From cave woman to now, our bodies as women have remained mostly the same, yet our lifestyles have become remarkably more chaotic. Grow a baby, birth a baby and raise a baby, on top of everything else that ‘needs’ to be done – sound familiar? Sure, we have caffeine, Deliveroo and pre workout supplements all which can work short term, but they only serve to mask certain underlying factors of what our body, mind and soul truly needs – and is capable of.
What I now identify as my first experience with Rushing Woman’s Syndrome, the term phrased by Dr Libby Weaver, happened soon after my first son Manny’s birth. After some unfortunate experiences with endo (another story for another day), I enjoyed a relatively smooth pregnancy and was working right up until Manny was born. Then once Manny came home it started to creep in without me even knowing it.
Although we felt prepared, we still had many things to do (like installing the car seat in the hospital car park). To add to this, my husband returned to work quite quickly and travelled extensively, which meant stretches at home alone with a new baby and this overwhelming desire to maintain the same level of domestic duty that I had done before child – cleaning, cooking, washing, walking the dog, paying the bills, grocery shopping, not to mention the exercising, socializing, renovating and ‘romanticizing’ and eventual return to work.
It took me around two years before even considering adding another baby to the mix. Apart from the busy-ness of motherhood, Manny’s birth had been difficult which probably added to the hormone and emotional crash I was unknowingly undergoing.
When our second (Eli) was born, my husband and I discussed him going back to work earlier than planned again. At the time, still in that fresh, cozy love bubble, I agreed with it as I thought I could handle it. Now, knowing a little more, I will blame the post birth oxytocin and endorphin boost (thanks hormones)!
With my husband still traveling for work, a toddler who was not adapting to sibling life, a mother who had suffered a life altering stroke, and discussions about a major international relocation, that picture perfect bubble I had initially experienced was quickly starting to slip away from me. I felt like I was constantly pulling a double shift and even though I had family around who could help, I still never asked for help or let anyone see that I needed it.
After all, I had longed for this baby for years (again that’s a whole other story) and I didn’t want to seem unappreciative if I asked for help. This was my role and as an overachiever from way back, I was quite determined to prove that I could do it all again– still not learning from my first experience.
I was exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally but I wouldn’t let anyone see the cracks and covering it up, meant I was getting it done successfully.
Now it may seem obvious to some that it can’t all be done! But for me and I believe many others, it was not so simple. Let me just add I am very blessed to be a mother. I am not complaining or saying my experience was harder than anyone else’s, I am sure there are much tougher survival stories out there. But I can attest to the fact that the maternal pressure to do it all is strong and brought upon by many environmental and mental factors- it is not easy to be mindful or aware about it.
In addition, apart from simply not having enough time, there are the physical factors too. To make breastmilk our body produces a hormone called prolactin which is extremely suppressive to other hormones in the body. Prolactin can affect ovulation, libido, energy, mood and behaviour – basically everything that keeps us functioning in a non-psychotic way (again, thanks hormones!). Our body is biologically designed at this time to nourish and keep that baby alive so it will take resources from other sources in the body to do that.
In many ways, we are just not built to do it all! We know the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, but we rarely follow through with or act upon that mentality. Everyone is different, every circumstance is different, and by no means am I saying you can’t do it all but please do not ignore the inner voice or signs that help is needed or compare yourself to others to get there.
We need rest, nourishment and to take time for ourselves, say no to events or visitors if it isn’t a good time for you and put yourself first.
As women we care, often at limits to our own detriment. We don’t want to put anyone else out, we don’t want people to feel bad and we don’t want our partners to feel guilty for going to work because their job is a key part in keeping the family afloat too. So, we keep it in, but eventually all that built up emotion needs to come out and usually gets directed at the ones we love the most.
For me it manifested as going into what I can only describe as feeling like I was on autopilot. I was getting the job done but missing all the joy in-between. The first few months of Eli’s life were not the most enjoyable for me, it was very much a job. Not asking for help sometimes over shadowed the immense joy we felt as a family and I don’t think I experienced the full abundance of love Eli brought to our lives initially. And whilst I can’t go back in time to change this, as the saying goes admitting is the first step and we can learn to heal from there.
Five final tips from one overachiever to another:
- If you don’t do it, it will get done eventually and if it doesn’t – my husband likes to constantly remind me that Vogue will not be popping in for a surprise photo shoot at any minute.
- Admitting it is hard does not mean you love your baby any less it just means you love yourself as well.
- Take help when it is offered even if you don’t feel it’s needed, your body needs time to heal after birth and is NOT biologically designed to ‘do it all’
- During pregnancy Estrogen and Progesterone levels steadily increase to support the growing fetus and basically fall of a cliff after giving birth – they can be back to their original pre-pregnancy levels within 24 hours – luckily the cute baby is generally a good distraction but we just need to be aware.
- Drop the fat free mentality – a balanced diet with healthy fats is the building block for extremely important steroid hormones like Estrogen, progesterone and testosterone- two of which just took a major nose dive after giving birth.