Seventeen years ago, when my daughter was about 5 months old, I was diagnosed with…
When I became a doula, it was important to me to support women in the postpartum stage because after the birth and all the celebration, everyone’s like… “Bye mom! Good luck! You’re on your own now!”
What a scary and wild time for everyone to take the glitter, gifts, food, and disappear, right? Suddenly, your focus turns away from yourself towards this little tiny human being, and you, by default, become the last priority on your list.
When we live in a society where self-care for women and mothers is seen as opulent, unconventional, and selfish, that pressure to self-abandon and “power through” is even greater.
A person can get lost and feel ashamed to admit that they’re lost. A person can feel overwhelmed and suffer mentally and physically as a result. A person can find themselves with little to no space to just be and be intruded on every single time they sit down to pee. But that level of selflessness is unsustainable.
I envision a world where during pregnancy, immediately postpartum, and forever postpartum there is space and encouragement to care for yourself. Your whole self. Always. A world where we drop the toxic Wonder Woman, Super Mom, “I can do everything myself,” heroic trope that so many find themselves striving for.
It’s time to incorporate radical, unapologetic self-care instead. And here are the three things I recommend to everyone I work with to support their postpartum journey and nurture their relationship with themselves.
(1) Know that you deserve this.
So cliche but it’s true: the first step to start a good self-care practice is to believe yourself worthy of it. It is so deeply ingrained that this is selfish and makes you a bad mom so we need to recalibrate your brain to say yes to you. This shift is essential if you’re going to make self-care an actual habit in your life.
My goal for everyone I work with is to make them feel deserving of luxe care. But I don’t mean gold flake baths or caviar pedicures. I mean sleeping soundly for a whole night because there is someone trusted caring for the baby. I mean not feeling bad for saying “no” to anything and everything that isn’t supporting your well-being. I mean using the bathroom without worrying about someone screaming your name or barging in.
(2) Discover the healing power of touch.
To really fall in love with yourself again, I always recommend postpartum massage– and no I’m not saying this because I’m a massage therapist! Dr. Neel Amin an Anesthesiologist and Doctor of Pain Medicine wrote an article about how different massage modalities affect the brain, “Massage is known to stimulate serotonin and dopamine, improve brain wave activity as well as the quality of sleep, and activate the parasympathetic response.”
Imagine the possibilities if you invested 60 minutes a month in yourself! No, it doesn’t make you a bad mom. Nor does it make you selfish (in the traditional sense of the word). It makes you selfish in that you are making sure you are still yourself(ish). That (ish) is because we have to honor that birthing a child changes you. You are still you, but different. You’re youish. And when you are aligned with yourself, when you are happy, connected, and grounded, your entire family feels it.
Massage gives you the opportunity to have a quiet moment and be alone with your thoughts. Listen, process, reconnect. Massage also stimulates your brain (which is very busy recalibrating many things), your circulation (much needed physiologically after delivery), and eases muscle tension (no explanation needed). This is one of the most powerful ways to care for your whole self so that you can handle the next (literal) shit storm life throws your way.
(3) Create a space for yourself at home.
If you live in NYC like I do, space is oftentimes a myth. Still, wherever you live, space can be anywhere you can breathe for two to ten seconds. Find ANYWHERE in your home that you can create a cozy space that feels good.
By engaging all of your senses, you can create a powerful container that can shift your psyche. No matter where we are. So if in your home, it’s the bathroom, hang some eucalyptus, put on some calming tunes, light a candle, incense, or sage, and get zen. Clothing optional of course (remember, we want to engage as many senses as possible!)
You can also set up a cozy space by your favorite window. People or bird watching is a great way to decompress. Nature moves at a slower pace than we tend to. Allow yourself to regulate with nature and slow down.
Placing your forehead on a cool window can help ground you when your head feels like it’s about to explode! It also feels good. And if you’re not able to get out every single day to get fresh air, (because duh this is real life and who can with a new baby) just a little bit of sun on your skin will do wonders.
If you have support in caring for the baby, take five minutes each day to simply be in your cozy spot. Remember you are safe. If it’s just you and baby, put them in a safe space where you can see them and repeat steps 1-3! Anyone else singing Brian McKnight’s Back At One right now? Just me? Cool.
After giving birth, you’re a new person and you have to rediscover who you are in this season of your life. The only way you can do that is by taking time to meet yourself again. Be kind, be gentle, be patient, and definitely be selfish!