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Caring for Yourself as a New Mom

Becoming a mom for the first time was something I did later than most. I celebrated my 39th birthday just 12 days before my daughter was born. The advantage of being an older first-time mom, as I saw it, was that I’d already checked a lot of boxes in my life. I’d traveled around the world, worked in a variety of industries and across different types of organizations, and spent a good deal of time and money investing in myself. So, I thought I was perfectly positioned to have a baby and devote all of my time and energy, especially during the four precious months I had of maternity leave, to simply being a mom. 

While becoming a mom remains the best decision I’ve ever made, I had no clue how fast and furious the learning curve would be or how exhausted it would leave me. And there are a few things I could have done to make the transition to motherhood easier on myself. 

What I thought self care looked like 

I have to confess, I was a skeptic of the entire self care movement. Before I had children, I practiced yoga, I walked to dinner with friends, I made smoothies. I even got manicures on occasion. I didn’t really understand the hype around spending time on yourself, probably because, for a decent stretch of my adulthood, I generally always had the time to spend. It wasn’t exactly a scarce resource. It was a privilege I didn’t fully appreciate or even understand to be a privilege. And in certain ways, the ethos of self care seemed like a decent idea turned into a marketing tactic.  

To me, in those first few months postpartum, it sounded unhinged to spend an hour or two getting a manicure or going to a yoga class. The fact that I didn’t have any family close by probably contributed to this sentiment. I had no mom or sister or mother-in-law who could pop by and confidently take on a single feed or even watch my daughter while she napped. I also had a baby that exclusively breastfed and refused to take a bottle. So even if I did get out, I couldn’t be gone long. 

Moreover, I was afraid. Afraid of getting the baby sick or overheated in the Houston summer. Afraid of ending up in public with a screaming baby who wouldn’t nurse or take a bottle. Which is how a person who spent most of her pregnancy bike riding, walking to the local coffee shop to meet a friend, or swimming laps at the neighborhood pool ended up staying inside for almost eight weeks straight.   

After I went back to work, spending time on myself felt like even more of a burden. I was always giving something else up to do it – time with my daughter, time with my partner, time at my desk. Making that tradeoff seemed to add more stress to my life, not relieve any. I felt guilty for missing work or my kid. Guilty for not enjoying a massage because all I could think about was my to-do list. 

And that was the biggest problem I had with self care, as I understood it. It never felt worth it. 

What self care really looks like for me 

Given my distaste for self care marketing, it’s ironic that a billboard changed my perspective on the subject. The billboard was a public service announcement: a reminder to schedule my annual mammogram. And it said something along the lines of schedule your self care. An appointment my own doctor had also been nudging me about.

Something in this reminder triggered a mindset shift in me. Prioritizing my health, whether that meant getting a mammogram, spending time on my bike, going to the grocery store, getting outside for even 15 minutes, was the definition of self care. No elaborate plans for a spa day required. 

The truth is, disregarding what had always been a fundamental priority in my life – staying physically and mentally well – was adding to my stress (and resentment) if I looked at the big picture. In daily or hourly terms, of course it was more stressful to manage a workout or a therapy appointment or even a mammogram. But when I zoomed out a little bit and took a broader perspective, it became easier for me to negotiate time for these things. 

How I started practicing self care 

1. I made time for things like doctor’s appointments and therapy appointments. I added them to my work calendar and marked myself as out of office for more time than the appointment would take, so I wasn’t racing to get home and jump on a call. 

2. I reached out to my network of friends and fellow moms. So many friends are happy to schedule play dates or join me and my daughter for an outing so I have time to connect with another adult, despite how limited that can be with a toddler in tow! 

3. I talked frankly with my partner about what I was sacrificing. He really hadn’t seen it, and when I explained what I needed, he stepped in and stepped up. And he has a closer relationship with our daughter because of it. A couple of days a week, they do the morning routine and make breakfast while I get a workout in.

4. I bring my daughter along to do things I enjoy. I bought a trailer for my bike and she’s happy to get pulled around for an hour or so while I ride. And she loves people-watching from the grocery cart while I browse the aisles and plan our dinner menu. 

If this list makes prioritizing self-care sound cut and dry, I don’t mean it to. It’s still messy and requires compromise and looks different than it did before I had kids. I’ve had to reschedule appointments and manage mid-store meltdowns and cut bike rides short. But it has gotten easier. Some of that, of course, is a function of my daughter getting older and me being able to handle more with experience. But a lot of it is because I changed my perspective on how to care for myself at this stage in life. 

This article was written for Work & Mother by Carly Curran. Carly is a copywriter, yoga instructor and product manager in Houston, TX. For discounts and member exclusives on Calm, the #1 meditation app, visit our Shop and Tenant Log-In pages.

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