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!
Follow Sarah on FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM, TWITTER and PINTEREST

Don't forget to join our mailing list to receive your FREE download of "Your New Mum Checklist" - all the checklists you'll ever need when planning for baby, all in the one place, plus additional parenting tips around Baby Sleep, Feeding and Nutrition.

 

Dealing with PND & Anxiety in early motherhood

By Amanda Cavallaro (The Anxiety Wellness Queen)

The transition into motherhood can be bitter sweet for many. The excitement of starting this new beginning with your new bundle of joy not only brings about a learning experience but significant challenges and changes to your life. For many mothers, these challenges and changes are difficult to adjust to and they find themselves dealing with emotional, psychological and physical struggles.

Postnatal Depression (PND) and Anxiety are common mental health conditions new mums experience during this transition. PND can often be difficult to identify due to the typical ‘Baby Blues’ that so many women experience postpartum, unfortunately this can make things confusing. PND is commonly suffered by a new mum following childbirth and typically arises due to a combination of psychological challenges and adjustments, hormonal changes and result of fatigue or trauma.

Postnatal Depression affects up to 1 in 7 women and symptoms usually develop between 1 month and up to a year after the birth of their child.

Common symptoms of postnatal depression include, but are not restricted to:
- Low Mood
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Feelings of guilt or shame
- Emotional ( you might find yourself crying a lot more than usual )
- Feelings of anger and irritability
- Fear of being alone
- Insomnia
- Reoccurring negative thoughts
- Loss of interest (of things you usually would be interested in)
- Changes in appetite
- Feeling unmotivated
- Withdrawing from social situations
- Thoughts about harming yourself or your baby
- Feeling unable to cope
- Loss of concentration
- Loss of confidence and self esteem
- Feelings of anxiety, stress and panic

Awareness and Treatments of PND has come such a long way over the years and it has really been fantastic for women to feel heard, understood and given the proper care, support and treatment during this difficult time. Treatments for PND vary depending on a person’s individual needs and situation, either way addressing this early on is very important in the recovery process.

Likewise, Anxiety is also another very common issue women are dealing with in motherhood. Unlike PND, perinatal anxiety is only newly spoken about although women have been dealing with the symptoms and stress of it for many years! Depression and anxiety often work hand in hand and are interlinked in many ways.

Anxiety, alike depression does not discriminate age, gender or culture and the symptoms and severity differs from person to person. A woman who has experienced anxiety prior to pregnancy is at a higher risk of also experiencing it during her pregnancy and motherhood. Some of the common symptoms of anxiety may include:

- Irritability
- Panic Attacks (which include racing heart, sweaty palms, shortness of breath, feelings of nausea etc..)
- Hot or cold flushes
- Dizziness
- Tightening of chest
- Fast breathing
- Feelings of restlessness
- Excessive worry
- Excessive Fear
- Obsessive thinking
- Catastrophising
- Avoidance of situations, people or places that make you feel anxious
- Obsessive Compulsive tendencies
- Dry Mouth
- Tingling in hands and feet
- Problems sleeping
- Muscle tension

The most common cause of anxiety has been debated about for years although it really comes down to a combination of genetics, life experiences and environmental factors that contribute to the onset of anxiety. The most reassuring thing is that both anxiety and depression ARE treatable and there IS hope and a light at the end of the tunnel even though it may not feel like it at the time.

Below are some tips that you can implement to help manage your anxiety and depression

1) SUPPORT
During this difficult time the support of your family, friends, professionals and partner is very important. Once again, every woman’s needs are so different therefore ensuring you have the care you need to tailor to your needs and wellbeing is what really matters. We are so lucky that technology has come such a long way, giving us access to online education and support groups as well.

2) ASK FOR HELP
If you don’t feel right please reach out and ask for help. Speak to your GP, Maternity Nurse or health care professional and just let them know what your concerns are, that will then enable them to discuss all options with you and direct you to receive the appropriate help. And there are many options out there!

3) KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Learning more about and understanding what you’re going through really does help in the treatment as it removes a lot of the fear of the ‘unknown’.

4) PRACTISE SAYING YES
The world we live in often portrays the message that as a mother we are super hero’s that need to do everything by ourselves (YES in regards to mums being amazing superwomen and a big NO to having to feel like you need to take on the world on your own) this is just a reminder that its ok to say YES every now and then, if people offer help in those early or even later stages of motherhood just say YES! Yes to a home cooked meal, a hand around the house, a nap while someone looks after bub, yes to dropping the kids at school and picking up some milk for you. We all have those bad days and you are at no exception - You can’t do it all and by no means are you expected to!

5) TAKE SOME TIME OUT
Making sure you put aside some much needed you time is SOOOO important. It doesn’t have to be anything $$ or major, just some time for you to recharge, regroup and become ready for whatever the day throws your way. This could be a nice warm bath when everyone goes to bed or putting your feet up with a nice hot tea or coffee when bub is taking a nap. There is no need to feel guilty for taking some time away - as they say you cant pour from an empty cup!

6) REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
Motherhood is really portrayed in a very fairy-tale like way these days in magazines, TV and social media. We are shown the ‘expected’ way to look, act, feed, feel and think. Those expectations have had such a huge negative impact on women all across the globe. This is just a reminder to have realistic expectations of yourself during this time, its ok if you don’t get 35 loads of washing on today, its ok if you don’t have your hair washed today, its ok not to have a picture perfect looking house, its ok to have an all day pyjama day sometimes ( I loveeee those days!) For goodness sake, you have a lot on your plate, don’t be too hard on yourself you are doing the best you can. Listen to your body and what its telling you, it will give you the cues.

At the end of the day its important I reiterate that you ARE doing the best you can so please don’t be too hard on yourself, motherhood is one of the hardest jobs in the world!

- Amanda Cavallaro (The Anxiety Wellness Queen)

CLICK HERE TO CONNECT WITH AMANDA AND HER WEBSITE AND TO DOWNLOAD HER TOP 10 TIPS TO MANAGING YOUR STRESS & ANXIETY

Follow The Anxiety Wellness Queen on FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM and TWITTER

If you're a new or pregnant mama, please join our Facebook support group over at Find Your Village – a truly supportive community of new and experienced mamas where you can vent frustrations or share your excitement in a space that is free from judgment. Whether you are suffering from anxiety or sleep deprivation we are here!

Don't forget to join our mailing list to receive your FREE download of "Your New Mum Checklist" - all the checklists you'll ever need when planning for baby, all in the one place, plus additional parenting tips around Baby Sleep, Feeding and Nutrition.

 

How to tackle anxiety as a new mum

By Fi Morrison

I vividly remember sitting in the car in the parking lot of a local supermarket. I was sniffling back tears. I sat there listening to my son crying out of hunger, and audibly shaking as I spoke to my husband through the car’s Bluetooth. I had just (barely) survived a SHORT grocery shop with my 6 week-old son (I seriously only needed to purchase TWO items). I had been motoring through the aisles of this unfamiliar shop while my son wailed in the pram. I fielded unimpressed looks from other customers, and even a couple of reasonably empathetic comments from passersby.

I was very grateful for two things in that situation – one, a woman called out after me ‘you’re doing a wonderful job!’ as I motored on past. That really made me feel better (although to be honest, that was after the fact – at the time it only helped marginally as I was well and truly past flustered by that stage!). The other thing that helped was the conversation with my husband in the car afterwards. Gosh it was good to have someone to break down to and receive verbal encouragement from. It was the support I received that truly helped me through that tough season.

You see, I suffer from some sort of anxiety. I haven’t been diagnosed, but I know my anxiety levels are higher than most average people. I know I worry about things too much. I know I overthink things, and I stress about ridiculous situations (like where am I going to park when I go somewhere new?). The other night, I literally didn’t fall asleep until after midnight because I was so anxious about another false alarm going off on the baby monitor. I know I suffer from some sort of anxiety. But was it any different to ‘normal’ first-time mum anxiousness?

The thing about becoming a new mum is that there will be some anxiety there for you to some degree. Whether you are ‘naturally’ an anxious person or you’re relatively laid-back, at some point it will hit you. Is my baby supposed to make weird noises at night (yes, yes they are)? Is my baby’s poo supposed to look like that? What is that red rash on his face? When am I supposed to feed him solids? Am I feeding him correctly? Mums are ambushed by so many questions, and often judgements based on their answers to these questions, that they are anxious about whether their child is normal, and whether they are mothering right. All new mums go through this at some point, and many might not be sure how to let go of these anxieties until they build up to breaking point. For me, I followed these five strategies below after my shopping incident to help me get through the tough times that motherhood brings:

GO TO YOUR SUPPORT NETWORKS

We had family and friends bring us meals in the first couple of weeks, which was absolutely brilliant - it removed the hassle of us going out shopping with a screaming baby, which was what I was most anxious about (especially after my previous incident!). Surrounding yourself with supportive loved ones can help minimise your fears and concerns as they offer practical and emotional support.

PRACTISE MINDFULNESS

Whatever this looks like for you and your beliefs, engaging in some sort of mindfulness can help you to relax, refocus and prioritise what is important. I found even having 20 minutes to myself after my husband returned from work helped to clear my mind of the things I was worried about, refocus on what is important to me (my family) and to move forward.

TAKE TIME TO EXERCISE

We all know exercise is important for physical health, but it also releases endorphins to make us feel emotionally better. Fresh air can give us a new – and often better - perspective on things, (and hey - a baby screaming in the stroller is moving and won't be annoying any one person for too long!)

FOCUS ON SELF CARE

Give yourself permission to have 'me-time' away from your child, even if it is only for an hour. Do it regularly, and indulge in something you are passionate about or enjoy (massages, movie, read a book, go for coffee). This will remove that feeling of anxiety you may be feeling, help you to relax and prepare you for the next task ahead (and you’ll most likely miss your baby in that short time – I know I sure did!)

BUILD UP YOUR MUM TRIBE

The best support I had was a group of new mothers who were going through the exact same experience as I was, who could empathise with my situation, and offered words of encouragement and support. There were other mothers who encouraged me to go out for coffee, and weren't the slightest bit put out by my screaming baby. There were mothers who would come up to me after a rough (screaming) session at mother's group and ask if I wanted them to hold my son to give me a break. If I could give you only one piece of advice, find your mum tribe as soon as possible, and stick with them because they will make your motherhood journey not only bearable, by enjoyable.

After I followed these strategies, I found myself feeling less anxious and was able to enjoy motherhood a lot more. While I still have moments of anxiety (just a part of my nature/personality I guess), I love everything about motherhood now and enjoy going out with my son.

 What tips or strategies have you found to alleviate the anxiety new mums face?

- Fi Morrison (Mumma Morrison)

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE WONDERFUL MUMMA MORRISON BLOG

As Fi mentions above, a huge part of getting through the early stages of motherhood is by having a great support network. Please feel free to join our Facebook group over at Find Your Village here – a truly supportive community of new and experienced mamas where you can vent frustrations or share your excitement in a space that is free from judgment.

If you haven’t already joined our mailing list, please do so you can be notified of our blogs as soon as they go live! Added bonus when you sign up - you will also receive your FREE download of "Your New Mum Checklist" - all the checklists you'll ever need when planning for baby, all in the one place.

 

Anxiety, Mental Health & Depression in early Motherhood

Monthly Focus : Anxiety, Mental Health & Depression in early Motherhood

This month at The Nursery Collective, our blog will be focused around a very important topic for new Mums – Anxiety, Mental Health and Depression. From the very common baby-blues to more serious forms of post (or pre) natal depression, our mental health as new mums is one of the most vital areas we need to pay attention to. After all, if we can’t look after ourselves, how can we look after our little ones?

I thought I’d start by sharing some of my own experiences with anxiety when I was a brand-new Mum. I know now that the main trigger for my anxiety was lack of sleep. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is often called a form of torture! Without sleep, I just couldn’t function and my anxiety would go through the roof. Read our Baby Sleep Tips in the First Year blog post here if you are going through any sleep deprivation and need some help! I would burst into tears over the tiniest thing and I felt like the lack of sleep would never end, and I’d never get through it – dramatic I know, but that’s how I felt at the time. Luckily for me I had an incredible support network throughout this period, firstly my Mum and then my mother-in-law flew from overseas to stay and help me through the first few months. Looking back now I’m sure my wonderful mother-in-law thought I was a complete loony as she was with me during my highest levels of anxiety – but having her around to talk to and be of support made the world of difference. We used to take the night in shifts so I could get some quality sleep when my little one decided he was going to wake every 45min to an hour all night long. I was also lucky to have my closest girlfriends around, most of which were also new mamas, so there were plenty of shoulders to cry on.

I don't have many photos of me from this particular time, but here's one I found. I distinctly remember meeting one of my best mates at a mall after having zero sleep...behind that smile was one very tired and anxious new mama, note the dark circles!!

My anxiety also manifested in needing to control my environment as much as possible. Which is completely bonkers when you have a new baby - I can see that now! But at the time I definitely started becoming more OCD – keeping things clean and tidy, and sticking to a schedule as much as possible. So, when my baby didn’t sleep as much as the books said he should, I would lose the plot. Literally. The amount of pressure I was putting on myself was ridiculous. One of the midwives at the hospital had suggested I take notes on when baby was feeding, pooping, passing urine – just to keep an eye on things in the first few days. This became my obsession. I actually kept a record of all this.... for one year. Yes, you heard that right - ONE YEAR.  Wow, that feels so embarrassing to admit! I physically wrote down the time of every feed (and which side I fed on, later how many mls he would take in a bottle), when he pooped and how long he would sleep for at each nap and through the night. When we started weaning onto solids, I also included what he ate for every meal, to ensure he was getting the right nutrients and a wide variety of foods! TOTALLY insane right?! I actually ran out of pages after he turned one and finally stopped. It was incredibly liberating to throw it away, and although I can laugh about it now, in some ways writing it all down helped me feel some control during this period of complete overwhelm.

When my second was born, I did take notes, but only for the first fortnight or so – as a second-time mum my perspective was totally different. I had help with the cleaning, my eldest to also look after and frankly I didn’t have as much time to be as anxious. The triggers were still there, but this time I knew what I had to do to get through the difficult phases. I certainly had my moments, for example during the dreaded 4 month sleep regression, but “this too shall pass” had become my mantra and helped pull me through.

Talking about these issues openly is so important, these feelings are nothing to be ashamed of, or embarrassed by. But it’s hard I know! As much as my feelings of anxiety were minute compared to those suffering from full blown post-natal depression, it was still difficult to share at the time. So, during March we will be focusing our blog on these very topics, to hopefully shed some more light on ways to cope with anxiety and depression as a new mum. Fi Morrison, our regular blog contributor from Mumma Morrison will be up first with her take on tackling anxiety as a new mum. Amanda Cavallaro, from The Anxiety Wellness Queen will also be writing for us this month on how we can use mindfulness to deal with anxiety during pregnancy/as a new mum, as well as about PND in early motherhood, the signs and symptoms, and what to do next. We will also be featuring a few interviews - Kirsty and Lana, the founders of The Parents Village, who built their business based on the support they felt was lacking when they themselves were new mums, and Sarah Clark, who also built her business after finding ways to cope with PND.

A huge part of getting through the early stages of pregnancy and motherhood is by having a great support network. Not only does it take a village to raise a child, but more importantly to raise a mother. Read our blog post on the importance of finding your village as a new mum here. And please feel free to join our Facebook group over at Find Your Village here – a truly supportive community of new and experienced mamas where you can vent frustrations or share your excitement in a space that is free from judgment.

We look forward to sharing all this with you over the next few weeks. If you haven’t already joined our mailing list, please do so you can be notified of our blogs as soon as they go live! Added bonus when you sign up - you will also receive your FREE download of "Your New Mum Checklist" - all the checklists you'll ever need when planning for baby, all in the one place.

Feel free to comment below on your own experiences with anxiety or depression, or if you have any specific topics you’d like us to cover.

Love,
Cathy