Things I said I’d never do (and then did them) as a new mama

I had an incredibly clear picture of the kind of mother I was going to be, sorted out well and truly before becoming pregnant with my son at age 34.

I was going to be all relaxed and earth-mother, wearing and taking our baby everywhere. Our baby was just going to seamlessly slot into our lives. I would wear floaty maxi dresses, and breastfeed comfortably anywhere. I would see friends and family regularly - yes, the types of catch ups would change (I wasn’t a total fool) -  but I would stay connected with everyone. At some point I would return to work, in an effort to achieve balance between time with my angelic yet-to-be-conceived child, and feeling like myself again.

Say, WHAAAAT?!

I mean, I don’t even own a maxi dress.

I had been so fixated on this idealistic vision of parenthood, that I hadn’t actually done any reading about what happens when a baby arrives. I read loads about pregnancy, sure. But from birth onwards, I really was as clueless as they come, preferring to think that my mothering instincts would just ‘kick in’ #denial.  

Instead, I became a different kind of mother. The kind who puts a note on the front door, asking visitors to knock quietly as the baby is sleeping. Who becomes obsessed with cot sleeps, cancelling plans and scheduling days around getting home, because naps in the pram are fleeting and a melting down child = hell. Breastfeeding was pretty much a disaster from the get-go, with supply issues and a lazy latcher, but I persisted obsessively for several months, with round-the-clock expressing and rapidly rising stress levels. I tried desperately to exercise control and routine, with a tiny baby who had other ideas.

Eventually I sought the help I needed, and the tide slowly began to turn.

Other things began to happen that I hadn’t expected either. I spent entire afternoons on the couch, in the quiet and the stillness as my son slept, snuggled deep into my shoulder. I began to repeat the mantra, Be in the moment, to try to be mindful, realising that this time would end. Before long, he was sleeping in his own room, and I was packing away clothes that were already too small with tears streaming down my face.

Time passed.

He grew bigger. We laughed a lot. I discovered formula. He slept. We danced to House of Pain - Jump Around. I read a book. A whole book! He projectile vomited avocado straight onto the freshly cleaned floors. Wore his first pair of Converse. Rolled, then crawled, then stood.

And then one day, as the three of us stood in front of the mirror pulling funny faces, a big smile of recognition slowly appeared on my son’s face. He knew us. He loved us. I realised then, that whatever we were doing was working. There was no right way, or best way. But there was our way.

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7 Strategies to Keep you Calm at Work

1. 5 deep breaths

If I’ve learnt anything from mindfulness training, it’s that you don’t have to find huge blocks of time to refocus. If you can find just one minute between meetings, after a difficult email or phone call or when your to-do list is freaking you out, that’s all you need. Take 5 deep breaths, bringing your focus inward and consciously slowing down. It’s like your own personal restart button.

2. Get fresh air

Yeah, yeah. I know you know about this one. It’s not the same as just stretching your legs by walking to the fridge either. You need to get outside and breathe in nature, even if your office is in a concrete jungle. The oxygen to your brain will refresh you, meaning once you’re back at your desk, you’ll be more productive and positive than before.

3. Try Pomodoro

This is the time management method developed in the late 1980s by which you work hard for a 25-minute burst followed by a 5-minute break. This strategy really helps me to focus. I select only one particular task to work on in each finite time frame. The breaks refresh me and I use them however I need - to make a quick snack, throw on a load of washing or scroll my Instagram. Cumulative productivity earns you rewards with 4 pomodoros giving you a 15-30 minute break. The goal is to enhance focus and flow.

4. 3 for today

Anyone else feel sick looking at their to-do list? While there is certainly a purpose for making lists - they help me to feel in control of the many facets of my life - they are too overwhelming in their naked form. A former colleague of mine took them to the extreme, covering her desk with more than 20 fluorescent post-its at any one time! Choose three things only as your top priorities for the day. It is manageable and you’ll feel great when you achieve them. Once you’ve ticked them off, add three more!

5. Aesthetics are everything

You may not be able to do much about the physical parameters of your workspace, but you can pretty it up. Add colour, a mood board, tear-outs from magazines, drape fabric or pin photos. Make your space somewhere you are happy to sit and you will begin to look forward to spending time there. I love to be able to see flowers or candles from where I sit, as well as photos of my family as they inspire me and keep me motivated.

6. Break for lunch

Not only that but, when you do, eat mindfully. We’ve all been guilty of eating while working, paying no attention to the flavours and textures of our food. When you take a break from your work, and step away from your desk to eat, it makes a difference to how much you enjoy your food, while giving you a brain break too.

7. Create work/life division however you can

After my toddler goes down for a nap, I light a candle and put on some relaxing music before firing up my computer. The bonus is that the scent from the candle relaxes me and the music slows my mind down, allowing me to transition more smoothly into work time.

Add Contact Emma McMillan to the top of your priority list for tomorrow!

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