family · self care

Postpartum self-care stress, or how Bettina learned to take a chill pill and drink the breastfeeding tea

Cate’s crowdsourcing for her post on self-care in tough times (hello US election amid a global pandemic!) inspired me to think about my own recent experience with self-care. Admittedly, I’m in a special place regarding self-care at the moment, where it’s difficult to disentangle my self from that of another, 11 week-old human being.

In the FIFI blogger Facebook group, we were discussing how self-care is becoming not just commercialised, but also Another Thing Women Are Expected To Do. The discussion prompted me to write out a little rant. Here it is, slightly adapted for the purposes of this post. Because boy, are there expectations and (contradictory) opinions around self-care for new mothers, on top of all the expectations and (contradictory) opinions about motherhood and parenting in general.

A river under a clear blue autumnal sky: walking is self-care after Bettina’s own heart.

On top of “be there for your baby 24/7; put him on his tummy 30 minutes a day (never mind if he screams his head off); play with him and read/sing to him every day; feed him every 2-3 hours (that one’s not so much advice but a necessity of life), spend time doing skin-to-skin with baby, etc.”, it’s “drink this tea twice a day and this other one also twice a day (never mind that they taste horrible); also, drink 2-3 litres of water a day; sleep when the baby sleeps (LOL, considering he will pretty much only sleep on top of me during the day); don’t worry about the housework (but make sure everything is hygienic for the new human without an immune system); don’t worry about the paperwork and admin stuff (never mind that it has deadlines); do your pelvic floor exercises; and oh yeah don’t forget to take time for yourself.”

I’m not sure anyone’s day has the 48 hours it would take to do all of these things, but mine sure as hell does not. I really had to learn not to stress about it. Apparently all the pressure new mothers get about breastfeeding, parenting in general, getting back in shape, and so on isn’t enough. We need to stress them out about self-care as well. I know the advice is well-intentioned, but it can be really stressful at a time where your mind isn’t in a good place to be able set your own priorities and all you want is to make good choices for the tiny human you’re suddenly responsible for. It definitely took me several weeks to figure out that “sleep when the baby sleeps” is not for me except at night, and that I’ll do fine if I just drink one or two cups of breastfeeding tea a day (or on some days, none).

And I say this as a woman of many privileges: my partner was home with me for the first two months, so he could take care of the household and many other things, including his share of baby care duties. I have a generous leave policy that allows me to stay home with baby for several months. Our healthcare system is – compared to many others – excellent at postpartum care, free midwife visits, postpartum gymnastics and other perks included. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for a person with fewer privileges to be confronted with all the expectations and pressure around self-care on top of everything else that being a new mother entails.

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