My client was one week postpartum. She was struggling with breastfeeding, and she and I were both pulling out all the stops to establish her milk supply, and help her baby achieve a comfortable latch. She was healing from a very long and challenging labour and birth.
And she was booked in for her first postpartum pedicure, just a few days hence.
Her mother had agreed to look after the baby; her friends had all encouraged her and told her that she needed to take a little “me time.” She should get away from her baby every so often. It was the healthy thing to do.
Shortly after her pedicure, my client planned to go on a date night with her husband. Her friends had all encouraged her and told her that she needed to take some time to be with her husband, just the two of them. She should get away from her baby every so often. It was the healthy thing to do.
I’m just going to take a minute and propose something that will probably be wildly unpopular:
If your self-care in the first few months postpartum involves being away from your baby, you might want to wait on it.
For, oh let’s say a year. Six months at least.
- You and your baby are hardwired to be together. Your baby has a stress reaction, including heightened cortisol levels, when she is not readily able to locate her mama. It’s evolution.
- If you are even remotely struggling with breastfeeding, you need more time, more skin-to-skin contact with your baby, not less. In at least the first few months, if not longer, you and your baby develop a sacred synchronicity, whereby she can let you know what she needs and you can provide it in the most nuanced dance of tender connection known to humans.
- Your childbearing year is a season in your life. It is not permanent. Your toenails can wait. Your partner can wait. To an extent, your sense of self and sanity can even wait. This is a crazy wild ride and you are on it. This is one of those times when surrender is an empowered choice. Surrender to the fact that you’re stuck with a nursing baby in your arms more hours of the day than you can count. Use the time to count your breaths; count your blessings. Surrender to sleeplessness. Learn how to make great coffee. Surrender to the messiness of life, of your hair, of your scattered sense of self. Learn how to sink deeply into your own chaos, and get comfortable there. As a mama, at least for now, it’s your new home.
It sounds impossible doesn’t it?
If you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around this…if the idea of sacrificing what you might consider to be your self care is making you twitchy, consider this:
Our culture no longer knows what it means to support women as they transition to motherhood. We are afraid of the messiness and vulnerability of new motherhood and so we try to fix it, to tie it up in a nice little bow with ultimately counterintuitive and unhelpful suggestions, including encouraging women to be apart from their babies, convincing them that a little toenail polish will make everything okay.
I believe that many women today suffer immensely during the postpartum period, often pathologically in the form of postpartum depression and anxiety, not because they haven’t had a date night in months, but because we have forgotten how to support women to surrender to the transformation of motherhood. Because we as a culture believe surrender to be a choice of powerlessness. But if you see surrender as a surrender to instinct, to inner knowing, to love for your baby, to your baby’s needs, then surrender is in fact the most empowered choice a woman can make.
But it is hard. You’re going to need help. You are going to need to find your tribe of supportive women, mothers, neighbours and family and you are going to need to learn how to ask for their help.
This is going to feel vulnerable.
It will be scary.
It will be transformative.
And I can guarantee you that learning to hold tight when the times get tough,
being vulnerable, asking for help, and going many, many days without showering,
that is the most exquisite self-care you can possibly have.
It is the self-care of courage. Of finding your inner strength. And it lasts a lot longer than nail polish.
Your turn. What do you think?
What did your postpartum self-care look like?
What messages did you hear about taking care of yourself postpartum?