Thursday, 7 April 2016

How exercise helped me regain my identity

No one can prepare you. Such a cliché but true. Before you have your first child, you think you understand what it will be like. I remember thinking the first three months would be chaos but I'd roll with it and then things would slowly fall into place. I imagined lazy days on the sofa watching box sets with baby sleeping soundly on my chest. And for some people this may be true, but it wasn't for me.

My reality was a traumatic birth and a colicky baby who did not feed or sleep well. I felt like I had been been run over by a train. It wasn't just the physical - 2l of blood loss, near death experience, anaemia, general what-the-fuckness about giving birth, it was the mental side that punched me harder than Muhammed Ali on steroids.

Sudden loss of freedom and of independence. Huge, huge responsibility for a human being! With no instructions! It's like being made CEO of a Big Deal Company when you have no experience and are still in primary school. I felt completely out of my depth and it was very very frightening.

I had no confidence and couldn't switch off. There was a small person lying on me, effectively like a wild animal in my eyes, who I had no idea how to read or look after. I just waited with bated breathe for the next howl, wondering what to do. Many people told me "oh you will know what to do, it will come naturally". It didn't for me. I loved this small person but I was also frightened of him.

In hindsight it is easy to say I shouldn't have worried so much. I should have relaxed more. Everything is just a phase. But I couldn't. Instead I turned into a google monster. Googling everything to do with babies and THINGS.THAT.COULD.WRONG. How much should babies cry?Why is he crying so much? Is it normal he cries so much?  What if he had silent reflux? Should I use a dummy? Will his speech be delayed if I use a dummy? How do I use a sling? Which sling should I use? What do I do if my baby hates a sling? I want to be a natural parenting mother but it appears my baby does not like me anyway I try to parent him.

I mourned for my old life. I mourned for routine and sleep and being able to go for a run when I wanted to and knowing what I was doing. I didn't feel like me anymore. I didn't know who I was. I felt so jealous of my husband whose life had stayed relatively the same. He hadn't given birth and he didn't have to breastfeed and he went back to work as normal.

I felt like I had to learn to do easy things again, like a child would. Going for a walk, entering a shop, driving the car. All these tasks seemed too huge and momentous to do anymore with a baby attached to me. Even having a bath was very difficult to do. Going for a run seemed out of the question for a long time. 

However, things do change. My body did recover from birth, and I found enough time to get my trainers back on and get out of the house on my own. There is no question that exercise helped me overcome my experience of postnatal depression. 

Even when not suffering from depression, going for a run has always made me feel in a better mood. I come home feeling more relaxed, confident and with more positive thoughts. Running has always been a good way for me to find the space to think through any issues or negative thoughts and reframe them positively. 

After having my son, finding 20-30 minutes to go for a run was probably my lifeline. It gave me time to just be me, not a mother. Having physical space away from my son was important for me, as if I was in the house with someone else looking after him I still could not switch off and take time out. I needed some space to get some perspective on my situation. And because of how running helps me feel more confident and happy, I would come home feeling much more confident and happy in my ability to be an ok-mum.

Going running also helped me remember that I was still me. Yes the old me might have gone forever - that woman with time on her hands, and no real responsibilities, but underneath the new mum me I was still the same person, and I could still feel part of the real world and participate in something other than being a mother. That may sound selfish to some, but part of my crisis with having my firstborn was I did not feel like myself anymore and felt like I had been excluded from the the rest of the world as I felt unable to do the many things I used to take for granted. 

As I improved I felt ready to enter a few races, which built my confidence further. And this in turn, I think, helped increase my confidence in being an alright mother too. I was doing ok! My son seemed to like me! I felt I could relax and enjoy being a mother more. 

Reflecting back now I wish I could have injected myself with some confidence when I became a mum. It's been a very steep learning curve and I hope this second time around I do feel a little more relaxed. If I don't, I know lacing up my trainers and getting some exercise is going to help big time. Selfish? I don't think so, as a happy me equals a happy mother. 

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