After becoming a mother, the concept of self-care felt like a dangling carrot that I was unable to reach. However, it seemed every medical provider I spoke to, friend I texted with, and advertisement I was bombarded with proclaimed, “Make sure you SELF-CARE, and TREAT YOURSELF!”
I felt scolded by the Self-Care Industrial Complex, but yet too exhausted to actually do anything, which made me feel like I was failing to take care of myself. My idea of treating myself was a clean hotel room with drawn blinds, and three days to just sleep.
Screw everything else, I was burnt out.
In those early postpartum months, I would daydream about what a respite could look like. I would often build an imaginary postpartum recovery center for women, with the following sign posted on right on its door:
While at the center child/children will be expertly taken care of by a Montessori teacher-nurse-clown-angel. While at the center, the home will be deep cleaned by the MegaPower team of Mr. Clean, Scrub Daddy, and the Sparkle Fairy.
Honestly, the home cleaning is the gold-mine here.The Self-Care Industrial Complex would have you believe getting your nails done is an ample enough example of taking care of yourself. In reality, self-care is essential for parents because there is no ability to adequately take care of others without looking after oneself.
Self-care is not just about spending money on yourself to feel like you are worthy. It’s about a recognition of your true needs, and doing what you can, with what you can, to honor and meet those needs. The perinatal period is rote with others’ needs, and it is too easy to override our own.
Spoiler alert: This is not a good thing, and it means you are neglecting yourself. Your needs have a price which, if left unpaid, will come back demanding the bill be paid…and with interest. Furthermore, ignoring needs will train you to be detached from your feelings and your body.
In the primal sense, a sleep-deprived mamabear can’t protect her cubs to the best of her ability. Unlike our fellow mama bear, we are human and our needs extend beyond the physical. We need rest that is not just sleep, but nervous system regulation, intellectual stimulation, self expression, pleasure, and connection.
Here are ten low/no-cost ways to take care of your postpartum mental health:
- Your Listening Pleasure: Putting on headphones and listening to something only you enjoy.
- Relax Those Feet: Roll a massage ball on your foot while sitting- this is a cheap, easy way to relax your feet. They may not get the center stage in the perinatal period, but they quite literally carry all the load.
- Screaming into a Pillow: Allowing non verbalized emotions to come out unfiltered can be cathartic.
- Steam it Up: A long, hot, sudsy shower with a thorough hair washing. This honors your need to feel clean and allows you to engage your senses in the shower.
- Stretch it Out: Get some movement into your muscles and listen in to what your body intuitively is asking for.
- Mindfulness and Meditation: Lay on the floor and close your eyes, take some deep breaths and allow the thoughts and feelings to land in your body.
- Life is a Highway: Sit in the car alone, drive or don’t drive, and BELT along to songs you love. It’s fun, expressive, and cathartic.
- Journaling: It can be helpful to splash out your thoughts and feelings in an unfiltered, stream-of-conscious way. The mere act of getting them out of you, and onto a page can be a major relief.
- Friendship Dates: Find a time to meet with a trusted friend outside the home, and hopefully build it into a recurring meeting to get out of the house and connect with someone.
- Be Comfortable: Wear clothes which fit your current body, and honor where you are now. Reward your body for what it has done for you, this means not forcing it into clothes which pinch, tug, or feel suffocating.
Remember, don’t let anyone define how you take of yourself. However, you should be aware that you are modeling self nurturing to your kids. Many of us did not have great examples of self-care, so challenge the cycle you were brought into by being exceptionally kind to yourself.
American society pushes the glorification of ‘busyness’, leading to burnout while we work ourselves to the bone. This bleeds into new parenting as well, but exhaustion does not mean success- at work or in parenting. Give yourself, and I am giving you, permission to prioritize your wellbeing, and you have a moral responsibility to model that you matter, because you do.