September is Self-Care Awareness Month and we have a special line up for you! Each Monday, our writers will share what self-care looks like for them. We hope to inspire you to dust off your journal, book that trip, make that spa appointment, or try that new class that caught your eye. You deserve to be living your best life!
Taking time for self-care is like the last priority when you have a medically complex child. Yet, it is those times when self-care becomes critical to your health, and the well being of your family. You know what the airlines say, “always put on your own mask before helping others.”
This is a line my husband often repeats as we try to navigate our family schedule, and still carve out time for ourselves. Admittedly, I often roll my eyes at him as part of my mama heart feels that the needs of my kids should always come first. While true to an extent, balance does the body good. At times my expectations skew overboard, and some time for myself helps me to get back on track.
It can feel selfish to add another thing to that to-do list, something that is entirely focused on oneself. Yet, it is necessary. Motherhood is a selfless act. It is an act that requires giving all of yourself to others. That is best achieved when you feel like your best self. This happens when your mind is clear to be present and in the moment. More so, modeling self-care is an important lesson for children. Not to teach selfish behavior, but rather awareness about asking for help no matter what form such “help” takes.
When my daughter arrived prematurely, she spent the first several months of her life in the hospital. I was wracked with guilt the first time I walked (wheeled) out of those hospital doors. In fact, I begged to stay, not wanting to be separated from my newborn. It didn’t feel natural. Yet, as time went on I felt grateful for the hospital, and the amazing care she was receiving. Never again would she be in such capable hands!
Physically not able to stay by her bedside 24/7 as I recovered from my own surgery, I had to adjust to being separated from her. Leaving the hospital each day even became routine, as I worked to balance care for our older daughter at home. Feelings of guilt lingered, but so did the reality of our situation. Eventually, the words of advice from others began to set in.
Self-care was one of the most frequent suggestions. To take some time to myself, collect my thoughts and recover both physically and mentally. At first, I brushed off such suggestions, but as the days at the hospital wore on I recognized that I needed a bit of a break. These breaks took on many forms from a hot cup of coffee and a book, to time with friends and family.
The first morning that I did not race to the hospital, but rather paused to enjoy a hot cup of coffee, felt amazing. I then graduated to taking the time to catch up with a friend over brunch. It felt wrong to enjoy time away from my daughter, yet highlighted my need for connection. I had become so isolated from my support network during weeks of bedrest and hospital stays. It felt good to tap back into a piece of my old life, to feel like myself again, if even for a moment. It is startling to realize life outside the hospital continues to chug along, yet inside our world had been turned upside down!
The first time my husband I went out to dinner following her birth was amazing. It was as if we remembered we were partners rather than co-existing in the pain that was the last few weeks. Over that much needed, and long awaited, glass of wine we connected and shared our feelings. While both going through the same experience it was amazing how differently we processed the situation. Being able to do so, without interruption was a gift to our relationship. Well, and to us as being able to enjoy a hot meal in peace is a rarity for parents. But I digress…
I won’t pretend that both outings didn’t involve a bit of distraction. I found my mind wandering back to what was happening in the NICU, but did my best to be present and enjoy the moment. In turn, these experiences then helped me savor the moments at the hospital and enjoy time at her bedside. I felt like I had more of myself to give to my family.
While self-care looks different for every person, here are my recommendations for some quality mama time:
- A warm bath with oils of your favorite scent
- A hot cup of coffee
- Outings with friends or family
- Personal care – hair, nails, etc. (It is amazing how a little primping can rejuvenate you)
- Shopping (Sounds superficial, but I know many that felt better when being productive, getting gear to bring baby home, etc.)
- Meal preparation
- Religious service
Thankfully, my daughter’s health has improved, but I continue to seek that balance between giving to others and self-care. As life gets busy it is hard to find that time for myself, time that my introverted personality needs, and time as a couple for my husband. It will long be a balancing act, but the first step is recognizing the importance of self-care.
Even now as I volunteer in the NICU, it is something I try to stress with inpatient families. I am often met with the same blank stare I gave medical staff, but the validity of the suggestion remains. It is not easy, but that does not diminish its importance!
So, mama, carve out some time for yourself this week. Whether it is for a warm bath, a hot cup of coffee and a good book, or a trip to the mall. Do what fills your cup so that you can continue to fill others.