Self-care, me time, blah blah blah. The things people say to us moms (and women generally, let’s be honest) all the time about what we need. But where do we get it?! we frantically wonder as we move from task to task, the endless, managerial to-do list of our lives flowing through our heads. I have NOT been doing a good job of this lately, friends. I’ve not been eating well: I just snack endlessly to ‘tie myself over’ til this or that is done. I don’t drink enough water. I don’t get enough sleep, despite going to bed early and actually napping when my baby naps (I’m sadly one of those must-have-eight-consecutive-hours-nightly-or-I’m-a-zombie people). I don’t take people up on their offers to take my kids off my hands well enough: I usually send one out, but not both at the same time. I’ve not been taking my vitamins, and I’m losing more weight than I probably should be.
But I thought the only person I was hurting was me, and that this exhaustion was part-and-parcel of the “mom with two young kids” package I had signed up for. I figured I just had to get through the muck and come out the other side, and then it would all be fine later.
Then we had the sad doctor’s appointment where our family doc told me my six-month-old is not gaining enough weight. And her guess of why is that I’m not producing enough milk due to insufficient sleep and calories; yep, I’ve been “officially diagnosed” as spread too thin and being too fucking tired. So now we have a plan: as much sleep as I can get (hahaha!), meds for me to get the milk production up, planned cereal feedings twice a day of as much as he’ll take, formula supplements if I can figure out how to fit that into his day and get him to take it, I’m back on my multivitamins, and I’m searching out all the fatty vegan foods I can find (I’m a vegetarian but not currently indulging my love of dairy because it gives R eczema).
Oddly, as much as I was disappointed by our doctor visit and its results, I was also relieved. Connecting the dots from how my treatment of myself (or lack thereof) is affecting little R motivates me to actually prioritize my own care. For his sake, I really must assert myself in getting that ‘me time,’ accepting more help from willing caregivers, and feeding my body properly if I want to keep breastfeeding, which for now, I do.
Also, being told that my sleep deprivation is unacceptable to the point where my body is minimizing milk production offers me a physical explanation that ‘legitimizes’ my fatigue and lets me cut myself more slack. Before our appointment, I was totally judging myself with the self-talk that motherhood 2.0 shouldn’t be this hard – especially as R is, by all objective descriptors, a relatively “easy” baby, and especially because I’m lucky enough to have my older kid continue in his childcare arrangements from when I was still working five days a week. I looked at my friends who were doing life with two tiny people all day every day and thought, Man, they are rocking this, so why am I finding it so hard with just one at home?! I looked at my friends with their first newborn babies, who also appear to be rocking it, and thought, Wasn’t the second time supposed to be easier?! I compared this postpartum period to my last and thought, I’m pretty sure I was still doing more night feedings at this point last time, and I almost never napped, so why am I so tired still?! My doctor told me sometimes the second time is just like that. I’m tired from running after a toddler, from no longer having a 2:1 ratio of adults to children in the house, from being older (even if it’s not by much), and from my body having gone through pregnancy and birth an extra time. Having a physical cause for my difficulties for some reason makes me feel better, because it means I’m not just mentally or emotionally fucked up. There is an actual, biological reason I’m not doing as well as I thought I’d be.
But, wait. Aren’t these reactions strange?
What does it say about my prioritization of my own overall well-being that a) my own well-being isn’t enough to make myself a priority, only its affect on my kid is, and b) mental/emotional difficulty isn’t a ‘worthy’ trigger for that assertive self-care, only physical distress is?
I talk a good game, and constantly think about life and parenting holistically, trying to see the big picture, but I missed some big stuff here. I missed that I’ve been playing a bit of the mom-martyr card, thinking being a ‘good mother’ means doing what’s good for my kids but not myself. I missed the truth that what’s good for me is good for them, not only in theory, but in my real, lived choices. I missed that I’m still holding onto certain social pressures that say I shouldn’t be emotionally or mentally struggling, because I’m supposed to enjoy being home with my kid, because I’m supposed to have infinite patience, and because I’m supposed to be better at this by now. I missed what I thought I’d long since known, that my heart and mind are just as important to my health as my body.
A good friend of mine told me she tries to feed three areas of fitness for herself each day: mental, physical, and emotional. I have NO. EFFING. CLUE. how I’m going to implement such a triad of self-care logistically (suggestions welcome!), but it seems like a worthy, and necessary goal: not only for my kid’s sake, but just for me. Because I’m still worth it, even if that truth sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.