & family illnesses. I started to get some regular bodywork again to unwind each month. I meditated when I could. I went on for over a year like this, at peak sympathetic dominance, running from my office to school pick ups in a mad rush, project managing our house build, trying to continue work at home around my kids doing social media, texts, sending emails or reminders, facilitating monthly meetings for our group, volunteering at our school, acting as the primary parent for the boys as my husband worked 8-6pm, and staying up late to do everything else (or simply zone out and shut down for a couple hours.) I was short with my kids, sitting them in front of the TV more than I wanted to admit, and hearing them ask me to pay attention to them or put my phone down at times. I acknowledged I was stressed out - but so much of it was a good, growing type of stress that I kept at it despite feeling it was getting hard to keep up.
Then I had a Turning Point. One day after work in a freak yoga/sneeze accident, I tore a muscle in my abdomen and it was the most vulnerable, internal type of pain - right smack in my core (I had an umbilical hernia after my second was born, so my abdomen was already vulnerable at this time). The kind of pain where something feels really wrong and scary. I ended up with an urgent care visit, a doctor’s visit, an ultrasound, an MRI, and findings of other issues like nodules on my thyroid and masses in my liver (totally benign, thankfully) - but it was my wake up call, for which I’m now very grateful. I couldn’t pick up my 2 year old for 2 months, and my abdomen is still healing over a year later. This led directly to a new phase of motherhood, one that takes into account my own physical and spiritual health more than just about anything else. It could certainly be called a Do Less phase, but Slow motherhood sounds right to me. As someone in the healing arts, I love self-care practices and preach them widely in my work, I know what fuels my fire and recharges my batteries, but those things weren’t enough to get me where I needed to be a this point. I needed a full down-shift of my pace of life, so I gave myself permission to have it. It also came with redefining what I needed as self-care on the deepest level - time for myself to heal, more space, less commitments. It was an overhaul.
I don’t think doing less comes naturally for most people these days, and it’s not something someone wants to be told to do, usually. It actually took me almost a full year to take enough baby steps to finally allow myself to do less enough to make a difference in my life and health. Even now, it’s a conscious decision I make. I accept that I cannot do everything all at once. I accept that my limitations may be different from someone else’s and that it is my time to slow down. I own it now, after spending much time feeling conflicted about it. I also chose to embrace the fact that I even COULD slow down and that my husband and I could make it work for our household for awhile if I stepped back from hustling so much. I realized after almost 6 years of being a mom that I had never really given myself permission to just be with my kids. That sounds crazy right?! But I’m serious. Beyond the 2-3 months of their lives when I took maternity leave (when all you did was hold them), I have always been doing more than one thing when I was with my kids by myself. As a small business owner, I would either be texting regarding work or projects throughout the day, checking emails, returning client calls, sending reminder emails, creating social media posts, planning, trying to read up on something of note, etc, etc, etc while half playing, entertaining or comforting, supervising, disciplining my boys. These are tiny things we do all day but they add up, and they are work, without a doubt. Because of this constant juggling, it never really felt fun or relaxing to be around my kids during the week, to be perfectly honest. My sympathetic nervous system was always on alert - a little bit frantic, stressed and frustrated each day. When we live like this for a prolonged period of time, we suffer physically. And I think we suffer mentally and emotionally as we miss major opportunities for connection and growth with our children, family and selves in our haste. It’s important to know that you simply cannot heal in an ongoing sympathetic state. You need your body to go into parasympathetic (rest and digest) state for healing to occur. Period. It has been revelational to me to experience the slowness of purely being with my children. It can be relaxing, even restorative, to be with them without trying to simultaneously do other work in every spare moment. The type of play children engage in is actually very beneficial for your adrenal glands and nervous system. Play. Nature. Imagination. Touch. Being present now, without thoughts of tomorrow. These are all things kids are so great at, and all things we deeply need for balance as we take on so much in our adult worlds. When I do less, I can appreciate this more and gain more from it. I can’t stop being a mom, it’s the biggest commitment of my life, but I can cut out the things that don’t need to be my priority right now. I can ask myself regularly, What is my priority in this moment? And that is a singular question & answer. It helps every time to get back to what matters most and why - whether it’s work related or my family or my needs.
I wonder what the next wave of motherhood will look like for me. What is the next stop on the map? I feel my nervous system healing and repairing itself after years of pushing it so hard. Slowing down has been generative and deeply therapeutic for me, but if the last 6 years has taught me anything, it’s that a change is coming. The tides are always changing. Having flexibility to change - with myself, and my children - is one of the biggest lessons I have learned from motherhood. I offer this story because I know there are other women who have gone through this and so much more, and sharing with each other about our highest ups and downs is so important. Doing less, even if just for now, even if just for a moment, has been the best thing I ever had a chance to do… but I know it’s not forever. I look forward to forging ahead again in time, with new boundaries for myself and renewal practices in place.
*** Where are you in motherhood? What phase are you in right now, what wave are you riding? Next, I look forward to sharing with you action steps and methods of supporting your health according to all these different phases you may encounter. So, stay tuned for some helpful tips on that. Also, there are many necessary and valid reasons in life we keep forging on despite having stress at our upper limit (aka surviving mode), which is why I always have a devoted highlight on my Instagram devoted to REST and methods we can all use to get more of it & recharge amidst the chaos. Taking rest can actually be a growth strategy for us. ***