I met Antonia Wise-Stewart at a London Mums Network event and we hit it off right away. We got chatting about motherhood and mothermoons and she shared a bit of her own experience of the early days after having her babies.
Our chat gave me an idea. Just like people share their birth stories, I want to share encouraging mothermoon stories so I've asked Antonia to share hers here. Thanks so much for sharing your experience Antonia!
After baby number one I was exhausted. I had lost more blood than average, I'd had a blood transfusion and I was released from hospital after only two nights with a newborn baby, some antibiotics and boobs that weren't producing any colostrum or milk.
But I thought, 'I'm home now, everything will get easier now'.
It didn't, but that's because I didn't know what to do to make 'everything easier'.
Normally I am very busy and sociable and so I thought falling back into my old habits would be a way to make myself feel better. I was inviting everyone over to come and see the baby, I was rushing to the supermarket, and off to meet friends for coffee and baby sensory classes. I was always late. I was always stressed. I was still very anaemic. I was beyond tired.
I knew the first twelve weeks were going to be very tiring as everyone had warned me about newborns so I had this three month mark firmly in my head. If I could just make it to this point everything else after would get easier - that is what I thought. So I just went at it like a work project and a deadline to meet. I was up and about, flying to Ireland for a wedding, being a bridesmaid, squeezing into a pretty dress, going for long walks around Clapham Common, watching TV late into the night.
But it was ok because I only had twelve weeks of this and
then everything was going to get easy. RIGHT?
I was incredibly fixated with how my body looked postnatally. I am not comdemming myself for this. I think it was entirely understandable. I am not terribly vain, but I had heard so many scare stories about bodies changing after birth and I was worried how mine would look and for how long. I had given birth but I still looked four months pregnant (which is normal by the way!). No one had explained what this extra layer of insulation was useful for (energy!) and why I felt so slow (because I should rest and heal). I didn't listen to my body. I listen to my fears and I watched on Daily Mail as Tamara Ecclestone popped back into her pre-pregnancy jeans three weeks after having a baby and I started to worry. I'm not a fitness model, I'm not a celebrity, but I've always been body confident and this unknown territory was scary for me.
I thought the sooner I got back to the gym the better. Other mums were doing it, so I should stop using tired as an excuse. I couldn't have been more wrong. I was crawling to the gym and not get much done. My abdominals weren't healed at all and the exercises weren't doing much to improve it. I would cry a lot. I looked the same as twelve weeks ago and I was even more tired than when I came home from hospital. How was this possible? I was so utterly disappointed and I was being so incredibly hard on myself.
It took eighteen months for my energy to return. Can you believe that? My baby slept well from three months old so it wasn't about the amount of sleep I was getting at night, it was much deeper than that.
I had deprived my body of essential rest it needed postnatally
and it was now taking much much longer for me to feel strong, fit and well.
I couldn't go to wedding six months after my baby was born because I'd lost my voice and couldn't physically get off the sofa. I had never felt like this in my life. Every month I would get some other cold or flu. Something needed to change. I needed to totally reprioritise. I needed to give myself a break and stop comparing myself to everyone else. I needed to do what worked for me even if I felt guilty and lazy and unproductive.
Eventually I started napping in the day and going to bed early. I started eating more nourishing foods and cutting out coffee. I started listening to my body. I stopped exercising. I found box sets on TV. I didn't over plan my days. I said 'no' a lot more. I stayed in. I looked after myself. I rested and did what I knew was right for me. My Mum also looked after the baby a few times a week. My husband and I even went away for a couple nights without the baby and I think I slept every moment possible.
Over the next six months my energy returned in abundance. I felt amazing. I had tonnes of energy and I was now waking up before my daughter. I was strong enough to go to the gym and enjoy some new classes and my body got fit and strong very quickly and easily. I started going out again and seeing friends, I was able to stay up a little later and have date nights with my husband. I was finding my true balance again. It took a full two years.
When it came to baby number two I had started reading about the importance of the forty days post-birth and it resonated so deeply with me. I was upset that I had never been given this information as it would have helped me set up different expectations first time around.
I immediately started planning for my mothermoon. I had heard you could feel entirely different if you respected what your body wanted and needed. It all made a lot of intuitive sense. I was about to have a baby - it made sense to rest and stay indoors and nourish myself rather than rushing around.
Motherhood is not a competition, it's a
time of caring and respecting a period of transition.
My husband and I sat down to plan how we would cope with a newborn again. We started with finances - what could we afford? Thankfully my husband was entirely onboard with the mothermoon. He'd seen what I went through first time and wanted me to have a better experience second time. We decided if we cut down on nursery and holidays we could afford a part-time nanny. This would help enormously as I wouldn't have to look after two children simultaneously. She would also be able to take the baby for little walks or cuddle him whilst I was resting, prepare food for the kids and help with the cleaning. If we hadn't of been able to have a nanny I would have looked at a postnatal doula or put together a diary and asked friends and family to take a time slot rather than buying anything for the baby.
We also made me up a bed in our spare bedroom. We made sure the wifi would reach, we put in a side table and little lamp for night time feeding, we set up a cot and nappy change station. It was really cosy and lovely. I was going to sleep in here so that I could feed whenever I wanted during the night and not feel like I was disturbing anyone. It also meant I could go to bed early without being interrupted by my husband getting changed and brushing his teeth, and I could come here for day time naps.
I bought lots of yummy ready-made food, frozen fruit for smoothies and I also expressed some colostrum just incase I had trouble breast feeding again. I home-cooked some breakfast muffins so that I had some high protein and easy to eat breakfasts. I bought lots of snacks for the cupboard like flapjacks and fruit and nut bars.
I talked a lot to my husband about my expectations. He agreed to take our daughter to nursery on the days she was in. He also agreed to be the primary carer for her on weekends. That meant getting up at any time she got up, getting her dressed and fed and entertaining her. He was also in charge of all cleaning and laundry and cooking dinner. The standards were lowered considerably. I freshly cook a lot but I agreed it was a good idea to have things like ready made fish cakes, pizza and salad and chicken kievs so that dinner was easy. My daughter ate a lot of ready made meals too. Bed sheets were less regularly changed and we hired cleaners for a few hours a week.
My Mum agreed to take my daughter for one night a week for the first few weeks.
We asked relatives not to rush to come see us. If I was by myself they would need to make their own tea or coffee. Often they brought food/ lunch/ sushi/ cheese because they also knew the importance of letting me rest. I didn't invite any friends over for the first three months - thankfully with baby number number two no one cares as much.
I also told everyone that I wasn't leaving my home to stay overnight anywhere for at least twelve weeks after the birth. That meant missing one wedding which very hard to do, but I knew it was the right thing and if I believed in the mothermoon period as firmly as I do, I had to walk the talk. That was hard.
I had a straight forward birth with my second baby but was very worried about the tiredness and illness I had experienced first time around. Cautiously, I returned home after one night in hospital. I breastfed the baby as soon as he was born and I fed him every time he cried, morning or night. The milk came in in abundance. I napped whenever he napped. I didn't leave the house for maybe two weeks. I didn't get out of my pyjamas for a similar amount of time. I stayed in my bedroom or on the sofa just breastfeeding, eating, sleeping and watching The Batchelor.
And I realised the strangest thing was happening - I wasn't sleep deprived! My sleeping patterns changed entirely. There was less distinction between night and day - all hours were equally valuable sleep time. If I was feeling very tired I would wait for baby to nod off, put him in his bassinet and just lie down and have a sleep. I would wake when the baby would wake and that was that. I would go to bed about 8pm. I was very relaxed and happy. I didn't drink coffee so I think that helped me because I could just doze whenever there was an opportunity. I also found that breastfeeding at night helped me feel more sleepy after a feed.
My daughter would bound in and out the house, off to classes or seeing grandma or off to nursery. She would cuddle the baby and cuddle me. She would climb in bed with me or on the sofa but I was confident she was well looked after and I wasn't stressed and anxious dealing with her demands and a newborn.
I didn't attend the wedding which was controversial and we were asked three or four times if I was going to change my mind. It was two hours drive away and involved an overnight stay and I knew that however upsetting it was for the couple that we weren't there, that it was absolutely the right thing for me and baby not to go (my husband went on his own). I hope that with my display of absence it gives futures mothers the ability to decline invitations and realise that when you have a newborn baby you don't need to be anywhere, other than home.
Over twelve weeks I rested very well. I started to make my way out the house. Little walks and then slowly I got back in the car. I would wait until I felt a real desire to go out. Maybe the sun was shining and I wanted to go for a little walk to the park? Or maybe I wanted to go to a coffee shop for a change of scene? Occasionally my husband would come home from work for lunch and we'd pop out for lunch together with the baby. Everything was very slow and relaxed. There were no expectations other than for me to feed and change the baby.
It was one of the best times of my life. I loved every moment of it.
I embraced my soft body and round tummy, I knew it's purpose and I loved it. I had loads of milk and I made sure to eat plenty so that I was nourished and producing good quality milk for the baby to grow well.
I was worried that not seeing much of my daughter Monday to Friday would be upsetting for her and me but she didn't notice at all. She was busy and entertained and LOVED her time at grandmas, staying up late and going out for pizza. I had plenty of hugs as she came in and out the house. I knew we would have our time together after these initial demanding weeks with the newborn. My husband was good at reminding me that the newborn weeks wouldn't last forever and that my daughter would get my full attention soon.
My energy returned very well and very quickly and baby started to sleep more and more. Slowly I found that I was able to join my husband and daughter for weekend outings. I was absolutely amazed how well I felt. I wish this experience for any new mother. We need to spread the word that resting is essential to recovery. Growing and birthing a baby is exhausting.
We must stop comparing ourselves and realise the
absolute best thing we can do is rest and accept support.
If we have the opportunity to make things easier, to sacrifice a bit of tidiness for resting on the sofa, we must do it. It must be culturally acceptable for new mothers to stay home and rest. Postnatal help is money well spent; cleaners, doulas, nursery, day camps, nannies, home food deliveries - if you can afford it there should be no element of guilt. It is a sensible decision from which the entire family will benefit from.
Talking to friends and family about helping was wonderful to set a new expectation and I was surprised how much people were happy to help, they just wanted to know how and know that they weren't treading on anyones toes. Maybe a neighbour or friend can help with taking the child to nursery or collecting them? Maybe a grandparent wants to take another child out for the day? Maybe a friend can bring you a nice chicken pie? My relatives always brought a plate of sushi when they came to visit as it was so easy for me to eat and nutritious. We could change our culture norm if we realised the importance of this time for new parents.
It is such a short period of time - 40 days or 12 weeks - it whizzes by and you never get it back again. Once I'd made it through those twelve weeks well rested I found it much easier to juggle the rest of family life. Being a mum is busy work but once I was on my feet I could manage the laundry, the grocery shopping, making fresh food, cleaning, taking my daughter to school. Never mind all the visits to friends and family, the day trips to farms and country parks. I honestly think I managed it all so well because I gave my body that chance to rest. I also learnt that when I feel tired to listen to my body. I don't need to push myself to the limit. I need to draw back, I need to go to bed early, I need to buy some ready meals. My mothermoon still taps me on the shoulder from time to time to remind me what I need - to look after myself and accept help and lower expectations. If you make it through those weeks well rested then the following weeks are far easier.
If you take your mothermoon you'll never regret it and the feeling of
joy and love that you experience during that time will never leave you.
Here's to everyone enjoying their mothermoon and making it culturally acceptable for new mothers to take a flipping break!