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As a child who fought more with her two imaginary friends than laughed, I reflect on how real it was for those around me.

Amelia today as she remembers her childhood companions.

“Alright, that’s it!

Tom and Ellie get out of the car now, you’re not coming back home,” I remember my mum yelling.

It was a casual afternoon in mid-2001, I was two-and-a-half years old and the back seat of our forest green Subaru was filled with three children fighting over the last Twistie. I kicked and screamed, not happy with the designated chip outcome, begging the other children to give it to me.

However, I was the only physical child in the back seat. Tom and Ellie were “invisible” fragments of my imagination. Invisible fragments that I fought with so much, I forced Mum to throw them away.

This day was the tip of the iceberg for my mum, feeling like she was the mother to triplets instead of just me. Throwing these “friends” out of the car seemed like the only way to keep the peace and her sanity intact. She was beyond patient with my constant demands. Making sure these unseen beings were properly bathed, dressed, fed and securely buckled into the car before leaving home.

“It was really draining,” says Mum, when asked to reminisce on this stage of my childhood.

“I would have to give everyone a bath each night and when told I didn’t dry them properly, the process had to start all over again.

“As a mum, I knew it was my responsibility to remove a problem that was so obviously agitating my daughter, so ultimately that is what made me stop the car that day.”

Fast forward to the present and I cannot tell you what Tom and Ellie looked like, but when I was a child, they were so vivid within my imagination. They kept me company, forcing me to explore social situations at such an early age. There were plenty of times the three of us were the best of friends, but unfortunately, the fighting outweighed the calm. I knew the playmates I was bickering with over toys, food and personal space were fictional characters within this chapter of my life, however, they were still emotionally and intellectually alive.

My make-believe friends were most likely born out of boredom or the fundamental desire for company, as Tom and Ellie emerged into my life before my little sister was born. Even though we all drove mum crazy, these beings allowed my parents to gain an insight into the creations of my inner world. They noticed what made me shriek with both laughter and anger, my likes, dislikes and inventiveness.

Mum worried I had psychological problems or was meant to be a triplet and had separation anxiety. However, with copious research, she discovered having imaginary friends was a normal part of growing up and developing.

Studies show that imaginary friends are an extremely natural and healthy part of a child’s development. Up to two-thirds of children create make-believe playmates, usually between the ages of three and eight. Dr Psych Mum says these friends are more common amongst firstborn or only children, as they satisfy the need for friendship and companionship, notions in which many only children crave.

The stigma surrounding imaginary friends used to be harsh. Up until the 1990s, people believed they were a psychological red flag, being a sign of loneliness within the child or a reluctance to accept reality. Others also thought these invisible companions were a sign of an evil demonic possession or early signs of mental illness.

However, developmental psychologist Marjorie Taylor said in an interview with The Globe and Mail, that children who manifest these beings grow up to be creative adults, with further links to higher developed social and verbal skills.

Psychologists from all around the world agree children with imaginary confidants – whether that be friends or personified objects – tend to engage more with their peers as they grow up. They also found that these children are more advanced in knowing how to react with imagining how someone else might think and behave in certain situations.

The inclusion of pretend friends within a child’s life fulfils three fundamental psychological needs: competence, relatedness and autonomy. Competence is met by the child assuming a leadership role towards the imaginary friend, an established invisible hierarchy. Relatedness is accomplished by teaching a child ways to connect socially with real-life human beings as they grow older. Autonomy is satisfied by a child gaining a sense of control over their parents, by demanding they complete tasks for their companion.

Imaginary friends inspire children to explore their curiosity in a make-believe world they constructed within their own minds. They provide a sense of comfort, freedom for life lessons and learning curves in the real world.

Looking back and laughing with Mum over these crazy antics with my treasured friends, I am grateful my two-year-old self could invent such precious company. They fulfilled my needs for companionship then, and maybe they fulfil my needs for creativity today.

Studies discover symptoms of depression and anxiety can be reduced through mindfulness meditation practices.

Studies at John Hopkins School of Medicine reveal a strong correlation between mindfulness meditation and its ability to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety.

After reviewing research on participants in mindfulness based meditation programs, lead researcher Madhav Goyal and his team discovered effect sizes ranged between 0.22 to 0.38 for anxiety symptoms and 0.23 to 0.30 for depression symptoms.

The Journal of the American Medical Association show these small effects are comparable with what would be expected from the use of antidepressants in a primary care population but without the associated toxicities.

“In our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants,” Goyal explains.

While meditation can be dated back to ancient Hindu and Buddhist traditions, this age-old practice is gaining traction from its ability to ease symptoms of depression and anxiety without the harmful side effects of prescription medication.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that mindfulness performs as well as or better than medication,”Adrian Wells professor of psychopathology at Manchester University states.

Mindfulness meditation works by establishing concentration to observe inner thoughts, feelings and emotions while focusing attention on the present moment to not be reactive or overwhelmed by what’s happening around us.

Meditation is a state of induced relaxation that focuses awareness on breathing and encouraging positive attitudes to achieve a healthy and balanced mental state.

Around one in six Australian adults now practice meditation, with the number of people who meditate worldwide rising by three times as much since 2012.

With studies revealing that mindfulness meditation can improve anything from memory in patients with Alzheimer’s to insomnia symptoms, it’s easy to see why this practice is being used by an estimated 200-500 million people around the globe.

The University of Oxford released a new study finding mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to be as effective as antidepressants in preventing a relapse of depression, further enhancing the credibility of this ancient practice.

In the study participants were randomly allocated to either the MBCT group or antidepressant group. The rate of relapse in the mindfulness group was 44%, with the rate of relapse of those on antidepressants at 47%.

Nigel Reed, participant from the study explains how mindfulness based therapy gave him life long skills to deal with depressive thoughts and episodes.

“Rather than relying on the continuing use of antidepressants, mindfulness puts me in charge, allowing me to take control of my own future, to spot when I am at risk and to make the changes I need to stay well.”

Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, psychiatrist at the Centre for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders believes it makes sense to use meditation to treat disorders such as depression and anxiety.

“People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power. They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.”

“If you have unproductive worries, you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently. You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’

“Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that, a thought, and not a part of my core self,’” Hoge explains.

While meditation can be dated back to 1500 BCE the benefits aren’t just an old wives’ tale as science and studies have repeatedly proven.

Meditation is known for changing the way the brain processes thoughts and emotions but new research by Sarah Lazar at Harvard University reveals it can also change the structure of the brain.

An eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program discovered increased cortical thickness in the hippocampus, and certain areas of the brain that regulate emotions and self-referential processing.

Decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala were also found, with this area of the brain responsible for thoughts of anxiety, fear and stress.

These changes matched the participant’s reports of stress levels, signifying that the program impacted their feelings and subjective perceptions in a positive way through meditation.

Evidence from The University of Hong Kong also confirms Lazar’s study with further evidence suggesting meditation practices have the potential to induce neuroplastic changes in the amygdala.

Participants in an awareness-based compassion meditation program were found to have significantly reduced anxiety and right amygdala activity, which may be associated with general reduction in reactivity and distress.

These significant findings explore the powerful outcomes that can result from using mindfulness meditation practices to alter the way the brain processes thoughts of anxiety and stress.

While there is no magic cure for depression or anxiety, meditation brings hopeful benefits for those not wanting to take medication long term, or those who suffer from the intolerable side effects of antidepressants.

Although many studies suggest the benefits of mindfulness for those with depression and anxiety, it is best to consult a professional to find the best treatment option for you.

 

Precautions taken by medical staff left new mum, Jess Bowen, feeling traumatised, “diseased” and excluded during her first birthing experience.

 “I felt like I was diseased. The doctor would whisper to the nurse that I should have my mask on like I had the Corona Virus. It felt awful.”

Credit: Jess Bowen

Melbourne mum and hairdresser, Jess Bowen, gave birth to her first baby on the 28th of March this year, when the pandemic was beginning.

“My pregnancy was wonderful. I didn’t have any complications and I was excited to give birth,” shares Jess.

At Jess’s final appointment with her midwife, protein was found in the urine indicating pre-eclampsia, whereupon she was admitted into the hospital and immediately induced.

Jess laughs about not having enough time to gather her things, pack a bag or worst of all, “put on fake tan”.

Being a new mum is stressful without the added pressures of a global crisis. Jess describes her experience at the hospital as “traumatic”. She says the nurses were cold and “on edge with Covid happening. This made them short and abrupt.”

Once admitted, Jess was induced using a Foley Bulb induction, commonly known as the “Balloon Method”, where a Foley catheter is inserted into the cervix and is inflated, with sterilised water or air, over a period of time to help the cervix dilate for birth.

The nurses monitored her during the process by checking her dilation using their fingers. “It felt awful,” Jess recalls. “There’d be no warning. Just enter the room, stick their fingers in and would be disappointed because I wasn’t dilating fast enough. They weren’t reassuring me so it would just make me feel anxious.”

Credit: danielledobson_photographer

Eventually, the doctor arrived to examine her.

“He was really quite abrupt and rude. He basically told me that I had a disease (referencing her pre-eclampsia). I’m a new mum and it’s not really something that I want to hear. He just said I have a disease and we have to get this baby out.”

Jess says at one point she coughed to clear her throat, and the doctor immediately pulled the nurse aside and whispered, “she should have a mask on”.

“It was horrible to hear that. I felt so excluded and was already feeling disgusting from when the doctor called me diseased earlier.”

Jess can’t help but think how her experience may have differed if she wasn’t giving birth during these unprecedented times.

Jess rarely saw the doctor after this. Any interactions from the medical staff were limited until she was ready to deliver. After a day of the Balloon, she had only dilated one centimetre and needed to try another method.

Credit: danielledobson_photographer

 

Jess speaks highly of her head midwife, Jenny, throughout this process saying, “She was out of this world amazing, overall an experience from having that doctor, she made it so much better.”

She was then induced through the use of Oxytocin, which is a synthetic hormone that is administered through a drip in the arm to start the contractions.

Jess describes these contractions to be the most painful thing she’s ever experienced before.

 

“Immediately I felt anxious. I felt really depressed. They basically said to me that I needed to try, because at this point, I was feeling deflated and wanted to have a C-section.”

A few hours after starting the Oxytocin, Jess felt a sharp pain to the right of her stomach and had the urge to go to the toilet. The head midwife checked her and told her that she was three centimetres dilated. Jess immediately asked for an epidural, which was a 15-minute wait. During that time, Jess says she dilated 10 centimetres and was ready to deliver.

Jess went into shock and was crying through “the worst pain of her life”.

“Throughout the pushing process, I didn’t opt for any gas or pain relief because I was in such shock. It was a traumatic experience for me with everything that was going on and the treatment of the staff with Covid-19. It was frightening.”

Jess finally gave birth to her beautiful girl, Isla. Fortunately, she had her partner with her through this process.

Credit: danielledobson_photographer

“No one else was allowed to visit me in the hospital and my partner was only allowed during a small time-frame in the day, so during the inducing process and after giving birth, I didn’t have support from my family to get me through this. I just wanted my mum there.”

Hours after Jess gave birth, the nurses continued to monitor her bleeding through a weighing process to ensure there weren’t any further complications. Jess explains being “on a high with adrenaline” throughout this and wasn’t paying attention to the rising concern from the nurses as she surpassed a litre of blood.

After 20 minutes from her last check-up, Jess had sat up and explained the sensation of her “water breaking”. Jess lost 1.8 litres of blood and the head midwife called the surgeon. She recalled nurses accidentally dropping blood on the ground and described her room to be a “murder scene”.

During emergency surgery, Jess says they put a plastic box over her head. “It made me feel really small. The surgeon felt bad about it and was trying to reassure me that it was just protocol with Covid-19.”

After this, Jess was relatively okay. She had spent the last remaining hours after surgery with her partner and her new baby girl, but at 5 AM, her partner was told to leave.

“My partner was annoyed but I was still running on adrenaline, so I was less upset. I was happy and messaging my family about the good news and it was just one of those situations where ‘it is what it is’.”

Credit: Jess Bowen

When Jess was finally able to go home, Victoria’s first round of lockdown’s was in full effect and she spent her first weeks as a mother trapped in her home alone with her partner. Jess was suffering from the baby blues and wasn’t able to lean on her family for help.

“It felt like everything I was doing was wrong. I was barely sleeping, could barely walk because of the blood loss. I just didn’t know what to do. There wasn’t a single day during the six-week lockdown where I didn’t cry.”

Jess speaks about the importance of seeking help. The moment lockdown ended, she went to her psychiatrist and was put on anti-depressant medication.

“No one ever warns you about the way you feel after you give birth. I felt like it was unusual to be experiencing this level of sadness and anxiety when I have the most perfectly healthy baby girl who was gaining weight. Everyone else seemed so happy after their birth that it was hard not to compare myself to them.”

Isla is now five months old and Jess is feeling tremendously better. The lockdown had lifted so that gave her time to introduce her new baby to her family and friends.

“The medication is really helping. I’m starting to feel like myself again and my partner is seeing the improvements too.”

Even though Melbourne has gone back into lockdown again, she’s sad that her family don’t get to see Isla during some significant milestones, she feels much more prepared and stable to tackle what comes next.

Lisa lets it out, “I hate kids Birthday Parties”. With mounting pressure to keep up with escalating extravagance for children’s birthday parties.

she decides to make a bold stand and opt out of Birthday parties in favour of mum-daughter holidays. I’m going to share a fact with you right now that might result in you spitting out whatever hot beverage you’re consuming or cause you to want to throw a heavy object at a picture of my head, so my advice would be to stop drinking immediately and move away from all objects not connected to the floor or plugged into an electrical socket.

This fact is humiliating to admit and it’s a game changer in terms of parenting. Good, loving, decent mothers shouldn’t feel this way. But I do. And I want to get it off my chest because I’ve kept it inside for too long. The fact is, I hate children’s birthday parties. Yes. You read correctly. I hate them. Including the birthday parties of my own child. I don’t want to have them and I get absolutely no joy out of attending them.

 

“I am a busy working mum who still loathes the thought of organising a child’s birthday party.”

Let me go so far as to say that I cringe at the thought of year, after year, after bloody year, having to come up with a plethora of brilliant, new, innovative ideas so that my child can have a better party than Sally up the road, because hers was a circus theme with proper clown machines where you can stick balls into their mouths and all the kids ate fairy floss and toffee apples and would you believe that her mother hired ponies for the kids to ride on the front lawn and it gets better because Tinkerbell herself flew all the way from Pixie Hollow just to say hello as she is great friends with Sally’s mum. Oh please. Give me a break. Without a party planner I cannot afford and a thousand helpers I can’t pay on the day, I’m not going to be able to top Sally’s party EVER.

But I’m not ignorant to the pressures on kids these days to fit in with their peer groups and to be able to talk about awesome experiences their parents have bestowed upon them.

So I’ve worked out my modus operandi to explain to my precious child for years to come why this is the case and why she is never, ever, going to have a fantastic birthday party like Sally. I’m going to lie. Well ok. If that sounds too harsh let’s say I’ll stretch the truth.

I’m going to tell Bells (my three year old) that mummies only have a certain amount of money for one special thing every year, and Sally’s mummy uses her money to hire ponies that hate being ridden by annoying children who grab them by the hair and kick them in the ribs so they go home and cry. Hopefully she will see the error of Sally’s mother’s ways and ask what special thing we will do for the year. Which will be my cue to explain that we do a much more special thing than Sally’s diabetes-enabling, pony-abusing, mother because I take us both to Bali where we swim for hours in the pool and Mummy drinks Daiquiris which make her relaxed and fun and, really Bells, if you had to choose would you prefer a happy mummy or diabetes in later life?

Yep. I reckon I’m on a winner with that one. Sally’s mum is probably having a nervous breakdown from the stresses of organising a small child’s birthday party of epic proportions while I am sitting on my couch googling Bali Villas and thinking about how many Christmas presents I can buy in one Balinese DVD store. What can I say? I’m super practical.

But I’m not ignorant to the pressures on kids these days to fit in with their peer groups and to be able to talk about awesome experiences their parents have bestowed upon them.

I’m sharing all of this with you because my daughter turned three in October. I can recall like it was yesterday being asked to feature on the cover of the inaugural Offspring magazine when she was only a few months old. But I can honestly say that back then, I wasn’t sure I should do it.

I was just easing into my breakfast show on 92.9 and by easing I mean struggling. Being up from 3.30am whilst breastfeeding and thinking of strategies to get inside Lady Gaga’s hotel room are a lot to deal with, and I felt quite alone as I’m not the type of person to let on that I was finding circumstances tough or that I wasn’t getting enough sleep. Unfortunately both were the case but I kept those emotions locked away and I pushed on because I had no other option. I had to work to earn money, I’d made a commitment to my co-hosts and I’d said I was ready to come back. Also, I was not a typical role model parent (I was a single mum working full-time and living with my Dad), and these facts only served to lower my self-esteem and I absolutely doubted my capabilities as a parent. So to be approached by a parenting magazine to talk about parenting was completely out of my realm. But I hesitantly said yes.

I was met at my house a few days later by a young girl who looked about 18 years old. It turns out she was Offspring’s founder and editor, Kate, and after chatting with her for a few hours I realised there were others out there juggling being mothers and wives, while taking on jobs and careers that are, to be brutally honest, really bloody challenging. That day was, as they say, a game changer. My meeting with Kate opened my eyes to the fact that there are lots of women doing more challenging jobs than me and doing them well.

Since then I have become less hard on myself about the parenting decisions I have made and will continue to make. I am a busy working mum who still loathes the thought of organising a child’s birthday party. So when my workplace offered to do just that for Isabella, I jumped at the opportunity and it was an absolute blast. The very first ‘Baby Rave’ in Perth on the rooftop of my station. There were 30 kids dressed up as little Ravers, 30 parents who were thrilled they didn’t have to do anything at all, a kiddy dance floor, Wiggles music blasting through a loudspeaker, kids dancing while shoving handfuls of lollies into their mouths, bubble machines, balloon animals and a Miss Maud’s Dora Backpack cake. Brilliant. Because I organised nothing. I wonder what Sally’s mum would’ve thought? But then again, should I really care if my kid had fun on her birthday?

“If I can’t find my perfect job, then I need to create it.”

This was the catalyst that encouraged 33-year-old Perth mother of two, Chevon Semmens, to launch Little Land, an interactive role-play centre for young children to play and learn.

 

From a young age, Chevon had a passion for play, she aspired to work with children and own a childcare centre. Despite these dreams, Chevon opted for a career in marketing and advertising.

 However, her interest in play and learning persisted. Chevon volunteered for over 10 years with Radio Lollipop, providing entertainment to children during their stay at Perth’s Princess Margaret Hospital. Chevon recalls always finding a way to integrate play and learning, even if they were “just playing Uno.”

While on maternity leave with her first child, Chevon stumbled across a photo of a little girl with a child size shopping trolley at a role play centre in the UK. Chevon was excited by the idea of a role-play centre, “I knew this concept would come to Perth eventually and was looking forward to being able to take my own children.”

 

Prompted by a desire to transition into a different career, Chevon used the opportunity of maternity leave to consider her options and compile a list of priorities, “I wanted it to be a business that involved working with children and it had to be something creative”.

Photo credit: Lanie Sims

“I knew my ideal job probably didn’t exist, so I had to invent it.”

Inspired by the image of the little girl with the shopping trolley, Chevon announced to her husband Kayne, “I am going to open up a role play centre. He thought I was mad.”

With unyielding determination, Chevon took on the challenge of convincing her husband she could make this dream a reality.

Chevon’s family and friends became sounding boards for her new venture. “Many thought it was a good idea but probably never assumed I would go through with it, while others felt the idea was too gimmicky.” Undeterred, Chevon used their constructive feedback as encouragement to eradicate potential flaws.

“I knew the concept could work and I knew I would enjoy taking my kids there, but would others?” Chevon put together an advisory group, consisting of Paediatric Occupational Therapists, Paediatric Speech Pathologists, Early Childhood Educators, Primary Teachers and professionals who worked with children with autism. Chevon used their expert knowledge in conjunction with her marketing expertise to educate parents about the benefits the role play centre would bring.

Despite Chevon’s confidence and robust business plan, the process from conceptualisation to delivery was anything but quick. Two years of extensive planning included a painstaking search for the right premises.

“I did not want to settle for a half option. The location needed to be central, close to families, with plenty of parking and onsite facilities.”

In the midst of the search, falling pregnant with her second child threw another “amazing spanner into the works.” Financially, Chevon also needed enough money to launch the business. Rather serendipitously, she was offered voluntary redundancy from her existing day job. “It happened to be the exact amount of money needed to get the idea of the ground.”

The dream was about to become a reality.

Chevon opened the doors of Little Land in May 2019. “We were fully booked for the first three months” and the success has continued, with some ebbs and flows in the mix, as they approach their one-year anniversary.*

What can someone expect from a trip to Little Land?

Little Land offers a welcome break from the usual loud colours and noises you expect of a childcare centre. “Many parents comment on how surprised they are at how calm the environment feels.” The welcome area is filled with calming pastel colours, while the sound system plays modern songs in the form of lullabies.

Beyond the welcome area, you will find Little Land’s ‘little town’, complete with a shopping centre, school; home; doctor’s surgery; café; hairdressing salon; construction zone and veterinary practice.

Role-play is at the forefront of play between the ages of 18 months and 8 years and so each area is uniquely designed to meet the needs of children within this age range. The numbers are kept to a maximum of 30 children per session with a total of four sessions per day to avoid overwhelm for the children.

Children are given the opportunity to explore formal settings in an informal way, enabling them to take control of the experience. Many children were recently role-playing evacuations and ‘safety first’ procedures following recent bush fires. Parents who visit the centre express how valuable it is for children to be able to visit these locations on a small scale and at their own pace.

What does the future hold for Little Land?

Chevon is proud to announce Little Land have worked with the Autism Association in Western Australia to launch weekly ‘Sensory Sessions’. “We reduce the number of people who attend, change the format and provide a story book for children to read beforehand of what to expect, we also use a timer instead of a bell to mark the end of the sessions.”

Chevon’s dream is for play and learning to be accessible to all Australians. “We currently have people travelling over an hour to see us, so I would like to possibly open a second location to make it more accessible. We have also launched several pop ups, including four stalls at local events and shopping centres to help spread awareness of the benefits of our centre.”

How to balance motherhood and business

As a mum to three a half year old Zack and 16 month old Archer, Chevon admits life can get busy.

“Someone said to me recently, maybe it’s not so much as trying to find a balance between being a mother and business owner, perhaps it’s finding a blend of the two.”

“I am fortunate that I have a great husband who helps pick up the slack, whether that’s with our children or the business. We try to eat well and get as much sleep as you can with a 16 month old.”

Chevon and her husband make time for themselves separately to re-energise, “I try to get up earlier a couple of days a week to go for an hour long walk, this gives me the energy I need for the next couple of days.”

Chevon also has a day that is non-negotiable, “I always have Mondays with my boys, to play and just spend time with them, it revitalises me and reminds me how we never stop learning.”

Photo credit: Lanie Sims

Despite the huge success of the business, Chevon has realised it’s the small wins she celebrates, “I found in the initial stages of Little Land, we were so busy ‘doing’ that we didn’t stop to appreciate what we had achieved, so now we make an effort to regularly pause and express gratitude for what we have accomplished.”

Keep up to date with the latest Little Land news, @littleland_perth

Thank you to Photographer, Lanie Sims for all images supplied in this article.

 *Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Little Land has closed for the unforeseeable future. During this time, we’re determined to continue inspiring play and learning for the community and we hope it isn’t too long before we see the return of big smiles on little faces as they run through our big and little doors to wander and explore the magic.

 

Working from home is a perk of modern-day employment but what happens when you are forced to work at home for a prolonged period? How do you actually get anything done amid the chaos and detritus of everyday home life? Offspring shares some tried and tested tips.

In these strange and uncertain times, many parents find themselves working from home. In an effort to help stop the spread of the current outbreak of Coronavirus, some employers have closed offices or set up a roster for employees to work from home whilst others are choosing to self-isolate over health concerns.

It’s tempting to think that this will mean you can chill out in your pyjamas all day because really, what’s the point in getting dressed if no one will see you? However, the novelty is likely to wear off quickly.

Boost your productivity and mental health by following this advice:

 

  • Schedule time in your day for work – ideally when the kids are being cared for by someone else, and stick to your schedule.

 

  • Dress appropriately for work – you’ll feel more prepared for challenges and it will help you separate work from play.

 

  • Set up a work space – maybe a desk in your lounge room, or an office in the garage (or shed!) but make it practical and attractive so you’re happy to be there.

  • Start early – your morning can set the tone for the day. Getting up an hour early helps you to get ahead and be ready for when the kids get up.

 

  • Divide the chores between family members – this will help you to concentrate on work rather than using your time on household chores.

 

  • Sort out childcare – sharing childcare with your partner means you can still be there for your children but you can both get work done as well.

  • Equip yourself  – you probably need wireless internet, a laptop and a smartphone to allow you to work flexibly.

 

  • Use chat platforms such as Messenger or email rather than phone calls – that way no-one can hear your toddler yelling in the background!

 

  • Have a box of toys that’s available only when you’re working – pull it out when you need that extra half an hour. The novelty should keep little hands and minds busy!

And most importantly:

  • Take time to rest and reset.

If you are spending more time than usual at home, it’s easy to fall into the trap of always being available. It’s not selfish to take time out to recharge­ – maybe have a bath, curl up on your bed with a book or watch rubbish on TV. The housework can just wait.

Karenna Wood, founder of Your Fertility Hub, shares her secret to success and opens up about the reality of being an ordinary mum and an entrepreneurial business owner. From an office in her shed to chasing rogue prams down the street, nothing will stop her on her mission to break the taboo around the silent heartbreak of infertility.

Your Fertility Hub is designed to get people talking about fertility. According to Karenna, infertility affects up to one in six families; she calls this the silent heartbreak.

“It’s still a taboo,” she says, “there’s still a stigma and no-one is talking about this. There’s research to show that those going through infertility have the same levels of stress, anxiety and depression as people with a terminal illness. It is that serious.”

Karenna, 35, and her husband, Lee, emigrated to Perth from England in 2011. They now have three children: Isla (6), Ellie (4) and Jack (10 months). Her background in Childbirth Education, HypnoBirthing, HypnoFertility and as a Fertility Coach since 2012 has given her direct insight to the consequences of infertility. Karenna’s altruistic nature is evident in the very foundation of Your Fertility Hub, which came from a desire to support other women when they feel emotionally drained by this condition.

“I’ve seen how dangerous it is when we compare ourselves with others. We need to be real, and we need to be vulnerable.”

“Too often the focus is solely on medical reasons for infertility, but mental health and stress is so important in understanding this condition,” Karenna says. Her wealth of knowledge is evident as she discusses how stress hormones are produced in the same part of the body as reproductive hormones.

“So if you’re stressed,” she says, “your body goes into survival mode and thinks it’s not the right time to conceive—and it’s the same with birth too. Your body doesn’t do what it’s naturally designed to do.” Karenna is clearly fascinated by this link and she’s keen to get women talking about fertility as it’s an issue which so many still shy away from.

“Infertility is a temporary situation. It feels permanent but it is temporary. There is a way to become a parent if you keep going.”

Through Your Fertility Hub, launched in 2017, Karenna has coached 121 women and says that receiving those pregnancy messages and baby pictures is “just the best”. Her passion is evident as she says, “It’s so special and such a privilege to be with these women and I feel so close to these families that I’ve had the opportunity to work with. And what’s so important is that infertility is a temporary situation. It feels permanent but it is temporary. There is a way to become a parent if you keep going. I am the luckiest person in the world to do this job and it lifts my soul.”

Karenna explains, “It’s heartbreaking when everyone around you is getting pregnant but I’ve seen how dangerous it is when we compare ourselves with others.  We need to be real, and we need to be vulnerable. That goes for all women.”

The aim of Your Fertility Hub is not just to help individuals but also to educate society at large to be more sensitive. She says, “People think it’s ok to ask women when they will hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet. I’ve had clients literally run out of the bread aisle of Coles because they can’t bear that conversation.”

It may come as a surprise to learn that Karenna does not have her own fertility story. She candidly reveals that she felt like a fraud when she first started out in this industry, “I felt like I wasn’t good enough. Everyone else had suffered through infertility and could share personal experience. I just couldn’t get out of my own head.” It was her sister that reframed the situation saying, “You don’t choose a heart surgeon because they’ve had heart surgery. You go to them because they have the knowledge and skills you need.”

Learning from her many clients, Karenna has developed an abundance of wisdom in this area. She has found, “For me it works better because I’m not trying to compare my story and fit in with them. And it’s not about going backwards and dwelling, it’s about being positive and moving forwards.”

This is a lesson that Karenna has put into practice in her own life. She has been supported by her husband who pointed out that everyone starts somewhere. She recalls his encouragement at the beginning, “He said, ‘There you are. You have one Instagram follower, now you have eight, now ten.’” Karenna now has more than 1,000 Instagram followers. “So, she says, “for any mums out there who are thinking they couldn’t do what I do, don’t compare my middle to your beginning. Just give it a go, because you never know until you try.”

Your Fertility Hub has grown from humble beginnings, “When I started out, I made a space in my shed that I literally had to climb into. It looked great on camera, but I was surrounded by boxes. Too often we see images on social media which aren’t real. I’m a hot mess most of the time, but you don’t see that part of it when you are comparing yourself to others.”

“It’s hard with the baby as well”, she says, “ The other day I’d done the school run and got the baby back in the car. Then I’m driving off and on a call with a client in New York and there’s my pram, rolling down the street next to me because I’ve forgotten to put it back in the car! Argh!” she laughs.

Karenna says, “Juggling it all is a daily battle, basically. I work early in the morning and late at night. When I try to work when the kids are around, it doesn’t work. But it’s about snatching bits of time and valuing my business enough to get childcare when I need it, even if the business isn’t paying at that point. And to put effort in to the stuff around the edges, like the social media, that isn’t necessarily the service that you offer but it’s important.”

With no extended family in Perth, being organised and using available tools helps Karenna to manage the day-to-day aspects of motherhood whilst running a home and a business, “I’ve got a two-week meal plan and I get the food delivered direct to my bench. That, and I use childcare when I need it.

“Both my girls will be in school from February so it will be working around five nap times and how much work I can get done whilst Jack is sleeping. I often get to the end of the day and I’m crying because I’m over-tired and I feel like I’ve failed the kids because I’ve been saying ‘just a minute, just a minute’ all day and I think, God, I could have done that better. Like all mums do.”

Karenna’s authenticity is tangible as she is honest about the challenges of being a Mumpreneur. However she doesn’t value self-pity saying, “I’ve got a little phrase stuck up in my kitchen which says, ‘Tomorrow is a new day. Try again.’” It’s in line with her philosophy for fertility treatment as she reiterates the benefit of building yourself back up and then moving forward. To do this in business, Karenna advises, “Find your tribe. You don’t have that water cooler chat, but it’s important to have a support network of other mums doing the same as you.”

“I do have those crazy days where I just think this would be so much easier if I just worked in an office!”

After a bad night with the kids, Karenna has a good cry in the shower and then gives herself a slap before focusing on gratitude in her journal, “Writing changes how you think about things. And being grateful for where you are right now means you are starting from a better start point. Just go outside and feel the sun on your face; notice the little things.”

Karenna is grateful that she gets to be there for sports days and swimming carnivals saying, “That’s what’s important to me. I do have those crazy days where I just think this would be so much easier if I just worked in an office! Then I wouldn’t have to work late tonight and be kept awake wondering about Pinterest…but then I couldn’t be there in my kid’s lives the way I want to be.” Joking about the challenges of motherhood aside, it is abundantly clear that Karenna’s family is everything to her. And she wants to bring that joy to other women across Australia and the world.

When considering the future of Your Fertility Hub, Karenna smiles, “An App is coming soon. This will include a monthly membership where people get even more support and contact with me. The next step is gaining pre-registrations so that I can launch the App.

“I’ve got big dreams and I’m going to find a way to make them happen. I want to be able to show my family that you can do what you love, and follow your passion, even if it doesn’t work the first time.”

As Karenna forges ahead with attitude and passion, further success seems imminent for her– and for hundreds more women on their fertility journey.

Photos courtesy of @ALEISHALIEBEZEIT_

 

Melbourne mother of four and body positive artist, Tania Sutton (44), shares how she escaped the shackles of the destructive eating disorder that took over her life. She recovered for the sake of her family.

*Please be aware some readers may find this content triggering.

“Ed, this was the name I gave to my eating disorder,” Tania recalls, “and for a long time Ed was my confidant, my best friend, or so I thought.”

Eating disorders creep into your life without realising it. Tania remembers the promises Ed made to her in the beginning: “It starts out like a new friend, teaching you ways to make you happier, ways to cope and a promise to you that as long as you follow all the rules, you will reach some sort of enlightenment.”

Eating disorders occur for various reasons, including genetic vulnerability, psychological factors and social-cultural influences. Figures show the prevalence of eating disorders is rising rapidly; Beyond Blue reports one in four Australians know someone who has experienced an eating disorder.

Tania struggles to pinpoint the exact cause of her eating disorder, but believes her need for perfectionism and sensitivity about her physical appearance were predisposing factors.

Eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of gender, body size, age and socio-economic factors.

From a young age, Tania felt a constant sense of anxiety; if she was unable to do something exactly right, this fed her belief something was fundamentally wrong with her.

Tania describes an intense need to be accepted by others. “Anytime someone else was complimented on their physical appearance, it reinforced the idea I wasn’t good enough.” Yet, when she received compliments, especially in relation to her body size, it fuelled her desire to continue the behaviours that led to the compliment.

As time went on, Tania struggled to separate herself from her eating disorder. The voice of Ed grew stronger, convincing Tania to punish herself through under-eating in order to equal out all of the perceived faults in life.

“If I was thin, then I would be happy, people would like me and possibly love me.” The truth was, Tania was loved, but her eating disorder made her believe those around her were only pretending, “I felt like I didn’t belong in society, I was a failure, disgusting and unlovable.”

Tania describes how weak she became, both mentally and physically. “Starvation has horrible consequences on the brain, I didn’t have the energy to fight and my ability to think logically had gone out of the window”. She believes this is part of what makes seeking help so difficult, “My thought process was really obscure to everyone else, but to me it made perfect sense. I was convinced I could never get better, I believed everyone was out to see me fail and therefore if I gave up Ed and followed a treatment plan, I would have failed and I couldn’t do that.”

“Ed, this was the name I gave to my eating disorder,” Tana recalls, “and for a long time Ed was my confidant, my best friend, or so I thought.”

Becoming a mother and seeing her body grow and change only emphasised Tania’s preoccupation with her appearance. Feeling incompetent as a parent reinforced to Tania that she needed to keep punishing herself. The use of restrictive behaviours and keeping herself busy became a form of self-punishment she believed would somehow cancel out her perceived inadequacy as a parent.

Tania remembers trying to be there for her children and doing the best she could, but never being able to feel fully present. Tania describes her head as a “battle ground” which led to her being distracted and irritable.

Tania greatly resisted treatment for a long time, deleting her therapist’s number on several occasion. She would lash out verbally at her treatment team and remembers one incident where her GP refused to allow her to see her weight. “I was furious because in my eyes this meant I was not allowed to see what kind of a day I was going to have; at that time the number on the scale would define a good or a bad day.”

Tania’s eating disorder behaviours continued until something convinced her to make a change. Tania recalls driving home from an appointment; her daughter was going through a particularly difficult time, and despite Tania’s best efforts she felt she could not be fully there for her daughter. The eating disorder voice grew louder and louder until it was screaming in her ear, blaming her for everything that was wrong. Tania knew her daughter needed her, but she was chained to her eating disorder. It was at this point she decided to seek help.

“I couldn’t continue the same behaviours and be a mother at the same time anymore, I was exhausted and so was my family.”

“I couldn’t continue the same behaviours and be a mother at the same time anymore, I was exhausted and so was my family.”  Although she could never find the strength to recover for her own sake, her family became the motivation she needed.

Tania was fortunate enough to be referred to a psychologist and a dietitian, who each had a special interest in eating disorders and with whom Tania instantly connected.

Recovery was tough, Tania recalls. “I had to relearn to trust my body and myself. I had to let those close to me, my husband and treatment team, be in charge of what I needed.”

Tania credits her family’s support for helping her to recover; “They helped me fight when I didn’t want to anymore, they loved me at my worst and stood by my side.”

Tania says recovering from her eating disorder has enabled her to be a better mum, “we had our fourth child after I had decided to not engage with Ed and I am able to play with him much more; I played with my other kids, but mentally I wasn’t there, now I am.”

“The first time I went out in public after deciding to no longer engage in Ed’s demands, I was in a shopping centre with one of my daughters and I turned to her said ‘wow, it’s so bright and colourful in here’, the eating disorder made my world so dark and dull. The world is literally more colourful without Ed.”

Tania now has four children aged between five and 22 and uses her own experience to teach her children “to question what they see and hear when it comes to societal beauty standards in the hope they will adopt a healthy attitude.”

“Starvation has horrible consequences on the brain, I didn’t have the energy to fight and my ability to think logically had gone out of the window.”

Tania no longer engages in eating disorder behaviours. She enjoys food and appreciates her body; she no longer weighs herself, as it no longer bothers her what size she is. “I have realised my weight does not equal my worth.”

In choosing Recovery, Tania simultaneously unleashed her creative side. “Art became such an outlet for me and a communication tool, it allowed me to transfer the nightmare in my head into a two dimensional surface. Not only was that therapeutic, it allowed others to understand what I was thinking and struggling with.”

Tania uses her talent and love of painting, drawing and printmaking to create figurative and portraiture art work, t-shirt prints and bag designs that spread mental health awareness. Tania recently had the pleasure of designing the logo for the ‘Body Positive Expo’ that was held in Melbourne; an event which united hundreds of people, sharing their own experiences of disordered eating and negative body image. Tania’s eye-catching logo depicted the individuality of all body shapes and sizes to celebrate their uniqueness.

Recovery is something Tania is still working on. She makes sure she does something every day to support her mental health and reaches out when she is struggling.

“Sure I have days where I don’t feel so confident in my skin or in myself but that’s because I’m human. Now though, my thoughts aren’t taken over by self-hate.” She also describes her relationship with food as being healthier than it has ever been: “I honour my cravings and listen to my body. I trust my body and I treat it with love as it is my closest friend.”

http://www.offspringmagazine.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/yF2VFW-Q.jpg

“Art became such an outlet for me and a communication tool, it allowed me to transfer the nightmare in my head into a two dimensional surface. Not only was that therapeutic, it allowed others to understand what I was thinking and struggling with.”

 

Figures show fewer than 25 per cent of people with an eating disorder receive the care they need. Tania hopes her recovery journey and the messages she conveys through her art will reduce the stigma and encourage others to seek help.

“Mental illness is not a choice, but Recovery is. It’s not always easy to work through our struggles but if we push ourselves in a gentle and nurturing way we can come through the other side.”

You can check out Tania’s incredible and inspiring art work on her Facebook page, Tania Sutton Artworks, or follow her on Instagram, @tania_sutton_artist

If you have been affected by any information in this article, please reach out to your GP, health professional or contact an organisation such as the ones listed below:

www.thebutterflyfoundation.org.au

www.au.reachout.com

www.beyondblue.org.au

Poem – written by Tania Sutton

She stands there beaming smile
There is laughter and cheer
She is so content and happy
Friends all around her

She stands there panic stricken
There is turmoil and torture
She is drowning in poison
All alone in a crowd

She stands there as the same
There are two people in one
She is only known as one
The other is a secret.

LOCKED IN A BUBBLE
You have me locked in a bubble
I can see what you are doing
Yelling out for you to stop
My efforts going unheard

You have locked me in a bubble
Sometimes I see a faint glow
Mostly just darkness
Trying desperately to find the light

You have me locked in a bubble
I want to trade places
But I can’t find the key
Please let me out.

The Resilience Project holds speaking events and is a curriculum that is aimed at using gratitude, empathy and mindfulness to fight mental illness, with the program implemented in hundreds of schools Australia wide.

“If this book wasn’t written, my sister and I would have never actually sat down and had a conversation about our relationship,” says Hugh Van Cuylenburg, creator of The Resilience Project.

At three years of age, Georgia Van Cuylenburg had been playing alongside her brother, Hugh, when a man picked her up, took her out of sight, and sexually assaulted her.
Her innocence of childhood taken in one fell swoop, and a wound that bleed into many facets of her life for decades, was brought to life. This trauma explaining why the darkness of anorexia had chosen her as it’s host, stripping her down to skin and bones.
“I remembered it happening and when my sister told us as a family I went ‘oh right really’ I didn’t even say I remembered it, she continued to feel alone through that trauma, we never talked about it,” says her brother, Hugh.
Hugh was inspired to create The Resilience Project and write The Resilience Project: Finding happiness through gratitude empathy & mindfulness.   
During his time researching his book, Hugh read a lot about vulnerability and shame. “Shame is what locks us up, and really makes it hard for us to be happy and feel well.”
“My shame lied in my relationship with my sister,” said Hugh.
As Hugh showed his family the first copies of his book, he eagerly awaited their opinions and critiques. Georgia was devastated at what her brother had written about her. “She said, ‘when am I going to get that vulnerable side of you?.'”

For Hugh, his book became much more than helping millions of Australians who struggle with mental illness, it became a tool for healing his broken relationship with his sister, a shame he had carried for many years.

Hugh changed his book last minute and worked on his relationship with his sister, deciding that his novel was to focus on human connection and the people that have moved him.
Today mental illness has become an epidemic, taking our youth one by one – an insidious disease that has crept into our society and been given the freedom to flourish, due to stigma, lack of resources and communication. Even today mental illness is not treated the same way that other life threatening illnesses are.
Mental illness is very common in Australia, with one in five Australians experiencing mental illness in a year, meaning that 20 per cent of the population is battling a disease that their family, partner and employer cannot see and might not even believe.

Further statistics show indicates that 45 per cent of Australians will experience a mental illness at some stage in their life.

In 2008, educator Hugh had been teaching young teens in Melbourne when his then girlfriend asked him to accompany her on a trip to India. In India, Hugh taught at an under-privileged school in the Himalayan desert area and with approximately 150 children enrolled, his job was to teach English.
As he began to know his students better, many of whom were living in extreme poverty, Hugh became inspired by his student’s happiness, gratitude and lack of mental health issues that had become so prevalent in the Australian schools where Hugh taught. Returning to Australia, Hugh took with him the local children’s insights, practices and wisdom, and he slowly created The Resilience Project.
The Resilience Project began as a talk that outlined Hugh’s research and experiences with mental illness. Today, it is a school program and curriculum that reaches schools, sporting clubs and workplaces all over Australia and now New Zealand.
In The Resilience Project curriculum and speaking events, Hugh explains how incorporating gratitude, empathy and mindfulness (shortened to GEM in his book) can prevent mental illness and provide happiness.
As many parents know, the most influential years of a person’s life is their childhood,with studies showing that 50 per cent of all mental health conditions a person experiences in their life will have started by age 14.

During his time in India, Hugh noticed how the children were very grateful to be at school and practiced mindfulness every morning before their classes began, incorporating all this into his program for schools and youth, with the feedback having been phenomenally positive so far.
After years of implementing this program, Hugh wrote The Resilience Project: Finding happiness through gratitude empathy & mindfulness,releasing the book in November 2019.
Since the book’s release Hugh has had an influx of positive feedback, and is still as humble as ever; with a warm energy and healing nature, it is easy to see why thousands flock to hear him speak and line up afterwards, telling Hugh their troubles and how his words have helped them to heal.
“We have had incredible feedback, I just saw this morning that it is Number One on audio books, which I can’t believe.”
“I’ve had a few really beautiful personal messages from people.”
Hugh recalls one recent message he’d received from a reader who had been feeling suicidal and after reading the book felt so grateful and positive about his life, telling Hugh how his words had saved his life.

“Honestly if he is the only person that reads this book and that’s the only feedback I get, that’s a worthwhile six months writing,” Hugh says.

On a mission to promote gratitude, empathy and mindfulness, Hugh tackles the tricky topic of social media and parenting in his book, describing the rise of social media as only showing ‘the greatest hits’ of life, and how damaging this can be for young minds.
The Resilience Project: Finding happiness through gratitude empathy & mindfulness includes a lot of tips and ideas for parents, who have found themselves with children inundated with technology and social media that teaches them validation is found through a screen.

“The best way to help your kids is to start modelling better behaviour, you can’t say to your kids ‘stop being on your phone all the time’ then turn around and check your emails,” he says.

The book is full of strategies to help parents put their phone down with one of the easiest to grasp, yet hardest to implement, simply being to leave their phone at home.
Hugh states that this simple task can leave us more focused on others around us, increasing feelings of connection and togetherness, which are two big ways to fight loneliness and mental illness in this increasingly busy and digital world.
Hugh believes that the less a child is on a device the more aware they are to their surroundings and community, leaving more time to be grateful for the society we are lucky enough to have in Australia.
As for fostering GEM into daily life, Hugh says it’s all down to practice and implementing these small practises into your families every day.
For mindfulness, Hugh suggests going for a walk around the block and focusing on what you can hear, an exercise parents can easily make into family time. Hugh also suggests at the dinner table to reflect on the good in each family member’s day and to share what they are grateful for and looking forward to.
“Look out for opportunities to be kind to people, you watch how happy that makes you and if you do it in front of your kids, that’s the most powerful thing of all,” says Hugh.
“You will have an enormous impact on them because they’ll start to copy you, they will start to be someone who is kind to other people.”

Castelmaine Steiner School is located in Muckleford, VIC and offers education from kindergarten to class 8 and is growing fast.

Commencing as a Kindergarten in 1988 in the home of one of its students, The Castlemaine Steiner School & Kindergarten is now a thriving school of approximately 230 students. In 1995, the school moved to its current location, which at the time was 18 acres of flattened sheep grazing land. Today the site is a stunning sanctuary of indigenous flora and fauna, featuring a bush tucker island, beautiful walking tracks and is home to diverse birdlife. Situated approximately 7 mins drive from Castlemaine, the school has transformed itself with biodynamic practices and permaculture design.

“Steiner education is recognised internationally as a valuable approach to helping young people develop flexible, agile thinking, alongside an ability to collaborate and thrive in a 21st Century world,” said Principal, Brian Dodd.

The school offers programs from Playgroup to Class 8, following which, students can then transfer to the local Steiner Stream at Castlemaine Secondary College for Years 9 & 10. Many families begin learning about Steiner education and philosophy by joining the Playgroup program. It is a much-loved weekly 2-hour session for children aged birth to 4 years. It includes activities such as scone baking, outdoor & indoor play, crafts, and circle time for singing & storytelling.

The Early Childhood program continues into Kindergarten & Prep, where foundations are laid for later learning and healthy development, including life-long physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth. They believe an atmosphere of loving warmth and guidance provides the optimal environment for healthy development, and that educators have a vital role in modelling and scaffolding a child’s natural urge to explore and experiment. Young children are given time to play, enjoy childhood and build strong foundations skills before formal academic learning begins.

Acknowledging the Traditional Owners of this country, the school has strong connections to the local Dja Dja Wurrung people. Their culture and story is meaningfully woven throughout the curriculum and Outdoor Education program. The Outdoor Education program is designed to develop the student’s understanding of their place in the natural world, through immersion in it. As children develop their sense of adventure confidence develops, connectedness with the environment and a sense of stewardship toward the natural world.

Music is incorporated through all levels of the school, with formal tuition commencing with a stringed instrument in Class 3. Music tuition is compulsory and continues through to Class 8, with students encouraged by opportunities to play in ensemble groups and learn multiple instruments. The benefits of music are well documented and the school utilises music as further way to develop social learning, fine and gross motor skills, and build on maths concepts.

A new Scholarships program provides a limited number of partly or fully subsidised places for students who meet eligibility criteria, and is open to entry at any year level.  The school is committed to creating a socially inclusive and diverse community and via this new Scholarship program, is pleased to continue promoting and encouraging the benefits of Steiner Education across the region. Principal Brian Dodd says “We want to ensure that that the benefits of this schooling option are more broadly available to children in our regional community. This year we also introduced a 25% fee discount for families with a Health Care Card, and have for many years offered sibling discounts, fee assistance and bursaries to reduce financial barriers to enrolling in the school.”

The school welcomes visitors each week for tours with the Principal and offers free trial sessions within its Playgroup program to anyone interested in witnessing the benefits of Steiner education. Contact the Enrolments Officer, Tracey Robertson on 5479 2000 or Traceyr@cssk.vic.edu.au for further information.