What I know now - Clea Wallage

This is a true treat. It brings me such joy to share Clea with our suite set community. My wish is that every pregnant woman could read this before they become a mama, because it is filled with honest, life saving truth.

I came across Clea on the recommendation of my darling friend Lauren. 

Clea is a psychologist, a mama of three, and is passionate about raising awareness about burnout. Burnout is a rising epidemic and especially for mamas who are trying to be all things to all people. I began to follow Clea on her Instagram account where she would detail how she was putting herself first for the day. Clea's posts are raw and honest. I became almost addicted to checking in on her daily to see how she was putting herself first, in order to best serve and thrive. I'm thrilled to share her lessons with you in our journal.

Q. Clea, having a newborn can be an isolating time, where did you turn to for support?

A. It really can be and I definitely found my first newborn the most challenging in terms of this. I am lucky to have my mother close by but with my first she went overseas for three months soon after Matisse’s birth so I didn’t have her around like I did with my subsequent two children. My husband originally took two weeks off but extended his leave an additional week and as soon as I was connected to a mothers group I really leaned on them for connection and support.

Q. If you were talking to you, pre-baby, pre-birth - what would your pep talk be?

A.This is going to be really really different. This is going to be hard. Be kind to yourself and prioritise your wellbeing over all else. Stuff the cleaning and the dinner prep and sleep whenever you can! Get your husband involved right from the outset – he’s learning too and needs the opportunity to do everything with the baby to grow his own confidence.

Q. What do you remember most from the newborn phase Clea?

A .My first was so different to my subsequent two. With my first I struggled. I remember horrifically sore nipples, severe exhaustion, aching muscles, painful wrists, boredom with the monotony of my new life, a grasping for any way I could control my situation and a desperation to get some time to myself. My subsequent two were so different to this. I took a much more flexible approach, allowed my husband to be much more involved with the children and prioritised my self-care.

Q. Hospitals are unfamiliar places to many new parents. What are your top tips to make going into hospital to have a baby less daunting?

A. Know from the outset that you’re going to get all different opinions from the nurses. I really struggled with this as I assumed that there would be one approach that would work! When I was told multiple different approaches and none of them seemed to work it left me really confused and overwhelmed. Take in your creature comforts plus a few luxury new items (like a set of new pjs) so you’re as comfortable as you can be. Work out the best place to get coffee and takeaway before hand  - if you’re like me and get over hospital food super quick! Oh and also make sure that your guests confirm on the day before they visit, we had a couple of surprise visits that came right at the wrong time which adds a lot of stress.

Q. You’ve spoken a lot about burn out, what warning signs did you see and where did you find help?

A. My burnout was work related and not the newborn stage. However in saying that, the additional stress of having 3 young kids whilst juggling a very demanding role and work schedule definitely contributed to my stress levels and was a component that led me to burnout. I used to be told by others that I was superwoman and I loved hearing that. But basically it got to a point whereby I had pushed myself so hard and prioritised everything in my life (work and my kids) over my own health and wellbeing that my body finally took over and said, “that’s enough”. I had a whole stack of warning signs, some including that I was severely exhausted, I was falling asleep putting the kids to bed at 7pm and struggling to get out of bed in the morning at 6, I had lost all confidence and had a terrible brain fog that made even the most basic of decisions excruciating, I was suffering from terrible gut health issues and by the end I had started to experience panic attacks. I was seeing about 8 specialists at the time, all of whom were trying to bandaid me together and while they were all saying that I was chronically stressed I had my blinkers on. I had always operated in full throttle mode, this was no different so why couldn’t I keep doing that? I questioned rather than listened to and respected, why my body wasn’t allowing me to operate in this mode anymore.

The turning point came one night when I was putting my 6 year old to sleep and I was shushing her to stop talking because I was desperate to get her to sleep so I could do the same. It was 7pm, I’d only been home for 30 minutes and my daughter who had started school not too long ago just wanted to talk to her mum about her day and I did not have the energy to listen. I realised that I had been doing the same thing for weeks. Something had to change. The next day I went into work and organised a 12 month career break. 

Q.How did you make self-care a non-negotiable, and what advice would you give to a new mama about self-care?

A. Before my burnout I had always experienced significant guilt about prioritising my own self-care, and with this I know that I am not alone. Because of this I decided to commit myself to a 365 day challenge to do just that, put myself and my wellbeing first in order to be at my best. So every single day I had to find at least one thing to look after myself. I am so glad that I committed to that challenge because at the beginning, and also at multiple points throughout my journey I found it really hard. But it’s like anything in life, while absolutely possible, it’s not easy to change your beliefs and the way you have done things for a long time so having the challenge kept me on track and supported me to make self-care a non-negotiable.