I’m Not Okay

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Exhausted, January 2014, Ottawa

Exhausted, January 2014, Ottawa

I’m not okay. And I haven’t been “okay” for a long time.

I’m not writing this today to elicit sympathy, pity or ask for help. I just want to tell the other side of the story—because there is always another side to the story.

This is so fucked up I don’t even know when and how it started exactly.

I was terrified of being pregnant. I liked the idea of having a baby but I felt I was no longer a woman but a walking incubator. I worried all the time. And I had a very hard time dealing with my changing body image.

This is very strange because I have never cared much about my looks. I had never dieted, never had a striking figure either, never aimed for one. But when I learned that most women were expected to gain 25 to 35 pounds during a pregnancy, I froze. I didn’t want to gain weight because it would make me look pregnant. And I felt like a sitting duck—strangers would touch my belly, give—mostly unwanted—advice, admonish me and chastise me if I didn’t behave like a pregnant woman was supposed to. The list of “no-nos” is long for pregnant women, from forbidden foods (sushi, cheese, etc.) to activities.

So I hid my pregnancy as long as I could. My close friends and family knew. The world didn’t and it was just fine.

Around that time, I started to develop a weird relationship with food. I didn’t want to gain weight but I certainly didn’t want to deprive the growing baby of precious nutrition, so I focus on eating only healthy foods—mostly veggies, raw or cooked, and some proteins. I never indulged, never gave in to any cravings. I counted calories religiously to make sure I was getting enough but I stayed away from anything I deemed as “extravagant”—and my definition of “extravagant” was pretty broad, encompassing butter, cookies, bread, etc.

It didn’t help that eating brought a very unpleasant physical sensation. I was carrying Mark very high and he was compressing my digestive system. If I ate a green been, I could almost “feel” it in my body.

I didn’t gain weight. Week after week, the doctor weighted me (I could have told her my exact weight anytime, I was weighting myself multiple times a day anyway) and the needle wouldn’t bulge. Mark was growing but I was shrinking.

I was fully aware I had a problem with food but I didn’t know how to solve it. I chalked it up to the pregnancy, the hormones and all and figured it would go away after the birth. Pregnant women do crazy things all the time—I was eating tons of veggies and exercising, really, it could have been worse.

Mark was a healthy baby. I was relieved—I had done my job, the pregnancy was over, I had my body back to myself and I could focus on being a mother.

Except my problems with food didn’t go away. I didn’t eat my dinner at the hospital because I considered it “junk food”—keep in mind I had just gone through labour, really, I shouldn’t have given a damn.

I tried to start eating normally at home again but I had underestimated how hard it would be with Mark.

Mark was a Velcro baby. I had to carry him everywhere against me, in the sling, or he would cry. At first, I ate when he was sleeping but he wasn’t sleeping much either. I ate while he was in the sling but it was very uncomfortable for both of us. Eventually, we developed a system where Feng would cook and eat while I held him and then it was my turn. It was tiring and time-consuming. After a couple of months, I simply stopped eating. I didn’t have time to do so—keep in mind we were also both working full time from home.

I drank tea and coffee with sweetener to avoid passing out. I ate one meal, at night, and nothing during the day. And I took care of Mark, long endless days where I would spend hours rocking him to sleep, hours with him in the sling and me pacing the living-room.

I was too exhausted to take care of myself. It’s around this time that I lost a lot of weight. And I didn’t even notice it until all of my clothes were way too big for me.

I started to use food as a reward and to view my body as the only thing I could control as I felt my life was spiraling out of control. When we had a good day and when I felt I had done my job as a mother, I would eat dinner. If not, I would starve myself.

Add this to the fact I was working all the time, not sleeping much and that caring for a baby counts as exercise in my book, I lost even more weight.

By last summer, I was down to 115 pounds (52 kilos), which isn’t much considering I’m 1.72 m tall (5’6).

My friends started to worry and gently asked if I was okay. I was more or less honest. No, I wasn’t fully okay but yes, I was working on it.

I started looking into counseling. I quickly learned that getting help isn’t cheap. Private counseling was always available but at a rate I couldn’t afford, $100 and upward per session. And counseling programs run by the City of Ottawa or other non-profit organizations were completely booked, with month-long waiting lists.

I went through several phases. I tried to cheer myself up by shopping, as a way to regain some of my life and independence back. I bought new clothes (that would fit), new shoes. I tried to “fix” myself and spent whatever precious free time I had at Chapters, reading every book I could find on how to be a mother, how to balance life and a baby, baby and work, etc. I went through a “running away” phase where I just wanted to be alone and spent hours walking outside aimlessly.

And now I am burned out, physically and mentally. After fifteen months (plus the pregnancy) of never being alone, caring for Mark, trying to keep him happy and entertained, I feel broken.

I feel like I failed.

I don’t know how other women do it. I don’t know how to ask for help and I’m not good at accepting help anyway.

I wanted to be strong. I wanted Mark to be my best friend. I wanted him to be happy. I never wanted to lose patience, cry in front of him, get angry or frustrated. I wanted to do it all—alone, 24/7.

And now I’m so tired I can’t even think straight. I count the hours until the day ends. I’m frustrated because I gave up pretty much everything I liked—writing, drawing, photography, seeing friends—and everything “normal”—eating, relaxing—to take care of Mark, and my needs always come last.

I can’t take the routine anymore, trying to keep Mark busy and entertained for hours in a row.

This is the most difficult sentence to write but… I am happier and more relaxed alone than I am with him. And I feel guilty because isn’t a mother supposed to be better when her kid is around?

Fuck the guilt. I need to get better.

We had plenty of happy moments since Mark was born and I keep the snapshots on the fridge, as a reminder of what we’ve accomplished together.

I’m not okay but I’m going to try to be.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Oh no! Maybe you can drop off Mark at your in-laws once or twice a week or at the daycare (part-time). You need to take care of yourself, and ask for help from your husband. I guess this is a “bad” moment to go through…Hang in there girl.

    • I am looking into practical solutions. I guess the hardest part for me is to admit that I do need help with Mark, and for some reason I have a hard time dealing with that.

  2. Big hugs. Thank you for sharing this with us. Motherhood is hard. I can’t write here the stupid things I did because I have a hard time to adjust. But if you want to write me, please feel free. My husband start talking about baby number 2 and I am dragging my feet because I am not back in shape like I used to.sounds vain 😉

    What saved me were babysitter, 2 hr on Sundays to ride my horse and muscle relaxants when I was so tired I could not sleep.

    It will get better. The 1st step to solve a problem is to admit there is one. Re big hugs

    • You don’t sound vain at all. Sure, body shape, weight, whatever isn’t the most important thing in life. Yes, it is our body. A pregnancy is long, nine months of almost daily changes and more. I can understand your reluctance, it’s not stupid!

  3. I’m sure it took a lot to write this, especially knowing your readership includes family and friends (not just thousands of strangers).

    Honestly, the huge weight loss alarmed me. At first I thought it was my imagination. Then, after viewing a timeline of photos, I didn’t. I didn’t say anything, that would’ve been gauche and out-of-line. But if I were in Ottawa I would be in a position to help you rather than just say it (babysit, for one thing — I’m serious!), because obviously you needed help.

    I’m glad you said something.

    I hope you find a way to ask for help in the way that makes sense to you. And I hope you get the help you need in the easiest way possible. Canada has a lot of services but accessing resources is not as easy as they should be, or as free.

    I don’t know how other women do it, either. I have no advice to give; I’m not a mother. I’m not sure how I’ll express myself when that time comes, but know that it’s okay to ask for help and there are people around you who can help you.

    Winter is an unhelpful beast, too, I’m sure!

    This sorry Canadian is being un-Canadian for being unapologetic about being sorry about your situation. (Not technically pity…?) I wish I could do more than say I’m sorry!

    • Hi Gail,

      I think my friends were in the same position. It was obvious that I had lost weight but this is a such a personal topic that it’s hard to breach. People around me have been extremely nice and gentle and I was able to talk about it. The funny thing is, I really didn’t realize I had lost that much. I gained weight since last summer and I’m not as controlling and freaked out about it as I used to me so I guess I’m getting there. It’s so fucked up… I had never cared about my weight and it’s not even a “OMG I want to look thin!” thing. It’s a control issue. Losing weight is the result, not the “goal”.

      I joke about it too. I mean, seriously, developing a eating disorder after a pregnancy?!

      This winter has been brutal so far (I know, only the beginning). Cold, icy, snowy… it adds to the general “blues”.

      I’m looking for a solution for Mark. He needs to see other kids too.

      • Motherhood has got to be one of the most (publicly-)scrutinized situations in life. It’s enormous pressure to know how to deal with babies, and now that he’s mobile the pressure must be greater, especially since he’s apparently capable of sending a parent to the ER!

        Would you be able to access a solution faster under the umbrella of PPD? Because months of waiting for counselling seems unreasonable when it comes to PPD.

        • Hard to say. I have no addictions and I do have a support network (including Feng!) so I’m not a priority, and that’s normal. That’s what I gathered from the few interviews I had with various organizations. I will look into it again.

  4. Are there any affordable daycare options? Or maybe you could leave him with your in-laws for a week ans take some rest in the Caribbeans?

    In any case don’t feel guilty if you need time off, my mom used to lock us out of the house for an hour almost everyday to relax!

  5. Looks like a massive burn-out indeed… :/

    You really need more time to yourself. I really don’t understand why you keep wondering what other mothers do ! Which type of mothers anyway?! The one who goes to work all day and get back the kid at night? Or the ones who take a maternity leave and take care of their child full time ?
    How many mothers do you know that are raising a child home and have a full time job at the same time ??

    I hope you’ll find a solution to get more free time, go back to your hobbies, feel better with Mark and simply feel better in your shoes.
    In the meanwhile, *hug* and remember, I’m not far if you want to go out have a coffee or something.

    • I know I’m being silly but I can’t help it. This is just strange. I know what you mean and it makes sense… yet I can’t help thinking I’m not good enough.

  6. First of all, I commend you for being so open and honest about how you are feeling. There is absolutely no shame in acknowledging that you need some help, and that things aren’t going the way you thought they would. I’m sure many other moms out there can relate, and your honesty about your life is what makes your blog one of my favourites.

    I cannot say that I understand because I do not have kids, but as someone who also has difficulty asking for help, I know how hopeless you must feel at times. Life — with a kid or not — is overwhelming at times, and you can’t expect to always be able to cope alone. I know you are a logical girl who has probably thought of everything, but I’m going to repeat something you’ve certainly thought about before: YOU HAVE TO MAKE TIME FOR YOU AND YOU HAVE TO FIND TIME TO EAT. Not eating enough screws up brain chemistry, and so feelings that we would normally be able to manage as healthy human beings suddenly become impossible because your body’s chemisty is all out of whack. If you start feeling better physically (eating and sleeping), the mental will follow. Trust me…I’ve been there (and I am currently trying to get there).

    Sending hugs and positive vibes. You WILL be ok 🙂

    • You are completely right–kids or not, life can be super stressful. I have experienced a few “lows”, including my first year in Canada when I was isolated and dealing with the immigration system. Point is, no need to be a mother as well to relate and you, wise woman, said wise things 🙂

      I’m sorry to hear you can also relate to my struggles with food. Indeed, it messes up with your brain…

  7. Zhu, I feel for you so much reading this. Friends of ours were in a similar situation to you – he works from home and they had very different hours so they figured they could juggle the childcare between them – and reading something you wrote recently made me wonder how you were coping, because after the first year they realised that them both working full time with no help was far too much and it wasn’t working. You mustn’t feel guilty for not being superhuman – being a working parent with childcare is already impressive, never mind without! I hope you can find a practical solution to give yourself a bit of a break, because you sound like such a strong person and you know what’s not working – you just need time to fix it. Gail’s idea sounds sensible to me – I hope Canada’s healthcare system helps you find a solution. All the best.

    • Yes, I think many people who work flexible hours, work from home or freelance think they can “deal” with their kid more easily… and as I found out, well, it doesn’t work that way!

  8. You have a lot on your plate. It’s great that you acknowledged that you’re not okay and want to do something about it.

    I love that you put your spin of humor when recounting how strangers give you unwanted advice regarding pregnancy and child-rearing (those posts made me laugh), but how annoying. I think it’s cool how you’re strong and capable enough to disregard comments that aren’t useful.

    We’re rooting for you! Your endurance and spirit thus far will carry you through this so you can get better for yourself and everyone you love and everyone who loves you.

  9. What a powerful, honest post. I’m very impressed, though I of course feel for you. You know I have four kids, and yes, being a parent is a very demanding job, but I will not give you any recommendations or anything like that, it would be so arrogant of me to do so.

    What I can say is that we’re all with you, I understand how you must feel, and the fact that you’re so exhausted clearly show how dedicated you are. I know you will regroup, find the time you need for yourself and bounce back. Nothing better to raise a happy, healthy kid than a happy, healthy mom.

    Stay strong.

    • Thank you Gabriel. I often how you (and Guillermo!) do it because you have a big family and while it looks super cool, I’m sure there were (there are) times when you both must have been exhausted, especially with work and the stress of moving to Canada a few years ago.

  10. Oh lala.. 🙁 Ma pauvre Zhu, franchement je te comprends bien, je suis aussi passée par là il y a 8 ans… Personnellement, je ne me sentais pas comme si j’avais échoué, mais je ne retrouvais plus la personne que j’étais avant Le Fiston…

    Tu sais quoi, je pense que de nos jours, trop de mamans veulent à tout prix être LA Super Maman, sur tous les plans. Y’a pas de super mamans, ça n’existe pas. Toutes les bonnes résolutions que tu prends avant que bébé arrive sont irréalistes parce que quand c’est le premier on se dit qu’il faudra faire comme-ci ou comme-ça. Mais la réalité est tout autre, selon bien entendu le caractère du bébé.

    Pour exemple, j’ai une belle-soeur qui s’évertuait à ne pas gronder sa fille, à ne pas crier, etc. La petite en grandissant avait un très fort caractère où il a été nécessaire, pour le bien-être de tout le monde (parents et enfant) d’imposer des limites, de gronder quand il le fallait pour apprendre à l’enfant que telle ou telle chose ne se fait pas, etc. Ma belle-soeur m’a même fait la réflexion l’autre jour qu’elle était une mauvaise mère parce qu’elle mettait ses enfants devant la télé pour avoir la paix un moment (bon c’était pas textuellement mais c’est le sens qu’elle avait voulu donner).

    And so what?! Ca n’a rien à voir du tout bon Dieu! Il y a tellement de stéréotype de “comment être une bonne mère” (ou pas) que ça en est ridicule! Je crois que chacun à sa façon de voir les choses, d’éduquer ses enfants, etc. Il ne faut pas rentrer dans ces stéréotypes. Et quand même bien que tu avais des résolutions que tu n’as pas su tenir, il y a bien pire que ça! Que ton ménage ne soit pas fait, que tu donnes un peu de fast food une fois de temps en temps pour t’aider, qu’est-ce que ça changera dans le bonheur de Mark?!

    Mais bon, maintenant si tu dis qu’il est super collant et que tu n’as plus de temps à toi, c’est autre chose, je comprends bien que tu puisses être fatiguée et à bout 🙁 Mark est encore petit et il demande beaucoup de ton temps. Pourquoi n’essayes tu pas la garderie pour Mark, quelques fois par semaine? 🙂 Pas très longtemps mais juste assez pour te dire que c’est un moment à toi où tu peux te retrouver et faire ce sont tu as envie 🙂 Comme par exemple en profiter pour te remettre à tes activités remisées au placard 🙂

    J’aime pas ça voir qqn qui a besoin d’aide et de soutien et ne pas pouvoir aider, de façon tangible 🙁 J’espère de tout coeur que ton appel résonnera et que tes amis près de chez toi te viendront sincèrement en aide.

    De gros bisous pour toi Zhu 🙂

    • Merci la Madame!

      J’imagine que tu as dû ressentir aussi ce sentiment bizarre, d’autant plus en étant expatriée. Loin de la famille, c’est pas facile non plus, t nos pays adoptifs respectifs font les choses différement alors on peut se sentir encore plus perdues.

      Je veux trouver des solutions, pratiques d’abord, mais je dois aussi travailler sur moi pour lâcher prise… et c’est pas facile!

      • Je pense exactement que c’est ça (selon ce que tu décris), tu dois apprendre à lâcher prise et tu ne t’en sentiras que mieux 🙂 On ne peut pas être sur tous les fronts et être géniales partout, une fois que tu auras accepter ça ça sera déjà bien 🙂

        Perso, j’étais tellement dévouée à mon Fiston et à mon foyer par le fait même que je m’étais oubliée… ça a l’air con à dire, qu’on s’oublie soi-même, mais c’est vrai ça arrive. J’étais allée voir un psy à l’époque, qui était un escroc mais bon, il m’a tout de même fait comprendre que j’avais le droit d’exister, que je devais m’imposer au monde etc… et ça m’a fait du bien tout de même, ça m’a débloqué 🙂 J’ai dû faire 3 séances en tout 🙂 Si tu as besoin d’aide, même si c’est cher, dis toi que tu en as besoin et que même si tu fais 3 ou 4 séances à 100$ la séance, c’est clair que c’est cher au début mais ça ne peut ue t’être bénéfique pour ton futur et le futur de ta famille 🙂

        Bisous 🙂

        • Ah oui, je confirme, s’oublier ça existe… la notion de “sacrifice” est bien ancrée dans nos petites têtes et on en fait souvent trop! Je vais regarder encore du côté du counseling peut-être…

  11. **BIG HUG** I am not a mother, but i have seen my sister going through tough times with my nieces and all i can say is you will find a way and you will get better. I know it helped my sister to put my niece in school early (it work as a daycare too) so she could have time for herself. Hopefully Ottawa offers low cost options for daycare or maybe part time help. I know i may not have the perfect words to give you, but i am here to listen 🙂

  12. Sending you hugs my dear. I’m sorry to hear you are going through this and have been for a while. I wish I could write something helpful here, but a) anything I could write that might be even remotely helpful or to really show my solidarity would be super personal and b) I’m not confident I could be helpful at all. Just want to let you know that I’m sending you some good vibes and that I’m thinking about you. Motherhood isn’t easy. x

  13. I don’t know how to put it so it won’t come out wrong… I am in the same boat. Reading the post I felt kinda relieved, that I am not the only one feeling this way and sharing the same thoughts. But that, by no means, mean I am happy you feel that way. Anyways, I hope, you get the point. I feel guilty and ashamed wanting my old life back, my pre-baby non-routine days.I want to actually sit at the table and finish at least one meal properly. I want to have a conversation with my husband, a real conversation. Damn, I want to have a conversation with anybody, that would not involve baby stuff and would not be cut mid-way. My wee one is almost 2 and I still rebel inside against him dictating my daily schedule. I get upset and mad at myself for not being what I am supposed to be. I want to be alone at least for a day. Especially, when seeing and reading how great all other moms are doing, having their sh** together, perfectly dressed, groomed and with a great dinner on the table. This warrior-supermom culture, that is so emphasized now in society, maybe is part of why I also feel like a total failure. The involuntary comparison, that is out there, even if I try to avoid it. But then again, there are good days. Seriously, it sometimes feel like a bi-polar. 😀 I also tried counselling but gave up after 2 sessions, as I don’t really feel a stranger trained to listen to others’ troubled minds would have a personal approach to my situation. I prefer girls’ talk – better and cheaper therapy, for sure. I am in no position to give any advice, as you can see. 🙂 But when you feel there is no way out, there will be a way out. I haven’t completely understood the logics of this, but it seems, that how things work in general. Closer to 2 years it will get easier, this I can surely tell you. At least I finally shook myself up and bought some body care products to start loving my body again. Sending big hugs your way. P.S. The offer to come to West Coast for a visit some time is and will always be open! And for the record – I think you are doing waaaay better than me anyways! Travelling, working, blogging and bringing up a perfectly adorable and healthy bebe. Way to go, girl! xxx

    • *Hugs*

      I feel for you because… well, I feel exactly the same. Oh yes, having a conversation that doesn’t start with “did he poop today?” or “is he going to sleep?” Being alone…! Having a day that doesn’t revolve around his schedule or needs…!

      And yes, then we feel guilty for feeling this way.

      I’m not sure how I feel about counseling. Talking to a stranger feels weird, plus there is the issue of cultural differences. I find North American moms “suck it up” better than Europeans, who tend to be more independent than their kids (as much as they can!). Here, there is a lot of pressure on being the perfect mom, being entirely dedicated to your kid.

      I wish I had the perfect solution and that I could share it with you. Learning we are in the same boat doesn’t make me feel better, I don’t wish it upon anyone, but it makes me feel… more normal in a way. I’ll be in touch!

  14. Même “en ligne”, j’avais la sensation de voir que tu n’avais pas l’air ok. Ca n’a rien à voir avec ton cas, mais j’ai eu aussi un very crappy year et je suis aussi dans le dynamisme de remonter la pente (et de dépenser beaucoup d’argent pour ça !!!). Difficile à croire, mais petit à petit, on grapille du terrain et on remonte, on remonte ! Je te souhaite bon courage, car ce n’est pas facile. De loin, de très loin, je peux juste te dire que non, tu n’as pas échoué !!!
    Bon courage et plein de belles ondes positives internetiennes

    • J’ai pensé à toi quand tu as annoncé la nouvelle de votre séparation. C’est aussi un gros changement, et j’espère que tu vas aller mieux… bien. Moi aussi je t’envoie de bonnes ondes!

  15. I haven’t gone through a pregnancy, but I think I understand where you are coming from. A changing body is something that terrifies me. Its the reason for which each year I grow older, I obliged to go one extra day to the gym each week.

    I have maintained my weight for the past 4 years – and the thought of suddenly gaining another 10-15 kilos would kill me. Of course you should see it as “temporary weight”. After all, there’s someone else inside you. But I completely understand the crisis.

    I’m glad you noticed though – it’s always the first step to get better. Sorry to hear it has been such an internal battle… but motherhood isn’t easy and you are doing an amazing job at it – so should never stop feeling proud and worthy! 🙂

    • Thank you!

      I know how you feel… and you know how I feel. And we both feel silly about it, don’t we! Weight really doesn’t mean much… yet we try to control it.

    • C’et pour ça, entre autres, que j’ai trouvé ton témoignage vraiment très intéressant. Évidemment, sans porter de jugement sur ta mère, ça m’a permis de faire un point sur moi aussi. 🙂

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