Feeling depleted? How to find your 'new normal' when the baby bubble bursts

Photo: Alice Monfries
Photo: Alice Monfries  

I can confirm that the Baby Bubble exists.

The moment I met Max, I tumbled headfirst into it and stayed there for a good three months.

In that parallel universe where the world keeps spinning, but nothing else matters, or even really seems to exist, except for your precious tiny human. It's consuming, emotional and exhausting. It's also the best thing ever. Just you and your baby in your own little world, getting to know each other.

But at some point, that bubble bursts.

Because while you've been living in this alternate reality, life has continued ticking along around you. And at some point, you need to re-enter it. 

When I did, I was surprised to discover that nothing had really changed in the outside world, yet so much had changed for me. My perspective, my priorities, the way I saw the world. 

And this is sometimes where things can get a little messy, as you navigate your way into what I call your "new normal". 

Your two worlds have to combine. The old one that existed before your baby arrived, and the new one, which now tends to revolve around a very small (but very cute) person

You still have the same number of hours in the day that you had both pre and post baby, but somehow you now need to make them stretch across both realities. And there's no guide for that. Trust me I went looking.

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I had the newborn sleep guide (even if Max rebelled against it) and I had a feeding routine, but I wanted a guide or routine to tell me how to structure my own days and life. 

How to fit in everything I needed to do as a mum yet still find time for exercise, friends, meaningful work and ideally some form of "me" time to stay sane. 

I don't think I'll be alone in admitting I initially failed at this balance. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Alice Monfries (@alice_monfries) on

The worrying trend of 'postnatal depletion'

It's incredibly common for all mums, particularly new mums who really want to do everything perfectly, to neglect their own wellbeing. Or even feel selfish if they do prioritise a gym class, a girl's night or some alone time on the beach. 

The same mums will painstakingly prepare their 8 month old a gourmet spread featuring the perfect proportions of all the right food groups, then eat a piece of toast themselves for dinner. (Sound familiar?)

You can get away with neglecting your own stuff in the bubble (even though you really shouldn't) because it's short term, but if you don't find a way to weave it into your "new normal", the relentless role of mothering can pretty quickly start to feel like it's getting on top of you. 

This ongoing self-sacrifice is what has lead NSW mother care expert Dr Oscar Serrallach to uncover a worrying trend towards what he calls 'postnatal depletion'. 

Not to be confused with postnatal depression (PND), depletion is a term he's coined to describe the gradual physical, emotional and hormonal exhaustion caused not just through giving birth and breastfeeding, but by the 24/7 pressures of modern mothering.

In effect, burn out. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Dr Oscar Serrallach (@droscarserrallach) on

He says it's a condition more than half of all mothers in Australia will experience within the first four years of their child's life.

When you think about how much your body has given throughout the entire pregnancy and then breastfeeding process, it's astounding so many of us don't better look after ourselves.

And while nutrition is crucial to replenish depleted stores, too many mums have also been running on the fumes of their empty self-care tanks. For years. 

Throw in the added stress of the year that is #2020, particularly in Victoria, and it's little wonder many sleep-deprived women are exhausted, overwhelmed and finding it tough right now to keep a positive mindset, when they're finding it harder than ever to make time for themselves because their day is bogged down in washing, cooking, home-schooling, stacking and unstacking the dishwasher. 

How to (somehow) keep a positive mindset

Despite my extensive googling and interviewing of other mums, I haven't found a guide/routine/framework that reveals how we can magically manage our time to get everything done while also prioritising filling our own tanks.  

But I have discovered a pattern. 

If you can carve out tiny pockets of time to squeeze in those things that are important to you and make you feel good (for me, that's exercise and meditation) and continue to take tiny steps towards your own goals, dreams or aspirations that don't necessarily involve your children, you'll gradually refill your way back from empty.

And it's amazing when you're not operating off fumes, how much less overwhelming and exhausting the busy role of mothering actually is. 

I'm very aware that this is so much easier said than done.

And I still fail to do these things often. 

But, in my quest for the elusive "mum life guide", I did uncover three tactics that have been game-changing for keeping my own mindset positive.

1. The Mum Rule 

Slash the time + lower the standard = SOMETHING is better than nothing.

It's a simple equation, but one I took a long time to embrace.

For so long I believed if I didn't have time for an hour gym class or a 30 minute meditation in pristine silence while the baby was sleeping, it just wasn't worth doing. Suddenly 8 months had passed and I'd barely exercised and any concept of self care had gone out the window. 

Then another mum put me on to the free 7 Minute Workout app. I'll admit, as a former F45 junkie I initially scoffed at it, until I realised it had been EIGHTEEN MONTHS since I'd done a HIIT workout and I was in no position to be scoffing at anyone. 

It's HARD. It can also be done with one eye on your baby. Max thinks it's the funniest thing ever, especially the lunges. 

I applied the same rule to meditation with the free Insight Timer app, when it was pointed out to me that 10 minutes with your headphones in, sitting on the ground even while your baby climbs all over you, still has a much more profound impact than doing nothing. 

2. The secret Instagram page

The benefits of practising gratitude are well known. Our brains, as a radar for danger, are wired to look for negatives, but if we can train them to focus on the good in life we become happier, more positive and thankful for what we do have. 

We know this. And we know it's more powerful and potent to write it down than just occasionally think it and forget it. But despite all the pretty journals and pens, I just couldn't seem to make the time to actually do it. 

So, I applied another version of the Mum Rule to this one too. 

I have a secret Instagram page which is essentially a photo diary.

No one knows I have it, I won't even tell you what it's called. Not that you'd be able to see the posts anyway, because it's set to private. 

Instead of writing down the things I'm grateful for, I like to snap a quick photo or video and upload it to this page. Let's be honest, as mums we're always whipping out our phone to capture the latest cute thing our child has done anyway. By choosing to write a short caption on why we're grateful for that moment, we're killing two birds with one stone and those adorable pics aren't lost in the trillions of baby photos taking up our iPhone storage. 

Scrolling through the page after my son has gone to bed is one of my favourite things. While he features heavily, my husband also pops up, along with fun times with friends or a great swim at the beach.

I try to add to it every day. Sometimes a few days lapse and I post multiple photos on other days. There's no rules.

Except for these two – the photos are only for you. Once you start sharing them publicly, you second guess the angle, maybe add a filter, deliberate over a caption and it's no longer about recording your happiness, but worrying about what others think.

The other rule, is that you snap the photo quickly and put the phone away to enjoy the moment. If no one's going to see it, it doesn't need to be framed perfectly with your son looking directly down the lens. 

3. Set your own goals and take tiny baby steps towards them 

This one is the hardest to make time for, but arguably the most important for our mindset and sense of self.  

Normally an avid goal setter myself, after having Max I spent months feeling directionless, stuck and a little lost. And I know from speaking with friends this is very common. 

But as Goal Coach Emily Beaton of @Cleverhand_ tells Essential Baby, "goal setting is powerful because it gives us clarity and direction in our life".

"It helps us live a life of intention. If you don't like where your life is going, look at what you're aiming for. If you want different, do different," she says.

I think so many of us when we become mums aren't aiming for much, other than doing the best job we can for our kids. 

But by setting our own personal goals and ambitions, we're being intentional about how we want our lives to look, which takes you out of the hamster wheel of #mumlife and puts you back in the driving seat.

And by taking action towards those goals, no matter how tiny, we're building confidence and momentum. 

"Imagine waking up with purpose each day knowing what you want and that you're doing something about it," Emily says. 

"It becomes less about the outcome and more about how good you feel choosing to live in alignment with your values." 

Even if it that first goal is as little as a seven- minute workout, a 10 minute meditation or a photo of something you're grateful for on your own private Instagram page, it's an excellent place to start. 

And while it's good to read about it, think about it and talk about it, action is the key - so take that first step today. 

This is Your Village.

Alice Monfries in a reporter for Channel Nine news in Sydney. You can follow her on Instagram or Facebook or email her at AMonfries@nine.com.au