I've Been Neglecting My Own Health To Take Care Of Others

by Brandi Jeter Riley
Originally Published: 
Photo credit: Getty | Hero Images

The last time I went to the dentist, I was a couple months pregnant with my son. He’ll be turning two in a few weeks. I’m ashamed to say how long it’s been since I had an annual check up. The only doctor I have seen since my son has been born was my OB-GYN. I had three visits. She took out my C-section staples, diagnosed me with postpartum anxiety, and adjusted my prescription. Other than that, it’s been nada on the doctor front.

I remember getting my first job out of college and being so excited for open enrollment for health care. I read through all of the options carefully, trying to find the plan that would best cover all of the different doctors and specialists I would see. Once I received my insurance card, it was on.

If my scalp itched, I was at my primary care physician asking for a dermatologist appointment. Don’t let me get a sniffle. I’d walk past ten drugstores and wouldn’t give over-the-counter medicine a thought as I strolled into my doctor’s appointment to have them tell me I had a cold.

I took my health and wellness seriously for a long time, and it paid off. It was rare for me to be sick. Then I got pregnant, and everything went downhill. I didn’t have the time anymore to focus on my overall health. I just wanted to get through the pregnancy alive.

My pregnancy was hard. I suffered from hyperemesis gravidum, and was extremely anemic. Because of my high-risk pregnancy, I went in to see my OB-GYN frequently. Between working and trying to stay pregnant, dentist appointments and general checkups had to take a backseat.

Then of course, once my daughter was born, it became all about her. From the very beginning, I’ve done everything in my power to ensure that she stays healthy. It’s my job and I take it seriously, but I found it difficult to take care of both her and me. I had to make and choice, and I chose her. Every single time.

When I finally got to a place where life started to calm down and I felt like I was getting the hang of motherhood, I had another obstacle to face when trying to get in to see my doctor. It’s hard as hell to get an appointment when I can actually go! I would have a two hour break here, or half a day there to be able to go to appointments. It always seemed like when I was available, my doctor or dentist were booked up.

I spent up to an hour at times on hold waiting to make appointments, only to be told that the times I could come were not available. Not only did I have to worry about taking off work to get in for a check-up, I also had to take time out of my work day just to try to schedule it.

At a certain point, it became too overwhelming and I just threw in the towel. Any energy that I might have had to be patient with the process of trying to get in to see a doctor was being used to raise my child. Basically, I didn’t have the bandwidth.

Nearly ten years later, and now with two kids, going to the doctor is still a struggle. I do things on my own to stay healthy like brushing and flossing regularly. I keep a close eye on my diet. As much as I can, I take care of myself so that I don’t have to go to the hospital for any health emergencies. Regular checkups aren’t even a thought.

Other moms have told me similar stories. Our children get their shots regularly. We make sure they get their physicals for school and to play sports. At the first sign of a fever, we’re on the phone scheduling a same day visit with their doctor. So many of us moms are at the top of our game when it comes to taking care of our kids, but we don’t do the same for ourselves.

How do we change that? How do we find the time to take care of ourselves? We all know that being healthy is important if we want to be able to be there for our family for years and years. What can we do to find the time to get to the doctor, or to get to a dentist, when we are already overscheduled?

This has been on my mind a lot. I talked to a few friends, and one of them is keeping me accountable. She sends me a video message every single week asking about my health. Her prodding is the reason I finally made an appointment for my checkup in a couple of weeks. Having someone who won’t let you forget that your health is important really does help.

I also had to adopt the “time is money” mentality and joined a boutique medical practice. For an annual fee, I can make appointments online, have a team of doctors to choose from with locations all over the city, and can email my doctor for a referral or prescription. They make it hard to make excuses for not getting a checkup.

The most critical thing I’ve had to do, though, is work on my own mindset about what matters. My children and their health are important. But so is mine. And not just so that I can be there for them. Taking care of myself is about showing up for me.

As much as I sacrifice to make sure my family is okay, I owe it to myself to do the same.

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