Learning what real self-care is: The Postpartum, Part 1

When I become interested in a topic, much like other people, I fall into rabbit holes of research upon research. I’m one of those people who check and cross check reviews before I make most purchases. So, when we decided to begin trying to conceive, I did a lot of reading and web-browsing about pregnancy and labor. I knew I needed a doula. I searched for the best place to receive prenatal care and birth my baby. When it came to postpartum, I thought I did enough planning. I knew I needed help, but I didn’t think I needed it other than for food and some light cleaning once in a while. When it came to taking care of my baby, I felt confident that I was prepared, that I was enough, and that I had an arsenal of resources in case I needed anything, such as lactation consultants and chiropractors.

I had believed for most of my life, asking for help was inconvenient, rude, too much for people, or pointless. It wasn’t until 2018, a year after giving birth to my son, that I realized my fear of asking for help has very much to do with my Western, maybe even something about being from California, city-culture, parents-that-both-had-to-work culture. The odd thing is, growing up, we received charity, hand-me-downs and gifts all the time. It was the asking part that was hard.

I thought I did enough planning for postpartum. For most of my pregnancy, I mourned the fact I didn’t have the love and guidance of a mother. My stepmother raised me, but we never really had that mother-daughter relationship I needed. Pregnancy opened me up to the prospect of having mothers again, and I looked forward to receiving both her and my mother in law’s help. It was God’s plan that my sister and my mother in-law came, one week each.

Being home and a new mother, my poor planning dawned on me bit by bit. I learned you need knowledgeable caregivers. No offense to my sister who kindly came to help me out, but with her inexperience, I found myself saying more than I wanted, when all I wanted was to do nothing (aka sit on the couch and nurse my baby). Then there was the issue of visits. Postpartum prep blogs warned me of feeling bombarded with useless visitors. The ones who only come to see the baby, stay too long, and don’t have boundaries. The blogs would advise us to make use of visitors by instructing expecting parents to organize meal trains, and ask visitors to throw in a load of laundry, perhaps do the dishes. Some blogs even warned not to let people over all together for a duration of time. It sounded like great boundary-setting advice, but I do think company can be a good thing, just do not come over expecting the new parents to serve you. Personally, I learned that the problem was not people not doing things, because truly, if we asked, people would most likely oblige. The issue was the asking part. Having the courage to ask for help, be vulnerable, in a society where independence is classified as strength. But, I think along the way, we forgot that everybody needs a little help, and that a lot of people like to help, or at least have good manners to help anyway. No one really does anything without anyone’s help at all. And if you’re spiritual or religious, you believe there’s always help involved or available from God.

The problem was, I didn’t realize that being a capable mother also meant being loved on myself. I didn’t realize that the exhaustion that hit me a year later could very well be from incorrectly nourishing myself because I wanted to go back to my pre-pregnancy weight as soon as possible. The terrible sleep was not only because of breastfeeding on demand all day, every day, but also because I was not prioritizing nutritious food consistently (in order to not overeat and lose weight). My body needed help and I was unaware that by restricting food, even with healthy choices, I was dishonoring it by not treating it with the correct care. It was not stressed enough to me that after birthing my baby, and then the placenta, there was a wound inside my body that needed to heal. My organs were going back to their original places. It was okay to rest, and actually necessary. Blogs were full of new parents discussing how great they felt, how they went shopping the next day, were taking walks, that type of thing. So, to me, that seemed like the ideal. Not only that, but, there was this notion that a vaginal birth = being able to get right back to life ASAP after giving birth. I think this perpetuates that not bouncing back = weak. Well, nobody wants to look weak. And I did feel good the next day. Except a sore bottom. But, I felt good. It was mindblowing to me to consider that incapability was not the issue. I didn’t have to worry about being perceived as such. I did not have to prove capability. I just carried and birthed a whole being. I was very capable. Rather, I should acknowledge my capable body that birthed a baby, and now needs to be honored for its work and respected by allowing it to heal. But, I did not have this epiphany right away.

Completely related, but unrelated photo of me in Morocco in 2016, where I learned the best mint tea was made there.

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