You’ve got this mamas! The Supermum Myth event in Norwich

You’ve got this mamas! The Supermum Myth event in Norwich

You know those days with a small (or even slightly large) baby when you just think, actually it’s so much of a palaver getting out of the house, managing last minute poo explosions, potential scream-fests (yours or baby’s??), forgotten dummies, lost packets of wipes…some days it just all seems too much and so you opt to stay in, and feel safe inside your home. I really remember that safety net feeling: hunker down, settle in, making sure there are fewer things that “could go wrong” and less likelihood of you shedding tears in public.

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But wow I wish that there had been events like the one Emma from We Got This (sometimes)  arranged for mums (and dads!), to inspire and entertain parents who otherwise might succumb to feeling lonely and wondering where their former life has gone. However much joy and awe having babies brings, it also brings a lot of mess, poo, chaos and challenge, and sometimes you need to get together with other people going through the same mayhem, to lessen the heaviness of it all.

 

The event last week was so wonderful, there were babes in arms, there were rampaging toddlers. I spoke with Emma about The Supermum Myth, how the book came about, what my view of “supermum” even is. We spoke about postnatal depletion, about anxiety and anger…all of the slightly unwelcome and more taboo aspects of motherhood that are only just seeing some light with social media welcoming people being open and honest about these feelings and NORMAL sensations of the visceral early days of motherhood being in the mix.

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It was so wonderful to meet some mums and get to chat, share experiences –  and most importantly share laugher about these experiences, as I’ve said before, laughter is almost the most effective therapy there can be about motherhood mayhem…there are a lot of women out there carrying around their stories of birth trauma and feeling like fish out of water. What a humbling experience it is to be able to help lighten that load and allow them to feel better about the things we normally carry around like a sack full of rocks without even realising it. If we can shake off this heaviness even just occasionally, it makes us more present and more resilient to be there with our little ones…less likely to lose our sh*t at the slightest thing tipping us totally off the boat and into choppy waters. And that really is the bottom line isn’t it.

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Thank you Emma for organising this fun yet really healing event, which included pampering sessions with hair braiding and hand massages, plus the chance for a  maternal health check up with a women’s health physio, which those of you who follow this blog regularly will know how much importance I place on that as an essential element of postnatal recovery. What a fantastic event – and thank you to the fabulous Emily Gary Photography for capturing the day so beautifully and truthfully.

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Let’s Talk Miscarriage

Let’s Talk Miscarriage

Today I went to a wonderful Gathering of Tribes event at Emma Cannon‘s Chelsea clinic to commemorate Baby Loss Awareness Week. Emma Cannon is an acupuncture and women’s health and fertility expert, and someone who I’ve long admired and turned to in times of confusion and chaos on the fertility journey. She has featured in my What’s in Your Toolkit series. She is full of wisdom and practical realistic tips to help you on your fertility journey. In particular, for me, I have found her to be an amazing resource when it comes to building up body and mind after miscarriage.

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This is indirectly a blog post continuing my Model Method Online programme review – as one of the contents of the Model Method goody box is Anna Kessel‘s book Eat, Sweat, Play.  Everyone, women and men, should read this book. It is the first time I’ve read such a hard hitting and no holds barred account of women’s place in sport and how often society is tipped against us due to our sex and propensity for becoming mums at unfortunate times in our sporting careers. How girls are dissuaded from getting sweaty and fit because the focus is on aesthetics and being pretty at all times, and not getting “butch” and muscular. How motherhood is HARD on your body and it’s something that male athletes simply do not have to overcome. But most viscerally for me, Anna describes her experience of miscarriage… I had tears rolling down my face as I read it as so much of her experience tapped into my own, and the physicality of it being something that isn’t easy to share and lighten the load of.

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I felt similar feelings today as some amazingly brave and powerful stories were shared of baby loss and the emotional and physical trauma that it has involved. I met and shared stories with Elle from Feathering the Empty Nest about her loss and how her body and mind is still recovering from the ordeal of the past 18 months, and how she is trying to forge a positive path of hope in her life, moving on with the memory of her lost baby accompanying her positively as if in a kangaroo pouch, rather than away from it.

Marina Fogle, cofounder of The Bump Class, spoke eloquently about her baby loss and how society generally is inadequate at dealing with grief, loss, motherhood. She has shared her thoughts on using exercise to move through grief in this wonderful article.

And it was wonderful to have a chance to meet some inspiring experts in the field of health, wellness and healing such as Nutritionist and Life Coach Pandora from Rooted London.

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There’s a wonderful community out there, on social media and in blogs, to access shared experience and empathy, to be a chorus of voices in the darkness. But today showed that actually nothing can beat meeting up in person, talking with your fellow humans, hugging and sharing stories, There’s a very different energy talking to someone in real life as opposed to within the rectangle of your phone or tablet.  So, make a commitment for yourself that you will seek out your tribe, share you stories and allow others to share with you. Lighten the load and break down the taboos. Be vulnerable.

There was a circle of light at the end with a womb healing from Chloe Isidora. Around the circle we each shared a word we wanted others to take from the event. The circle of words was:

LOVE –  HOPE – GRATITUDE – CONNECTION – SHARING – HEALING

Diastasis whatsi? How to get rid of the “mum tum”

Diastasis whatsi? How to get rid of the “mum tum”

I was in two minds about the heading “get rid of” the mum tum because I’m all about celebrating and embracing mum hood and all its weird and wonderful remnants in your body and soul. The lovely Beccy Hands, doula and massage therapist and co-founder of the maternal nurturing package The Mother Box (hint hint, would love one of these one day….), told me that once she worked with some midwives in Latin America. One day they were talking about the “love lines” of pregnancy and the UK contingent asked her what they were on about. When it transpired that these love lines were what we referred to as stretch marks the Mexican midwives were horrified – “such ugly language!”

Imagine if we reframed all our pregnancy bodily etchings in a positive light rather than berated ourselves for not being “perfect”. Just imagine that sweet sweet utopia for a moment. How are your love lines?

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Mum tum: this is the second part in Finding Mama Mojo. The pelvic floor and the abdominals are the muscles most directly compromised by pregnancy. And yet without the tools to know what on earth is going on down there, it’s no wonder we’re left adrift and feeling slightly off kilter sometimes years postnatally.

In my personal experience, there are two types of mum tum. There is the mum tum that is nurtured through months and years of child-related biscuit eating/leftover fish finger scoffing/exhausted carbo loading, not drinking enough water, not doing enough (cough, any) cardio exercise and a bit too much reliance on the “wine o’clock” ritual to get you through the heavy days. This is the mum tum that sits softly atop perfectly decent muscular strength and hides away the tone that you have in your muscles in a cushion of weary comfortable(not comfortable) habit. Sometimes happily so, if a chocolate biscuit is not worth swapping for a tall glass of water and some star jumps in your eyes, then so be it. And in that case there is no need to go about doing anything about it, until the point when you’re feeling it’s not so fun. This is the type of mum tum I have. IMG_4348

The other type of mum tum is the type where, even months and years after being pregnant you feel that your belly is still vaguely 4-months pregnant-looking. People ask you when you’re due. Or, maybe you’re very lean or muscular and don’t look pregnant at all but every time you get out of bed there’s a weird alien doming in your stomach which makes you wonder what on earth is going on in there but you’re sure it’ll probably go away soon. This is the type of mum tum which really needs to be looked at. This is diastasis recti.

Diastasis whatsi? Is that a made up word?

Diastasis recti is the perfectly normal and to be expected occurrence of the abdominal “six pack” muscle separating to accommodate your growing bump. The rectus abdominis is attached down the centre by connecting tissue called the Linea Alba. This connective tissue stretches during pregnancy to allow room for the baby to expand, and the sides of the muscle release away from each other. It’s basically like unzipping your coat to create more space: your belly muscle unzips at the front and allows your baby to expand into that room. What an amazing design the human body is! Incredible.

The only problem is, sometimes the tissue heals and the muscles can close back together naturally without you having to do anything. All done, and you’re none the wiser. But sometimes they don’t, the gap remains and the tone behind the linea alba is left sponge-like and with the strength of blancmange in your core.

I have had mums come to my class years after having had their babies who are still unknowingly suffering from this. It’s important to find out whether you have it, and there is always something you can and should do to investigate strengthening. Sit ups are not the answer and can make the problem worse.

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Why do I need to fix a diastasis?

Apart from the fact that you might feel a bit glum because chances are your belly is bulging and you’re getting the odd inappropriate question about being pregnant and generally feel a bit crap about that: it’s more importantly a question of your muscular and postural stability. The abdominals play a vital role in stabilising the spine and pelvis, and contribute to the efficacy of your pelvic floor. Diastasis recti can contribute to back pain and pelvic floor dysfunction because of the change in intra abdominal pressure – the pressure within your abdomen as you perform your daily tasks like picking up your baby or lifting the carseat. You might find that you have more back problems if you have a big gap in the abominals, you’re less robust for the physical graft of lifting and carrying your kids. You’re more likely to suffer aches and pains through relying on other muscles to do the work your abdominals should be doing. More seriously, you might be more prone to a hernia, which needs surgery to repair.

So: it needs to be checked. I am still in disbelief that there’s not more awareness and education about this MAJOR issue postnatally. Put it this way: you are more likely to have a diastasis than not after you’ve had a baby. And then add to that the general exhaustion, lack of attention to good posture (hello, forward-hunching mama pushing buggy, changing nappies, feeding, picking up socks, looking at your phone too much…) and general penchant for chocolate biscuits – or, at the other end of the spectrum, desperately trying to “get your body back” and running marathons, or doing boot camp planks and sit ups when you still have a gap can end up making it much much worse, making you weaker and more prone to issues such as prolapse… and you have a heady cocktail for maternal malaise.

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So what can I do??

Pilates, my friend. Appropriate Pilates exercises are uniquely positioned to strengthen the muscles compromised by pregnancy. Pilates asks you to pay careful attention to full and deep breathing which will in turn enhance the efficiency of your diaphragm and begin to bring the muscles within your abdomen to life. Focusing on the quality of your movement, doing appropriate exercises tailored to mending the gap will definitely help you to strengthen and equip you better for lugging your children around, for running your 10k, for a more positive and happy mum experience.

BUT – Not all Pilates is diastasis friendly! Curl ups and oblique curl ups, planks, leg lowers are not your friend while you have compromised abdominal strength. Deep, patient core restore is what is required.

So if you feel like you might have a gap and are not sure what to do: get in touch with me here and we can chat. Or, find a local postnatal-qualified Pilates teacher or physio and ask them to check you. Once you know what you’re working with, you can take steps to sort it out.

The mum tum: it’s NOT about “getting your body back”. It’s about embracing and honouring your amazing magic body which has created and birthed a baby, and giving you your power back so that you can run, jump, laugh, be joyful with your baby for years to come.

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Wake up Mama! – Energy Boosters

Wake up Mama! – Energy Boosters

Happy Bank Holiday! Remember May bank holidays before children? Usually involved lots of sunny Sunday drinking in beer gardens, languidly cutting loose in an act of sheer abandon as there was no alarm clock to wake you up the next day. Yep. No more. This morning I had a 5am starter – although, framing it positively, he has only just started sleeping through aged 2 so I’ll take 5am over all-night boob any day.

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I’m feeling slightly less than my best this morning. A bit crumpled in face and body. So I’ve got a few tips for instant vitality that I’m going to do myself…once I’ve finished my coffee…

  1. Dry body brushing – brush all areas, always brushing in towards the heart. Be gentle around your belly and chest, but with gusto everywhere else. Makes your skin sparkle, boost circulation, turns you from ploddy elephant to sprightly gazelle. Be gone, befuddledness.
  2. A burst of cold in the shower – sounds hideous but this one really absolutely truly works. In the shower, take a deep breath and turn the water on to cold, freezing is best but try as cold as you can. Enough to make you go WAAHH! Stay under the water for 30 seconds at least. Then back to warm. It stimulates lymphatic drainage which can become sluggish through lack of movement,  and wakes you up in an instant which weirdly makes you feel really positive. Try it.
  3. Tapping the crown of your head, and massaging the earlobes. Tap tap tap, either drumming your fingers or tapping all together. Then massage all around your ears. Wonderful wake up and energy boost – and this one you can do anywhere, in the office, on the street, at soft play…

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The best antidote for lack of energy is breathing and movement. The idea of “doing exercise” when you’re feeling low on energy reserves is always an unappealing one. 

Small snacks of Pilates never fails to revitalise me. Literally 1 minute or even 30 seconds. It seems counterintuitive, but, if you’re feeling tired, moving your body to massage the internal organs, get the blood flowing and stretch the limbs will always give you a boost. Obv if you are actually feeling under the weather, listen to your body and give yourself some rest and TLC, but if it’s simply tiredness and weariness (hello 5am wake up call), the body and mind will respond better to movement than sloth – plus you get to congratulate yourself for getting up and doing something, which is a great feeling in itself.

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Humans were built for movement, not to be atrophied and tensed by hunching over desks or sitting in cars. But as an adult the idea of “exercise” becomes infused with ideas of work, chore, slog, prefaced with shouty goals such as “LOSE WEIGHT” and “DESTRESS”  – something that you “should” do rather than seamlessly do without thinking, as part of your daily routine.

I found a great titbit in a book called The Source that I worked on as an editor.  Research showed that if you put a running wheel in a mouse’s cage, mousey would run 4 to 5 km a night, and eventually become a better problem solver than its neighbour with no wheel. I love this image for many reasons, not least wondering what mouse problems there might be that needed to be solved.

Movement creates vitality, giving you a physical boost, and also a mental one.

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Leafing again through Joe Pilates’s book Return To Life, he notes “All in all, we do not give our bodies the care that our wellbeing deserves”. Given that this was written in 1945, it shows that us humans haven’t really got any better at this, generations on. He points out this notion by saying that if you just do 5 minutes of movement if you’re feeling tired, you may well feel that at the end of the 5 minutes you crave carrying on, and thereby retraining yourself on a molecular level to become a vital being again. You begin, Mr Pilates says, to reawaken muscles by encouraging more oxygen and blood flow, and therefore also reawaken brain cells, and your whole being is benefitted.

To quote him directly (I love his style, but there aren’t many commas, so take a deep breath…): “Make up your mind that you will perform your [Pilates] exercise for ten minutes every day without fail. Amazingly enough, once you travel on your Pilates ‘Road to Health’ you will subconsciously lengthen your trips on it from ten to twenty or more minutes without even realising it. Why? The answer is simple: the exercises have stirred your sluggish circulation into action and to performing its duty more effectively in the matter of discharging through the bloodstream the accumulation of fatigue-products created by muscles and mental activities. Your brain clears and your will power functions”. So, in a nutshell, movement begets more movement, and a positive glow.

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So, if you’re sitting down now, stand up and walk around for a bit, allow your thigh muscles to lengthen, stretch the arms back behind you to open the chest. No self-respecting cat or dog would get up without a good old stretch. 

Roll down through the spine to bring your head below your heart and allow your blood to rejuvenate and give you a healthy rosy flush. Jump and jiggle about. Release the shoulders into your back and realign the neck with the spine, eye focus forward.

Breathe, deeply and fully, and sigh the breath out through the mouth. Really breathe and return to life.

I’d love to hear your energy-boosting tips for those sluggish days. Comment below or DM me! x

My book, The Supermum Myth, is available for preorder now.

Pregnancy: the Naked Truth, is out now!

Series: What’s in your toolkit? 4 – Suzy Reading: Part 1

Series: What’s in your toolkit? 4 – Suzy Reading: Part 1

I first connected with Suzy on Instagram last year, when I sensed a kindred spirit in her posts, an understanding of the relentless pressure of modern motherhood and life, and a tendency of all of us to slip down our own lists of priorities while we juggle the day to day. Suzy’s instagram feed is always a shining inspiration to look for nuggets of positivity even in those inevitable days where you struggle to find the light in the shadows. Suzy had so much amazing stuff to say that I’ll be adding a second part to her blog later in the series.

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  1. Tell me about yourself! Tell me more about your day job, how long you’ve been doing it, how you came to be in the field you’re in.

I’m a mummy of two, a psychologist specialising in wellbeing and facilitating sustainable healthy lifestyle change, a yoga teacher, and writer. I’ve always been passionate about health and helping my clients nurture themselves head, heart and body, but it was my life experience of motherhood colliding with my father’s terminal illness seven years ago that brought the disparate threads of my training (psychology, yoga and fitness) into one coherent offering – empowering people with the tools of self-care.

After witnessing my father’s breathing failure, a week of ‘last goodbyes’, the act of giving birth floored me and I began life as a mother at energetic rock bottom. I don’t know if it was PND, grief or just plain exhaustion and I don’t think it really matters. At the end of the day I’m human and I really struggled in the face of some traumatic times. I worked with an amazing PND counsellor who introduced me to the concept of self-care and it led me to my calling, the work I’m doing now – the silver lining to my suffering.

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I love that my career is still evolving with my life experiences. As a result I work with birth trauma, PND, helping people navigate the transition to parenthood, grief, loss, stress and coping with change. I also relish working with people who want to use self-care as a means of becoming the person they aspire to be.

Most of my work is one on one, but in the last few years I’ve branched out to offering workshops and corporate speaking on mental health and wellbeing. I’ve made my home in the gym environment, yoga studios, ‘walk & talk’ sessions on Manly beach and now in the woods of Hertfordshire, consulting rooms, auditoriums, schools and the corporate arena. Right now there is a real interest in promoting mental health and I love that I can bring my whole toolkit to the table – mind and body, because there really isn’t any separation between the two.

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  1. Why/when did you become a yoga teacher alongside being a psychologist?

I began my professional life working as a personal trainer in London. An eight week holiday to visit family in the UK from Sydney accidentally turned into a longer stint and I fell back into the work I was doing while I was at university. I first discovered yoga while I was training as a figure skater and working in the gym environment, teaching every kind of exercise class under the sun, I was drawn to teaching yoga. I took my teacher training qualifications and soon found that yoga was a wonderful bridge between the mind and body and I loved that this allowed me to work with my client’s emotional, energetic and mental health without leaving the gym… therapy by stealth!

I prescribe some kind of yoga for all my clients because of its therapeutic power and its ability to help us breathe better. Honestly, breathe better and you’ll feel better and it can be as simple as one pose a day.

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3. Tell me more about being a Neom ambassador. What are your top Neom products for wellness and self-care?

I adore working with Neom and love that they’re genuinely passionate about empowering people with little steps that make a big difference.

Neom products have a huge impact on my wellbeing and I incorporate them into rituals of nourishment dotted through my day. I use them as an affirmation of self-worth and like to pair different scents with different mantras, channeling a particular energetic effect. My favourites are the room sprays, candles, body scrub, shower oil, hand creams and pillow spray. You can use their scent discovery kit to find your tonic – for me it’s energy boosting and promoting sleep. Self-care in an instant!

  1. You are a shining champion for self-care and the importance of prioritising your own mental health. Recently there has been a lot more light shone on perinatal mental health, getting people really involved sharing their stories and chatting about these important issues over social media. Do you find that people are more aware of their mental health nowadays and keen to nurture it?

I learnt the hard way what happens when we stop nourishing ourselves and that experience of energetic bankruptcy taught me some big lessons. If I don’t care for myself, I’m pretty rubbish at nurturing those in my care. I want everyone to have access to those same tools because life is hard! No one is immune! Parenting is challenging. We all lose people we love. Work demands can push us to our limits. There’s no avoiding being tested by life, so the solution is to lovingly tend to our energy bank balance so we are best placed to cope.

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  1. What are your personal mental health tools in your own toolkit?

I’ve developed a framework of self-care which I call the Vitality Wheel – it is based on research from positive psychology, health psychology, mindfulness, CBT, acceptance and commitment therapy, the yoga tradition and my experience as a personal trainer. I categorise self-care into eight different ways we can nourish ourselves – eight spokes of the wheel if you like. These are:

  1. Sleep, Rest, Relaxation and Breathing
  2. Movement and Nutrition
  3. Stress Management and Coping Skills
  4. Your Physical Environment
  5. Social Connections
  6. Mood Boosters
  7. Goals and Accomplishments
  8. Values and Purpose

These categories help me to think about self-care more holistically, so that I am nurturing myself mentally, emotionally, energetically as well as physically. When I need a boost I turn to the Vitality Wheel and consider which strategies are most accessible and resonant in that moment.

What works for me and most people, is aiming for micro moments of nourishment and these are my go to’s:

  • the skills of savouring, gratitude, kindness and compassion
  • immersing myself in Nature or anything I find awe-inspiring
  • I love a mantra for anchoring my mind and cultivating an intention
  • focusing on the sensations of my breathing and using mudras (hand gestures) to work with my breath
  • prioritising soothing activities and watching my levels of stimulation like a hawk. My nervous system needs TLC – so a careful visual diet, one coffee savoured per day, and the occasional few glasses of wine.
  • intrinsically joyful movement is vital for my mood – after years of working in a gym I prefer walking and jogging in Nature’s beauty, rolling out my yoga mat at home or dancing up a storm to Ed Sheeran with the kiddliwinks. There’s always a way to squeeze movement in there.

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  1. How do you balance kids and work? 

Sometimes things need to be car parked – it’s just not possible to do everything all at once. I took about a year out with Charlotte because we had so much going on with my father’s illness. With Ted I was back coaching and teaching after eight weeks but with a greatly reduced schedule – it was very limited because he wouldn’t take a bottle. It’s about getting creative too and doing things differently. I made the most out of every second of Teddy’s nap time and wrote my book while he slept. That was my way of making progress on the career front while still being available for him.

I sometimes wish I had an employed role to go back to. Being self-employed and building your own business is like a baby in itself so I have struggled energetically trying to keep all the balls in the air. The flipside to the challenges of being my own boss is that my career is adaptable – I offered Skype coaching after the kids were in bed rather than face to face sessions, or taught workshops on the weekend when my hubby could look after the kids. It is such a juggling act and compromise is essential. Sometimes I still feel like I’m not doing anything particularly well, but you’ve got to be realistic with the resources you’ve got and make your own call on what is most important to you and your family – this varies hugely so give yourself permission to do what is right for you and your family and own it.

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Suzy is a Chartered Psychologist, Yoga Teacher, Health Coach and mother of two. She specialises in stress management, wellbeing and teaching tools of self-care. Want to boost your vitality, reclaim a state of calm or achieve better balance in life? Get in touch with Suzy. She is available for wellbeing coaching via Skype wherever you are in the world.

Drop her a line today: suzy@suzyreading.co.uk

Sign up for free wellbeing tips delivered straight to your inbox at www.suzyreading.co.uk 

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Series: What’s in your toolkit 3 – Emma Cannon

Series: What’s in your toolkit 3 – Emma Cannon

Emma Cannon is a fertility expert, author,  natural conception and IVF support acupuncture practitioner, and has been supporting women in their fertility journeys for many years. I had the great fortune to work on Emma Cannon’s first book, The Baby-Making Biblewhen I was working for the health and wellbeing publisher Rodale at Macmillan, in 2008.

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Liz Gough, then Rodale Publishing Director and now Publisher at Yellow Kite Books, came into the office having had a meeting with Emma, full of ideas and buzzing with inspiration. She said to me, “you would LOVE this woman, she is amazing: inspirational, a true wellness expert. Absolutely beautiful too.”

Working on her book was a total privilege: all of her wisdom resonated so powerfully, and planted itself somewhere deep inside me, a little internal seedling in case I needed to draw from it at an as yet unseen point in time. When I subsequently had my own fertility issues, suffering several miscarriages, I always had a copy of her books by the bed for a calming reassuring source of support and feeling of taking ownership of my own fertility destiny. I’ve lost count of the amount of copies I’ve bought for and lent to friends, and not just those looking to become pregnant, but if feeling generally under par, depleted, out of sync, the practical tips and understanding of how to achieve hormonal and emotional balance through our monthly cycle are indispensable.

While newly pregnant with my first baby I was serendipitously working on her second book, You and Your Bump. Before the age of Instagram postnatal support networks, this book provided me with the confidence to trust my instincts and provided solace in those newborn dark days.

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Her new book, Fertile, is out now. I’m kind of sad I don’t have a legitimate reason to buy it! Maybe I’ll have to in the name of research…

Emma is a passionate advocate of the fourth trimester: a period of time to honour the seismic shift in circumstance and nurture new mothers  – taking it slow, being gentle, nourishing the body properly, resisting pressure to “get back to normal”. Emma’s poise and wisdom, drawing from her years of supporting mothers, and the wealth of understanding of mind-body balance from millennia of Chinese medicine teaching, is something that we could all do well to cultivate in our own lives.

An understanding that a life well lived will always, inevitably, experience highs and lows: where there is light there is corresponding dark – and this is natural, to be expected and not feared. Her books offer women the tools to take control of their wellness in preparation for becoming a mother. I talked to Emma about what she considers to be her essential wellbeing toolkit.

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1. Your Instagram account is calming and inspirational. Tell me more about what you do day to day.

I work Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday morning in the clinic seeing patients. I have spent many many hours in clinic listening to women’s stories.
I spend Tuesday writing and doing a yoga class. Friday is yoga and meeting people or doing ‘cures’.
I keep myself well by exercise, doing the Viva Mayr Cure once a year, and cooking and entertaining friends and family.
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2. In your experience, are people becoming more aware of the impact of stress on their health, and keen to nurture their souls and combat modern life stressors before pregnancy?

Yes people may be more aware… but they are also more stressed than ever. There is a lot more awareness but there is also a lot of inauthentic stuff out there – wellness spiritualism has become very commercial, and with that comes the charlatans.

3. Recently there has been more of a spotlight shone on perinatal mental health and the challenges of motherhood, with the Duchess of Cambridge opening the floodgates to get people really involved sharing their stories and chatting about these important issues. Do you find that mums-to-be are more aware of their mental health nowadays and understanding of pregnancy’s and early motherhood’s potential affects on it?

Oh yes, this whole area has really opened up into an industry now. When I was pregnant with Lily (now 21) there weren’t even pregnancy jeans! On the mental/emotional side I think there is growing support and awareness. Yet still, mental illness is a taboo area and one that people shy away from.

For me, the fourth trimester is very important – it is a time a woman’s health really can take a turn for better or worse, and how well supported she is in that time will determine how well she thrives and adjusts emotionally and physically to motherhood.

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4. What are your personal mental health tools in your own toolkit?

A calm mind: I think too many people give in to obsession – but having the ability to deal with what is in front of you without worrying about things that have not happened is a gift. Sometimes it takes discipline – having the strength of mind just not to go there – being able to bring the mind back and not catastrophise.
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5. The eternal question – How do you balance kids and work?

Well, my children are 21 and 15 so they are much easier now, and I’ve been juggling for so long I don’t remember any other way of living. For me the key to this is flexibility; know that what works one day, or month or year will change – arrangements need to be revisited and changed from time to time.
I laid really good foundations with my children – the first year is critical.  I think it is important to work out what works for you and your family and make that the priority – I am my own boss so I know I am lucky. I made it up as I went along – I was the only person I knew with a child and I needed to work – but I have been able to grow things organically around my family so it has been great like that.

6. What would be your top tip for keeping your mental health on track throughout your fertility journey, pregnancy and early motherhood?

Develop your intuition; do not obsess and become a google addict.
Have belief, and build your resources.
Have a good support team: acupuncture, meditation, friends who make you feel good, and don’t say glib things like ‘I just know you are going to be alright’.
Don’t compare yourself to other people – this is really unhelpful and causes a lot of anxiety. Everyone is entirely different and has a unique set of circumstances.
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7. Who are your personal wellness gurus/favourite books/mantras to live by?

I believe that the time of the guru is dead and we should all be our own guru.
Be your own guru…
However, I have been working in this field for 25 years and of course I have my heroes… I love Peter Deadman’s book Live well Live Long.
Women who run with the wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
Women’s bodies Women’s wisdom by Christane Northrup.
Finding Mama’s Mojo

Finding Mama’s Mojo

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This week is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. I’ll be starting an exciting new series tomorrow on the blog: getting to know some of my favourite wellness and psychology experts, asking them how they keep their mojo topped up day to day while juggling life, work, kids, relationships.

What tools do you have in your daily toolkit to nurture your own health? It’s too easy to put ourselves down in the list of priorities and not even notice until it’s too late that you’re feeling somewhat depleted in body and mind.

Here are my tools for balance in body and soul:

  1. Breathing. We all breathe, don’t we, we don’t have to think about it, surely? But how many of us breathe with full depth and awareness, taking advantage of our full lung capacity? Place your hand on your chest. Do you feel your chest rising underneath your hand? If you do, you’re breathing shallowly and allowing tension to congregate around your neck and shoulders like a flock of pigeons in a town square. Breathing properly, fully, deeply releases tension, calms your soul, soothes your mind, nourishes your blood. Begin a daily practice of noticing if you’re feeling tense and stuck. Take one minute to soften, take a deep breath in through the nose. Feel the breath releasing deeply down, down, into your abdomen and the sides of your ribcage. Release the breath slowly through the lips, sighing as if you’re trying to fog a window in front of you. Do this 5 times and you’ll stop any anxiety, anger and overwhelm in its tracks.
  2. Be flexible: try to include flexibility into your life physically and mentally. View things through a different lens. Allow yourself greater room and different rules occasionally. Notice if you’re stifling yourself because you’re not allowed certain foods, pleasures, time. Try to let go of control and offer yourself the flexibility to drift with the tide occasionally. Try Pilates – I’m biased, perhaps. But Pilates is a game changer. Connecting with your body, with your breath, releasing tension in your muscles and mind. It’s the best tonic there is. If Pilates isn’t your bag: get in tune with your body through some other form of movement: swimming, running, yoga, dancing in the kitchen, softplay…
  3. Find time to be creative: creativity sparks off magic. Whether that’s through painting or drawing, singing, or pottering in the garden. We tend to be labelled at school as we enter our adolescence: the sporty one, the arty one, the academic one. If you’re feeling stuck and dormant, notice, and try and shake off your inner labels. See whether there’s something you left behind, something you really love or have always wanted to do again but thought it wasn’t somehow allowed or appropriate: something that made your heart sing, but as you weren’t “especially talented” at it you left it by the wayside, like dropping a hitchhiker on a long journey. Pick them up again, take them along to the next destination, see what happens.
  4. Balance: understand that, as good old Newton pointed out, for every force there is an equal and opposing force. That is the way of the universe, and always has been. There should always be an equilibrium of light, dark, yin, yang. There is no joy without sadness. Embracing this can allow you to feel more resilient and more optimistic in times of challenge. Everything is a cycle: this too shall pass. Create a support network for yourself for the trickier times, which will in turn provide support for others in their own testing times. Yoga, meditation, connection with your community, chats with beloved friends, walks in green spaces. See these as essential tools in your toolkit to keep your mojo levels topped up.

Slotting these ideas into your life doesn’t have to take up any time. Arguably, if you feel that you don’t have any time to prioritise yourself, that, my friend, is when you most need to find the time. To quote Rachel from Friends “I thought I’d hit rock bottom. Now there’s rock bottom, fifty feet of crap, and then me”. Make sure you don’t get to that point without having a set of tools to help you and others dig you out.

The Supermum Myth is out in September 2017.

You can buy a copy of my book Pregnancy: the Naked Truth here

Who’s that girl?

Who’s that girl?

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The subject of identity keeps poking its little head out of mouse holes at me a lot recently. The idea of who we are once we’ve had children: are we a mother first, usurping all our previous endeavours? And does motherhood define and top everything we do subsequently?

I was tagged to complete a 20 things about me on Instagram recently, and after I’d posted it realised with an odd sense of guilt that none of my 20 facts included anything about my children, or even mentioned being a mum at all. I felt, fleetingly, that I might be judged for this, that I had missed the point maybe, that somehow my children weren’t important enough in my life to include them as a fact about me. But they are facts about them. I have my own complete facts about me, surely, which made me me, before I had children and since, and it’s still ok to talk about that isn’t it…? We’re not amoebas, splitting in order to recreate an identikit version of ourselves to continue the success of the species. We are totally unique beings, who create more totally unique beings.

In last year’s Conservative party leadership election there was the suggestion that Theresa May was less empathetic, somehow under-skilled to become leader of the Party as she wasn’t a mother therefore couldn’t have a full understanding of The Issues. She may indeed well be less empathetic or underskilled for understanding The Issues, but arguably these attributes – emotional intelligence, economic astuteness, political aptitude – aren’t magically conjured up by birthing a baby, if they were not already there? Has any such accusation ever been levelled at a male leader, in any seriousness? Mumpreneurs, Mumbosses…as yet, men aren’t gazed at through the prism of their status of fatherhood before being defined by their occupation/skills/talents/reputation.

A WhatsApp conversation with my best friends about wardrobe mojo led me to wonder (I feel quite Carrie Bradshaw writing that…although I am typing not from an achingly trendy New York apartment smoking Marlborough Lights, but from my kitchen table in Peckham, with my toddler on my lap on the boob – I can’t be in his presence without him wanting boob, but that’s for another blog post…) about how our very essence is shaken and stirred by motherhood.

My best friend yesterday had an epiphany in our chat about clothes buying (I admitted that most of my wardrobe inspiration comes from Instagram nowadays) that she hasn’t felt herself in her clothes since having her first baby 5 years ago, and she’s been feeling like she’s been playing dress up and not quite “feeling” her clothes ever since. I look back on pictures in the year after Maurice was born and I don’t really recognise myself. I found the practical issues of dressing myself post baby to affect me deeply in terms of how I felt, who I felt I was. Who you are and what you (feel you) look like are so inextricably linked. Inhabiting a different body that didn’t feel happy or comfortable, the logistics of having to find access for breastfeeding meant that I looked like a strange cobbled together jumble of confusion as if rummaging through my wardrobe in the dark. I couldn’t wear my past daily uniform due to a combination of shape and practicality, literally didn’t fit into my pre-baby self any more…didn’t know who I was or who I was going to be.

The physicality of the changes we experience as mums as opposed to what dads experience does inherently mean that our identity as mothers is more viscerally linked to our children. Doesn’t it…? Our bodies swell, our hormones rampage, our bellies split. Our very core is compromised. We are chemically altered. Our careers, perhaps our previous connection to our identity, are more likely to be put on the backburner not just because of the societal expectation of this being the case, but also because physically we need this to be the case? We need to allow ourselves time to learn about our new physical and psychological selves, and ambition might be thwarted by there suddenly being no time, no energy, no money compared to the previous status quo. We are sat on, literally and metaphorically, by our children, in a way that dads aren’t generally.

In my forthcoming book The Supermum Myth there is a whole chapter devoted to identity…it’s a huge issue that we still don’t really tackle openly yet so this loss of mojo can feel like such a shock for new mums. We also don’t seem to honour the postnatal period with any reverence in modern culture, and are expected to be back in our skinny jeans and in our “pre-baby body” within seconds of birthing our child, then wonder why we feel so overwhelmed at our failure to meet these standards and not feel quite like ourselves. But it is a complete metamorphosis. We do change irrevocably, can gaze back at our pre-child self as if through a train window looking at your home platform receding into the distance, travelling to the next which shall become your home. But this is also part of life – anyone without children will probably look back with the benefit and altered filter of hindsight and not recognise themselves or their achievements/decisions/wardrobe choices…?

It’s a conundrum. Clearly we are changed, morphed, transmogrified (to use Calvin & Hobbes’s beautiful word) when we become mums. We evolve. We shed a skin. We learn. But we are still the same person? Is the butterfly still the caterpillar…? Same same, but different. Can we be allowed to be viewed as a person first, and a mum as a wonderful, life-altering and integral piece of this patchwork life.

Kate Figes, in Life After Birth, says, “Every woman who gives birth needs an extensive period to come to terms with the irrevocable changes to her body so that she can more easily accept her new role as a mother. There are billions of tiny lights glowing inside each one of us, and it can feel as if the effort it takes to produce each child is so great that it extinguishes a few of those lights forever. We can live perfectly well without them, but that does not mean that we do not need time to mourn their loss.”

We are shaped and moulded by seismic events in life. Having a baby is a seismic event. Bereavement, job loss, relationship break down: all these emotional tsunamis giveth and taketh away. It takes time to re-establish an equilibrium.

Mourning their loss might mean allowing yourself some time and space to reconnect with yourself. Listen to your favourite music. Spark up some deep creativity in your soul by getting into the garden, drawing, doodling, doing yoga, singing, dancing, whatever floats your boat…. Say hello to you.

You can buy a copy of my book Pregnancy: the Naked Truth here

Things I’ve learnt

Things I’ve learnt

Freddie is now 2 years old. 2 YEARS OLD. Well, 2 and a quarter, if we’re being pedantic.

I’ve learnt that with a 5 year old and a toddler you don’t get much “done” except doing life day to day, so your goal posts have to shift, your expectations have to soften. As John Lennon said, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

 Other things I’ve learnt over the last two years:

Eating chocolate without your children noticing is an art worth perfecting.

Nothing beats the smugness of having successfully and single-handedly magicked two children to sleep. Even though you know that one of them will wake before the glass of wine makes it to your lips, savour that damned smugness in all its glory.

Things are 100% easier, and 100% harder second time round. Easier: how to work out a car seat; how the hell to change a nappy while half asleep and in semi darkness; the paraphernalia, sleep deprivation and chaos of babyhood is already in place and therefore not a huge body shock. Harder: getting dressed. Getting out the door. Eating a meal. Finishing a senten…

I’ve now been breastfeeding for 2 years. First time round it was a hellish nightmare of self-flagellation and “failure”, ending in tears and nipple cream tubes squeezed out in frustration and angst. A traumatic birth experience and no contact with my babe for 8 hours after his birth froze all chance of it happening in that moment. We tried, oh how we tried, and my sanity nearly left us along with Maurice’s chance of thriving only on breast, so I had to bottle it. At the time this was laced with feelings of failure, judgement and depression. Looking back I can see just what a warrior I was. I was at my most supermum in the simple act of trying to get it right.

Second time round it’s been a breeze: Freddie latched on within 20 mins of birth and hasn’t let go since… but now I have no idea how on earth to stop…and experiencing the occasional judgey glance when resorting to his favourite thing in public. Judgey pants glances suggesting failure at achieving normal status of good mothering. Freddie has been whining BOOOB BOOB BOOB at me all morning – which has made me see that there is no bloomin failure, we’re all just getting on with it as best we can.

When people say that breastfeeding makes the baby weight “fall off”, they fail to take into account the amount of cake/chocolate/biscuits you desire while breastfeeding and sleep deprived, while sitting down for large periods of time.

Me time takes on a different shape: a trip to the loo without company, or a peaceful solo jaunt around the supermarket. Bonus me time points if the supermarket visit includes shopping for any luxury items such as loo roll, or moisturiser of any kind not related to babies’ bottoms. Might as well be a trip to a spa resort.

Be grateful and arrogant every day. You are Wonder Woman. You are bloody beautiful amazing and brilliant for getting not only yourself but two other people up, fed and dressed today.

Exercise should be appreciated and valued in its myriad forms. A softplay visit incorporates cardiovascular fitness, agility and strength.

Watching Finding Nemo offered me a new mantra for when days are long: Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming…

I looked at Maurice asleep the other day and realised he is no longer a baby, or even a toddler. He has shed his baby skin by stealth. Metamorphosis before my very eyes.

I have learnt that the days are long, but the years are short.

You can buy a copy of my book Pregnancy: the Naked Truth here

Open your heart

Open your heart

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Not just a great Madonna track from the 80s (I can still picture the poster I had of her on my bedroom wall, in all her 80s legwarmer glory). Opening your heart can be quite an uncomfortable journey as it means being totally honest with yourself, and sitting with awkward feelings in order to allow them to pass. But the older I get the more I believe that allowing yourself to reveal, expose, reconcile your innermost feelings – even if just to yourself – is the path to serenity, peace and fewer headaches.

There’s a direct link between physical and mental wellbeing. When you’re feeling down, often there’s a physical low as well.

After the birth of my first son I fell into a trough in body and spirit. It’s so obvious looking back, but a horribly traumatic birth was followed by feelings of failure and melancholy, saturated by total denial of sleep by my mini sleep vampire for over a year. Any thoughts of revitalising my soul by taking proper time to comfort and nurture my body were simply not available to me at the time, amidst the fog of endless crying (baby’s…and probably mine…), explosive nappies, coffee and biscuits. Far from nurturing my body, all I could do was berate it: too fat, a complete failure, not good enough.

I had a few miscarriages over the next two years, and my vitality was completely depleted. I had totally lost my mojo. Who was I? Where was my va va voom…? Where’s that girl who used to have joy, dance around, and not just to nursery rhymes… I miss her. Just keep on keeping on…it’ll all be fine…

A shoulder injury which was getting in the way of my teaching finally made me turn to an osteopath for help, and in turn, in the name of physical rehabilitation, carve out more time for yoga, for doing regular (rather than just teaching) Pilates, for pausing to breathe more and notice how I was feeling…slowly but surely, layers were peeled off and I began to emerge into the sunlight again.

This was not a new lesson for me. Twelve years ago one of my most wonderful, cool and brilliant friends died suddenly. I already had a Thailand trip booked in the immediate aftermath of her death, and departed feeling like a limp fragile fledgling not quite ready to leave the nest. Grief is like a typhoon that knocks you sideways, and I was in need of something to anchor me, to save me from being swept away.

I saw a sign on the beach for a yoga retreat and decided to check it out, and leave my comfort zone – a place I like to inhabit, but definitely a dead space like a waiting room with faded wallpaper: you could spend endless hours there and never get anywhere. That yoga session in the open air coconut grove changed my life. An epiphany there made me decide to train as a Pilates teacher and follow my passion. I found my breath, I opened my heart, connected to my body and realised how lucky I was to be alive even though Zoe wasn’t.

It may sound a bit “woo woo”, but I saw chakra colours glowing as I worked through tension in my body and unlocked pain in my soul – I totally cringe writing that, there’s an inherent knee-jerk scepticism to anything that feels remotely new age, spiritual or other worldly – out of that faded wallpaper comfort zone. But there you have it – I saw colours and felt a sense of being enveloped in a warm soft cloak of comfort and healing. I imprinted that day in my soul and took a snapshot, to always refer to.

Every time I do yoga, part of me revisits that single yoga chakra therapy session in koh phangan. I close my eyes, soften, breathe, and I’m there.

Occasionally I have to remind myself to shed a skin once more, if old habits creep in and I forget to connect. We are growing beings who utterly renew and rejuvenate every few years: new cells, new blood, new life. But we forget this and take old habits and energy into these cycles, stay in that waiting room for something to call us out of it.

It’s so hard to find space in every day life, mainly because we don’t prioritise ourselves – we barely make it onto our list of priorities, let alone reach the top of it. It’s easy to get bogged down in “there’s no time”, in the routine and clutter of life. But, the problem is then you allow the constant niggle of a dodgy back or sore shoulder get you down a little bit more every day, to chip away at your resilience.

Scan your body now…close your eyes and breathe, and take a moment to check in with how you are feeling. The act of scanning your body allows you also to tune in to your mind. Are you feeling tight, tense, worried? Are you feeling weary or annoyed, overwhelmed? Do you have long-standing tension in your shoulders or neck? Emotions all have a physical manifestation. Your cells, muscles, tissue respond to all the thoughts, worries and beliefs that you wash over them every day with your internal dialogue.

Body therapy – Pilates, yoga, intuitive movement and meditative breathing – is essential maintenance: see the mind and body as connected, a bodymind. Checking in with your body, mindfully and thoughtfully, is like regular MOT. You wouldn’t cycle a bike every day without oiling the chain regularly, or expect your car to run without fuel. Honour your body and mind with the same regard.

Make sure you find a space, a moment, daily or weekly at least – where you can return to life, to breathe, to move, to twist out your tensions and worries. To remind you why you’re here. To enable you to embrace the craziness with a bit more gusto and grace. To open your heart.