(I’m sharing this story with you with full permission and encouragement from a former client who remains a dear acquaintance today and serves as a passionate advocate for women and mothers. Her name in this story has been changed, but her story is real.)
I received an email from Emily a few months after she had her second baby. In her email she shared with me that she felt overwhelmed, often teary-eyed and what felt like “overly emotional.” She was unsure what she wanted to do with her career – did she want to scale back? Or maybe, stay at home full time? What would that mean for the family’s finances?
She wrote “I feel like I cannot get a grip on anything, including myself.”
It was clear through her email that she had always wanted kids and that she loved them deeply, but that she had lost herself in the transition into motherhood.
And then she wrote: “P.S.: Another thing that has been weighing on me is my marriage. My husband drives me crazy and I am afraid that what we used to have is gone.”
Emails like this one from Emily are unique in that she was very verbal about her inner world and I could tell that she needed a place to unpack and decipher the whirlwind of life with two kids and the changes it brought with it so that she could make sense of it all and feel more in charge again.
But, what is very common is that mothers usually never just write me with one area of concern.
What do I mean by that?
I mean that, especially when we become mothers, everything is intricately connected. No area of our life –work, love, health or play- exist in isolation anymore. This is what makes it confusing and more easily overwhelming.
The welcoming of children changes everything… and I am saying this in the most loving way possible, because I absolutely LOVE being a mom. But, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come with its challenges as well. And, by the way, even if people tell you that “everything will change” before you birth your fist child, you don’t really ‘get it’ until you actually have a baby (or babies) in your arms.
Children shift the dynamics in your relationship with yourself, your health, how you take care of YOU.
They shift your relationship to your work, to time, to space.
And they, for sure!, shift your relationship to your spouse/ partner.
Here is what happened once Emily and I started coaching:
We unpacked it all. She off-loaded and I held the space for her to do so, asking questions that I could sense she wanted to answer, but didn’t know how to bring up.
She began to feel lighter and once the majority of her worries, her frustrations, her overwhelm, her doubts around her work, her lack of time for herself, etc. were expressed (not solved, but spoken out loud and so no longer running up an internal shitstorm), she dropped deeper and began to talk about her marriage.
Oftentimes people use the first few sessions to discuss the things that are on their mind, before they can address the matters of the heart. It’s a way of clearing the road and building trust, because our love lives and our marriages, are, for many women, at the core of our vulnerability.
With Emily, I could tell that talking about her marriage felt difficult because she felt protective over it. She was hesitant to name the things that weren’t working, she was scared to say them out loud, because then they became real and she had to address them.
A tidbit of her backstory: Before having kids, her husband and her had been traveling together, exploring the world with joy and enthusiasm. They looked at having children as their great, next, joint adventure.
But then they experienced what many couples experience: having children didn’t make them feel closer, but rather, more distant.
Sure, there were moments when they looked at each other (especially in the early stages after the birth of their first baby) and felt deeply in love both with each other and their kid(s), but those moments were now quickly dwindling; replaced by increasing frustration, nagging, miscommunication, and misaligned desires.
Top it off with the fact that neither of them were getting enough sleep, which made it even harder to have a calm, connected conversation that led to an actual solution and not just more aggravation. Plus, as Emily said, “I don’t even know where to start with that."
Here’s the thing I want you to know, which I also shared with Emily:
Sometimes things have to come undone, so they can come together again in a way that actually fits into the new constellation.
Children change the constellation of your whole family. They do. And they have to. It’s their job and their right.
But, in our society we completely lack to recognize this re-constellation. I often have the impression that the expectation is that your life shouldn’t change at all, but that we’re expected to just “add kids” into what already exists seamlessly. That’s insane.
The expectation is that women can do it all nowadays and so who are you not to take advantage of that (your ancestors didn’t have that possibility, so you better not turn it down).
The expectation is that your body will bounce back to what it was like before birth and your sex life should be back to normal 6 weeks post delivery.
Yeah right… good luck!
We forget that becoming a mother is a rite of passage that transforms the mother, but it’s also a rite of passage for fathers and the whole family system. It transforms everyone.
But we so often fail to recognize –not to mention celebrate!– all of that, because if we did, there would be more structures in place to support mothers AND fathers individually and together.
So, what happened with Emily and her husband?
After some more unpacking and off-loading, I could sense a lightness returning to Emily and with that came new space: space to not only see all the things she needed to do and get done, but space to recognize and feel the things she needed for herself.
This is often a revolutionary experience for women who are in a care-taking and nurturing role: the recognition of their own needs without being scooped up by guilt, and the hearing of their own voice, their own intuition, again (or for the first time).
Here is the thing: When we are so focused on keeping it together on the outside, it’s easy to start crumbling on the inside.
What I focus on in my coaching is to bring women back into contact with their own inner world and create alignment there, because when we feel close to ourselves, when we feel loved and nurtured, we can shift, communicate, and take action in the outer world in a way that actually brings positive changes.
Does that make sense?
All that to say that what Emily and I worked on first was not her marriage, but her relationship with herself.
We worked on exploring what brought her joy, how she wanted to have fun, in what ways she wanted to nurture and nourish herself that was in honorship of the woman she was now.
We talked about her inner critic and how she could loosen the tight rope that critic had around her neck.
Then we began to make small structural changes in her life so she could make space for herself again.
Self-care, as you can tell, isn’t just about the manicures and massages (although, they are nice too;)). Rather, self-care primarily is about your inner dialogue, how you respond when your body or mind signals a need, how deserving and valuable you feel, how you set yourself up in the world and in your surroundings.
Here is the truth: When we (women and men alike) begin to take care of ourselves again, when we create space in our lives for ourselves to exist and for our own well-being to be nourished, EVERYTHING shifts.
The key to better health, more fulfilling relationships, more fun at work, greater success is always to find the best ways to take care of ourselves first.
Only when our inner world is healthy, when we feel aligned with ourselves, can we create an outer world that mirrors this.
Do you understand what I mean?
What self-care did for Emily was this (to name a few):
it allowed her to feel herself again, fill her own cup and respond thoughtfully rather than react mindlessly.
it allow her to formulate her own needs and hear her husband’s needs without diminishing either.
she got out of fight-or-flight mode and as a result, there was mental space again for real conversation that wasn’t just blaming, nagging and judgement.
it allowed her to remember what it’s like to be in love and that her and her husband once were actually really good at “being in love.”
it allowed her to take care of her body again in a way that felt nurturing and made her feel beautiful and sexy.
it allowed her to become aware of her inner dialogue and let go of her own inner critic.
by taking care and time of herself, she unlocked her sensuality and got in touch with the part of herself that felt feminine, relaxed, and playful.
Self-care, in essence, was the key that began to unlock all the tightness and pressure Emily felt in her life. By unlocking that part of herself, she saw shifts everywhere. Not over-night, but over the course of a few weeks.
Emily and her husband now have 3 kids and they are a happy and connected family. It doesn’t mean that they never have hard times, hiccups, and challenges. Of course they do!!
But they know how to navigate back to harmony. They are in touch with their needs, they know how to fill their own cups, and they don’t feel guilty for taking time to nourish themselves.
AND, very importantly, they are teaching their kids this kind of self-awareness as well!
If self-care and self-awareness is something that you want to work on and invite into your life, I would love to invite you to join Well Mama, my 8-week course for moms who want to nourish themselves and (re)discover the woman behind the mother.
We’re starting on Sunday, February 3rd and there are 3 different enrollment plans to meet your need: basic enrollment ($199), basic enrollment + a private session with me ($349), basic enrollment + 2 private sessions with me ($499).
I hope you can join us.