Tribe. Community. Village. Whatever we call it, it’s what we need to feel whole. They connect us with a part of us that we may have long forgotten. That part that knows we belong to something bigger than ourselves. It’s easy to forget in our individualised, independent culture that we need people. As women and mothers we need to connect for appraisal, validation and support – a kind of ‘checking in’ that we’re/it’s normal. There is peace to be gotten when we know we are not alone in our struggles, our experiences. The buffering effect of such social supports can shield us from distress, isolation, and accumulative pain. Yes, a community in which to belong is a wonderful, underrated thing.
About a month ago I walked out of Kmart, baby in one arm, pointless purchases in the other. As I walked towards the car, a pretty, tall woman about my age, maybe younger, approached me and asked if I was interested in joining her baby-friendly fit club. I was taken off-guard but rather than walk away shaking no I stopped and thought, sure, why not. The past month had been rough. Uni was getting to me. My relationship was getting to me. Basically motherhood plus all the other things I was trying to achieve, was getting to me. I was in a massive slump for the first time since Rumi was born and I knew this slope; it was a slippery one. ‘Sure’, I said, and gave her my details.
As I walked to the car I thought, great – another thing Im committing to which I won’t have time for. I felt torn again between the freedom of my life before baby and the love I had for this gorgeous smiling bundle bouncing in my arms. Guilt filled my chest. The anxiety of not having enough time to do anything well consumed me and I felt my face flush and the tears come. I opened the boot and threw whatever the hell it was that I had just bought, into the back. I strapped Rumi in, gave her a kiss and jumped in to drive home giving fit club no more thought.
That was 40 days ago. Since my godawful first day when I almost passed out and could barely make it down the steps on the way out, I have lost kilos, body fat and centimetres, I have gained muscle, strength and fitness. All this is great of course! But it pales in comparison to the real, substantial gains. I have gained the support of a caring, positive, healthy community. Since that first day my mind has been positive and happy – I literally skipped into my front door feeling AMAZING that first week and have felt that every session since. The change was instant. My mental health has improved tremendously and so has my overall wellbeing, my diet, and my attitude. Now, I make this time for me whatever it takes, amid deadlines, papers due, baby’s sleeps, meetings and family commitments. And everyone around me gains.
It’s well-known that exercise releases happy endorphins. Its well-known that social support is imperative for well-being. Mothers give so much each day of themselves and rarely is there reward (beyond those beautiful kisses and smiles). Amid the stress of maintaining a home, a profession, and a family I found a place where I am welcomed, encouraged, supported, celebrated and acknowledged by the amazing coaches and the gorgeous women (and men) who attend alongside me.
Im grateful for that chance meeting in the car park, and all the good it has since brought back into my full, crazy, busy life. When I take care of myself I have so much more to give.
As we come into PANDA week, it’s important to remember that a mothers wellbeing is not just her own. It has implications for her baby and her family. Post-natal depression affects 13% of women in Australia, yet up to 80% experience some form of emotional distress postpartum. And we don’t share. We don’t seek help. We suffer quietly thinking we are alone – ashamed to admit that its tough, that we are sad or feeling empty. I’ve been there and it’s a really dark place. To the beautiful mum who forgoes a shower, who is covered in baby food, who doesn’t have time for makeup or the run she craves, you’re doing an amazing job and it IS hard. I urge you to spend some time for you – join a group where you feel empowered – a sewing class, a gym, a book club, a walking group, whatever it is... not a baby singing group, or another playtime at the local library, a group for YOU, for an hour a week.
The thing about motherhood is that it’s the most amazing, and the most mundane thing we will ever do. It satisfies us and depletes us, drives us and drains us. Its unpaid, unrecognised and unequal. It’s the longest, most fleeting time of our life. It’s the most beautiful, heart-warming, isolating experience we will likely have as women. We actually deserve so much more than society gives us, so take a little something for you. There are some amazing, likeminded women out there who are looking for you to connect with, so that they can feel whole and normal and share all the frustrations and wins you feel too.
My love and thanks to Penny, my coach and my friend, and the wonderful team at Active Nutrition Adelaide, for being that someone to me. X
If you need support please know that you’re not alone. Call these numbers to talk to someone who can help you.
PANDA 1300 726 306
Lifeline 13 11 14
Or if you’d like to join me at Fit Club, please come! 68 King William Street Kent Town. Active Nutrition Adelaide. You’ll love it - I promise :) Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.