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Everything feels worse at 3am, doesn’t it? 3am is always the time your brain will not turn off and anxiety sets in. It feels like something is nibbling on my brain in these small hours. Over the years I have zoomorphized those weird little nibbly critters into “Madness Hamsters.”


In the autumn of 2014, thanks in part to the Madness Hamsters, I realized I was never going to get anywhere at the insurance company where I worked. I had an administrative job and it was boring me to tears. After eighteen months there, the Hamsters were out in full force. They whispered things like, “You’re not a corporate person” or “What’s the point in having a salary if you have no time to enjoy it?” Or “The more bored you get, the more we will steal your brain” and so on. They are very annoying. I also tend to think they are right with irritating frequency.

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I didn’t want the Hamsters to steal my brain, but I was resigned to what I thought was the sensible option – working the secure, decently-paid, and non-stressful job for a number of years in order to save up enough money to start a coffee shop. The coffee shop was and always had been my dream, but there were other factors to contend with too: as a new immigrant, I had to sort out my permanent residency status in Canada, build up a good credit rating, and not rush headlong into enormous financial risk, ill-prepared. I had only emigrated from the UK with my small family two years previously.

However, a lot of things happened extremely quickly. It was not always a deliberate effort, but I have often found that as soon as I make a conscious decision to do something, things start falling into the place to make it happen. In this instance, I met a very smart, ambitious guy at our office party. Matt was new to the company, and my first impressions were that he was conservative, straight-laced, and a model corporate employee – and thus someone I would have little in common with. Fortunately, our boss engineered the introductions despite my reluctance. Matt is a graduate of the University of Regina business school and had a very keen interest in entrepreneurship, but hadn’t yet had the opportunity to actually start a business of his own. We suddenly had a lot to talk about.

Over the next three months, we emailed each other back and forth between the insurance company departments, met on our lunch breaks to walk around town looking for venue inspiration, and drank a lot of coffee. Something about him coming to work on Halloween dressed as a six-foot hotdog set me at ease. By the fall, we had formulated a plan to do something together.

My newcomer status in Canada and my total lack of capital meant I had no way of funding a new start-up, especially one on this scale. Matt did not have these problems: he is young, local, and solvent, and he did not have huge bills like painful townhouse rent or childcare to contend with, as I did. Spurred on by this, he summoned the confidence and applied for a very large loan.

We then scouted for a building, and after a lot of disappointments and frustration, I found a near-perfect one. We negotiated the lease with the landlord (who I just happened to have made coffee for a few years ago at another job). A lot of phoning around got us a general contractor company to turn the huge empty building into a pleasant social space with two bathrooms and a coffee bar. Thanks to some luck, some bravado, and a great deal of chatting up random people in our different social circles, it finally all came together.

Then a huge spanner hit the works just two weeks after we had signed the lease. The Madness Hamsters were finding new and ingenious ways of keeping me up all night, and I had a sneaking suspicion that something major was coming my way. I was right: I was pregnant!

This wasn’t entirely unplanned. In fact, my husband Carl and I had been trying for a while, long before I’d even met Matt or got serious about a new business. We’d had problems, though, including an utterly miserable experience over the summer when I miscarried at thirteen weeks. With the advantage of hindsight, I can see that I was deliberately throwing myself into complicated projects like the café as a way of avoiding dealing with that grief and frustration. Possibly not the best basis for starting a new business. As is often the case, though, the simple act of not thinking about pregnancy resulted in pregnancy.

Carl and I kept it to ourselves for as long as we could manage, not wanting to in any way jinx it. I told Matt, though, and tried to reassure him that I was still completely committed to the cafe. In some respects, going solo at this point worked to my advantage. Setting my own hours and my own schedule gave me the freedom to handle pregnancy on my own terms. Additionally I thought that I’d also be able to take the baby to work with me and not worry about childcare. By the new year of 2015, I was blissfully happy with the world, extremely excited about everything to come, and throwing up every day.

Soon enough, the time came and I gleefully quit the day job. This was a momentous occasion. Leaving at this point (on Friday 13th, no less) was either very brave or very stupid. Had I stayed, I would have gotten the generous Canadian one year paid maternity leave, and a job to go back to afterwards. Now, of course, I would get diddly-squat except the state Employment Insurance benefits. Was paid maternity leave worth hanging around being bored for another few months and passing up the opportunity to open the cafe? I’d like to think not.

Not having the office job meant plenty of time (ahem) to work on “Dr. Coffee’s Cafe.” Even then it definitely was not easy, and many unanticipated events meant we didn’t manage to open exactly when we’d hoped. I was exhausted, but otherwise, the New-Human Growing process was going fairly well. As we neared opening day, I was feeling slightly less sick and disgusting now that I was over halfway through the pregnancy. We may not have opened quite to schedule, but even Wonder Woman needs a nap sometimes, I’m sure.

We finally got Dr. Coffee’s Cafe open on 13th April, 2015, when I was 26 weeks pregnant and two months to the day since I’d left the office job. The initial response to the place was so positive that I was convinced I must be on the right track finally. That went for everything else in my life as well. I had my cafe business, and my wonderful husband and brilliant beastling daughter to share it all with. There was another tiny daughter kicking me from inside my belly, my fantastic friends were all rooting for me from both sides of the Atlantic, the sun was shining after the long Saskatchewan winter, and all felt right with the world. For these moments, I felt very, very lucky.

However, I was getting larger and larger by the day, and more and more exhausted with pregnancy. I honestly do not know what possessed me to carry on as I did. I was still pulling sixty hour weeks right up until three weeks before my daughter was born. I can see now that that there was no need for me to actually be there myself as we had hired excellent staff, but I couldn’t accept that at the time. It’s only when I stopped and detached a little that I could see clearer.

Eventually, I gave in and took my maternity leave. Matt took over the general worrying and the shopping, and our baristas handled the summer amazingly well on their own. Why oh why did I not just let them get on with it prior to that? Put it down to stubborn arrogance. On some level, I wanted to feel indispensable. As wonderful as the staff were, my own ego wouldn’t let me trust them enough for me to let go of my business-baby, even while I was incubating my real baby.

I also felt like I had something to prove, to myself, but also to a lesser extent to Matt, who had seemed panicked when I told him I was pregnant so soon after signing the lease. Of course, growing a tiny human can’t slow me down! I can do everything! I can have it all!

Nope. That isn’t empowering. That was just stupidity. And it took me a full year to realize it.

I somehow expected my maternity leave to be a peaceful, idyllic, and “instagrammable” period. I could picture it, spending all day in pajamas, sipping my coffee with an adorable chubby baby sleeping angelically on my lap. Maybe I’d catch up on all those books I’d been wanting to read for so long.

This naive fantasy was very far removed from the reality.

Baby Theia exploded into the world within two days of her due date, and even as I was heading into hospital I was still getting text messages from the cafe asking where the hazelnut syrup was, and whether ‘BabyCoffee’ had arrived yet or not! It took 28 agonizing hours of labour, but arrive she did at over nine pounds, which rendered me out of action for the best part of the next month. My midwife released me from the hospital but forbade me from leaving my bed for a week, as I had lost a dangerous amount of blood. I was supposed to be taking it easy, and she didn’t advise walking too far for as long as possible. Needless to say, I got very bored very quickly: I wanted to go and show off my beautiful new baby!

And then there were the joys of entrepreneurship. Even if I was not actually pulling espresso shots, there were always at least a dozen emails waiting for me, or the website needed updating, or Facebook needed to take its daily slice of my soul, or it was time for payroll. At least while I was bed-bound, I could work from my laptop, I reasoned.

I’m not complaining; I honestly wouldn’t have had it any other way. Being self-employed and having the freedom to take my children to work with me allows me all sorts of benefits which few parents with conventional jobs can afford. Whereas I could have done with making far more money than I was at the time, I never had to sit in an office away from my kids, and never had to try and pump breastmilk while hiding in a stationary cupboard (as a friend once described having to do when she went back to work). Better still, I had caffeine on tap to cope with Theia’s 4am feeds and newborn sleeplessness, and most importantly I could run my own business and take care of my wonderful girls at the same time. That summer, I really did have it all, and it was well worth the sleep deprivation.

Sometimes it’s worth listening to the Madness Hamsters.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

Our Partners

I am currently 38 weeks pregnant with my second child and I hate everything. Okay, not everything everything. I only hate slowly falling apart as a person. And I miss running. I also miss sitting in hard chairs without back pain. Oh, and I hate how my boobs slowly suffocate me if I'm not lying down at an angle.

I only hate not being able to fully empty my bladder which means I run to the bathroom every 10 minutes thinking I'm about to pee my pants. And I hate how long it takes. I also hate being tired. I hate the super large prenatal pills I take because really, who thought giving a gigantic pill that smells horrible to someone who is already gagging every 30 seconds was a good idea? But really, that's it.

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I am supposed to be grateful and glowing and be excited to meet my baby. And I am. Excited and grateful, but most definitely not glowing. I'm more like sweating a lot, which I guess makes you kind of glow?

The thing is—no one wants to hear the real answer to "How are you feeling?"

I take the opportunity to be honest every time I am asked. And this has not once been received well. An example of how this goes. let's say, at a wedding...

SOMEONE'S AUNT: How are you feeling?

ME: My body is on fire and if I have to sit on this hard Chiavari chair for another 15 minutes I may murder the groom or dive headfirst into the cake.

SOMEONE'S AUNT: Yeah but only a couple more weeks!

ME: Do you know how many days make up two weeks? 14 days.

Do you know how long a day is when you can't put weight on your left foot because of how bad your plantar fasciitis is?

Do you know how long a moment is when you've hit your daily limit of TUMS and you resort to shots of apple cider vinegar which burns as it goes down your already burning throat?

SOMEONE'S AUNT: You should really try to enjoy it.

ME: Yes I should. Right after I figure out how to poop properly. I haven't done that in a couple of months. So I live life in this lovely limbo between constipation and diarrhea… It's been great chatting. Please pour a glass of wine out for me and have a nice night.

Everyone wants to see "the bump" but "the bump" better look small.

I never feel comfortable showing off my bump, so I wear a series of black tents that don't make me look that pregnant. And I am constantly rewarded for it. People are constantly telling me how good I look and how I am carrying well, and here's the thing, I am not.

I gained 50lbs with this pregnancy and 50lbs with the last one. I am fat-shamed and threatened with C-sections every time I go to the doctor's office. Naked I look like something out of National Geographic but if I cover it up, the people rejoice.

It's not cool. If it's not socially acceptable to comment on a woman's body when she is not pregnant—let's not open the floodgates when she is pregnant. I'm still a person. A 34-year-old woman with a buffet of body image issues. That all didn't stop when I gained 50lbs… if you can imagine that.

No. I am not excited about any part of maternity leave and "my time off."

At some point during my last maternity leave, I watched the movie "The Room"—the one where the woman is a captor with her child in some creeps backyard and I had never felt more seen. My company is giving me six months of leave, which is amazing by today's standards. And it's amazing for my baby. But I also feel trapped with someone who can't laugh at my jokes or commiserate on how hard the day has been for both of us.

AND CAN WE GET REAL ABOUT NIPPLES.

How the… what they… but how are they… what color are they… and HOLY AREOLA are they spreading? And what the… is my shirt wet? Are they leaking…? Why are they leaking? Should they be leaking? Cool. Cool, cool, cool. My giant brown areola boobs leak now.

If you are the type that grooms the, uh, ya know, you won't be seeing anything for a while.

I don't want to get too into this because people I know may read this and believe it or not I have a line I don't want to cross. But let's just say I lost sight of the "land down under" a couple of months ago. So what's going on "south of the border" is anyone's guess. I look forward to seeing her again someday so we can evaluate the damage and align on our approach to the situation together.

Okay, now if you'll excuse me, I have a cervix to soften and labor to induce.

So I have six dates to eat, some pineapple to cut, a TUMS and a Pepcid AC to take, a prenatal yoga class to go to, a birthing ball to bounce on, an Evening Primrose Oil supplement to swallow, some Red Raspberry Leaf tea to steep, an acupressure appointment to get to, some awkward sex to attempt right after I rub some Clary Sage essential diluted oil on my belly.

It goes fast, enjoy it!

Life

No matter our age or gender, hugs are the universal language of love. Hugging our babies when they are sad, hurt or disappointed lets them know they are safe and cared for, and can help alleviate some of their emotional pain.

But research has shown that hugs do more than just provide comfort. In fact, children need this type of stimulation to grow stronger and happier.

Studies show that hugs can enhance a child's physical growth by triggering the release of oxytocin—yes, that same hormone that your brain released to onset your labor and help you bond with your baby. When oxytocin levels in the blood are increased, several other hormone levels increase, too, promoting growth in cells, tissues and neurons. Other studies have shown that the absence of a nurturing touch can cause the brain to suppress cell responses to these growth hormones.

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Plus, those hugs a child receives in their early years are also important for their emotional development. When a baby is born, they have about 50 trillion synapses (the connection between two nerve cells) in their brain—that's about 100-times the number of stars in the Milky Way! This network of synapses grows rapidly during the first year and continues to do so up to the age of three when a child's brain will have 1000 trillion (!) of them.

As a baby grows, more connections in the brain are added based on daily life. But not all of the synapses will remain as the child grows. Life experience will activate certain neurons, create new connections among them and strengthen existing connections—and unused connections eventually will be eliminated in a process called synaptic pruning. During this pruning, the connections in the brain that are frequently used are preserved, and those that are not are eliminated. All to make the brain more efficient and boost brainpower.

Research has found that it is important to expose a child's brain to positive stimulation in order to preserve the right connections. For example, if we consistently show a child love and care, those related connections in their brain will develop and strengthen over time. Without love and care, the corresponding brain cells atrophy and eventually will be removed from the child's brain network, making it difficult for them to comprehend what is essential to create healthy, meaningful relationships later in life.

Bottom line: What we do during a child's formative years can have lifelong effects on their health and happiness. Keep those snuggles coming, mama.

Learn + Play

It was one of those mornings all moms know about. I was tired, my daughter was tired and we were running late for school. My daughter was in her school uniform, her backpack was organized for the day, and her snack box was filled with healthy treats to keep her fueled. Yet I was still in my pajamas. My hair was pulled up in a messy bun, and my glasses—the gold glittery ones that my girl says look like they belong to a grandma from Las Vegas—were sliding down my nose.

As I pulled up to the school's entrance, there she was: another mom dropping off her 3rd grader. She was dressed in heels and a form-fitting dress with her hair perfectly styled and cascading down her back. I felt like the biggest wallflower on the planet. Then my heart panicked. Dear God, please-oh-pretty-please make sure the principal is there to open the back passenger door. Please, don't make me have to step out of this car!

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Long story short, the principal met us and he opened the back door and greeted my girl. I inched out of the parking lot, pulled onto the street and headed home.

Then an unkind voice entered my head. It said that I wasn't enough.

I wasn't as good as the mom who, at 8:00 in the morning, was already perfectly outfitted for her day and ready to walk the runway of life. I pulled my car over, put my head on the steering wheel, and let out a long, hard sigh.

Have you ever felt this way? It's not uncommon that we, as mothers, can find ourselves living in black and white when it seems everyone else is living in full color. Life seems a little lackluster, at times. Where did that "together" woman go who once had time for wardrobe planning and long, warm showers? Moreover, when did the voice of insecurity enter whose sole occupation is to whisper of her inadequacies?

How do you silence that voice? Where do you go to remind yourself of your worth, while you're reminding everyone else—your kids, your partner, your friends—of theirs? How do you fall back in love with yourself and with your life? How do you return to the empowering sound of truth?

When it seems that I've fallen out of love with the woman I see in the mirror, there are two key things that I do to connect back with my true voice. The voice that speaks of my value and my worth.

These two keys help me tune into it:

First I initiate what I like to call irrational self-love. Irrational self-love is all about loving yourself without conditions. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the ability to see their mothers as truly happy and in love with who they are. Our example of being comfortable in our own skin can help our kids grow to be real, whole, and joy-filled people who are comfortable in their own skin.

I cannot give and serve from a place of depletion. Irrational self-love tells me that I'm worthy and of value, whether I find myself in my jammies or in a sequined gown. That's the mama I want my daughter to know and see exemplified before her every, single day. We should be willing to love ourselves scars, flaws and all. That's irrational self-love and it will transform your life.

Then I rally back with radical forgiveness. I'm tougher on myself than on anyone else in this life. Sometimes I practice diminishing self-talk and hold on to limiting beliefs. Yet when I hold tight to pain and when I keep score of hurt, I ultimately imprison myself. When I forgive—with radical and wide-sweeping forgiveness—I set myself free. This freedom throws open the door to loving myself, and my life, again. And, when you're in love with your life, that joy spills over and buoys up everything and everyone you touch.

Who or what do you need to forgive, right now? Even if the person you need to forgive is yourself, please let go of the burdens inside that are weighing you down. You didn't clean the dishes after dinner last night? It's okay. You drove to your daughter's school in your pj's this morning? It's alright. Forgive. Let it go, mamas. Let it go.

It's amazing just how freeing forgiveness is. It will bring you back to what matters most and that's love for yourself, your life and for all those around you.

When the day has gone less than smooth, when it seems like motherhood has the upper hand on myself —I take action. Give yourself a good dose of irrational love and radical forgiveness. You're a beautiful and brave mama.

Sometimes, we all just need a little reminder.

Life

Finding the perfect gift for your loved ones can be a tough task, but if you have a beauty buff on your holiday shopping list, then Pinterest has you covered. The leading destination for inspiration just released their Pinterest 2019 Holiday Shopping report, where they curated the best of the best gift ideas. Digging into their data, they pulled some of the top-shopped and most-searched products of the entire year to curate the must-have list beauty lovers will want to open up this year.

Here's what's we're adding to our carts (okay, fine, buying for our best friends):

Boy Brow grooming pomade

boy brow grooming pomade

Think of this as a mini mascara. The brush-able, creamy wax thickens and shapes your brows, giving them a fuller appearance. If you're not ready to commit to a color, the clear works wonders for daily grooming.

$16

Deep condition + repair hair care

lus brands deep conditioner

If your favorite person has curly locks, this deep conditioner will be their holy grail. It nourishes dry hair with natural ingredients and doesn't weigh down bouncy curls.

$44

Subliminal platinum bronze palette

subliminal platinum bronze palette

A palette so good, it's practically sold out everywhere. The golden taupes and velvety bronzes look gorgeous on any skin tone and the pigment lasts forever.

$65

Maelove glow maker

maelove glow maker

A great vitamin C serum is a must-have in any beauty buff's cabinet, but there's a lot on the market. This one has a blend of vitamins C, E, hyaluronic acid and ferulic acid—the perfect combo for hydrated and brightened skin at a great price point.

$27.95

Pantene festival hair kit

pantene festival hair kit

Don't let 'festival' fool you when it comes to this kit—it's perfect to have on hand even if a night out isn't on your agenda. With dry shampoo, hairspray, a nourishing mask, rescue shot and frizz iron, no one will be able to tell you haven't washed it in a week.

$10.76

Balm Dotcom lip balm

balm dotcom

Aside from the cheeky name, this has an incredible formula that's made it a cult favorite for a while now. Pro tip: Grab the original and use it as a skin salve for the dryer months.

$12

ColourPop eyeshadow palette

eyeshadow palette colourpop

With rich pigment at an affordable price, you can't go wrong with one of these palettes. Use it as eyeshadow, liner or use a larger brush to add as a cheek tint or highlight.

$16

Mini MAC lipsticks

mini mac lipstick

The creamy best-selling shades in a mini version. Throw in each bag of yours so you're never without a quick swatch of color.

$10.20

L'Oreal voluminous carbon black volume building mascara

loreal carbon mascara

If there's one beauty product I can't live without, it's mascara. I've tried everything from budget-friendly drugstore buys to high-end name brand picks and this one is always on rotation in my makeup bag. Buildable color that doesn't flake.

$8.99

NYX sweet cheeks creamy powder blush matte

nyx sweet cheeks blush

Super-pigmented shades that has a creamy smooth finish. A little goes a long way, but it's buildable so start small and then add more as you need.

$7.50

CHI deep brilliance hair iron

chi hair straightener

My first hair straightener was a CHI and this brand hasn't disappointed since all those years ago. This one was created specifically for treated or textured hair, helping to maintain moisture even with the heat.

$79.95
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