When I became a doula, it was important to me to support women in the…
The term self-care can feel loaded these days, especially when we see what all of the mamas on IG are doing. It seems like you need to make a fresh green juice daily before hopping on your spin bike followed by a full hour of alone time every single day in order to do it right.
But we’d like to redefine it right now. Instead of only picturing the above as self-care, think about self-care as those micro-moments of self-soothing, a word that means to bring comfort, solace or reassurance; to relieve or refresh; to bring peace.
So much less charged, isn’t it?
While you might associate this with a skill that your baby needs to build– hello cry it out, co-sleeping, bedsharing, rocking to sleep, feeding to sleep, drowsy but awake, the list goes on– but the thing is, you can build it too. And you can welcome the chance to be soothed.
Now, I have to be honest with you. I get annoyed sometimes because it feels like everywhere I go someone is telling me how much self-care I need. BUT! I do need to share with you why healing and self-soothing are an important part of your recovery and integration into motherhood.
When we focus on our own healing and self-soothing, we are activating a part of the brain called the neocortex. This is the rational and analytical part of our brains that enable us to assess a situation and mediate a response.
For example mid-diaper change, the baby starts pooping explosively across the room. You react immediately by blocking the projectile poop with the clean diaper in your hand. At that moment, you might be feeling a lot of things– exhaustion, anger, frustration, overwhelm, anxiety.
You probably think I’m going to tell you to take a deep breath, but in the midst of a poopsplosion I think it would only make matters worse. Instead, shake your head, shake your body, shake off the shock, and try to lighten up with some self-dialogue, “Is this what they meant when they said motherhood is messy? Because I was picturing toys all over the floor. Not poop all over everything. One day this will be funny, even if I need to cry about it right now.”
Our point is that self-soothing is happening within the chaos, and it’s all about figuring out what forms work best for you. To help you find these moments, here are 5 simple tips.
Take Inventory With Yourself
How am I?
How do I feel today?
How do I want to feel today?
This is a practice in observation, non-judgment and curiosity. Making a habit of asking yourself each day how you feel and how you want to feel will keep you connected to the present. And also help you from losing your cool unexpectedly.
Instead of loving from the outside in– taking in information, scrolling, liking, listening to things, people, cars honking, consuming food and drink and books and opinions– we live from the inside out? Just like a child.
They feel tired, they doze. They’re hungry, they eat. They feel sad, they seek comfort. They’re excited, they spring with joy. They live their existence based on the experience.
If we want to learn to give ourselves the medicine we need on a daily and changing basis, try to go in first to hear what’s lacking or needs soothed. We have to create space where we can listen to and feel our feelings.
Create a Calm Environment
As we teach our babies to soothe themselves, we make sure their environment supports that. We put away all the toys and clutter, dim the lights, turn on soothing sounds, make sure they are warm and comforted. We speak softly, whisper, hum, or sing to them.
All of their senses get the message that it’s ok to rest and relax. To let go and be still. So for us, when we want to find a feeling of calm, we need to create a similar environment for ourselves. It doesn’t have to be a whole room renovation; simply take a look around the space you spend the most time in and consider adding or removing one item that creates a more calm environment for you.
Find a quiet space, maybe in your new calm environment, outside, or even in the closet. Find a spot to sit and notice where your body connects to the ground or chair.
Take a minute and breathe into your body in this space. With your arms loose and your palms down on your thighs, roll your shoulders- I like to roll one back and one forward, almost like pedaling a bike…but with your shoulders. And then reverse.
Doing this articulates the upper spine and allows you to feel into any areas of tightness in your side body, low back and torso. How does it feel moving your body in this space today?
Next, find stillness. Close your eyes. Accept a full breath in through your nose, allowing your abdomen and chest to rise and then fall on the exhale. On your next round imagine your rib cage, all the way around, expanding out 360 degrees and softening down the exhale.
Settle into your body without judgment. Be with the feeling of your body. If your mind begins to wander, take your attention to the sound of your breath, the rhythm of your breath in your body or the feel of the breath, cool as it enters the nostrils, warm as it leaves you.
Soften your body and your mind and set an intention for the day. Like, I want to be present this morning. I want to feel joy. I want to be buoyant…etc
Feeling especially anxious with too many tabs open in your brain? Find stillness lying on your back. Grounding the back of your body on the floor harnesses yin energy which calms the nervous system and promotes…grounding.
Like actual rest. One of the reasons we started pstprtm was to honor the women and mothers who came before us. To honor the fact that unlike our ancestors, we can take the space to navigate the transition to motherhood with community and support.
Allowing your body to rest, your mind to quiet and to release and let go, even for 10 minutes is a reverent act. An act dedicated to all the women who didn’t have the space, time, or luxury to stop and breathe. To put their feet up to rest and recover.
So if it feels uncomfortable to rest for yourself, and you feel guilty for wanting and needing a break, do it for your great grandmother, in her honor.
Make This Non Negotiable
So we have a plan, now we have to execute it. This is the hardest part. Because there are constant demands on your time and energy. There is always laundry, dishes, meal prep, tears, books, boo boos, everything and it feels like you’re the only one to do it.
We’ve been taught that that is our role as mothers. The do-er of everything. But this leads to burnout. This leads to resentment. This leads to rage. And that is not the life you want, that is not the mother you want to be. That is not the spouse you want to be.
You have to be relentless in your advocacy of yourself. The same way you are for your children. You know that if they skip that nap, they are going to be miserable. So you hold boundaries around activities, visits, candy to maintain your child’s health and wellbeing.
Can you challenge yourself to take the same stance for yourself?
This is all new terrain for most of us. Motherhood challenges us at every turn, and we’re not supposed to have ALL of the answers.
How can we know which swaddle our baby loves before we meet them? How are we supposed to know our needs as a new mom before we are a new mom? And then everything changes every other week so all of this is constantly changing.
In so many ways, we are newborns too. Read more about that here. We have to experience these things fully to know what works for us and what doesn’t. We need to be intentional as we move through this transition and transformation to consider the options available to us and what aligns for us.
And through these experiences and experiments, we find that our voice is our strongest asset. But before we speak, we must learn to listen.