Alison Canavan talks to us about her new book “Minding Mum”
Next Sunday (8 May) is Mother’s Day in several countries including the US so Fiona O’Brien spoke to Alison Canavan about her new book designed to help new mothers look after themselves.
The front cover of Alison Canavan’s book has a testimonial from Kate Thornton reading: “If you’re not taking care of yourself you’re not going to be much use to your child.”
This sentiment is the reason behind Alison’s new book Minding Mum: It’s Time to Take Care of You, as Alison thought that there was a surplus of books about how to look after their newborns, but not the mothers themselves.
Alison spent years travelling as an international model, living in her own flat in New York’s trendy Manhattan and sharing the catwalk with the likes of Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington. She understands the disbelief that people have however when she says she has only found true happiness now since the birth of her son James, now five.
“I was broke, single and moved back into my mum’s house pregnant. And all of a sudden I had this moment of clarity. I took a deep breath and just felt more content then I had in years,” she says.
“And then I realised it wasn’t the money, or the job, or the partner that would make me happy, you have to do that for yourself. But it was a long road.
“I put all my energy and efforts into having a healthy pregnancy t o make sure my baby would be ok. But all of that goes out the window once the baby is born, and we need to carry on self-caring for Mum.
“I think in the western world the term self-care draws up words like selfish, but it’s not selfish to look after yourself. What can be better for a child than a happy healthy parent.”
But a struggle with postnatal depression brought Alison crashing back down to earth.
“I did really well at first, and thought I was flying through being a mum. I was back at work and now I think I was putting too much pressure on myself to be a mum and work, and all without looking after me. When we are pregnant we eat well because we want the best possible start for our children.
“But then once the baby is born all of your energy is still into giving them all your care and we neglect looking after ourselves. It was when I was in my recovery after that phase that I realised that I had spent my whole life not really liking me. How sad is that? I was a model through my early years and not happy.
“Isn’t it sad that we have a generation of young women like this?” The book is obviously targeted at mothers, but works as a general health and self-care book for all, and Alison, alongside writing newspaper columns and modelling, gives talks at schools and corporate events.
“When you have children,” she continues, “we are solely focused on the children. It is baby, baby, baby. And I think that has come at a cost. I think we need to focus on mums. It makes sense to me that if we focus on mum being healthy and happy, then the baby will automatically be healthy and happy.
“How can we have happy children and expect them to be happy if we are not setting that example. I always say that if mums want to make their children happy that they need to turn the mirror back around on themselves, that way the child can learn by example.”
Self-help books are often dismissed as new age ‘hippy’ nonsense, but it Alison breaks it down do acutely that it seems like common sense. The book is honest, matter- of-fact and humble from Alison’s own experiences, and it is interesting to hear feedback from women of her mother’s generation who were seen as the ‘you just get on with it’ generation.
“I have spoken to so many older people who say that there are opportunities that they missed out on just because they became a mother, and it is a huge source of regret for them.
“Some would have liked to have pursued a career or started a business, but that option wasn’t available as it was seen almost like the end of your life, and that your fulltime job is mummy now. You spend all this time on looking after and nurturing your children, for them to go on and do the same thing, but there has to be more on a personal level.”
And then on the other hand Alison understand that there are new pressures on mothers, the ones that need and seem to ‘have it all’.
“There is this huge thing, almost like a quiet competitiveness around people who manage to work and be a great mother. It’s absolutely fine if you want to be a stay at home mother, but I wish it was spoken about more and we supported each other more because we all struggle.
“I remember looking at other people and thinking, is it just me that is finding this hard, and the amount of people who have admitted since that they were struggling shows that we need to speak about these things.”
Alison has a huge presence on social media, and has almost an army of feminine followers who give her feedback through her Instagram account and website. Alison remains grateful for all the things, bad and good, I’ve been through in the past few years. And as such, I’ve never been happier.”
“I would never say the days of depression are behind me, I work very hard at staying well. I went through a period of going ‘life is unfair’ as I had to work at staying well, whereas others stay well normally.”
Meditating and writing a diary of five good things that happen each day and trying to stay positive are some of the things that work for the single mother.
Alison added: “There are simple things I do like that keep me on track such as having a mug of green tea and trying to eat as clean as I can. I exercise with Body Byrne at least once a week. “I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been and a completely different person to who I was four years ago.
“The road to success is never easy and anyone that thinks it is must be one in a million. I’m interested in it because I’ve noticed my eating has helped enormously with my depression. I don’t have any signs or symptoms of it when I eat well and cut out sugar and processed food. I now understand how powerful food is and our diets. “I’m a big fan of the Nutribullet – I juice all the time and the difference is phenomenal.
“I put in kale, spinach and seeds for my Omega 3s. I have a juice in the morning and I’m sleeping better, my mood is better, my ability to cope on a day-to-day basis with stress is much better. I was sick of going to the doctor and saying I was depressed and being told to take anti-depressants – this isn’t getting to the root of the problem, it’s just masking them for a while.
“After my degree I will be able to treat people when they come to me with digestion issues or if they are tired, I can look at their nutrient levels and see what essential nutrients are needed.
“It looks at the whole picture, it’s about lifestyle health, well-being and mental health to create a better lifestyle.”
• Minding Mum is published by Gill Books and available in stores and online now, priced at €16.99.