By Ntathu Allen
These days I am fine.
I can look in the mirror, smile at the face radiating back at me and state with pride:
“I love you. I love you Ntathu. Ntathu you are worthy. Worthy of love. Worthy to be here and worthy to be alive”.
I can say my affirmations and feel a profound fluttering in my tummy which tells me it is real.
I really do love myself.
And that feels great.
Every molecule and hair on my skin beams with pride. With love and appreciation that after years of self-neglect, inner turmoil and disconnection from Source, I feel whole, wholesome and alive.
It wasn’t always like that.
For years I loathed myself.
Well maybe not loathed, but I had a hard time looking in the mirror and believe it was ok for me to allow myself to be gentle with myself and love my body.
As a teenager, I was an athlete.
I lived and breathed athletics and with my parent’s and school’s support trained 4–6 times a week. During this time, I saw my body as a machine. Something I used to propel me through a grueling training session – pushing and grinding and forcing myself to exceed the required repetitions, gym, and circuit training sessions. We would train in all weathers and I enjoyed the sense of friendly competition and comradeship with my training friends.
At that time, in a strange way, I liked my body.
It felt like it had a sense of its purpose.
I used my body to push me further, faster and harder to beat the next competitor. I programmed my mind to win. I would ignore any signs of pain, and when my coach said to stop and rest, I would get annoyed and numb any feelings of discomfort in my body whispering to me to pause and recover.
I continued running and training well into my early twenties. I felt in control of my mind and my body and enjoyed that feeling. It felt like a game, who would win, my mind or my body? When my mind won, yes, that was a result and I would do a jig on the track.
Looking back, I can see how the tiny threads of disconnect started as I ignored the signs from my body that all was not well.
I was pregnant three times. All three pregnancies left an imprint and story on my heart.
My first pregnancy was a shock to my system.
My body drastically changed, and I didn't recognize what was happening to my insides.
Everyone around me, my now ex-husband, my parents, brother, and girlfriends were all happy and excited at the news, especially my mum, who was looking forward to seeing her first grandchild. However, I felt frustrated, upset and out of control. I didn’t understand what was happening to my body. Everything felt different and I didn’t have a stopwatch or fellow athlete urging me on.
I couldn’t understand how I was supposed to feel. I didn’t feel “pregnant”. I felt fat, ugly and frustrated with my diminishing physical strength, and the rollercoaster of emotions fluctuating throughout my body left me feeling disoriented, rudderless and disconnected from the bundle of joy growing within me.
Up until that point, I didn’t realize how much value I placed in looking trim, fit and athletic.
Being pregnant, especially during the first two months as I gained weight, and suffered from fatigue and morning sickness, I lacked the energy to go for a run or do a workout. I remember looking in the mirror, feeling like an alien standing in the familiar surrounds of my bedroom.
To make matters worse, I recently qualified as a Probation Officer, and my days were full of interviewing offenders, writing court reports, supervising prisoners and building relationships with my colleagues. Seeing a midwife and having no energy to do anything else wasn’t on my agenda.
It felt weird having no control over my body. Especially as I was so used to pushing and challenging it to get up and do things.
As I progressed through my pregnancy, I sensed a shift in my attitude. It felt surreal. I didn't like to look in the mirror, yet as the baby grew inside, I developed a morbid fascination with the changing landscape of my body. I felt like a spy entering foreign terrain. I was used to having a structured plan to follow. Work was full-on, I was on a short-fuse and with this thing growing inside, it felt like my body had a mind of its own, and I wasn't the driver.
More important was the reaction from other people.
Strangers felt they had a right to come up to me and touch my stomach. Even when I flinched and moved away, they looked at me like I had committed a crime. I was a “strong, independent black woman” and it felt weird to suddenly have older white men, offer me their seat on trains and buses and even weirder, I accepted their offer to open doors for me and let me go first.
My reaction may seem strange to you, but as a black girl growing up in a predominately white neighborhood and being one of four black girls in my secondary school, I have always been at the brunt end of racism and sexism. During family gatherings my parents and aunts and uncles shared their stories of racial harassment and discrimination at work, and how hard life was for them when they first came over to the UK. I learned to see the world, literally in black and white. The color of my skin held more significance than what was in my head, how well I excelled at school or how fast I ran.
Over the years, despite my mother’s persistence in installing a sense of self-pride in myself, I subconsciously absorbed the negative images and stereotypes associated with black people and that affected how I saw the world and how I treated myself.
I developed a cloak around my heart to shield the unwanted stares and negative racist comments, my family, friends and I received. Thus, to be pregnant and offered a seat or doors opened for me by white men, because I was pregnant, did my head in. I didn't know what that was about and questioned their motives. What were they thinking? Why were they suddenly being so thoughtful? Did they think I was weak, not able to stand and look after myself? I questioned everything, yet answers still eluded me.
My second pregnancy left me feeling like a wounded soldier. A few days after my Dr confirmed my pregnancy, I miscarried. It was horrible and an experience I still struggle to think about. I felt that my body had failed me, rejected a part of me and all I had left was an empty hole. The only way I could cope was to withdraw into myself. I presented a logical exterior to the world, got on with all that I had to do, but inside my womb was crying. I didn't understand why my body let me down and what was wrong with me.
When I became pregnant a third time, I was alarmed. I didn't want to think about it and blocked out all signs and symptoms my body was revealing. This pregnancy felt nothing like the other two and I was frightened at what could be going on. Everything felt intense; my mind grasped at loose straws trying to make sense of what was happening. When I finally went to the Doctors and got rushed in for an earlier than usual scan, I held my breath and expected the worst.
Can you imagine my shock when the consultant finally looked at me, smiled and declared “you are expecting twins”? I didn't believe him. Twins? What? Me? How did that happen? I stared at the screen trying to fathom out what the images meant. As I scanned the screen I could clearly see there were two. Two sets of everything. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
The world laughed and rejoiced at the news. Everyone exclaimed it was an unexpected blessing. The cherry on the cake. I smiled yet, whilst the world rejoiced, I kept a silent vigil, scared that something untoward would happen to me.
I felt too tired and worried to relax and enjoy this pregnancy especially as I feared another miscarriage. My daughter was just over a year old and active, and I struggled with the competing demands of caring for my family, working and being pregnant with twins. It was easier for me to disconnect from my emotions and function on autopilot. My mind hurtled through space at a 1000 mile per hours and I struggled to concentrate at work and be present at home.
The early years of motherhood were spent in a blur of activity – feeding, cleaning, mother-toddler groups, housework... endless list of things to do. I didn't have time to think about my mind-body connection! I was too stressed and wired. I breastfed my eldest daughter for 9 months and her twin sisters for 3.5 months. Breastfeeding was a joyous experience, yet I was weary and the constant demands to feed the twins and entertain my eldest took its toll. My family, friends and my husband were supportive, yet that sense of running on empty, existing on adrenaline took its toll.
I dreaded the thought of going back to work. I wondered how would I be able to cope with getting the girls ready for nursery, driving 45 minutes to work, doing a full day’s work, repeat the home journey and be a mum.
When I returned to work my worst fears came true.
I tried – I really did. God knows how much I tried. I tried my best to be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect employee and be there for my friends and family. But it wasn’t enough. I felt a failure. The more I struggled to do it all, the harder I pushed and forced my body to fit the cogs into the right space, the more I failed to cover up the cracks and smooth the way. It wasn’t working. When I allowed myself time to pause, it was scary. I was exhausted and falling apart inside. There was a constant whirring sound in my head and the tight band around my chest got tighter the more I tried to squeeze the pile of things to do into my day.
I loved my girls and being a mum, but it was all too much for me, and when my brother and cousin unexpectedly passed away, in 1995 and 1997, that was it. I had nothing left to give. The well was dry, and I was stuck and sinking.
Concerned friends and family tried to make me slow down, offered their support and told me to take it easy. But I was too frightened to let go. What if I slowed down and couldn't get up again? I was cracking up, only I didn't see it. I pushed aside the care from my husband, lost interest in eating, and tried to take on more projects at work, to prove to myself and my Team that I had it all together.
Thankfully my Senior stepped in. Called me into her office and shared her concerns. As she presented the evidence of my incomplete reports, missed case meetings, clients not been seen on time… the dam burst. My journey to healing, to wholeness and self-care, finally started.
I slowly reclaimed my spirit, started to learn how to love myself, how to care and nourish my mind, body, and soul, through prayer, journaling, personal counseling, yoga, and meditation, I learned how to let go, to release the pain inside, and regain my connection to Source.
It’s been a journey.
I am not perfect, far from it.
My eldest daughter is now 26 and her twin sisters, 24, and every day I am learning more about myself and what it means to be whole, to travel a life blessed with the divine and speak my truth. Writing this post, sharing a glimpse of what being a new mum meant to me, is all part of my unfolding and learning to love myself more. And now, I can look in the mirror, smile at the face radiating back at me and say with pride:
“I love you. I love you Ntathu. Ntathu you are worthy. Worthy of love. Worthy to be here and worthy to be alive”.
And that feels good.
Ntathu Allen is a yoga and meditation teacher who inspires and supports busy women to experience more pleasure and delight in their lives. She offers simple yoga exercises and meditation techniques you can do at home or at work to help you release worry, feel calmer and be more creative and focused. She offers free blog articles on yoga, health, and spirituality with weekly subscriptions via her website. If you are interested in finding out more about yoga, Ntathu’s latest book, Yoga For Beginners: A Simple Guide to the Best Yoga Styles and Exercises for Relaxation, Stretching, and Good Health is available on Amazon. Click here to read it now.
You can also find her on Linkedin