Why Do Mothers Need Self Care? It’s the Ultimate Form of SOUL CARE.
Self care is an expensive luxury, right? NO. There is a pervasive myth that as long as there is a healthy baby, a mother should be content. However, a recent study by the Journal of Affective Disorders has shown that more than 15% of pregnant and postpartum women experience anxiety related disorders. Outside academia, though, this number sounds awfully low.
As a childbirth educator and mother with midwifery practice experience, I don’t need a study to confirm that tension and stress are ridiculously high for new or experienced mothers. Through sheer empirical observation, I can tell by the dark circles under a woman’s eyes or her stretched out t-shirt and yoga pants ensemble that her outer, disheveled appearance is only a minute indicator of what’s going on internally. Or maybe it’s the very well put-together woman with a dense schedule and a chronic cold. I’ve held many women’s gathering where we circle together and share our experiences. Over and over and over again, whether inside a clinic setting or in our circles, women basically repeat the same sentiments: “I’m exhausted.” “I feel like I’ve lost myself.” “I just don’t know what to do.”
Somewhere along our historical collective feminine shift, we forgot how to mother the mother. Sprinkle in the economic pressure many women experience as they must return to work six weeks postpartum and we as a society have created the perfect storm for emotional, spiritual, and physical depletion. Add in subsequent pregnancies and the exhaustion compounds. The physical shell that carries a woman wears down. Emotions run high, tempers shorten, and wellness isn’t even a concept we have time to contemplate. Fatigue becomes a mother’s new normal and stress takes on a dominant role.
Self Empowerment is a an Activated Choice
Here is something to think about: the way a woman experiences postpartum essentially sets her wellness trajectory for months, if not years, to come. When a woman becomes pregnant and then crosses the threshold from maiden to mother, there is a portal, of sorts, that she walks through, requiring her to navigate significant changes. She must either passively accept what is coming toward her, slipping into dis-ease, or to actively decide to care for her being which may lead to a path of empowerment.
In an article published in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, authors Jenifer Fahey and Edmond Shenassa outlined three broad common changes a woman must negotiate to establish life skills in health promotion: physical (fatigue, pain, self-care), psychosocial (attachment to infant, bodily self-image, intimate relationship disruption), and domestic responsibilities (infant care, home care, caring for other children, logistics of transportation and childcare). Now, this scholarly article has self-care tucked into one aspect of a woman’s well-being. I argue that self-care, especially in a culture that does not promote caring for mothers within the context of a community, is an act of radical self-preservation, the ultimate form of empowerment.
Self care is a form of self love. SELF CARE IS SOUL CARE.
So what does that leave a mother to do? Let me first state, abundantly clear, self care is a form of self love. SELF CARE IS SOUL CARE. With that comes grace, forgiveness, respect, and the dissolution of judgement. Self-love is an active perseverance. We’ve got to eliminate any guilt attached to taking time to refill our own cups, so to say. That means telling ourselves that we deserve the time. We deserve wellness. We deserve joy. Can you say it out loud? Not yet? Here, let me tell you. Your well-being is way too important to allow deterioration. Your wellness is a bedrock for thriving, not just surviving. We all know raising babies is not easy, so let’s dispel the myth that taking time to nourish ourselves is harmful to anyone. It takes nothing away from our home life, other than perhaps some forethought and will, to find 20 minutes to recharge. That 20 minutes may mean the difference between laughing at an explosive diaper or having a panic attack. The diaper is inevitable. The panic attack doesn’t have to be.
Speaking about postpartum women’s wellness, Fahey and Shenassa state that “individuals are not healthy unless they are living to their fullest potential. Well-being is in part predicated on the learning and adoption of skills and traits that buffer the individual from disease-inducing events and situations.” Buffering from disease is preventative care. However, there is no statement here about the ease of creating the space and time for self-care. We must constantly redefine how we care for ourselves, carving out time for what we feel is most important. Self-care may look very different season to season. For a new mother with an infant, sleep may be the most important aspect of self-care (although I’ll add eating and drinking nourishing foods are equally important) and that may only be accomplished by letting the dirty clothes and dishes pile up during the day. The old adage sleep when the baby sleeps might be one of the most important phrases a woman can implement in postpartum life. For a mother of several children, self-care may look like a cup of nourishing herbal tea with a journal and a lit candle after all the kids are put to bed. Once kids are a little older and perhaps sleeping in a bit, a morning walk or jog alone might be an option. Sometimes self-care is getting out of the house by one’s self. SOMETIMES IT MEANS BREAKING DOWN AND CRYING JUST BECAUSE. Self-care isn’t a strict regimen. Selfcare is grace for our hard-working spirit.
Boundaries are the walls in which we permit others to bounce around in our SPIRIT
As we are inherently chartered to care for our babes, there also comes the responsibility to exhibit self love to our children so they may extend that unto themselves as they grow. We show others how we want to be treated by modeling it for ourselves. We define our own boundaries and draw our own lines in the sand which gives clear blueprint for others to observe. This is, perhaps, one of the most important lessons we can teach our children. Boundaries are a necessity for flourishing, not a harmful barrier. Brene Brown, storyteller, social worker, and shame researcher, speaks eloquently about boundaries in their relationship to living a wholeheartedness, a phrase she uses to describe the active participation in one’s life in pursuit of soulful living. She tweeted out one day “Boundaries are a function of love and respect.” Simple, yet this couldn’t be more true. When we set the parameters for how we love ourself and for how we want to be loved, that takes care of feeling respected.
We Do Not Empower Others. We Mirror through Modeling Selfcare.
Selfcare is a fundamental life skill It is necessary for us as women to also remind one another of its importance. Self-care is not just about the individual or immediate family. The modeling that we do is also observed outside of our homes. To redefine a culture, it is incumbent upon women to carry the responsibility of reminding and affirming other women of the necessity of our own wellness. A mother’s well-being is the cornerstone of a healthy household. If we extend that out further, a healthy household contributes to a healthy community. One step further, we can make the connection between a better woman and better earth.Perhaps it is an unfair burden to bear, but we should take the time to care for ourselves and also remind other women of it and stepping in when necessary to offer support. “Social support provided by close relations and professionals appears to have a positive effect on physical health and psychological well-being; a lack of social support is associated with unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and a sedentary lifestyle.” This support and reminding are how, I believe, women reach empowerment. We do not empower others. With our affirmations, we essentially fertilize the seeds of empowerment that lay dormant. Our actions serve as guiding lights. Our words have the power to impregnate positive change and habits in others.
Here are 7 super easy things you can do for yourself to begin a self care ritual as a new mom.
- Upon waking head straight to the bathroom to brush your teeth, rinse your face, and then drink a full glass of water. It’s a simple, fundamental self-care habit to implement and perhaps it sounds minute, but it’s way too easy to head straight into the kitchen to start breakfast or fold last night’s basket of laundry before taking time for ourselves.
- Make yourself a big cup of herbal tea. There are several herbs that are safe for pregnant and postpartum women that help calm and nourish the nervous system while also providing mineral supplementation. Plus, they’re safe for children and can be enjoyed by all. Used individually or in combination, these herbs can be purchased in bulk or individual tea bags that can be mixed. Herbs such as oat straw leaf, chamomile flowers, and lemon balm are calming. Considering adding in nettle, rosehip, and red raspberry leaf for a mineral boost.
- Use a dry brush before you hop into the shower. Dry brushes gently stimulate and increase blood circulation, remove dead skin, and stimulate the lymphatic system to move fat deposits and toxins that build up, thus promoting detoxification. It’s a gentle massage for your system. I recommend dry brushes made by Merben International.
- Oil your body after bathing. This intentional massage slows down the bathing ritual and helps us to pay attention to our body while also nourishing our skin with supportive oil. Start at your feet and hands and move toward your heart center. Say thank you to your body, especially those parts you may struggle with, for holding you up each day.
- Take 20 minutes for a yoga flow. The savasana (corpse pose completes the yoga practice with a calm, still body and mind) at the end of the flow makes it all worth it! Your body will benefit and your nerves will thank you. If you can’t make it to a local yoga class, try a free online video or consider subscribing to Birthing Mama, an online yoga subscription which offers tools for relaxation.
- Set a girlfriend date and stick to it. The proverb it takes a village is generally applied to raising a child, but I think it should be applied to motherhood. Birthing and raising children can become all-consuming and if we aren’t careful, the fatigue and stress that often accompanies it can steal our joy. The reminding and affirming I spoke about earlier comes from interaction with those who support and lift us up. It is true, your girlfriend relationships may change as you move through motherhood, especially if your friend doesn’t have children yet (not always, though). Don’t be afraid to reach out to new women. Invite a few moms over for a play date or meet up for coffee. You never know who your next best mom friend will be.
- Get creative. Each of us are comprised of energy and we need outlets to allow energy to flow. Brene Brown, researcher and author of The Power of Vulnerability, talks about creativity as a core element for living a heart-led life. She points out that the converse of that is comparison which is a soul-sucker. Grab a pencil and paper to sketch. Bust out the watercolors. You can write on the back of one and send it as a card. Take time to journal your thoughts and express what’s stuck in your head and heart. Let your creative energy move through you.
Selfcare is about Ritual.
Self care does not have to be fancy or include a trip to the spa, even though that is a beautiful treat every once in awhile. Self care is really more about the ritual, creating the time and space for the work and making a commitment to yourself to recognize your own gravity. Each time you show yourself love, you fertilize your own empowerment. You show your children that self-care is important. You remind other women of their inherent value. And most important: you set boundaries for how you are willing to treat yourself.
Self care isn’t selfish. It is self-preserving. And what we believe is that we each deserve HOLY WELLNESS WITHOUT JUDGEMENT. It’s an act of perseverance and we all need you to be your best self and to see your light shining brightly. You’ve got your good, earnest work to do. Set up your boundaries. Drink your tea. And make your (health, spirit, body, mind) self a priority. Amen.
Are you ready to set some time aside for soul care? Use code NEWSAGE to take 10% OFF you first Sage Woman or Holy Wellness Care Package.
Fairbrother, Nichole et al. Perinatal anxiety disorder prevalence and incidence. Journal of Affective Disorders; 200 , 148 -155.
Jenifer O. Fahey CNM, MSN MPH and Edmond Shenassa ScD. Understanding and meeting the needs of women in the postpartum period: the perinatal maternal health promotion model. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health; 58, 613-621.
Weed, Susun. Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, Ash Tree Publishing, Woodstock NY, 1985.