Becoming a mother

Chris and I were so lucky never to have any concerns about Artie’s wellbeing. He slept normally, we figured out breastfeeding, and he hit all the newborn milestones. He had constant nourishment, rest, connection, and care. That’s not typically the case for new mothers in our Western world.

I received a hasty Zoom call from a midwife I’d never met as my postpartum follow-up from the hospital. Despite receiving stitches from birth, my GP didn’t examine me internally at the six-week check-up. Fortunately, I saw a women’s health physio for my pelvic floor. But sadly, as with hypnobirthing, this kind of individualised, comprehensive healthcare is elective, expensive, and not accessible to all women.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve measured my personal worth by accomplishments and productivity, academic achievements, sporting accolades, artistic pursuits, and travel milestones. I had always been independent, confident, sociable, and capable. Your typical A-type personality, you know? So when I saw the rest of the year stretching ahead of me with no goals to pursue, I felt worthless. So, I started studying sustainability at nine months pregnant. It gave me stimulation during those long pandemic days and a sense of identity aside from being a mum. Because I had no concept then of what an accomplishment motherhood is – aside from flowers and breakfast in bed once a year, I had not witnessed mothers receiving accolades in our society.

As a new mum, I found myself relegated to the four walls of my home, responsible for a little person with big demands, a constant observer of the undone housework, and financially dependent on a man. I had no career waiting for me, no idea what I was doing with my life, no community of mothers, and everything I had prided myself on seemed to dissipate. My identity and self-esteem were in the toilet, and I had neither time nor energy to reclaim them. The only thing that made me feel like myself was studying and (for the first time at uni) getting straight High Distinctions.

When I couldn’t walk with a newborn

Five weeks after birth, I was about to go shopping with my mum for activewear to fit my new body, in optimistic anticipation of exercising at six weeks postpartum – not that I had any idea how to train with a weak pelvic floor, limited core strength, and non-existent cardiovascular capacity. As I picked Artie up off the floor, I must have twisted funny because my bent knee painfully locked into place. I couldn’t straighten it, I couldn’t stand. I called Mum to take Artie from me. After trips to the pharmacy for crutches, the physio, and the doctor, I was left desperately calling every clinic in Brisbane to book an MRI – I couldn’t be stuck not walking, I had a newborn to care for! Eventually, I learnt I had torn the meniscus and needed surgery.

I was stressed; weighing up the pros and cons of spending $8000 for private surgery sooner or going on the waitlist for free public surgery later. From incessantly calling hospitals to gauge their waitlists, I consider myself very lucky to have received public surgery after four weeks of being unable to look after my baby independently.

Postpartum anxiety

So there I was, mother of a newborn, healing from surgery, leaking milk, covered in vomit, sleep deprived, measuring the success of every day by the housework that was never completed or modules studied while Artie napped. Chris had a long commute and felt compelled to return to work after 10 days, so I was mostly alone. I held myself to the highest standards because I believed I needed to excel, even in motherhood. I scrubbed reusable nappies because #sustainability and didn’t leave the house until it was tidy. I kept a strict feed, wake, sleep schedule, was exclusively breastfeeding day and night, following Tummy Time recommendations, reading up on leaps, and staunchly avoiding screentime – we didn’t even have a TV. We had also adopted a rescue dog, Luna, a kelpie with a sweet nature and an anxiety problem, who licked compulsively and could jump a six-foot fence. She would escape whenever she was left alone, so I had to take her everywhere. I was under a lot of pressure, self-imposed and not, and I felt like any lapse in effort or control would mean I was a failure.

Even though I had a loving husband who was a devoted father, and my family and friends were supportive, I didn’t recover from pregnancy and birth as I should have. And that’s because neither I nor my village knew what a new mother needs in those first fragile months. Chris and I were grateful recipients of generous gifts at our baby shower, but I still went straight from growing a human with my body, to birth, to being on-call 24 hours a day, nourishing that human with my body, and feeling the pressure to ‘bounce back’ and be productive as soon as possible. To attract external validation. To at least contribute as a housewife because I wasn’t contributing financially.

One of my many days mothering at home alone

I didn’t know at the time that I was experiencing Matrescence, the transition all mothers pass through. Where we experience physical, emotional, spiritual, and social changes that are awkward and painful and uncomfortable. Our culture neither holds space for this transition nor guides women through it gracefully. We are left to fumble on our own, desperately grasping everything we were and believed before motherhood. I didn’t know that I needed to rest, go slow, shirk society’s values and pressures to look a certain way or be constantly achieving, to allow myself to be nurtured and nourished, to connect with other women authentically and without comparison. I was barely connecting with Chris because I couldn’t relax enough.

I struggled like this for months. I was anxious, depleted, and dreaded the time I had alone with Artie. I deeply loved him, but that manifested as needing to do ‘the best’ for him at every opportunity, adding to the pressure. I never considered that going easy on myself meant he would be just as cared for and content. At seven months postpartum, I reached breaking point. I had a bad day where Artie wasn’t napping, he was definitely picking up on my dysregulation, and I called Chris in tears, asking him to come home. He suggested we put Artie in daycare to give me a break, something I had resisted because I saw it as a failure on my part, but I was so strung out at that point that I agreed.

My first Mother’s Day

Here, I started to heal. Artie loved daycare two days a week. I got time to myself. I started seeing a psychologist; someone who listened objectively and gave me permission not to hold myself to such high (and often arbitrary) standards. Again, a valuable kind of healthcare that’s elective and expensive. I overcame my nerves and returned to yoga classes and eventually teaching again. I started learning about the Fourth Trimester, The First Forty Days, Matrescence, Postnatal Depletion, and Nervous System Dysregulation. I learnt why I was struggling so much as a new mum, what I needed, and how to allow myself to meet my needs.

Learning my purpose

When Artie was almost one, we lost someone close to us in an accident. It was while processing this grief with my psychologist that I realised I did know what I wanted to do with my life but I was putting it off because I believed I ‘should’ complete my sustainability qualification. She asked me why I was delaying my happiness. In that moment, I realised I was killing myself to complete something that had no consequence. The sustainability qualification wasn’t the open door to a new career; I was merely doing it to fill the void in my identity, to claim gravitas. Instead, I could pursue my true purpose.

I wanted to help women survive and thrive through pregnancy and postpartum. Using the wisdom of ancient cultures, the tools of yoga, and the sisterhood of a fellow mother, I could be the big sister a few steps ahead, holding space and sharing knowledge to fill the void between what a mother needs and what the health system provides. I quit uni (let’s quell the shame around that) and enrolled in Prenatal and Postpartum Yoga Teacher Training.

Starting to feel myself in motherhood

Considering the different trimesters and hormones, I learnt how to exercise safely during pregnancy and postpartum. I learnt how to manage common conditions like sciatica and lumbar pain. I learnt about postural alignment for a growing body, partner yoga and chanting for birth, pelvic floor training, anatomy, the stages of labour, Ayurveda and perinatal nutrition. I had never felt so fuelled by purpose!

Starting my business

I started my coaching business shortly after, offering private prenatal and postpartum yoga teaching with education on different aspects of motherhood. Concepts like Mastrescence, Ayurveda, sustainable parenting, the mental load, knowing your values, embodiment, nature therapy, yoga philosophy, journalling, breath work, meditation, pelvic floor toning, perineal massage, yoga poses for birth, and preparing for postpartum. Under my mentorship, I watched women blossom as mothers and mothers-to-be; healing from birth, starting to meet their needs, managing physical symptoms, and navigating Matrescence with support.

My business was growing, and I enjoyed genuine connections with clients when I suffered my first miscarriage. You can listen to my experience here.

My first miscarriage

A few months later, I lost another pregnancy. I dropped into grief and stepped away from my work in the perinatal space. I left social media and returned to corporate work for the first time in four years. I put on a happy facade, focusing on the fact that our family income more than doubled overnight and a new future was available to us, but I was unhappy. I hated the three-hour daily commute, coming home exhausted to Artie’s bedtime, and feeling uncomfortable when my boss asked me to work on my days off.

A few months into my job, I found out I was pregnant. I battled first-trimester nausea, all-consuming fatigue in silence, and the fear that this one wouldn’t stick either. The day after I told my boss I was pregnant, I was let go. I felt angry, betrayed, and relieved. It was the sign I needed to return to my real purpose and reignite my business. I studied entrepreneurship and business, got a private business mentor, rebranded from Ecolust Life to Hayley Tillard, and transformed all of my offerings to be as accessible and impactful as possible.

I can now work with women from all over the world. I take the time to listen to their personal experiences and unique situations, which mothers deserve. I can share the ancient wisdom I have learnt about pregnancy wellbeing, postpartum recovery, and matrescence. I guide, I hold space, I hold mothers’ hands as they walk that one-way path into motherhood.