For me, motherhood has been a magical time where I’ve had the privilege of watching this amazing baby, who grew inside of me for 38 weeks and six days, blossom into a little human being who, now at 11 months, expresses every heartfelt desire with the word “bah.”
Every milestone is a miracle. Every smile is from heaven. Every giggle melts my heart.
There’s also the tough stuff.
What they don’t tell you about having a baby (or maybe they did and I just tuned that lesson out) is that for a long time you might feel like you’ve been hit by a bus, regardless of how you delivered your bundle of joy.
For me, it was an unplanned C-section.
I was so sure that I’d have a vaginal delivery. I visualized it daily and whispered our birth plan to my baby as I rubbed my blooming belly.
But when they come in and prep you for an emergency C-section because your baby’s heart rate is dropping rapidly, you realize very quickly that your birth plan was just that – a plan. What’s more, my incision didn’t heal properly, so I had to visit my OBGYN every week for the next month.
On top of that, mom guilt hit me hard after Lyric was born. I found myself plagued by the word “should.” I should be the one caring for my baby. I should be the one bathing my baby. I should be carrying my baby at all times. I should be enjoying this experience. I should be more energetic. I should be healing faster. I should be a better mother.
Looking back, I see how silly those thoughts were, but at the time they felt so real to me. As I always tell my friends and coaching clients, “If it feels real to you, it is. Your feelings are valid.”
In addition, I now fully understand why sleep deprivation is a form of torture. I thought I knew what tired felt like before I became a mother. I’d love to go back in time and give my younger self serious side-eye for even thinking I was tired.
There was one night when I literally got one hour of sleep. Lyric was beyond fussy, and she only wanted her mami. I’m going to say something you’re not supposed to say because you love your baby so very much: I was not having the time of my life. I couldn’t tell if I was coming or going. I felt like crying out with all of my might, “Uncle! I can’t take this anymore.”
I wish I could tell you that I called for reinforcements at that moment. But I didn’t. I chose not to honor my needs. I kept trying to push through the feeling of exhaustion because I should be like the supermoms I see all the time on Instagram.
“I should be able to do this. I should do this. I should. I should,” I whispered to myself over and over again, like a mantra affirming the yuckiness I felt. The next thing I knew, there it was: the meltdown I “should” have been able to avoid.
Tears cascaded down my face coupled with babbling about how my baby would suffer if I slept a couple of hours. My mom had to pry Lyric from my arms. She then said firmly (and in the way only mothers can), “Tish, go get some sleep. You can’t take care of your baby if you’re not taking care of yourself. Lyric will be just fine. I’ve got her.”
I slept for five magnificent hours.
When I awoke, I felt like a different person. The storm clouds vanished, and I could see clearly for the first time in a long time. It made all the difference. I dropped all of the shoulds and was able to really be present with my baby.
I learned a huge lesson from that experience: I can’t take care of Lyric if I’m not also taking care of myself. I cannot truly show up for her if I am not authentically showing up for myself in whatever way available to me at the moment.
Listen, I get it. Motherhood is hard. It’s even harder if you’re doing it alone or with minimal help.
I’d be lying if I said that from that point on I mastered being a new mom and never again had any issues. Not at all. It got better. It got worse. It got better again. It’s the ebb and flow of an ocean, a mountain of glory and a valley of desperation. Lyric has been my greatest guru, showing me what patience, compassion, and grace are really all about.
It’s really easy to put yourself last when it comes to caring for your family. It makes sense in a way because your love for your little abounds and is unconditional. This love gives you the ability to operate on minimal sleep and hold your sick, 21.6-pound baby while she sleeps because she’s comfortable in your arms, even though your right arm went numb about 20 minutes ago.
I want you to consider that your little is teaching you that it’s important to love yourself in this same way. I also want you to consider that your little is a sponge and so very observant. Your example is your child’s most powerful teacher, so make it your mission to teach your baby that self-care is a priority.
I often ask myself, “If Lyric were the mama in this situation, what would I advise her to do?” I then envision her handing her newborn baby over to me so she can rest. I know that if I’d advocate for her self-care then I should do the same for mine.
It may take some creativity and you may have to – gasp! – ask for help. But you are your child’s safe haven. You are her hero, his everything, and (s)he needs you to be as healthy as you can be. So if that means getting sleep, eating well, working out, setting boundaries, letting Grandma take over for a few, then that’s what you gotta do.
Oh, and, Mamas, when you see another mama (especially one with small kids screaming their heads off in public) treat her to a coffee and a hug. She might just be drowning in shoulds and in need of a little compassion.
Now it’s your turn. Comment below with some simple, effective ways you can incorporate self-care into your version of motherhood.
I’m cheering for you. Like the darkest part of night has passed and dawn is near.
From the Front Row,