Up Close & Personal with Sarah Renae Clark

How one mum used her PND experience as inspiration for her business

Today we are closing out our monthly focus on Anxiety, Depression and Mental Health in early Motherhood with a special interview. We are pleased to welcome Sarah Renae Clark to The Nursery Collective, a creative business owner, illustrator and designer - and a mother who has battled with Post Natal Depression. Her story is raw and yet so inspiring, read on to see how she turned this experience into an truly positive new path...

Hi Sarah and welcome to The Nursery Collective! Can you tell us a little about yourself? How would you describe yourself to others and what do you do for a living?

I’m a full time mum and business owner in Melbourne, Australia. A few years ago, I married my best friend and now we’ve got a beautiful little boy, Zac, who is about to turn 2. I’ve always been a creative person and have started a number of businesses over the years, from doing balloon animals for children’s parties to designing websites. Most of my businesses have only ever been side-hobbies while I worked full time, however everything changed when Zac was born. I stopped full time work and gave up most of my side jobs too. After a few months, I started working on some new creative ideas and eventually started my “Sarah Renae Clark” colouring book and printables business.
My business has already grown far beyond the hobby that it started, so now I’m looking at new ways to build it further and grow it into a full time income without the full time hours so I can continue to be a stay at home mum to my beautiful son.

What has your motherhood journey been like so far?

Motherhood has been a real rollercoaster for me! I was that super confident pregnant lady who read all the books and was convinced that motherhood was going to be amazing. Then, I had an incredibly traumatic labour and my son ended up in the special care nursery for a few days. I was unable to feed him and couldn’t get up to see him for the first day because my body was still in shock from the labour. He was discharged a few days after me, so we spent our first few days as parents without our son at home, which was challenging.

The first 2 months weren’t much easier. I wanted to breastfeed but Zac wasn’t able to, and that’s something nobody had prepared me for during my pregnancy. When he was finally able to start feeding, it was agony. I wasn’t mentally prepared for the challenge, so I pushed through and dreaded every feed, feeling like I was a failure when we had to use the formula.

After 2 months, things got easier and Zac was able to start feeding without causing me pain. Things really picked up at that point, except that I was struggling with post natal depression (PND) and didn’t realise it.

PND looks so different for everyone. For me, it was the feeling of being overwhelmed by what seemed like nothing. I felt lonely, even after spending hours with friends. I just wanted a break, but a break didn’t make me feel any better. I lived in constant fear that something terrible was going to happen to my family. I saw the worst case scenario in every situation and would let my mind run off in crazy day dreams that would completely overwhelm me with the feeling of grief or fear over a situation that didn’t exist. I couldn’t drive the car without picturing a fatal car crash and imagining my child growing up without me – or worse – me without him.

Zac was such a good baby that I felt guilty for feeling sad or overwhelmed. I even felt guilty that I wasn’t “sad enough” to call it PND. Eventually I was able to identify what was going on and work through the PND, which meant I was finally able to start enjoying motherhood and spending time with my son. It still pops up every now and then, but I can easily recognise the negative thoughts and I choose not to allow them to take over again.

What has been the biggest challenge so far, and how have you overcome it (or what are you currently doing to overcome it)? I believe you used your struggle as an inspiration in setting up your own business?

I think my biggest challenge has been not feeling guilty. It’s something that comes up in every aspect of my life as a Mum – from feeling guilty about not spending enough time with my son, to feeling guilty about going out with friends for a coffee while my husband was at work. A lot of my guilt was connected to my PND and to the high expectations I set for myself. Even now, I still struggle to take a break without questioning whether there’s something more important I should be doing… but I’m working on it!

One day, I decided to let myself have some creative time and started working on a colouring book. Adult colouring had just become popular, and I needed something creative to keep my mind active and help me to stay positive. I decided to post the colouring book on the internet, and was really surprised at the positive response I received! So I worked on a few more books and started selling them on Etsy. A few months later, I decided to look at getting them published and that was the beginning of everything for me. I have now self-published more than 10 adult colouring books and I sell a huge range of colouring pages and other printables on my website.

I started getting a lot of feedback from customers who were using colouring to get through similar mental health issues, disabilities or even loneliness. I saw an opportunity in the market to create a positive colouring book that actually catered specifically to people who were looking for encouragement. Because of my own experiences as a mum, I created my book “A Year of Coloring Affirmations for New Mothers” full of colouring pages with positive affirmations aimed at helping new mums through the ups and downs of motherhood.

I included all of the encouraging words that helped me to get through my hard days. One of my favourites came from a good friend of mine, who told me “if you’re out of your pajamas by noon, it’s a great day”. I still laugh, but it definitely got me through a few days where I would be crying because it was lunch time and I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet… my husband can verify this!

I also released a second affirmations book called “Coloring Through Cancer” for my own mum who has been fighting breast cancer on and off for over 15 years now. Both of these books have had amazing support from my community and I get constant emails from people who have been encouraged by their messages.

 Coloured by Raychell Henry

What has been the biggest blessing of motherhood?

My son has been such a blessing to me. He makes me smile every day and he makes every moment worthwhile. I would do it all again in a heartbeat for him. I’m also very blessed to have an amazing husband who has supported me through motherhood and through starting my own business. He works full time, but still helps with so many aspects of my business and I love watching him spend time with our son.

Is it difficult managing your time between being a Mum and running your own business?

I’d love to say “no, it’s easy, I have a great routine and my schedule helps me to keep a great balance” – but unfortunately, it’s not the case. I do have a great routine, and I believe it’s essential to keeping your sanity as a working Mum, however even with the best routine, it’s hard to feel like you’re giving your child and your business the attention they both need. I am constantly assessing my time and changing my goals to work smarter, not harder. I try to find new ways to automate my business and set up long-term plans so that I’m not overwhelmed with the day-to-day workload and can spend more time with my son.

Unfortunately I don’t have family that live close by, so most of my productive work happens during my toddler’s nap time. As any mother knows, nap time can be unpredictable, so sometimes my entire day can be thrown off course.

I use a yearly diary as my to-do list, so I can allocate jobs to certain days of the week based on their priorities. This means that I’m not looking at a huge list each day, instead I can just focus on the plan for today. This has probably been my biggest key in not getting overwhelmed. If my day is looking busy, I re-assess and move tasks to another day before I’m even half way through the day. My goal is to finish each day feeling like I’ve accomplished what I set out to do, not feeling like I didn’t get my list done. Some days, this means just pushing the entire list to another day so I can spend the day with my son without feeling guilty.

Working from home and raising a toddler isn’t an easy combination, but I love it. It takes a lot of commitment and you need to love your job. The key is to find your balance, set achieveable goals, and know when to say no (to your work, not your children). I’d love to have more time for my business, but family always comes first for me and I would drop my business in an instant if I had to make that choice. Knowing this makes it much easier to put work aside or say no to certain opportunities when I know they will take too much of my time away from my family.

Coloured by Emma Turnbull

If you could share some advice for other new mums who might be experiencing PND or other mental health issues, what would it be?

Find someone to talk to and stop feeling guilty. I went through months of PND before I spoke up. I never spoke to someone because I didn’t feel like I was “sad enough” to call it PND. I felt guilty for not being a good enough mum, guilty for not keeping the house clean, guilty for annoying my friends with all my baby talk, and then guilty because I had such a “good baby” and had no reason to be upset!

I didn’t call people to talk to because I didn’t want to constantly bother the same people. Instead, I’d just lie down next to my baby and cry. It wasn’t until a friend spoke up about her own PND experience that I realised I was feeling all the same things. She was the first person I spoke to, and then to my husband. As soon as I identified what was going on, the daily battles became easier and I was able to start working towards recovery.

Nobody expects you to do this alone, so find someone to talk to. If you don’t have friends or family, don’t be afraid to call a helpline or local service. You are not the first person to go through what you are going through, and there’s no shame in feeling like you can’t cope.

Thank you so much for sharing your story Sarah!
CLICK HERE TO CONNECT WITH SARAH AND HER WEBSITE AND TO DOWNLOAD YOUR OWN FREE COLOURING BOOK!
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