Anxiety, Routines and The Two Opposing Halls…
I’ve spent this blog post reflecting on how different I am feeling now in the 12th week of Benji’s life, compared to how I was feeling in week 6, and the rollercoaster of emotions in between! I have also taken note of how I’m feeling physically and how I’m sneaking different forms of exercise into my daily life.
I must admit, I’ve always been on the anxious side of the emotional scale. Next to my extremely laidback, go-with-the-flow husband, my love of routine, planning and organization is acutely highlighted! I am the one who is finished Christmas shopping by the end of November, and when anyone asks about a five year plan, I can tell them in great detail as I have been laying awake at night considering all my options for the previous five years.
This means that single-handedly running a small business while working full time has been very achievable, however new motherhood has completely knocked me for six. Six week old Benji, this little bundle of pee, poop and gorgeousness, didn’t understand organization, and just when I thought that I was beginning to learn the best way to manage my daily routine, I would realise that I had been faked hard – Benji was bluffing and that’s not how we were continuing at all.
The anxiety peaked between weeks 2 and 3, when I decided to try the Save Our Sleep routine in the book by Tizzie Hall. Almost every friend had warned me against this – their babies didn’t respond well to it and they said it caused them more grief than benefit. However, I had one friend for whom it worked a treat right from birth, and I really really liked the idea of having a baby on a schedule!
To be fair, the five days of trying this routine of 3 hourly feeding and self-settling probably correlated with Benji starting to be in pain from his then-undiagnosed severe urinary tract and blood Staph infection, so he was probably always going to become more and more unsettled over this time. But I was an emotional wreck – I didn’t want to plan anything or be in public while I was spending pretty much the whole time between feeds patting this poor little baby constantly on the tummy to try to unsuccessfully get him back to sleep. I thought people would judge me for not picking him up when he was crying, and although I didn’t leave his side, I felt like a cruel mother for not holding him more. Perhaps some 2 week old babies can go regular periods of time between sleeping and feeding, but my little one most definitely did not get that memo.
Then I discovered the ‘other’ Hall – Constance Hall – and instead of reading and re-reading the very strict advice from Tizzie Hall, I stopped the routine, let Benji dictate when to feed and sleep, started baby-wearing more, and spent breastfeeds reading Constance Hall’s hilarious and guilt-free method of parenting. She made me realize that I wasn’t failing if I held Benji more, I am an amazing ‘Queen’ no matter how I parent, and I felt 100 times better for it. I think I will buy her book as a baby shower gift for every future pregnant friend.
I have friends who have been medically diagnosed with anxiety, and I won’t pretend that the anxiety I have suffered from in new motherhood is on that level. However, this was a side of having a baby that I didn’t anticipate, and I imagine that many other new mothers go through the same feelings that I have. For much of the first 8 weeks of Benji’s life, I would wake up with a start in the dark, imagining that I had fallen asleep holding him and was smothering him accidentally in the bed clothes. I would finally get a reprieve from my exhaustion in the afternoon when my Mum or Nan held Benji so that I could go and have a nap, only to lie awake going through the next day in great detail in my head – how am I going to get to two medical appointments in one day? Should I attempt to go to my friend’s 30th birthday or will it be too much of a change in routine for Benji?
The thing that has surprised me the most about new motherhood, and what has defined these early weeks, is the sheer number of decisions that I’ve had to make on a daily basis. I have two prams (one we bought, the other a gift), and one has a capsule attachment that fits into the car and one a bassinet attachment. Both used to make Benji scream equally as intensely, he really didn’t like initially being put in a pram, but would usually settle after the first 10-15 minutes of walking. I can’t tell you how much time I spent on a daily basis debating in my head which pram would be best for a particular outing. Would it be best to swaddle him and lay him in the bassinet? Or would it be best to not swaddle him but have him in the capsule ready to easily transfer into the car? I would sometimes go to sleep in clothes that I could do my morning walk in, just so that I didn’t have to put Benji down while I got dressed as I knew he would scream.
Other daily debates that raged in my head included whether or not to bath Benji regularly – he screamed and screamed during and after bath time, but on the other hand he smelled like off cheese – and whether to continue to have him sleep in the Moses basket on or next to my bed or whether it was time to try his own room and own cot (right next door, with video and respiratory monitors), and have a bit of extra emotional and physical separation at night time.
To be perfectly honest, the week spent at PMH was a little bit of a relief. I didn’t have to make daily decisions on what to do with Benji – he was connected to an IV line the majority of the time, so he fed and slept on our laps in the arm chair next to the bed 24 hours a day. No decisions necessary.
This anxiety has most definitely subsided as I’ve approached 12 weeks. Benji and I understand each other a lot more, and in the last two weeks I’ve revisited the idea of the routine that so badly failed in week 3, and this time it is working a treat. I’m using the Save Our Sleep routine, but at 12 weeks Benji is still on the 0-8 week old routine as he doesn’t seem to be able to sleep for the 2-2.5 hour naps that it suggests or be able to stay awake for the 1.5-2 hour blocks that the older routines suggest. I can now make plans to be somewhere at a certain time, rather than a two hour window that I used to give people depending on when Benji decided to wake and/or feed (whether I actually get to the destination at the planned time is still questionable, but more likely).
I hope that other highly-strung mothers like me who struggle with anxiety in these early weeks have a support network that is as good as mine has been. No one has judged, everyone has helped, and all family members have respected my decisions on how to parent Benji. If my one million and one daily decisions were met with disapproval from others, I would have found it much harder, and for that I am very grateful!
Returning to Exercise
The return of the modified Save Our Sleep routine has meant that exercise is firmly ingrained in my daily life, and that makes me very happy! Benji has 4 sleeps/naps in his day, between his 3 hourly feeds, and the first and last one of the day are usually spent in his pram capsule while I walk around the neighbourhood, weather and daily plans permitting. I have been amazed to discover how accurate it is that humans have 45 minute sleep cycles – Benji seems to stir, without fail, at the 45 minute mark after falling asleep. On these walks, if I am still moving and am able to re-insert his dummy as he stirs, I’m almost always guaranteed that he will sleep soundly for a second 45 minute block. Which is a good reason to aim for an hour walk each morning, rather than arriving home just as Benji stirs and wakes up!
I have started varying this cardio exercise as well, with the commencement of my beloved Mother and Baby Hydrotherapy classes! I can’t tell you how special (and weird) it was to take Benji into the pool for the Thursday class at Southcare Physiotherapy. This has been the class that I have instructed with a plastic doll for the majority of the past decade, and to do the introduction to water routine with my very own bundle of cuteness was so surreal! The cardio workout in the aqua aerobics class after the babies leave the pool was fabulous – to be treading water and running against the resistance felt so good and I had a lovely burn in my leg and arm muscles the next day. I will most definitely be working this class into my weekly plans!
The other thing that I have now commenced is higher level abdominal exercises. I have only given myself the all clear for this at 8 weeks after I self-checked my pelvic floor and abdominal muscles! I am very happy to report that my pelvic floor muscles are just as strong and well functioning as pre-pregnancy, and my abdominal muscle separation is back to normal, with good firm tone between the two sides of the ‘six pack’ muscles. I truly believe that this optimal, quick recovery has been due to the large amount of deep abdominal and pelvic floor work that I did all throughout my pregnancy (as well as a lucky dose of good genetics thrown in). There is scientific research that suggests this is the case too.
The abdominal muscle exercises that I have commenced are as follows (make sure you get taught these by a physiotherapist who can check that you are not incorrectly activating your abdominal or pelvic floor muscles and doing more harm than good):
- Crooklying Single Leg Lifts, working up to 1+1 and Bug Legs
- Roll Up Prep, working up to full Roll Up
- 4 Point Opposite Arm and Leg Lifts, working up to 4 Point to Plank
I will post videos of these on social media in the coming weeks. As well as this, I have continued my squats, lunges, bridging and regular stretching that I started in the first 6 weeks.
And the million dollar question – when and where do you fit these exercises into your day?? Well, it won’t happen unless you associate it with something. Often I actually do it on the floor in the nursery. When I put Benji down for a sleep, he is usually still awake in his cot and I’m not completely convinced that I won’t have to come back and resettle him. So I quietly lie on the floor in the nursery and do 10 minutes or so of these exercises before deciding if Benji is bluffing or not and if I can leave the room. Alternatively, occasionally I have stopped at a park on my walk (just making sure it’s not over that all-important 45 minute mark of Benji’s sleep cycle) and done 10 minutes of so of these exercises in the fresh air before continuing on my way.
I’m still doing regular pelvic floor exercises, thanks to my Squeezy app that keeps reminding me, however it is a lot more important at this stage to be incorporating those muscle activations into my other exercises and functional tasks (like when I lift the pram and capsule in and out of the car) rather that in isolation.
If anyone has any other ideas of how and when to fit these important core muscle exercises into their daily routine as a new mother, I would love to hear about it!