Self-Care for New Moms: How to Give Your Body What it Needs
Six years ago, I was driving into town to go to a gym class. In our small town there is a historic courthouse in the center of a roundabout. As I was driving around this old town monument, I started to realize a new sensation. My breasts felt like bricks. This was a description a friend used when she described how she knew she was pregnant. They were tender, and heavy. After four years of trying to get pregnant, a small glimmer of hope welled up in me that I too might become a mother. An uncomfortable sensation brought the joy and comfort I had waited for knowing I would have the family I had longed for. After confirming I was pregnant I was thrilled yet terrified. My body was about to change a lot.
This was the first of many physical and spiritual changes that were about to take place. Even though I had read the books, questioned my mother friends and imagined many times what it would be like for my body to make a new life, I was entirely unprepared for the realities of the change my body would undergo. Early on my body began to ache. It hurt to receive the many congratulatory hugs from friends. My boobs went from feeling like bricks to being sensitive to the most gentle brushing. By month four, the relaxin hormone had done its work to get my body ready for the expansion; however, it left me in excruciating pain when I walked.
To care for my body when it hurt - I would still head to the gym most days to strengthen my muscles, but I would always end up in a shuffle-like dance at the end of the night because even the act of walking felt like torture to my SI joints and attachments. I also began scheduling regular chiropractic adjustments followed by therapeutic massage. At the end, I was tickled by the pregnancy support foam they used on the massage table, with a space cut out to fit my rounded tummy, so I could lay face down on the table.
I looked forward to these every week, because it was the only time I felt real relief. The pain would radiate into my hips through the night when I tried to sleep, so I was no stranger to sleeplessness when baby finally arrived. However, I learned to speak up and asked many nights for a gentle massage from my husband that would make all the difference of getting to sleep and a little relief from the aching.
As my belly grew, I was sure to nurture my skin as it stretched and changed shape. I would rub cocoa-butter lotion on it each day to give it some TLC.
I continued to feel the utter joy that I would be a mother. After a healthy nine month pregnancy I was fortunate to deliver my sweet babe at home after only seven short hours of labor. However, the next step of healing after delivery, I was wholly unprepared for. I knew that the delivery would be painful, but the aftermath was something of a physical nightmare. My labia had a massive tear and swelling; my ligaments all hurt constantly. I felt like a bowl of jelly, with aching muscles and bones. Despite a friend of mine who encouraged me to get up and go, I listened to my body and took time to rest, and have long lazy nursing sessions with my sweet tiny daughter. Those first weeks, I would never give up to do anything but spend the time getting to know my baby and letting my body take its time getting used to the demands of being a nurturing mother. Nursing all night was sweet, yet exhausting. Reading while I nursed became a wonderful way to relax as well as take my mind off of any stress I may have felt.
The treasure and richness of being a mother to my baby girl gave me all the motivation I needed to care for my body. Her smiles, coos, wiggles, squeals, and crawls all added up to the medicine I needed each day to overcome the stress of the physical and emotional changes that had taken place. I chose early on to avoid an up and down roller coaster of crashing from lack of self care. I would take regular showers, fix my hair, and eat regular meals. I knew I would be able to offer my best self if I felt my best - even on two hours of sleep.
My full-of-life girl who has always been too busy understanding the world around her to sleep would wiggle herself to sleep at night and demand to nurse several times a night for three years. Even when she weaned, she would have consistent wakings during the night. I have always given myself permission to rest. Though society demands we stay busy, I could see without rest what kind of train wreck I could become. When I didn't rest I would crash, or get overwhelmed easily. So sleep became a highly valued activity. Getting in bed early with a book or journal has always been the best way for me to unwind and release my thoughts from the day.
A new change is taking place. My baby is six; my body still changes. The little child I carry frequently is getting too big to hold for long. My heart aches a little as she feels the freedom to leave my side and explore the world with her friends, even if it’s just the back yard. Now I must prepare myself for the task of raising a sensitive young lady in a busy world full of opportunities to thrive. This change of being a protector, and filter, and care giver, but also offering independence, demands I now care for my spiritual state to ensure it is strong and healthy, so that I may offer the best to her that God has given to me, in gratitude, love, and grace.