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Strength builds quickly and I have gone beyond what I imagined by Rachel McKinstry

I became lost

Somewhere between pregnancy, a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old, I lost me. I put my heart and soul into being the mother and the nurturer. I had and still have no regrets on taking on this naturally instinctive role. However, had I had a bit of direction I feel that I would not have been so lost. Ten years of metamorphosis and I am only beginning to transition and emerge.

I have started my journey of self-rediscovery.

On reflection of myself and other mothers I know, what amazes me is our perseverance. Our ability to continue even when we have nothing left to give. At the age of 28 I was embarking on a CBT course and a year in, found that I was pregnant. The course was put on hold (and still is) and I was throwing myself into the unknown of parenthood. I couldn’t wait. I had fallen in love with a face I’d only seen on a 2d scan, the small movements that grew inside my ever-expanding belly. I was creating my most precious creation and it still overwhelms me how the female body adapts physically and mentally through the 9 months and beyond.

What hit me in the first 4 months of being a new mum, was an unknown state of barely functioning. I managed and got through but with support from my amazing partner and wonderful family. Big hands up to mothers that don’t have a support network around them as its tough even with that. Four months in and I decided, with encouragement, to stop breastfeeding and it was not a decision that came lightly. This was the first experience of motherhood guilt and it is so familiar an emotion now that I realise it will always be there regardless of what age my kids are. I now accept that I am going to feel guilty about going to work when they are sick or that I was too busy one night to read a story, but this is my reality and I am sure I am not alone with this emotion. It was for my own mental health that I needed to stop breastfeeding and on making that decision I felt relief.

A few years later, a friend had her first baby and had been convinced by a community midwife to continue breastfeeding even though her nipples were bleeding and her baby was not latching effectively. I watched on as she placed a plastic covering over her bleeding nipples and wincing in pain each time her baby fed, and I wondered if it was worth it. Surely its more important to enjoy this moment whether its breast or bottle than to put yourself through this? This is just one example of the perseverance shown by mothers and I am constantly in awe.

Over the years to come my creativity was dulled and I dabbled in and out of exercise, mainly because time and inspiration were in short supply. There was no aspect of my life that I didn’t love, everything was moving and perhaps this is where I became lost. There was a continuity of motion and I didn’t have time to think about where I was and what I wanted. I became content in the routine of my children. Even writing this sounds selfish but the conflicting voice is saying why not, why not think of me?

I started to connect with myself again around 3 years ago. My sister was getting married in Las Vegas and wanted bouquets that would last. Her idea of an alternative bouquet that could be cherished and kept, reignited my creative juices and I was invigorated again. We worked alongside each other, me crocheting flowers of her colour choice and her deciding what else could be added to produce a forever bouquet. I have created several bouquets and crocheted flower gifts since then and although not a business at present it may be a direction I will choose to go in.

Last year I started a new exercise, calisthenics. It’s using your own bodyweight and does not require gym use. Through the gym I attend that runs the calisthenics, I have met some beautiful, like-minded people of all ages. It’s a very empowering sport, although male dominated at present, it is a growing sport and I can see more women becoming involved. Strength builds quickly and I have gone beyond what I imagined I would be able to achieve at 38, especially with never having done gymnastics or strength training previously. Pushing boundaries and not being restricted by your age or what you feel you can or cannot achieve helps emotional wellbeing. It’s about progression and even if these are small steps, they all work towards creating the best of me, a happier me.

We are as important to our children as they are to us and I feel that a good mother is a happy one. It’s getting a balance between the expectations of life and the person we want to be. If our children see us as strong, independent women, hopefully, in turn, they too will become strong, independent people. Live a life you love alongside your family but don’t forget the importance of yourself.

Words and Images by Rachel McKinstry

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