Some of us are warned about this, but few really appreciate the warning until they are treading water in a sea of baby care, with their chins dipping below the surface: caring for a baby is an all-consuming, 24/7 job. Currently I am enrolled in a certificate training for Maternal Mental Health with the 2020 Moms Project and Post Partum Support International, and our presenters this week came from the Artemis Center for Guidance in NJ. They offered a good comparison: bringing a brand new baby into your family is not too different from bringing a boarder into your home. Imagine you and the boarder have no language in common. The boarder is completely immobile with no means to care for himself in any capacity. The boarder can only cry. It is your job to determine what the boarder needs, night and day. You may share the job with some people in your home, but they provide only respite; the majority of the work is yours. If you don’t correctly determine the boarder’s needs, the boarder’s crying can quickly become screaming. The thought of failing to provide for this boarder’s needs is terrifying.
How can I in good conscience recommend that moms carve out the time for self care when I know the realities of motherhood, particularly postpartum motherhood? Because it is essential. A mom’s ability to care and sustain another life (multiple lives, really, if she has more than one child, AND runs her home in addition to her work outside of the home, AND she’s caring for her spouse) isn’t infinite. To use another comparison, which I make frequently with moms — care giving is an ATM. You have to make some deposits, otherwise you will end up overdrawn.
So yes, one of my “homework” assignments is self-care despite all that moms have going on with their world. And I like to start small. No one needs to leave the house and/or their baby for 3 hours, or join a gym, or arrange childcare, or make an appointment for some kind of pampering (although if you want to and can, by all means, DO!). Here are my starter tips for self-care:
1. Ear buds. What is a song that you love, something that gets you singing, soulful, or dancing? Put it on, and turn up the volume. Get lost in that song. That’s what, 5 minutes? See how easy it is to feel good?
2. Sunshine. Pretend you are a cat and sit in that patch of sunshine coming in through your window (it’s exponentially a 100 degrees below zero here in Boston, and I do this). Or pretend you are in the Caribbean. Whatever works. Close your eyes to the sun and bathe. It only takes a moment to feel the heat penetrate your skin. And close your eyes so you don’t see the particle dust, which might compel you to clean or feel guilt about not cleaning.
3. Pet your pet. Branching on #2, if you have dog or a cat, all kinds of research shows the therapeutic benefits of petting an animal. Your mind may stray into guilt about how little time you have for your pet since the baby came, but know that this is corrective action, for both you and your pet.
4. Read. Choose something that is not about how to care for your baby. It could be a celebrity weekly, a cooking or fashion magazine, or anything really with snippet-length articles. Slip it into your diaper bag, or book mark it on your phone. In the few minutes that you find somewhere, take a reading break.
5. Skin cream. Seriously. You wash your hands after every diaper change or throw wet laundry into the dryer, and your hands get chapped. I know for sure that your baby’s skin isn’t chapped. Maybe it’s just drug store brand, or maybe you’ve got something luxurious. Keep it by your bedside, and slather some on before you shut your eyes.
6. Dark chocolate. One piece. Okay, two. Maybe it has health benefits, like lowering blood pressure. Maybe it helps improve brain function. Maybe it is a great source of antioxidants and unsaturated fat. But for sure it tastes decadent if you don’t chew it, and it melts slowly on your tongue.
I call these starter tips, because that’s what they are, a start. They require minimal prep, self-discipline, or resources like time or money. But they remind you that your needs matter, and that is what can lead to other measures of self care that may be less tangible, like personal boundaries. Or saying no. Or trusting yourself. Small things that even moms need to remember.