:: As I am readying my heart and my home to welcome our second son, I thought I would write a series of posts reflecting my preparations, in the hope that it can be of benefit to other new or soon-to-be mamas out there. This is the first post in the series Preparing for Baby. Watch for more posts about baby gear, creating space, and important lessons in the coming weeks. ::
|In my dreams, this is where I shower.|
A great many of the things I had been told and didn’t want to believe about becoming a mother have turned out to be true, but not this one: that I would never have time to take a shower. The only time I have wanted to take a shower and been unable to was the day my son was born, when I was still hooked up to monitors and drips and catheters. (I will always remember that first shower at the hospital, how blissful it felt… until I made the gruesome discovery of my elephantine, swollen ankles and feet.) In fact, in Silas’ early weeks, more often than not I would take two showers a day.
Showers are wonderfully restorative to me. Not because I have an especially dreamy shower, because I don’t. Trust me. But standing in the hot pounding water, lights off (I usually shower at night, in the dark), with the soothing scents of lavender, rose, citrus and mint from the various products I use, is both calming and reviving to my senses and nervous system. In fact, I am composing this post after such a shower, and I feel amazing. I was bound and determined that a small bundle of baby wouldn’t come between me and my showers. He never did, and I am glad I made the practice of showering a priority.
My midwife recently paid me the greatest compliment. We were talking about my prenatal yoga classes, and she told me how I was doing a great job of modeling self-care to my students. She said that, of all her clients, I was one of the few who really put a lot of effort in figuring out what I needed, and getting after it.
My own mother didn’t have the luxury of learning self-care until she was well into middle-age, and watching her struggle to do so really struck a deep chord in me. I’ll always remember something she said to me years ago, when she came for a visit after I moved away from home and across the country. She told me how struck she’d been by the safety announcements before her flight took off: being told to put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else. This is a concept that would’ve been foreign to her youthful self—indeed, it sounds counterintuitive to a lot of us, especially mothers. Our impulse would be to put on our child’s mask before our own. But here’s the thing: if you can’t breathe you aren’t going to be able to do shit for anyone else.
This is the deep, important lesson: in order to take care of others, you need to first take care of yourself. You can’t quench anyone’s thirst out of an empty well. But don’t wait until you run dry. Make it a priority to refill the well on a daily basis. Almost everything, when it comes to caring for your baby and your home, with the exception of nursing, can be done by someone else. Oh sure, as mamas we feel that no one can do it quite as well as we can, but babies can be held and soothed, dishes can be washed, laundry can be folded by husbands, family members, well-meaning friends. Let them help. Because no one can refill your well for you. No one can take a shower, take a nap, take a breath on your behalf. True, you may need to ask for extra help in order for these things to happen. I had to when I had a tiny infant and took two showers a day. But ask I did because I was determined to make self-care a priority.
I will concede that there are circumstances, such as times of illness, when self-care must go by the wayside for a period of time. But I believe that, in the ordinary reality of day-to-day living, moms who have gone days without a shower have chosen the maintenance of those around them over their own.* At the outset, maybe that choice makes sense. The baby needs clean diapers. You need clean plates off of which to eat. Your baby will be crawling soon and god forbid it be on such a messy floor. These things are all true. Here’s another, perhaps deeper truth: nothing is as important to the health and well-being of your family and home as having a sane, relatively happy mother. You’ve heard the saying: if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. And if mama ain’t had a shower in days, is frazzled and disheveled and hasn’t had a moment to herself, ain’t nobody gonna care about the clean dishes and floors.
For me, it’s showers, and hot coffee, and writing in my journal, and sitting meditation practice. For you it might be something else altogether. I encourage you to think deeply about what feeds and nourishes you, about what replenishes your strength and energy, and commit to honoring these small commitments to yourself each and every day, to the best of your ability. Discuss these small gestures with the people close to you, and invite them to help you keep these commitments to yourself. Tell them that you are doing this for your own health and well-being, yes, but also with them in mind. Explain how your whole family will benefit from having a calmer, more balanced mother. Post this quote somewhere prominent, where you can see it every day:
“Self-care isn’t an act of selfishness, it’s an act of self-preservation.” -Audre Lorde
Learn what it is that you need, then get after it. You, your child, your family, your home, your world will all be the better for it. I'd love to hear about your self-care practice, won't you share in the comments?
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A few more thoughts...
* I will also concede that your own experience may be vastly different. If you have not been able to make self-care a priority, and you feel there is a genuine reason for that, I would love to hear from you, either in a comment or private email. I am deeply fascinated by this subject and would love to have a conversation with you about it.