How to Self-Care After Motherhood
Being a new mom is a lot like being a stranger in a strange land. For me at least, brushing my teeth, eating, or taking a shower seemed impossible during the early stages of recovery from birth. You are so tired that words - your ability to speak them, to understand them - fall away.
The people who love you will tell you to “take it easy” and “focus on you.” Take a hot bath, they say. That’s like telling someone who is anxious to just chill out. Not helpful.
For everyone, but for new mothers especially, self-care can feel like it comes with pressure. It takes TIME to re-learn what you need for your emotional health when your priorities shift. It takes RESOURCES. No one ever mentions that learning how to take care of yourself is a skill set that we need to re-learn with each new phase of life.
The Trouble with Self-care
Self-care, wellness, treating yo’self. It’s ubiquitous. On the ‘gram, at the mall. I think on the whole, a lot of good has come from acknowledging ways we need to support our emotional well being. But the way it’s been packaged for women, with the basic ethos of “when the going gets tough the tough goes shopping,” can only get you so far.
Rightly so, we’ve become suspicious when self-care is translated as ‘wellness’ by the beauty industry. In a time when expectations about our bodies have never been more damaging, it now seems taboo to admit our pain and anxieties. If you take issue with your body, then it’s your problem. Either you need to hit the gym, prescribe to ‘body positivity’ or work on your self-esteem. It’s you that needs fixing, not society at large.
So, in light of all this, how do we, as women, who are recovering from the trauma of birth, meant to take care of ourselves? How do we even begin to define what we mean by loving ourselves and living well?
Just like everyone else, I want a good life with slightly above average health. I want good relationships, with strong emotional connections I can rely on. I want a series of days, weeks, months, where I am functioning a level or two above Just Trying to Function.
In my LIVING WELL MONTAGE I am well-hydrated, my visual state of mind is a wide open country road, with this song playing.
But how, HOW on earth is living well actually achievable? Why does everyone walk around like it’s just happening for them (and so often, it feels like it does happen to everyone else, except you). LIES! I know, (we know!) this is just a old script we tell ourselves, because taking care of yourself also means sitting with feelings that bring us discomfort, shame and pain.
It’s the stuff of your life’s work, really. Self-care will not resolve the habits of your self-destruction. It will not cushion the blow of your self-loathing.
But - here’s what I’ve learned it CAN do. It can help us cope with the stress of basic existence, it can help us navigate through times of change and through the stress of the unknown.
For me, self-care after motherhood has been about figuring out the right strategies for coping through the stress of being a new mom. Small things. Easy things. Things that help remind me that my stress and discomfort are ultimately temporary.
20 Nice Things you can do for yourself that are either free or don’t cost much money
1. If there is a moment when no one needs you, STEAL THAT MOMENT. Just sit in silence and say to yourself: go ahead, steal this moment. You don’t know how long it will last, so melt into it slowly. Even if it’s just closing your eyes for a minute or two while you’re on the toilet.
2. THAT song you used to boogie to when you were a kid, the one from your grade 5 dance recital. Put THAT song on. Look in the mirror at your fabulous self because this is the movie of your life and you are the star, and you are basically perfect.
3. ^ same as above but to Carly Rae Jepson
4. Get a journal out and unload all the anger, clutter, junk. DUMP it out as you think it, without thinking.
5. Make a playlist of a mood you want to brood in, groove too, or be angry in. Listen to it over and over again, until it’s doing different things to you. Imagine signing it to your younger self, to your older self.
6. Find a place where you have complete privacy. Bring a pillow with you. Scream into the pillow. Repeat if necessary.
7. Write an angry letter or an angry email that you would never send. Be as OTT as you want.
8. Find a creative outlet. Take pictures, look for patterns in your existence. Draw, paint, write, or try making absurd memes out of our worst thoughts and feelings. Try not to judge what the outcome is, just do it for fun.
9. Make a collage. Cut things out that you are instinctively drawn to, reassemble them in a way that intuitively pleases you. Make a scrapbook of your favourite celebrity JUST BECAUSE that sh-t is fun and never ever stopped being fun.
10. Try using tarot to help reframe what’s going on in your life as it is now. Pull a card. Meditate on the imagery and see what feelings or associations come up before you look up what the card means.
11. Keep track of your dream life in a journal. See if you can start to distinguish recurring themes or patterns that might bring you insights into what you want and need.
12. Clean out old clothes, or at least do a deep edit of things accumulated that are connected to feelings that are not serving you. This will help make room for things that you can get excited about.
13. Once your closet is clean, put on a playlist and spend some time making new outfits with the pieces you have decided are deserving of more love. Take a selfie in the mirror so that you can remember the outfit. This will help take the stress out of going to new places or looking put together when you want to look that way.
14. Take a continuing education course, a workshop, or go to YouTube university to learn a new skill. Ask a family member or friend to teach you how to take up that hobby you’ve always admired them for.
15. When in doubt, put your shoes on and go outside. Stay there for at least 20 minutes. If you can’t do this alone, I highly recommend investing in a carrier to take baby with you. You’ll be amazed by how much faster you can get out the door!
15. Re-read or re-watch your favoured book, movie, or series. Revisit something nostalgic from your youth that you may have missed the first time around. Don’t worry if you only get through it 5 minutes at a time.
16. Masterbate. Seriously though. If that sounds overwhelming, that’s okay! Find a way to connect to your body. Make use of your insurance benefits and book a massage. Make an exfoliating scrub with epsom salt and coconut oil. Find a gentle way to show your body you care.
17. Have someone else take the baby and take yourself on a solo date to:
- a movie
- gallery or museum, bring your notebook and write in response to what you see
- rent your own private karaoke room, sing your favourite songs to yourself (yes, I do this)
- visit your favourite used bookstore
- sit in a cafe and eavesdrop on conversations while leafing through a glossy magazine
18. Take a break from your phone and social media.
19. Listen to an audiobook, or loan one out using Libby. I highly recommend The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, which is like 50 Shades of Wine Dark Sea (no one warned me and I WAS NOT PREPARED).
20. Find a reset strategy. Something you can easily do for 15-20 minutes that will help significantly shift your energy. For me, it’s a bath.
Let yourself off the hook. Try letting go of expectations about where you think you should be, how you wish things looked and felt different. How long recovery takes, what self-care looks like, is really so different for everyone. Recovery narratives don't tell the story of what happens when we have to continue to adjust to new limitations and barriers when we are met with them. For me, this is the ultimate lesson. It's not like after x amount of weeks or months you feel entirely new or better. Rather, you just learn new ways to cope.
Find what works for your and your family. And remember, you're doing so much better than you know.