About five months into my pregnancy, getting dressed became a chore. I wish I could say that changed after my daughter was born, but it didn’t. For a while, my uniform of choice consisted of yoga pants, school t-shirts, sneakers, and nursing bras that did absolutely nothing to support my triple D breasts. It worked though and, honestly, besides taking the baby to doctor’s appointments and supermarket runs, I really wasn’t going anywhere. T-shirts were extremely comfortable and made me feel less self-conscious about my newly acquired mommy pooch. Yoga pants meant more comfort and a support band for that pooch I just mentioned. And those nursing bras meant easy access whenever the baby got hungry — even if that also meant my boobs were hanging to my knees.
I didn’t truly come to recognize my place on the struggle bus until an impromptu Mother’s Day brunch outing. It was my first Mother’s Day and I knew that my standard t-shirt and yoga pants weren’t going to cut it. Furthermore, I wanted to look like something. So, after carefully getting my daughter dressed in an adorable dress and sweater set, moisturizing her hair, laying down her edges and slipping on a matching headband, I tried to mentally prepare myself for the dreaded trip into my own closet — a place I honestly liked to avoid since we relocated several months prior. Between moving and wearing maternity clothes for an extended period of time, I felt like a stranger to my own wardrobe. I went through my closet for what felt like hours and, for the life of me, I simply could not pull together anything that looked semi-presentable.
“Who am I?” I dramatically yelled from the closet before emerging with a blouse and some pre-pregnancy jeans I simply decided to settle on. My mom and husband chuckled from the next room, but a part of me was dead serious. I felt lost, frumpy, and unattractive, and I had no idea where to begin pulling myself back together again.
“At least you look cute,” I whispered to the baby as we walked out of the door.
“That’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s a sign that you’re a great mother,” a relative who overheard me responded.
I know she was just trying to make me feel better, but I instantly felt triggered. Something about that statement just didn’t feel right. I understand the sentiment behind it. We all know a woman who always has every hair in place, is constantly shopping the latest trends, stays with a fresh matching mani-pedi set, and is always on child-free vacations. Meanwhile, her kids walk around looking unkempt and are failing everything in school simply because no one is investing in them. I don’t think any reasonable person would disagree with the sentiment that this type of conduct is absolutely disgraceful. However, it seems that in order to avoid being labeled as that mom, some women have begun to take on the mindset — much at the encouragement of generations who have come before them — that in order to be a good mother, you have to severely neglect yourself. Call me crazy, but ma’am, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Does motherhood require immense sacrifice? Absolutely. Does that mean you should make yourself a martyr and unnecessarily neglect yourself in the name of motherhood? Hell no. Sadly, many new mothers have been trained to believe the opposite.
A 2013 study titled “The Role of Maternal Self Care in New Motherhood” revealed that new mothers fall on two polar ends of the spectrum when it comes to taking care of themselves: They’re either all about it or they don’t do it at all.
“Two ideologies regarding the role of self-care emerged,” the studies author explained. “In one conception of effective mothering, self-care was of primary importance. On the contrary, some women associated a sometimes extreme form of self-sacrifice with new motherhood.”
I get it. When you are responsible for the care of a tiny person who didn’t ask to be here and can barely do anything for themselves, it’s tempting as hell to place your needs on the back burner — and in honesty, there will be times you absolutely have to. However, this should not be an all-of-the-time occurrence. I often find myself debating in my head about whether or not I should do simple things for myself such as ordering a new bra, going to get a wash and set, or scheduling a doctor’s appointment because it adds too many moving parts to the already complex dance of caring for a baby. Then I stop and think about how crazy I sound.
“Who the hell is going to mother this child if you burn yourself out or make yourself sick?” is often what I say to myself before forging ahead and overriding the voices that tell me my needs don’t matter anymore.
As one mom so eloquently put it, “Self-care is a fight that you have to show up for every single day.” And many days, it will definitely feel like a fight. But when you really stop to think about it, in taking care of yourself, you are ultimately looking out for your kids. You deserve to feel great about yourself and you owe it your kids to be the best possible version of yourself — both will only come through self-care. So please, buy that moisturizer, schedule that nail appointment, purchase that dress, take that bubble bath, read that book, sit down, watch that movie and do not feel guilty about it. Self-care doesn’t automatically make you a bad mother and self-sacrifice doesn’t automatically make you a good one.