Turning My Struggles into a Step-by-Step Online Program for New Moms

A photo of Dr. Michelle McKee ND.

This is the background story behind why I created my 12 week online program, The Energized Motherhood Method, which supports the health of  tired and overwhelmed moms who are 1-4 years postpartum by addressing hormone dysregulation.

It feels a little icky to be so vulnerable, but I think it's important to share how this program came about, and how easy it is for health habits and hormones to be impacted by our circumstances. As a Naturopathic Doctor with extensive training in hormonal health, clinical experience supporting hundreds of women and having always found it relatively easy to take care of my health needs, there was a huge shame component to this that I've had to let go. "How did you let this happen?" "How did you get here?" "What's wrong with you?" were some (negative and unhelpful) thoughts I used to have swirling around my head on repeat.

I'm over it now and feel a sense of purpose because I know I'm not the only one who experienced these challenges as a new mom, it's actually quite common. It's just not openly talked about, discussed and worse - addressed. So often I hear symptoms normalized because "you're a mom, you're supposed to be tired."

To back up a little bit, I should clarify that my challenges as a new mom didn't really influence my health too much until my son was over 1 year of age.

Those first 12 months had all the typical challenges of the newborn stage. Healing after birth, sleep deprivation, wild hormone fluctuations, learning (and re-learning) how to read newborn cues, feeding worries, nap schedules, going new places for the first time, teething, solids introductions, etc. Yeah I was more tired but it was all to be expected and despite all those challenges, it didn't affect my mood, my eating habits, or day-to-day.  

So what changed around that 12month postpartum stage? The challenges and demands that I faced at that time in my life were greater than my perceived ability to cope. When we are in this state, we call upon our stress hormone cortisol to help us get through and meet the demands. When cortisol levels are too high over an extended period of time, we can become susceptible to cortisol dysregulation, which has a wide impact and leads to a ton of different symptoms. That's the root cause right there. In other words, it was an issue with my stress hormone. But if you asked me if I was stressed, I'd deny it like most women/moms and say vehemently, I'M NOT STRESSED!

Here's what I experienced:

-Constant state of overwhelm - even little to-do's felt daunting and like uphill battles.

-Urgency with everything - like I was behind unloading the dishwasher before even beginning.

-More reactive - I was easily triggered by things like my dog stopping to sniff on walks or my son's tantrums. Instead of meeting him with calm and compassion, I would either get really internally worked up OR lose my patience with him which just made me feel guilty and awful afterwards.

-Tired - harder to wake in the morning and exhausted by late afternoon/early evening. My evenings were totally lost on the couch watching Netflix.

-Apathy-I lacked my 'care' towards things I deeply value like enjoyment in my career, making healthy meals, and even connecting with friends.

-Brain didn't work as well - I didn't feel sharp, focussed and simple things like charting took a lot longer

-Cravings at night - I rewarded myself after putting my son to bed with unhealthy habits like ice cream and chips that just made me feel gross and guilty the next day.

-No sex drive.

-Wishing time away - Instead of marvelling in the magic of my son at that stage...learning to walk, talk and discover the world, I'd count down the minutes until bedtime.

I was still functioning in my job, physically showing up for my family (just not in the fun, calm way I wanted) so by conventional standards I was doing great. But I wasn't happy with what I was doing and how I was feeling. I don't think it's being unrealistic to want more during this stage and I'm grateful to have reached out to some coaches who helped me get on the path to where I am today, which I've outlined in my program.

After all my reflection ("how did I get here?") and further research into the nervous system, cortisol regulation and the postpartum period, I've learned that there are certain risk factors and driving factors that make some women more susceptible to cortisol dysregulation than others. I like to break things down into categories, so that's how I've outline things below.

Cortisol can be released in response to:

1. Daily Hassles of Life =everyday minor stressors that are considered more irritating and frustrating. Ex. misplacing things, clutter, workload, traffic, arguments or disagreements with others.

These have been shown in the literature to have more of a predictable impact on cortisol compared to major life events...probably because they are long-lived and can easily accumulate!

My personal hassles at that time: Balancing all the typical mom duties like making meals, cleaning the house, and work related tasks with my job. Not being listened to by a toddler, dealing with meltdowns and emotional outbursts, feeling like workload> time available.

2. Life Transitions - ex. becoming a new mom and navigating parenting is an example of a life transition!

My personal examples: first time mom, returned to work 4 months postpartum, moved to a new community when my son was 6 months old, loss of my practice and job, starting over building a new practice in new community, my husband had a career change, son attending three different daycares in under 1 year with difficult adjustment.

3. Emotions - fear, worry, resentment, loneliness - even if these are subconscious and beyond our awareness.

My personal examples: a lot of fear and worry with instability - both my husband and I were navigating new careers. Family drama at the time that created a lot of resentment and anger, and I experienced a lot of loneliness being at home with a baby in a new community during a pandemic.

4. Temperament- if more prone to introversion

This one was huge for me and I'll keep it brief, but those who tend to be more introverted on the spectrum have shown greater cortisol reactivity in response to triggers. Introverts are thought to have more sensitive nervous systems so are more affected by sensory information from their environments compared to extroverts and feel things more deeply.

My personal examples: I am very triggered by bright lights, sounds - so whining, crying and musical toys, as well as physical touch so I was prone to being 'touched out' and feeling guilty for that instead of cutting myself some slack. I lacked the alone time necessary to recharge which came so easily before becoming a mom. I also put a lot of pressure on myself to 'entertain' my son during the pandemic as I was very concerned about the lockdown's impact on his verbal and social development so I would make up a lot of songs and talk to him endlessly which in hindsight, probably took a toll. Just constantly interacting, engaging and chatter takes a lot of energy for an introvert.

5. Physiological Factors- poor sleep quality, blood sugar spikes and crashes, poor oxygen status, sedentary lifestyle, tense muscles, over-exercise, gut health, inflammation, leaky gut, etc.

My personal examples: Once the cravings began, I think my blood sugar was impacted which led to the slippery slope of impacting sleep quality, my gut health, and daytime energy levels. I was also prone to over-exercise, thinking that HIIT workouts were necessary to maintain muscle tone and fitness.

See, it's a little more complicated than just being 'stressed.' The good news is, we can leverage this information to allow ourselves more self compassion and understanding (to eliminate the guilt) and have areas to assess and support by step-by-step strategies. Step-by-step makes it less overwhelming.

I've likely been where you're at and struggled with things that you're struggling with. I'm happy to report that despite having more on my plate now with work, I'm in a place where I'm happy with my health. I don't take this time with my son for granted or count down time to bedtime like before. I can meet his tantrums with more calm and am less triggered by them. I eat ice cream on my own terms, not driven by nightly cravings. I know where to focus on with my health strategies and what to let go. I believe it's possible to feel energy during this challenging stage of life and I want to help as many moms as I can feel the same.

Ready to work together? Book a Energy Evaluation Call to see if my program The Energized Motherhood Method is right for you!

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