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VM Voices: Virtual Mom Camp, the retreat this mom needed

VM Voices: Virtual Mom Camp, the retreat this mom needed

Guest post by Anya Wyers

I stood strong, one leg out in front of the other, knee bent, arms extended in opposite directions, shoulders down. I breathed the air out of my tired lungs, settling into the pose and felt my eyes swell with tears. The last time I had done something like this, something truly inspiring and completely for myself, escapes my busy brain. Knowing I wasn’t alone gave me life in that moment, and as I pushed away the negativity physically with my hands and spiritually with my heart and will, I dedicated that sacred time to myself as me, as a mom, but especially as the determined woman I know lives deep beneath all the restrictions of today’s life. I had arrived in that moment, welcomed it just for me.

I had arrived at Mom Camp.

Virtually, of course. The founder of @MomCampLife and the amazing retreat “Mom Camp: The Camp,” Gillian Behnke, had graciously opened up Mom Camp: Virtual Camp for free to all of the moms out there that just needed a break, some time for ourselves, away from a life that we won’t want to run away from (her words, not mine). The second Mom Camp: The Camp was supposed to be taking place the same weekend we found ourselves gathering online, April 24 to 26, 2020. Instead, 35 women gathered via Zoom to listen to Gillian speak as she shared her story of how Mom Camp: The Camp was born in her mind years before it took place in person, during an overly busy time for her at work planning the Canada Day celebrations for Canada 150. The idea of encouraging a group of moms together at camp, to bond not only over our adventures as moms, lord knows there are many, but as the women we still are underneath the hats we wear as chefs, bum-changers, chauffeurs, wives, partners and mothers, and to celebrate the women we will still be once our nests are empty, our lives quietened by the absence of our grown children.

Photo of the in-person November Mom Camp via Gillian Benkhe

I first heard Gillian speak at a Leading Moms event in May of 2019 where she shared her story about planning Canada 150 at work, with a focus on how busy she had gotten with work and how when she recognized that pieces of her personal life were suffering because of it, she was able to take a step back and redirect the necessary energy back into her family, and, most importantly, herself.

Busy is not a badge of honour

Busy is not a badge of honour she said as she stood in front of the audience, bare feet and a confident, warm smile, her tone generous and kind, in a way that made me believe that she had not only been there, but she had come out the other side better for it all. She knew what it was like to pour everything into your kids, everything else into your job when you weren’t with your kids, and not have anything left for yourself at the end of the day. She knew what it was like to be a mom.

And it was her kind voice, speaking over the conference call, that brought me to tears last Saturday evening. Moments after Gillian introduced her first speaker, fitness leader Jennifer Carlyle, who had in turn encouraged us to stand from our seats and shift our stance into Warrior 2 Pose, I heard the beats of the X Ambassadors song, Unsteady, and I wept. They were small tears, but oh they were packed with such meaning. I felt for myself and the past 45 days I’ve spent at home, caring for my two small children, being their everything, all day, every day, with help from my husband during the evenings and weekends or when things get really rough during the day. He’s only working downstairs, after all, the commute is quick to pull apart the kids in a tantrum, or be with me while I cry, or if I simply need a break to go to the bathroom. All of those feelings I’ve had, of resentment towards my children for being so difficult to manage and for not getting along, towards my husband for being allowed to escape to work for a while, even if he can hear every fight we have or item that’s thrown by our toddler, and for myself for feeling resentment towards them at all. They are my chosen people, after all. I listened to Jennifer guide us through various poses, increasing my heart rate and allowing me to release tension with my tears, pushing my hands away from my body in a flow that’s meant to push away the negativity from our day, to stretch and recover. At least that’s what the movements meant to me. Jen also shared some personal affirmations with us as a way to ground ourselves, my favourite being: “My feelings are valid.” If you’re anything like me, you easily forget this simple fact. It doesn’t matter what we’re going through or what we’re feeling about it, our feelings and emotions are valid. Not only are we worthy of feeling them, we’ll feel much better about them when we embrace our feelings for what they are.

“My feelings are valid.”

Next up was speaker and Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Julie Durnan. She began her talk by speaking about sleep and stress and noted just how important it is to get a good night’s sleep, especially in such trying times. Taking care of our bodies is the simplest thing we can do to take care of ourselves, starting with our sleep. I’ve also recently heard this advice from Gillian Behnke in her “Fill Your Bucket Challenge”. These ladies know what they’re talking about! The most valuable advice Dr. Durnan had to share with us was that our mindset is what brings everything together. A positive outlook is key. She also shared some recommendations for recovery, nutrition and supplements, but if you want to know more, come to Mom Camp: The Camp in November to hear her speak yourself! I promise, you won’t regret it.

Gillian Goerzen of Super You was the next speaker, who I had the privilege of meeting at the inaugural Mom Camp: The Camp last November where we bonded over having both recently self-published our first books. Gillian G. spoke about how we can kindly and gently take care of our health (body, mind and spirit) and recommended setting a health zone for ourselves instead of a high, unachievable goal. It makes so much sense! If we are honest with ourselves, and kind, then we will recognize that there are good days, where we exercise, eat all the veggies and skip sugar. Then there are the average days where we are able to choose one or two of those things to focus on, and maybe have a cookie after dinner because we want to. The biggest thing that I took away from Gillian’s talk is to be kind to yourself above all else: choose what brings you joy and do that. Because if we want to find happiness in life, the best place to start is with the things we know we like to do.

Anya Wyers and her two boys

I had personal experience with the fourth speaker who took us into a little bio break, Kim Vopni, the @VaginaCoach. She specializes in pelvic floor health and I saw her not too long after I had Maverick. I had already been reminded recently that I should look into a follow up appointment with her—it’s been over two years, after all—and this session confirmed that for me. Let’s just say there was an incident where I sneezed when I had to pee. I swore out loud to myself, Brad asked what was wrong, and I reminded him that I birthed a ten-pound, ten-ounce baby. The mere fact that we as women brush these feeling aside and think that leaking a little pee after sneezing or jumping or coughing is normal perpetuates the problem. These issues should be normalized, we should all be cared for after we give birth to make sure that we stay healthy, long term. Our pelvic floor health, especially after giving birth, is just as important as the rest of our post-partum recovery. Do me a favour and look her (or another pelvic floor specialist) up if you’ve ever had any difficulties since giving birth. You won’t regret it!

My biggest takeaway from Mom Camp: Virtual Camp was the speech on comparative suffering and empathy by Michelle Robindell, who is a Personal Certified Coach and a consultant with the Coaching Studio. I’ve always considered myself a pretty empathetic person, but I will admit I have never taken the time to truly understand the definition and how it applies to my relationships. Michelle noted that empathy is not a connection with an experience, but rather to the emotions we have as the result of any given experience. There is no way to experience the same thing as someone else, even someone we love, but we can think about how we feel when we are sad, mad, regretful, whatever emotions our friends or family members are feeling, and take the time to recognize how hard that must be for them. To be with them and appreciate what they are going through. Empathy is a renewable skill, the more we use it, the more we practice recognizing other people’s feelings, the more we are able to embrace the emotions of others as well as our own. The easier being empathetic will become.

Photo of the in-person November Mom Camp via Gillian Benkhe

These themes revolving through Mom Camp: Virtual Camp on Saturday are so relevant to the time we find ourselves in. Helping to teach our kids, working from home and just being together with everyone in our immediate families all day every day, on top of all of our daily chores and exercises, exhausting ourselves to adjust to this current recommendation of staying home in order to keep ourselves and our families safe. I often fight the urge to say how much of a struggle I’m having, how hard my day to day is. Every time I do, I compare myself to what others close to me are going through, I get defensive of myself, almost pushing my own thoughts and feelings aside, belittling them.

And in doing so, I am not being kind to myself. I can do better than that. I deserve better than that.

The hardest challenges we face are always our own.

They are valid.

We will be heard. If only we embrace vulnerability and listen.

What we are going through now is temporary. It will not last forever. And if there is one thing I will put into practice after Mom Camp: Virtual Camp, it’s to take that time for myself. Figure out a way to step out of the daily grind, even if I cannot go anywhere physically, and focus on taking care of myself. Until November comes and I can go to the real Mom Camp. We will all certainly need the break to focus on ourselves by then.

Find out more about Mom Camp: 

Anya Wyers is a mom of two, amateur blogger, writer and student in a Creative Writing Program through SFU called The Writer’s Studio.. Her memoir, Letters to the Mountain, was self-published in May of 2019.

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