Self-care is self-preservation. If I was your postpartum doula, then you should definitely know this by now. Rising above the pitch of newborn cries and peeking through the cobwebs of endless sleep-deprivation, I hope I said this loud enough and often enough for it to stick. See, I am a huge believer in the full jar. "Jar of what?," you may be asking. Jar of moonshine, of course! No, just kidding. I may be Southern, but I'm not that Southern. No, I'm talking about your jar of energy, of patience, of yourself. And if the jar gets empty, it's hard for caregivers to keep giving. Empty jars lead to tears, emotional breakdowns, and even depression. So parents have to take time to refill their jars.
And even if many new moms and dads are guilty of cruising around on empty for too long, I would hope that most of you know at least what self-care should look like in those newborn days.
- Sleep: Sleep often. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Hand that baby off and sleep even when the baby doesn't sleep.
- Eat: As someone who loves food dearly, I find it hard to believe people can forget to eat, but then I had a fussy newborn and realized the struggle is real. Again, hand that baby off and chow down. Or stock your house with things that can easily be eaten one-handed. Stock up on take-out menus from your favorite places so there can be no excuse for an empty refrigerator.
- Me time: Go outside and enjoy some fresh air. This can be done with the baby in the carrier or you can leave baby at home (not alone, of course!). Or take a long, hot shower. The operative word here being long because I'm not talking about one of those turbo-speed showers while baby shrieks in her bouncy seat on the other side of the curtain. Or just make time to do anything that you enjoyed pre-baby.
- Couple time: This is just as important as the "me time" because those first few months with a new baby can be rough on a marriage. I know, you're probably thinking, "What could go wrong with a sleep-deprived, leaking-boob, hormonal woman whose body just ran the marathon known as labor?" But trust me on this one, that woman isn't always easy to get along with. So, remember that awesome postpartum doula you hired? Leave the baby with her and take a couples walk around the neighborhood. Or spend 15 minutes each day talking about ANYTHING but the baby and reconnecting on an emotional level.
It's easy to lose yourself in dirty diapers, burp cloths, and poop-stained onesies, but don't! Refill that jar!
And then one day, it gets easier. (Whoa, I kind of painted a grim picture there. Sorry, there truly are so many wonderful moments with your newborn, but it can be crazy!) One day you realize you're getting more sleep, there are less demands on mom's body, there is more independence on your child's part. Babies turn into toddlers who turn into preschoolers who turn into elementary school students and then - Dear God! Get back here with those car keys! And somewhere along the line self-care becomes less about sleep, remembering to eat, or fitting in a shower. But self-care becomes no less important. Sure, life is not as intense anymore and maybe the jar gets drained slower, but it still gets drained.
So this is what you need to know - self-care is evolving. Now that my kids are older, self-care is about getting out of the house once a week - alone - grabbing a cup of coffee and reading. Trashy, tabloid magazine or thought-provoking, Pulitzer prize-winning fiction - makes no difference to me. All that matters is that I can read in glorious peace and quiet. At other times, self-care is about making time to connect with friends for some adult conversation (and perhaps an adult beverage, too). Because if I have to talk about the latest episode of Ninjago with my kindergartner one more time, my ears will start bleeding. Or, if I'm being honest here, self-care is still about sleep because, oh boy, do I love me some sleep!
So whether you're in the throes of newborn babyhood or you've made it out to the other side (Congrats on surviving! Yay! You did it!), remember that self-care is self-preservation. Don't forget to take care of yourself so that you can care for others. Don't forget to refill that jar!
Whether your baby is one week old or 100 weeks old, what do you do for self-care? Any more good ideas on how moms and dads can take care of themselves?