There are one thousand ways I have found myself a total newbie at parenting even on the third time around. The newness has been both baffling and a sweet gift, reassuring that we are always growing, life is always changing, affirming that I am a different person than I was when my first child was born, and that this babe is a different being.
There are also many ways that becoming a mama for the third time has been easier. More joyful. Besides the baby having more faces to look at and arms to hold him, and me already being a pro at changing diapers upside down since he’s mastered rolling over, some of these things don’t have to wait until the second, third or fourth time around to find.
One key difference in this time from the last two is that I finally know no one else with prioritize my self care but me. When my first son was born I stopped showering, stopped meditating, stopped practicing yoga, stopped sleeping more than two hours at a time. I thought this was normal newborn motherhood, (the sleep part pretty much is!), and I accepted it as part of the package for my beloved baby. For a while, letting self care slide was okay with me; I was so fulfilled by our shared love. But then it became the new normal: I didn’t remember what self care looked like and my daily routine had no room for it. For years since, I have struggled to make sure I wash my face each day, shower more than once a week, take time away from my kids every now and then. I have spent so much time being angry at my partner because he wasn’t taking care of me the way I wanted. And internally I have been angry at my children for not “letting me” take care of myself. I think I thought that one day my partner would say “I’ve noticed you don’t go to yoga (or pee alone!) anymore. Why don’t you go do that.” He didn’t say that. He was treading water in his own way, managing to work and figure out parenthood and bills on one income. Now I know: this is my job alone. I can and should ask for help, but no one is a mind reader and no one knows how my soul and body needs to be fed but me.
This time, from the very beginning I have woven in routines that allow me to care for myself. Immediately upon waking, baby lays on a sheepskin rug while I pee and brush my teeth alone. This may seem small, but any mother knows how how rare alone time in the bathroom can be. Then I change his diaper and he enjoys solo kicking time while I take 10 minutes of yoga or semi-silent coffee drinking (usually half our household is up at this time, so semi-silent is pretty good!). A couple times a month I’ve gone to a support group, to acupuncture, or out to dinner with a friend and sometimes the baby goes, sometimes he stays home. I’ve asked my partner to help me get more sleep. I find time most days to journal and read, even for 2 minutes, because it refills me. And the biggie: I shower when I need it!
I am a better mom when I care for myself. I know those years of resentment are my own fault: I thought someone else would force me to care for myself, or at least be paying attention to the fact that i wasn’t. But they weren’t. Self-care is a self-job, though everyone around me benefits from it. I think often about that example of a plane crashing and parents putting on their own oxygen masks first. I’m putting on my oxygen mask when I stretch, shower, write or step outside alone. Then, I can help everyone else.
The second component of this is being able to ask for help and set boundaries. Wow. Half of the help is in the asking. Often people want to help and either don’t know how, or have a different idea of what helpful means than you do. This time around I found my footing in both asking for help and clarifying what that was. For the first month and a half, my newborn woke up every 1.5 hours to nurse. At the time I was struggling with postpartum anxiety and mild depression and knew that sleep was a key way I could support my mental health, so asked my partner to take the kids on weekend mornings so that I could sleep in. Occasionally he would take the baby for the first part of the night while I rested. The specificity of this was important: he works all week as a carpenter and truly can’t do that safely without sleep, so the weekend was the time he was able to help. It felt like a decent compromise to me. We needed help with meals, but visitors peaked my anxiety, so I asked people that wanted to bring food to limit their visit to one hour or drop food off in a cooler on our deck. It was amazing how many people were understanding and happy to help in this way. For the first two weeks we had no visitors at all, other than an afternoon of grandparents. When my mom came for a few days, she helped by watching the older kids so that I could rest. I made lists so that if someone asked to help I had something ready they could do. I asked for emotional support from trusted friends. I hired a postpartum doula.
This may seem like a no-brainer, to ask clearly for what we want, and if it is for you then I applaud you! For many of us though, we see pictures of postpartum women with clean houses and full makeup. We hear “Isn’t it amazing?” and “He’s so precious!” and “How about I hold the baby so you can get some things done?” and “We just can’t wait to meet her!”. If these comments feel supportive, great! If they feel less than, it is our call to ask clearly for our kind of support, be it space, acceptance, or someone else to do the dishes.
It’s important to remember that our children are always watching, and our example is a far better teacher than our words. When we ask for help we are modeling how to do that for our children. When we do the things that feed our bodies and souls, when we enjoy alone time, our children are learning how to do that for themselves too. This is multifold, because they are often spending time to themselves while we are spending precious moments by our selves. There are so many learned life-long skills rolled up into one here, and it is never ever too early for babies to learn. Truly, it begins in the womb and lasts a lifetime.
I’m going to share two other posts about how this time is more enjoyable than my other two entryways to motherhood in the next week. Check back to read more. I wish I had known this stuff on my first go, and honor that it took me the trial and error to learn, but you don’t have to wait until your third time to find more ease and joy.
In the meantime: Are you caring for yourself? Asking for what you need? Share in the comments the way you get self-care and what the greatest help has been for you during postpartum in the comments.
Do you need support in taking care of yourself? A postpartum doula can help. Contact me to find out more.