You read that right. And yes, I passed English.
Even the happiest of babies can have hard days. Even the most excited parents can second guess parenthood — particularly when you are seeing your third 2 a.m. in a row. Or the 10th. Or the 25th. As a doula, I am often called in when parents are at their absolute wit's end because they are struggling. Too often, once I speak with parents, it becomes obvious that one of the things that happened is that they have forgotten about themselves. There is no "I" — it is all about baby or their role as a parent.
For many parents, parenthood can feel like a loss of their former identity. Finding themselves again, or learning who they are now, is so important.
Sleep deprivation is a badge of honour amongst parents. But why?
Sleep is for the weak
Looking back, I can't believe how often I uttered that phrase when my babies were small. And all the other new parents around me would nod knowingly and commiserate. Sleep deprivation is a badge of honour amongst parents. But why? Sleep deprivation is also a torture technique, and we don't hear of people celebrating it then. Why do we celebrate it for new parents? We shouldn't. Sleep is a vital component in the formation of both short- and long-term memories, the healing and restoration of muscles, organs and injury, and for the regulation of hormones. Sleep deprivation also plays a role in mood disorders, car accidents and stress.
What does sleep have to do with self-care? Everything. Adequate sleep is the cornerstone of self-care. Without adequate sleep, and the mental and physical health that comes with that, you will struggle to learn new tasks, make decisions or even want to do things (like leave the house). Other forms of self-care become so much more difficult when you are exhausted.
Getting your body back
I'm not talking about hitting the gym and getting bikini-ready. (But if that is your thing, go for it!) After nine months of pregnancy — which may be preceded by months or years of trying to get pregnant, and infertility treatments, then weeks and months of feeding, sleeping and living according to your baby's schedule — it can feel like your body isn't your own anymore. You might feel like there is someone attached or touching you. All. The. Time.
Being "touched out" is completely normal, but that doesn't make it less frustrating and it doesn't mean you love your baby any less. Give yourself permission, and the opportunity, to reconnect with your body and have your own space. For you, that might mean the gym! It can also mean a massage, a haircut, even a dentist appointment! Whatever you do, remember that some things about your body will be different after having a baby, and it might take time to feel like yourself again.
Your partner may be feeling the lack of downtime as well.
Self-care for two
Self-care is not always a solo activity. And you aren't the only one who needs it. Your partner may be feeling the lack of downtime as well. So, while they might get more adult conversation during the day, especially if they have returned to work, they are equally susceptible to feeling a little lost after baby arrives. It might also feel like your relationship falls to the bottom of the priority pile. That's normal, and absolutely OK... in the short term. From a long-term perspective, finding ways and time to "baby-proof" your relationships can actually reduce your stress.
Babies are cute. They can even be fun! But they don't give much in the first few months. So finding ways to have fun both with and without your baby can be a gamechanger. Some new parents try new things and learn new skills. Others join groups or pick up old hobbies. Whatever appeals to you, and that you can do regularly and consistently, is perfect! And if you are struggling to find time to do things sans baby, try finding an activity you can bring baby to. A membership to a museum or art gallery, a book club, or a parent-and-tot exercise class can all be ways to nurture your own interests while being with your baby.
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Be patient with yourself
It seems obvious, but being gentle with yourself is a form of self-care. Today's society expects new parents to have the perfect baby, and for moms to be back to their pre-pregnancy body before they even leave the hospital. A Pinterest parent most of us are not. And that is OK. Enough people will question and criticize you — be kind to yourself.
Self-care is a great buzzword that can be difficult for people to conceptualize. So many of us think of a vacation, spa visit or pedicure as self-care. But not everyone is able to experience those big, obvious self-care experiences. In early parenthood this is especially true, because you have a new baby! Finding routines or activities that are smaller, shorter or more convenient — but that also nurture you, your heart and mind — will help you to be a happier and an even better parent.
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