Third Postpartum Journey
It feels….odd……to be posting this on the eve of my second round of major surgery in three years. However sometimes there is never the right time for anything, and writing has always been an outlet for me. Moreover, what I have been battling with my surgery and lifelong condition (inner ear cholesteatoma) has been completely intertwined with my third postpartum journey. This was finally picked up and diagnosed just before I was due to have Ray. For any new followers you can read more of this in a previous blog here.
Ray, my third baby, turned three a couple of weeks back. It feels like I have been on a journey of rediscovering myself since he was born but with a higher intensity than my previous babies. I know this has come from both him being my last baby and the deep need to look after myself more than I ever have done before because of my health condition.
Why does it take a very serious complication or event for us to finally shake ourselves and make changes?
I have always prioritised my health and wellbeing. This has never been in question – it is my work, my passion, what I advocate for to a global audience. I have also done this from a place where the focus is not the superficial or on thinness, or body shape, or the quick fix – or what ever other useless and damaging messaging we are still be constantly told. I wrote a blog following the birth of my second son (now nearly 8) which went global and still gets shared heavily - I have simply lost track of all of its various versions now on the internet.
Even with all of this, all of my knowledge, work and advocacy in this field – I still have struggled after my third baby and it remains an ongoing journey to keep learning how to prioritse what I need and feel worthy of what I need. Underneath the trending sounds of Tiktok and whatever you might see on the outside of me there has been a far greater journey internally.
The last three years have gone at a speed I can hardly describe. Not only has this been due to having a third baby and what ever concept I had of time has simply become a blur, or the recovery from the first surgery I had when he was six months old. In all of this we also have had a global pandemic where life as we knew it stopped overnight. I have been keeping a business going all through this as well – and a business in which I produce high-level creative work including writing, recipes, books and products. As I say these words, I actually do not know how I have got through if I am really honest. It has been a daily fight, a daily battle and constant learning to keep shifting priorities.
What I can say without a shadow of a doubt is that I understand to my core how tough it is as mothers (I am going to speak to mothers here) to do anything for ourselves. To take any action no matter how small it may seem on our health and wellbeing and how little time, money, options and resources we have to do this.
My focus over the last three years has been on recovery – and that is safe, consistent recovery, managing fatigue and getting as strong as possible. This strength is both physically strong and mentally strong. Strong for the day-to-day marathon of parenting (three active boys) and working basically all day. Strong for more surgery which is tomorrow. What this strength has also looked like is for the first time accepting my mental health being on the same continuum as my physical health and been more open about anxiety and depression which I manage ongoingly.
I thought I would just share some of the things I have learnt across this journey so far. These are also things I hope to keep in mind as I go down this next path of a second major neuro-surgery and recovery while still being a mother, a small business owner and a creative.
Can I just be brutally straight and say that the ‘six-weeks post birth’ mark is insanely short. If you have felt recovered by then, your pelvic floor strengthened, your TVA without separation, your C-section healed and your fatigue levels the same as before having a baby (among other things) – then I am truly happy for you. This certainly was not the case for me even after my third baby. I started gentle pelvic floor exercises and TVA activation (feeling like nothing was there) and continued to do these for two years until I felt my pelvic floor had recovered. This photograph below is dated the 5th of March 2020 (Ray was born the 31st October, 2019). Give yourself time – lots and lots of time. Slow, steady and consistent is far more important than any ‘expected’ period of time.
There was a particular point of time that stood out to me where I really put my foot down. I had been ‘dabbling’ in this around July/August of 2021. But it was when lockdown hit in September and my 20-city tour was cancelled that I made a conscious and firm decision that my wellbeing needed to come first and was no longer ‘important but could slide’. When I knew for certain that I would need more surgery (around Feb this year) it was like the actions I was taking from this decision already, especially around strength training and active habits to manage fatigue (including going to bed at 8.30pm) simply became non-negotiables.
Do I wish it had not taken me THIS LONG for such a decision? Yes of course. Do I wish it had not taken facing major, life-changing surgery to feel so worthy of this? Yes of course. Am I kind to myself for the challenges I have been facing and that I have three small children who need me every second of every day – yes, of course.
Inside – Out
As cliche as it sounds I cannot emphasise enough that any changes you see on the outside have been an inside job. I had to get really clear on what I needed and then work through the guilt of this. I kept a firm focus on the actions rather than the results. I have NO IDEA what my weight is! I have never stepped on scales in this time. In fact, as I mention in The Nourished Bump, the last time I would have been weighed (and seen the number) was when I was pregnant with my second son eight years ago. I have never measured any part of me at all. I have zero interest in this. Focusing on these distracts from the daily actions and also distracts from the battle for me to find my self-worth – we are all worth so, so, so much more than what a set of scales tells us.
Parts (if not all) Can Be Unfair
I want to acknowledge that there are many parts of a postpartum journey, that can be simply unfair. Acknowledging this means we do not fight against it. It will be different for everyone. Maybe you have a premature baby, maybe a baby that will not sleep well, maybe you need to go back to work early, maybe you had a traumatic birth where physical recovery is so insanely hard.
What I have gone through in the last three years with my health condition, with needing to have two lots of major surgery, with having a global pandemic are all simply unfair. I have gone through all of this on my own, without any ounce of family help. This is also unfair. It has made my journey far more challenging than I ever expected.
Yet as I kept learning to prioritise my wellbeing, it has in fact helped me to offset this unfairness. It is something I have had in my control when so many things have been outside my control. Learning Olympic weight lifting has given me a focus that has surprised me through this. On really hard days it has given me something to look forward to. It means for an hour I have a coach guiding me on the steps to clean a bar - everything else melts away. It has helped boost my confidence so much. If I can learn something physically new at 37 years of age with three children...well that is pretty cool!
When you are a mother, your time is no longer yours. Putting in structures helps to maintain daily actions when things go sideways with kids – which they always do! Some of the structures I have put in place include seeing a physio once a week (or having a Thai massage) to help with my fatigue and injury prevention. I also have a coach to help with my Olympic lifting and a set time I go training – with childcare arrangements in place for this. In terms of food, this has come more practiced for me, however I had to learn to eat more regularly – this included having a scheduled lunch break in the day including on consultation times.
It Never Ends
There is no end goal when it comes to wellbeing. After three years of finding myself (version 3.0) after my third baby, I am facing one of the biggest challenges of my life to date and biggest wellbeing challenges. I am trying my best to recover from this surgery tomorrow with a lot more things in place than I did last time. I will be staying away from the home for the first eight days. I am taking a month off consultations, events and all public facing activities. All of this is a huge deal for me. The most time I have taken off in a decade was three weeks after my first son was born. I have also pre-booked a session with my therapist for two weeks after my surgery when I think my mental wellbeing will take the biggest hit. I have set up a code word with my closest friends (Code Black) which simply means ‘I need help and I need you here right now’. I struggle to ask for help so this takes out all the pretense from this. I will need to fight back to regain my strength and continue to manage my fatigue but I have the same structures in place for this that I used to recover after having Ray and prepare for this surgery. I have no doubt I will learn a lot through all this time, as I already have done to date.
The last words I want to share with those reading this simply are:
You are worth it.
You are so worth it.
You count, you are important, you need this and you deserve this. Whatever ‘this’ is for you. It might be sleep, it might be time away from your children, it might be a well stocked fridge, it might be a safe exercise class once a week. It might be all of this! What ever your ‘this’ is you are truly worth it and please do not wait for a major life changing event to make a decision about what you need - from here the rest will come.
See you on the flip side of surgery number two!
x Dr Julie