This post is a bit different from my normal, informative ones, but I hope will serve as an explanation for the recent lack of posts, and to make a point about why self care is important for everyone, especially parents who are frequently busy, stressed, exhausted, low on funds, and often dealing with unexpected and, sometimes, traumatic situations.
My job working with families with new babies can get tiring and intense but after 25 years I am now used to it. After learning the hard way I have changed my way of working to ensure I get home often enough to recharge my batteries at my little country cottage, which has definitely improved my quality of life.
It works well, and I have a good work/home balance, but 4 months ago the unexpected happened and turned my life upside down.
I had been working with new clients in London for only three hours when I got a call from my dad in A&E. He was so overwhelmed that he couldn’t speak so put me on to a nurse who told me my mum had Sepsis and she was in such a bad way that they had put a ‘do not resuscitate order’ on her. To say this was a shock was an understatement!
My parents are both 84, my mum has mid-stage Alzheimer’s, and my wonderful dad is her sole carer, but there had been no warning that she was physically ill.
My clients were so understanding. They said I should go immediately. So I joined my brother and sister-in-law on the long drive home, where we were met by all the rest of the family at the hospital.
Mum was very ill, drifting in and out of consciousness, confused, weak and upset, and between the family we devised a rota to ensure there was always someone home to visit mum and support dad, which led to a crazy schedule for me.
The Whirlwind Schedule With No Time For Self Care
Because I was the only one who could visit midweek, my current clients, and the next clients I was booked with, generously adapted their bookings so that I would spend 48 hrs in London with one client, 48 hrs with the other, and two and a half days midweek with my parents in Doncaster, returning to London for one night with the second client, then starting all over again.
I am eternally grateful to both these clients as without their understanding I would have had to cancel both jobs.
My life became a blur and I had no time or opportunity for any sort of self-care, no relaxing baths, no walks to clear the head, no gin and tonic at the end of the day. I didn’t even have time for any pampering such as manicures, pedicures, massages or hairdressers. I put myself on a low carb diet to give me more energy and mental clarity which worked, but it also meant I couldn’t comfort eat either, and I began to feel the strain. My only comfort was cuddling my client’s babies, which gave me precious moments of peace.
This reminded me of the hundreds of times I have told clients that they MUST make time for some sort of self-care, and made me realise how easy that is to say…but not so easy to do!
I Felt So Alone
At my lowest, I felt so alone and torn by needing to be in 2 places at once, that the only thing I could think of to do to help myself was to put on my cuddliest, snuggliest fleece to act as a do-it-yourself hug.
This went on for 3 weeks, until the work bookings ended. My mum made good progress, even getting as far as a rehabilitation centre that had her up and walking again, but she has since had another bout of sepsis and an internal bleed which proved too much for her frail body so after a further 4 weeks in hospital she is now back home for ‘end of life care’.
We have a wonderful team of Carers, District Nurses, Doctors, and every other help we could possibly need and I think we have all now come to terms with the inevitable. Mum is happy to be home, and pain and distress free which makes it easier to bear, and we are trying to enjoy our remaining time with her.
My mum is the heart of the family, and for me in particular, she is why I am the way I am. As well as raising her own 5 children, she fostered over a hundred newborn babies that were awaiting adoption, and it is from her that I get my love of babies, my instinct, and my common sense approach. Even now, when she is getting less and less responsive, I know that whenever i show her a picture of one of my clients babies, I will get a beautiful smile. Now our roles are reversed and it is my turn (and my honour) to ‘parent’ her as she has parented me, and also a chance to be there for my dad as he comes to terms with losing his partner of over 63 years.
Being self-employed, I am lucky enough to be in a position where I can take time off work, and I am managing my time a little better…but I’m still struggling with the self-care because on the odd occasion when I get back to my own cottage, I see all the things I should be doing that have piled up whilst I’ve been away. Instead of relaxing and recharging, I start trying to catch up on chores, but getting stressed because the ‘to do’ list seems endless.
My Attempts at Self Help
I think this is what often happens with parents everywhere, you get so busy caring, organising, managing, juggling… pushing yourselves, that even when you have done the urgent jobs, you still keep going doing all the less important ones just out of habit, or fear of being swamped.
What I am trying to get myself to do is to let some things slide, to look at jobs and ask myself.
Does it really matter?
Can it wait a few more hours or another day ?
What would happen if I left this job until after I have had a bath, gone for a walk, or had a lie down?
…and its working. I am slowly starting to unwind, I feel my patience returning which is making me a much nicer and kinder person when caring for my mum.
I also did something that just doesn’t come naturally to me…
I Reached Out For Help.
I don’t have the sort of close friends that a lot of people have, the ones you can go for a drink with and talk about anything and everything. Being a bit of a loner and working an intensive job with unpredictable hours my social life has suffered, but I am part of an online parent group, called Mums Who Hide In the Loo, who are the kindest, most amazing, accepting, supportive, non-judgy group of women I have ever come across. Thank you, Emma Gibbard, for creating this wonderful group!
I almost posted several times, because I felt so lonely, but talked myself out of it because I am a private person (who also doesn’t like to admit when I am not coping). However, when I finally did post a few weeks ago I kicked myself for not having done so earlier because the outpouring of friendship, love and support was overwhelming. I haven’t cried once since this all started, but I came very close when I read hundreds of comments from people who had taken the time to reach out to me, it was so moving.
One member messaged me about a battery operated kitten or puppy that has a heartbeat and moves when you stroke it which helps a lot with Alzheimer’s patients, whilst another called me from the Netherlands to offer support, and then sent me everything I need for a do-it-yourself-pedicure kit (with coral coloured nail polish that I had mentioned lol)…Thank you Natali x
I also found that writing that post, and this blog, was surprisingly therapeutic. Putting everything down in black and white allowed me to be a bit more objective, making it seem more positive and manageable, less messy and confusing. It gave me much needed perspective.
To try and minimise some of the pressure I was under, I let my business, my writing and the infant feeding charity I run all slide, which is why there have been no new posts for weeks. I am beginning to pick up the reins again now, and I want to try and deliver on my promise to tackle the subject of all aspects of Infant Feeding in my blog and on the Facebook page.
How You Can Help Me
Please be patient with me whilst I get back into the swing of things and find the right balance between home and work, but also I wondered if we could share suggestions for self-care with each other ? They might help other parents who are also struggling and suffering alone, and maybe make a difference to someones life, however small.
What can we do to help ourselves that doesn’t cost much money, or take up much time?
Do you have any recommendations for online groups (local, national or international) that welcome everyone, don’t judge or criticise, and are supportive to those struggling? (a link would be great). The one I mentioned has a waiting list, but I’d love to hear about others.
What have you done to cope and care for yourself in similar, high stress situations ?
I hope we get some great suggestions which I can collate into a file on my website that we can access when we are struggling and need encouragement or inspiration.
*edited to add*
You know those niggles and pains you have ? The ones where you tell yourself it can wait, it doesn’t matter, you don’t have time, and you will get round to it later ?
I’ve learnt the hard way that it does matter, and that I shouldn’t have waited because what started off as a slight pain in the arch of my left foot, and a bit of a niggle in my right hip has now turned in to serious pain in both, to the point where I am limping on both legs and look like a duck on a frozen pond when i walk ! I reached out to my mums group again and knowledgeable people have told me it is important that I get help as soon as possible, and should see a podiatrist. I am now going to give myself priority and make sure I get an appointment this next week…no excuses !
If this sounds like you, then get on the phone, prioritise yourself, and get the help you need. x
Also, if you are struggling with anything, please remember you are human, with your own needs, and you don’t need or deserve to struggle alone. Please be brave, reach out to someone so you aren’t alone anymore, or at the very least, set aside some time for self-care as a matter of urgency.
Sarah Norris is one of the UK’s most accomplished maternity nurses, with over 25 years experience caring for hundreds of babies and families in the UK and internationally.
She treats all babies and families as individuals, and respects all forms of parenting and feeding, aiming to help and empower new parents with sensible, practical tips and advice that is always non judgemental and non biased.
She is the author of ‘The Baby Detective’ with Orion Books, out now.