“Why did I come in here?” I get this question often from new moms who’ve just started the postpartum experience, otherwise known as mommy boot camp.
These are moms who are so foggy with sleep deprivation and postpartum hormones. Moms who have trouble taking a shower. Moms who get lost in a sea of compare-and-despair: not enough breast milk, too much breast milk, feeling judged for formula feeding. Moms who are trying not to hate their stomachs for looking like deflated balloons.
Trying to get your own health and body back amidst the tsunami of learning how to care for a little one 24/7 can be overwhelming. It’s no wonder new moms can relapse into eating disorders or depression.
The first thing I help new moms work on postpartum is not giving up on themselves while they care for others. Not giving up does not mean you suddenly leap out of bed with exuberance and joy at 5 a.m. with your little one(s). Not giving up means you also include yourself, in whatever small way possible, in your daily tasks of feeding and caring for others.
The small way of taking care of yourself can look different for everyone and every day. Think of it as including two important aspects: an action step and a tone of fierce compassion.
Here’s an example:
The other day, after dropping off my little one at school, I went to the coffee shop to meet a work colleague and then to write (writing is self-care for me). After my work meeting, I went to grab for my laptop in my bag — nothing. I looked again for my journal — nada. I forgot them both.
A part of me said, Hooray! I don’t have to write!
I reasoned to myself, It’s already been five years past the original due date anyway — you should just eat chocolate and call it a day.
Then, another voice kicked in: Nope.
That same voice I’ve used on clients who struggle with new mommy bootcamp or eating disorder recovery was encouraging me.
What the voice was really saying: Nope. I’m not going to let you abandon your self-care, honey. I know you’d rather just throw in the towel here and “default” (take care of others, avoid the thing you know you need to do because hope is even scarier than fear and complacency), but I’m not going to let you. I am here with you, and you are going to write. Now…what else is in that bag of yours?
After scrounging all around in my bag, I found two pieces of paper: a coloring page and a blue paper with stars that had been cut out of the edges by my little one. I also found a pink pen. Now, this fiercely compassionate voice that doesn’t let me get away with not being accountable took on the wry but fierce, compassionate, and accountable tone of Tim Gunn in Project Runway: Make it work.
And you know what?
I wrote some good shit! Not great but, given the materials I had, good enough. I made it work. And you can also make it work. Whether you’re a new mom, you’re in recovery, or you’re ready to throw in the towel on practicing self-care, remember: You don’t always have to be great, just show up and be good enough.
Keep that thread of connection with yourself, moms. Be a protective mama bear. Maintain that fierce connection with yourself like you do with your little one. Oh, and if you are a recovering perfectionist, lower the bar. Or as I’ve learned: underpromise, overdeliver.