More Than Mommy Exhaustion: How I recovered my energy and health

by Carrie Saum

Mommy exhaustion.

I know you’ve felt it. Too many nights waking up with your tiny baby, fussy toddler, or insomniac older children. Feeding on demand, pumping around the clock, midnight and 2am boob snacks that stretch to 4am. School projects, sleep regressions, a few minutes of Me Time between 11:31-11:57 pm after all the dishes are done, lunches are made, and housework is sort of caught up.

You pour another cup of coffee at noon, after reheating your first cup approximately six times in the microwave. You try an energy drink mix that your friend is selling. And still. You are so worn out, you can barely string five words together to create a coherent thought.

You resolve to take walks, get outside, or try that pilates DVD you’ve had for ages. You feel good about your choice, but you are wiped out for the rest of the afternoon, trying to recover your shaking muscles and push through the exhaustion until you can climb into bed.

You resolve to eat better, cut out the junk and convenience foods, and maybe that will help you feel more energetic, too. After a few weeks, you see a marginal improvement, but it’s not enough of a pay-off for the sacrifice you are making.

And let’s not even talk about the weight gain.

You wonder if maybe you’re missing something but chalk it up to this season in life where sleep is scarce, demands are abundant, and time for self-care is at a high premium. Of course you’re depleted. Who wouldn’t be?

A few months ago, I brought up my debilitating exhaustion to my doctor. Being a mom herself, she’s familiar with all that goes along with it. She encouraged me to see if there might be an underlying problem in addition to this season of life. She told me about a blood panel called The Boston Heart. The Boston Heart tests multiple vitamins, nutrients, and hormones using a fast blood test. Many insurance plans cover it 100%, even if you have high deductibles. I checked into my insurance coverage, and sure enough, it was covered. No money out of my pocket to get some information about unidentified issues I might have which would paint a bigger picture of my health, instead of just chalking it up to parenthood.

When my results came back, I was shocked. Even though my thyroid was in surprisingly good shape, (which I thought was the culprit), my niacin levels were incredibly low. And you know what happens when your body doesn’t have enough niacin? Your muscles shake when you exert them. Daily tasks wear you out. Do you know what makes it worse? Not getting enough sleep, too much stress, and eating processed foods.

Magnesium, Omega 3, Vitamin D3, and my progesterone were also very low, all of which are easily depleted during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Hello, depression! So, no matter how much sleep, good food, or exercise I was getting, I still felt like crap because I was drawing from a dry well.

I began supplementing with food-grade vitamins immediately, on the recommendation from my doctor. My trusty pre-natal vitamins weren’t enough for my specific needs, and I sealed them up tight and put them in my refrigerator for future use. I strategized to get veggies in every meal, and keep seasonal fruit on hand for when the sugar cravings were too much. I added as many healthy, unadulterated fats as I could. I whipped up a salad dressing using hemp seed oil, which is full of Omega 3, and a little apple cider vinegar. Buttered coffee was always on hand. We stocked our refrigerator with grass-fed meats and veggies to lightly sauté or roast as the main course for all three meals.

OvereasyFriedEggSalad

My go-to meal for quick, easy nutrition: Two sunnyside up fried eggs over greens with hemp seed oil, ACV, and dried herbs. Perfection.

Oh, and I put a total moratorium on strenuous exercise, eating out, and plans with friends before noon and after 5pm on the days I wasn’t working. I also went to bed at 9:30. It meant less Me Time. It meant I often went to bed with dirty dishes in the sink, my floors unswept, and wore the same pair of jeans six times before washing. But it was only for a few weeks and it was vital for my recovery.

I found that watering and weeding my garden while my toddler played close by was enough exertion for me. I also found that I relaxed on a deeper level than I have in years because I gave myself permission to stop trying to do it all. I just did some, accepted what I was capable of in that time frame, and waited until I felt replenished to rejoin the world.

GardenPlay

We happily kept it low key in the community garden.

After the three week moratorium was over, (and believe me, it was hard saying no to things), I started slow. I worked hard to begin refilling my very limited well. Being gentle with my body and my psyche was my number one priority. This is how I came back to the world:

  • A walk in the park.
  • Running up and down the stairs to the basement doing laundry.
  • Vigorous weeding and replanting in my garden.
  • A pilates DVD, increasing by 5 minutes at time.
  • Doing something fun before doing work. On purpose.
  • Saying yes only if it felt 100% doable and okay.

These little things added up quickly. But I want to be clear: I stopped when I was tired. Not exhausted. Not beyond my limit. Not when I was shaking and close to dry heaving. Maybe that works for some people, but it doesn’t work in recovery mode.

Last week, I took a very long walk, pushing my two year old in a stroller the whole way up and down hills that would have had me shaking with exertion after 10 minutes a few months ago. I walked at a pace I felt comfortable with. I stopped and pushed my son on a swing and then stopped again a little later to get an iced decaf coffee at one of my favorite neighborhood places. As I pushed my son up the final, excruciatingly steep hill, I huffed and puffed but I did NOT slow down. My brain wanted to quit but my body was up for the challenge. I spent the rest of the afternoon working, cooking, and playing with my son. I’m not joking when I say that has never happened before on the days I worked out.

And later that week when we braved a trip to the beach, I chased my toddler all over the beach, splashed with him in the water, and played soccer on the hard packed sand without getting winded.

MommyandEHugPoint

Playing hard at the beach with my little boy, feeling super energetic, happy, and proudly rockin’ my bikini.

These bodies of ours are amazing. We are resilient. We are tough. But being exhausted all the time is not normal. Even for you, mama. Be gentle with that body. Be kind to your skin and your bones and your blood and your squishy places and your soul. And find what works for you to feel like yourself again.

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If you like this article, check out Peace In The Passing: Why My Early Miscarriage Was A Relief and her series on #TinyTriumphs over on Our Stable Table.


IMG_2895Carrie Saum brings a passion for wellness and over a decade of experience in health care to her clients. A certified Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor (AWC) from the Kerala Ayurveda Academy, she empowers individuals and families to achieve health and balance through time-honored practices and health knowledge. Carrie has extensive first-hand experience in vast array of medical and service fields.
With background in paramedic medicine, Carrie spent ten years serving in the non-profit sector managing organizations, programs, and orchestrating resources to meet health needs of people across the United States and abroad in countries such as Guatemala, Mexico, Kenya, and Zambia. As an AWC, Carrie currently coaches her clients and their families about topics including nutrition, weight loss, and stress management. In addition to her work as a wellness counselor, Carrie is a passionate “foodie” and the voice behind OurStableTable.com. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and young son.

 

 

 

 

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The Mothering Oxygen Mask- 4 Steps To Breathing Normally Again

by Jessica Martin-Weber
Photo Credit: Meghann Buswell, Your Street Photography, Portland, OR.

Photo Credit: Meghann Buswell, Your Street Photography, Portland, OR.

See those 4 darling little girls enjoying a magical tea party outside? They are precious and 4 out of 6 of the most amazing people that I get to have call me mom. I’m lucky enough to breathe them in deeply daily. I’m crazy about them. Crazy. Sometimes I’m crazy from them too. Sometimes I end up breathing rather labored because of them.

Sometimes I need to breathe in deeply away from them.

This is a little risky to admit. The internet loves to judge mother who admit they find, well, being a mother can be… difficult. Even more so loves to hate those that admit they don’t always like being around their own children all the time. But I’ll take the risk.

On commercial passenger airplanes, safety instructions are given each flight before take off on what to do in the case of an emergency. Flight attendants (or a video) explain that in the case of pressure changes, oxygen masks should drop down and passengers should place them over their mouth and nose and breathe normally. For those flying with small children or someone that would need assistance, instructions are given to secure your own mask before helping someone else with theirs. The reason for this instruction isn’t given but should you help someone else before securing your own mask, it is very possible that you could end up deprived of the oxygen your brain needs and pass out before your own mask is in place. Should that happen, you wouldn’t be able to help take care of anyone and worse, would be at even more risk.

Are you breathing normally?

Do you know where your oxygen mask is?

When was the last time you did something for you, truly for you? For many parents, particularly mothers, doing something for ourselves can be very difficult. It feels selfish, wasteful, extravagant, unnecessary, and laden with guilt. If we can pass it off as being for the whole family, such as a family vacation, then it is ok, but when taking care of ourselves really is just for ourself it can get much, much more difficult.

Parenting requires sacrifice, it’s true. We give up a lot for our children, getting in exchange such beauty and joy. But are we really able to care for our children if we can’t breathe normally ourselves? If we lose our selves? For a long time I believed that being a good mother required not only sacrifice but a sort of martyrdom, losing one’s self to build up one’s children. That was what I saw modeled for me in my own mother and what I thought I would need to do as well. Some women are able to do this and find it quite fulfilling, maybe even more in touch with who they really are. I was not one of those women. Losing myself, sacrificing so much I didn’t even know who I was any more, being constantly burnt out, led me into a deep and dark depression and instead of being a good mother, I was too lost to care for my children.

I needed an oxygen mask.

I needed to be able to breathe.

As admirable as it is that my mother gave up so much for her children, the truth is to this day I don’t really know her. What I know is the woman who loves me and did her best to care for me as a child even when she was constantly depleted of much needed air herself. As depleted as she was, she gave so much but often it wasn’t what my siblings and I really needed as much as it was what she thought we needed. She was too spent to assess what care was actually required. Our family suffered. Realizing I was headed down the same path, I knew something needed to change. I needed to nurture the nurturer.

My 4 steps to finding my oxygen mask

1) Change wasn’t easy. It would require asking for help. Asking for help would require admitting I needed help. Admitting I needed help would require letting others know that I couldn’t handle it all on my own. I saw that as failure. Failure to live up to a standard of motherhood of a perfectly decorated and cleaned house, perfectly cooked healthy meals, perfectly executed crafts, perfectly planned parties and play dates, perfectly perfect children, perfectly perfect family, perfectly perfect life, perfectly perfect me. This was hard, in fact, it ended up being the most important sacrifice I would ever make in my motherhood journey: sacrificing my pride in presenting a perfect facade by admitting I needed help.

2) Equally challenging admitting that the help I needed was so I could have a break. Time away from my children. Space to do something just for me. A break. In my head it sounded like I didn’t like my kids and the truth was, from my burnt out place, I didn’t. But it was way more than that, it was finally recognizing in myself that there really isn’t anybody I can be around 24/7 and not get tired of them and, for me, that though I seem like an extrovert, I actually get energy from being alone with my thoughts and having time to be creative by myself. What I would come to discover is that I actually really, really like my children but I needed some space from them from time to time to be able to truly appreciate that connection more.

3) At first I didn’t know how to make that space for me, I wasn’t even sure where to find my oxygen mask. With no family close, who could watch my children? My husband was more than willing to equally parent, it wasn’t him that was a barrier, it was me. I felt as though I was slacking, being a lazy mother to let him. Or that he wouldn’t do it as well as me. It wasn’t until I realized that he could parent differently and still not only be capable, given how burnt out I was, he was probably better. Now I love that we have different approaches and styles with our children, agreeing on certain non-negotiables and being flexible on grey areas. Beyond my own partner though, how could I find the space? We couldn’t afford sitters at the time, we didn’t have family near us, and we struggled to trust others. Eventually it was in intentionally finding and cultivating community, finding space for myself in friendships and gradually building trust. Today our family has several dear family friends that are like family, stay with our children for short and long periods of time, join us for meals and events, and swap helping each other find space as parents needing oxygen masks. This parenting thing isn’t meant to happen on an isolated island, being alone isn’t healthy, it isn’t what we would want for our children, we need to be aware of what we’re modeling for them in our own lives. Be it family or friends, we need to put effort into finding our tribe, not just online, but in real life.

4) Eventually I realized that my oxygen mask had some variety. There were big ones and small ones. Some were actually easily accessible right in front of my but I could only see them once I had a shot of fresh air. Making my own self-care a priority gave me the energy to grow as a person and a mother. The little daily hits on my oxygen mask rejuvenate me, giving me the clarity I need to care for my children in a sustainable way. Many of these 22 ways are a regular part of my self-care now.

Now, with my children, I teach them the importance of self care as well because there are times when everyone needs their own oxygen mask.

There is no one-size-fits all and what you may need during one season of parenting may change in the next season. Find what works for you and consider how you can be in community with others and help them find their’s as well. There is no firm how to use it or what it looks like for you, what’s important is just that you use it.

Your children will thank you one day and will know you not only as their loving, sacrificing mother, but as the thriving individual of value that you are.

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Are you burnt out? Even as you love your children and enjoy parenting them, are you ever in need of a break? What steps have you found to making that possible?

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