Add baby, minus ‘me’? How new parents can maintain their fitness – and their sanity
When a baby joins the family, that cherished ‘me’ time at the gym can become a distant memory, with physical and mental wellbeing suffering. It needn’t be so, says Tina Kendall.
My entire life, if I needed to cope when things got tough, I’d go for a run. I’ve always enjoyed being active, relishing exercise not only as a means to manage stress and stay healthy, but also as a social activity that I look forward to.
A regular at boot camp, indoor cycle and circuit classes, I developed friendships with other regulars and my team sport of hockey saw some of my team mates become my closest friends. It was my thing. My ‘me’ time.
When I fell pregnant the first time I kept up my regular workouts, accommodating my belly as necessary. As a teacher I was experienced with kids and not at all apprehensive about the idea of a baby joining my household.
Knowing that I’d find it difficult leaving the house to exercise with a newborn, but not wanting to lose my ‘me’ time, I prepared a workout circuit in the backyard – I’d just get stuck into it when my baby slept. Right?
It soon became apparent that I had been living in a happy state of self-delusion during my pregnancy. Reality was about to give me a massive wake up call.
About six weeks out, I hit the first stumbling block. I was going to need a caesarean. This was not part of my plan and I was devastated. I expected to be able to bounce back after a natural birth with little interruption to my routine, but after major surgery, I wasn’t sure what would come next.
Post-birth, my baby struggled with feeding. I bled every time he fed and I felt awful that he had to eat scabs and drink blood. I dreaded feeding time and the toe-curling pain of attachment was indescribable. I bawled tears of a deflated, tortured woman and tried desperately to accept that this was simply the reality of breastfeeding. The guilt I felt at contemplating giving up was a much worse alternative than the pain. I felt that I was failing as a mother.
Then came the chronic eczema. The multiple misdiagnosis’s. The severe allergies. The anaphylactic shock hospitalisation where I helplessly watched my boy turn blue: I could barely stand upright as I was sure I’d lost him. The relentless screaming. His inability to sleep due to blocked breathing passages. The perpetual exhaustion. It was never-ending and out of my control. I simply couldn’t get it right.
I was sinking – fast. I hit rock bottom and it was a cold, miserable place. My world as I knew it ceased to exist and I was left floundering in this new world where every waking moment was spent trying to soothe and settle my unhappy baby. I was lost, lonely and miserable. I needed a break. I desperately needed a run. I needed an out.
Living away from family, I had no support. My husband worked long hours in a struggling business and money was extremely tight. I wanted a haircut, but couldn’t afford it or the babysitter I’d need in order to go. I wanted to go the gym – to do something for me – but again, without anybody to ask for help, it was impossible to get there. How can you do a spin class with a crying baby on the floor next to you? How can you join in on a circuit when you can’t put your child down and have no one else to leave him with? How can you get to boot camp when you’ve hardly made it to bed before the class starts? I had nothing. I had lost my precious life-long coping mechanisms, I had lost my social interactions, basically – I had lost me.
I just couldn’t do it. With no options left, we decided to move home – closer to family support. With no money, we moved in with my mum. A mere shadow of the person I used to be, I had resigned myself to my new life. A life where what I needed didn’t matter; what I wanted was not important. But living with mum, things slowly began to change. I had help. It was weird. I actually struggled to let people assist me, as it had been so long. I’d lost my ability to be me, and had inadvertently learned to rely on him to justify my existence.
I soon adjusted and slowly began to find myself again. I can still remember the first time I went for a walk. To nowhere. By myself. Purely because I WANTED to. It was heaven. It wasn’t long before the desire to run engulfed me and I was mortified at how unconditioned I was. ‘This used to be so easy’ I huffed! But it made me focus. It emphasised just how long I had neglected myself for. It highlighted just how long it had been.
Focusing more on me and what I had been through, I was horrified at this void in society, as I knew I wasn’t the only one who faced their life being turned upside down with no support. All of us have something that makes us feel like us, and sadly, too often, parents of young families have to give it all up in order to survive at home. And that is not OK. I resolved to doing something about it. I took all of the things that had adversely affected me and found ways to address them. I took all of the things that made my life easier and found ways to replicate them.
The result is Little Sits.
littlesits.com is for all parents and is designed to give them access to free babysitters, from within groups of friends they establish themselves. Utilising the people they know best and trust most, parents can now create time out for themselves, without the inhibitive cost of paying for baby sitters. Utilising a points based system, parents can now access the things they enjoyed most – pre kids! They can continue to pursue the activities that help make them feel whole. For me, Little Sits allowed me to head back to the gym and be a part of the things I enjoyed so much before my baby arrived. It saved my sanity; and it is my hope that it will do the same for countless more parents out there – because we all need a break at some stage.
If you have members or clients who you know have babies or small children, and who you think could benefit from the service enabled through Little Sits, direct them to littlesits.com
If you want to talk with someone about post and antenatal depression you can call PANDA (Post and Antenatal Depression Association) on 1300 726 306 or click HERE to find a helpline based in your State or Territory.
Tina Kendall is the co-founder of social media free babysitting network Little Sits. To find out more and to spread the word to your members and clients visit littlesits.com