Zoe Marshall needed a break.
The impressive media personality and mother-of-one went back to work just four weeks after giving birth. Like many mums before her, she was forced to pump during radio and podcast recordings. She juggled television gigs with sleep training and publicity events with nappy rashes, all while ignoring the signs of total and utter depletion.
Sure, she had some help raising her son Fox. But only for ten hours a week. And yes, she was able to get out of the house now and then. But like so many of us, that didn’t change the fact that she felt physically and emotionally exhausted.
“I wasn’t ready”
She waited a year and four months before taking some time away from her son. I asked her over coffee why it took so long.
“I wasn’t ready,” Zoe quickly recalls. “Specialists were telling me that I needed to get more sleep, but I was a new mum. I couldn’t imagine leaving my child for more than a few hours.”
It was Benji, Zoe’s husband, that made the decision for her.
“He told me that I needed to go. That the constant sickness and fatigue could be stopped with a planned getaway.”
“I cried the entire way to the airport”
So that’s exactly what Zoe did. She found a 4-day retreat in the Queensland wilderness. She planned it around Benji’s busy NRL schedule, sorted care, and booked the technology-free trip. She felt nervous, but she shared the news with her Instagram community (more than 45,000 followers) as she drove to the airport.
I asked her if she was excited at the prospect of getting away, projecting my jealousy onto her.
“No. I cried the entire way to the airport. I couldn’t even get out of the car.”
But she did. She got out, held back her tears, flew to Queensland, and hoped that her body would simply surrender. And it did. Well, most of the time.
“I loved the experience, but I really struggled. I literally planned an escape a few days in. You’re not supposed to be on your phone, but I was looking at flights to get back to my boy.”
Luckily, the weather was crap. She took it as a sign that she should stay. “I realised that it was the last chance in who-knows-how-long that I would be alone and able to relax.”
You know who didn’t relax? Instagram.
“Always complaining about having a baby”
While many of her supportive followers praised her for making “me time” a priority, a few trolls leaped at the opportunity to drag her down. Most of them, surprisingly, were other mums.
One woman sent a direct message that read, “Always complaining about having a baby. Why did you have one in the first place? All mum’s are tired and exhausted.”
Other women were equally quick to judge, with messages that ranged from, “Didn’t you just get time away from Fox?” to “You have a lot of help. Why do you even need a break?”
Zoe was opening up to a community that she thought would understand. A community that was usually very supportive. A community, she remembers thinking, that were equally depleted and longing for alone time.
Do whatever it takes
But instead, she was being shamed.
Zoe doesn’t let these types of messages get under her skin. Instead, her big takeaway is: “Don’t focus on what others think. Just do whatever it takes to survive.”
When I bluntly asked her about her followers’ perception of her privilege, she admitted that she knows just how lucky she is. Some people don’t have support like she does, or can’t afford a sitter or a vacation. “But I’m speaking for all the women who are struggling and feel trapped. Women who desperately want a break, but may not feel that they can raise their hand and ask for it.”
“It’s really tricky to make alone time a priority, I get that. But it’s critical. You just need to get creative to ensure you’re taking care of yourself.”
Parenting is bloody difficult
My main takeaway after talking with Zoe is that she seems to understand something that I wish more parents would act on, including myself. Taking time to reconnect with your pre-baby self is vital to the health and well-being of both you and your children.
If we’re stressed and tired, our children will quickly soak up that energy. By taking time away – even for just an hour or two to see a solo movie – we are allowing our body and mind to refuel. This, without a doubt, allows us to be better parents.
Zoe is “comfortable triggering the negative”, but others outside of the public eye might not be. Let’s learn from this situation. Instead of shaming fellow parents for taking breaks or venting about the challenges of raising tiny humans, embrace their honesty and support their needs any way you can.
Parenting is bloody difficult. We need to remind ourselves frequently that we’re all doing the very best we can. We each cope with stress in different ways, and judging or shaming others for not handling the stress in the same way you do is not only a waste of time but completely unfair.
If you’re in need of a break but afraid to ask, please remember this: just because you need a break doesn’t mean you’re broken.