Self Care as Survival

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” ~ Audre Lorde

I am a wife, mother, nurse and postpartum doula. I am also passionate … about birthing women’s autonomy, empowered birth options, postpartum support, and SOCIAL JUSTICE. Where does this leave me? If I’m not careful, I will find myself depleted, exhausted and at risk for an emotional meltdown.

As a postpartum doula and community builder I try to lead by example. One of the promises that I commit to my fellow women (mothers and sisters): TO TELL THE TRUTH.

I promise to tell the truth, even when it’s hard, or messy. That means admitting when I have work to do on myself. So here goes.

A couple of weeks ago, I broke my most important promise to myself. It is this: I promise to love and take care of myself. My husband was preparing (arduously) for the bar exam, I continued to work full-time, to provide for my family, care for our daughter, help my husband prepare for the bar exam, and honor my commitments to my postpartum clients. Sure enough, I found myself sick for two weeks straight, catching (violent) stomach flu after stomach flu. I also had what felt like a heart attack, but looking back was a panic attack … intense chest pain, heart palpitations and the ominous feeling like I was going to die. 

Yes, that is a bit extreme. Unfortunately, extreme is sometimes what it takes for my stubborn self to wake up and listen … I don’t heed the whispers, nor the soft warning, but instead wait for the fire trucks to come wailing around the corner and slamming into my front yard.

BUT SELF LOVE INCLUDES SELF-FORGIVENESS, and so I will give some of that to myself too.

I don’t regret having a panic attack, at all. It was a beautiful lesson for me, first of all, to have way more empathy towards others (my patients, friends and strangers) when they are going through a similar experience. Secondly, I am GRATEFUL, that this experience re-affirmed an unwavering commitment that I give myself to RADICAL SELF LOVE, and care.



1) Surrender.
LET GO. Let go. Let go. Let go. Life is hard, and messy, and complex. Not every day is a good day. Hair doesn’t always have to be perfectly brushed. Meals don’t always have to be cooked from scratch. A clean house is nice but mostly unnecessary. NOW THAT YOU CAN STOP BEING PERFECT, YOU CAN BE GOOD. 

Selfcare as Survival

2) Learn to Ask for Help.
The people in your life love you. They want to help you, but they need to know how. Maybe they can pick your kids up from school so that you can take a nap after work. Maybe you can delegate a work task to them to remove it from your plate. And don’t forget the POWER and MAGIC of the hive mind … if you can’t see a solution to a problem, maybe somebody else can. But first, you have to tell the truth … if you are struggling, say it.

3) On The Top of Your To-Do List, PUT YOURSELF
It is such a corny, redundant lesson but the airplane stewardess has something to teach … Please put your own mask on before helping others. Taking care of yourself is as essential to your day as preparing a meal for your family, doing dishes, signing homework, or reading bedtime stories. Self care is not optional. It is survival.
So How TO?

Go outside. Walk around. Go to the park, garden, or into a field. Bring a blanket and lay in the grass. Watch the clouds move. Sunlight is a vitamin, it resets your circadian rhythm, allowing for restful sleep that can truly nourish and restore you.

Go for a walk. Dance in your living room. Play catch. Practice your cartwheels. Your nervous system and mental health are not just the thoughts in your brain … every cell of your body is enervated and connected. The more your body moves, the more the endorphins flow, the better you will feel.

Learn to meditate. It seems silly at first but its not. Meditation is scientifically proven to make you happier, sleep better, feel more grounded emotionally, and enhances your ability to think clearly and make good decisions. If you don’t know where to begin, listen to a free podcast.

Gut health is mental health (and female reproductive health!) Instead of always being obsessed with foods I CAN’T eat, I try to add in more superfoods that make me feel soooooo good.

My current favorites:
(Pick one day a week where you commit to food prep, so that you can throw meals together quickly the rest of the days.)

  • Dark leafy and bitter greens of all kinds (spinach, kale, arugula, endive, beet greens)
  • PROBIOTIC FOODS: Live cultured sauerkraut (for purchase at some groceries, or make-you-own), kombucha, kefir, yogurt, and probiotic pickles.
  • VEGGIES: not just for salads!
  • Roast them (root vegetables, tomatoes and zucchini)
  • Sautee them (shallots and dark leafy greens)
  • Grind them into a smoothie (kale and apple)
  • Juice them (beet, carrot, ginger)
  • Steam them (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots)
  • CACAO. My newest favorite. Cacao (not chocolate) has micro-nutrients and mood-boosters galore. Try powder in smoothies (with banana, peanut butter, and yogurt), or added to your coffee.

YES I am familiar with each and every one of these mood calming, stress-reducing (adaptogen) herbs and they are truly powerful, especially used in combination.

Selfcare as Survival
Calendula and Rosemary – bathe in an herbal infusion to relax the muscles, soothe the skin and calm the mind.
• Cedarwood – apply the essential oil to the toes for restful sleep. Burn as a smudge stick to clear spaces and clear the mind.
Chamomile – drink it as a tea to calm
Lavender – apply directly or diffuse as an essential oil, infuse dry herb as a tea, infuse dry herb and add to bath
• Lemon Balm (tincture or tea) – used before bedtime to calm down
Sage – Burn as a smudge stick to clear spaces and clear the mind.

I initially used castor oil to treat gallbladder symptoms related to working the night shift. As a side effect I noted SO many other benefits, including better sleep, clearer skin, more regular menstrual cycles, lessened anxiety and reduced aches and pains, along with greater physical mobility. 

Sending you, and myself love, my friends. We can keep going, but we can’t do it alone, and we can’t do it unless we practice RADICAL SELF LOVE and CARE.

Love, Kate

Kate Novotny is a wife, mother, nurse, postpartum doula, writer, and listener to women’s stories. You can find her on Instagram at @taprootdoula. 

Brandi of Kindred Photographer captured these photos of Kate. 

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published