I was naive to so many things about motherhood. The trials of breastfeeding. The horrors of sleepless nights. The intense struggle that is postpartum depression. Many of these were on my radar but in an I’ll-deal-with-it-when-I-need-to kind of way. What was noticeably absent from my mind was the concept of self-care.
I was under the impression that things would just come naturally in motherhood. Instincts that had been honed for millions of years would automatically kick in and that would be enough to help me thrive. But not only was I not thriving shortly after my daughter was born, but it was all I could do to survive.
In the newborn days, self-care literally looked like eating and showering. I recall hobbling down the hallway the afternoon we brought her home, shaky and weak from hunger and, you know, birthing a human 48 hours earlier. I scarfed an individual serving of some flavor of Chobani yogurt in the fridge, and I went back to mom-ing. For the first two days, I lived on two hours of sleep and I was impressed with myself for how functional I was.
Now? I don’t even remember the first night home. I literally can’t remember it because my body just shut down, crying out for some form of rest and nourishment. That’s what self-care was in those first days, pure survival—and that was enough.
About six months postpartum, my idea of self-care was still the same as my newborn idea of self-care. But while that survival mode has its place, it wasn’t here—half a year out as I approached our “new normal.” Granted, I was also in the throes of untreated postpartum depression and anxiety, but understanding and embracing the concept of maternal self-care around this time was like a ray of sunshine bursting through the clouds, making life a whole lot brighter and joyful.
I started to see a therapist, whom I shall refer to as my “Female Dr. Richard Nygard.” If you’ve seen Parks and Recreation, you get this reference, and I love you dearly for playing along.
Female Dr. Richard Nygard asked me what my definition of selfishness was. I said, “selfishness is any action that inconveniences or puts someone out in any way.”
Well not wrong, just an unhealthy perspective.
Female Dr. Richard Nygard asked me to see selfishness on a spectrum. On one end was my definition, where if breathing loudly annoyed someone five seats away from me, I was a jerk for continuing to breathe. On the other end was knowingly doing something that could harm someone—and doing it anyway.
Could I find a middle ground? Some notion of self-care that absolutely did not make me feel like a selfish human being?
Because when you pour and pour and pour yourself out without taking the time to build yourself back up, you will eventually shatter. And the people who you’ve been giving so much of yourself to will be the ones picking up the pieces of you, trying to put you back together.
If that means you minorly inconvenience someone for the sake of feeling balanced and whole, so be it.
Maybe your partner will struggle to entertain the baby while you take an extra 10 minutes in the shower. That’s okay.
Maybe the extra $20 you spent at Target wasn’t in the budget, but that shirt was on sale and it makes you feel fabulous and beautiful and confident for the first time in months.
Maybe your kid is super crabby while Grandma visits but you need some sunshine and fresh air so you go on a run and trust they’ll be fine without you for 40 minutes.
Maybe you’re worried your partner will get bored of entertaining the baby before bedtime while you have a glass of wine and prep dinner. But you know what? It’s their child, too. And they’re bonding while you’re having some mommy time, so just DO IT.
I often hear people say of their mothers, “Oh she never did anything for herself. She always put us first for so many years.” But wasn’t that a difficult and lonely existence for her?
Will I do everything in my power to give my baby everything she needs and more? Absolutely. Will I love and care for and have compassion for those around me? Yes, of course. Will I neglect myself and the time and care I require to be the best version of myself? Absolutely not.
It has taken me some time to realize it after coming out of the fog of PPD, but what I want most in my personal growth is to be the best version of myself. The best version of me is a patient, loving mom. She’s a fun, loving wife. She’s a caring friend. She’s joyful, she’s happy, and she’s balanced.
I want that for the people around me, and I especially want that for me. And it doesn’t happen without self-care.
So ask yourself, are you neglecting you?
If you are, I hope you’ll give yourself some of the time and attention you need, mama. Even if it’s as small as painting your toenails or walking the dog after the kid is asleep, do it.
Because it’s not selfish.
You’re a stellar mom.
And you deserve ALL the love and respect—especially from yourself.