Self care is huge, as buzzwords go. “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” they say. “Put on your own oxygen mask first,” is another maxim. It’s all solid advice. But as a new mom, I’ve found it sometimes laughably hard to implement. After all, how am I supposed to fill my cup when it’s 4 AM, I’m so exhausted it hurts, and my newborn is screaming his little head off? I can’t exactly put on earplugs and stay snuggled up in bed. How am I supposed to luxuriate in a shower when my toddler is banging on the door and repeating, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!”
With a toddler and a new baby, I am finding self care hard on a good day, and downright impossible often. How can I take care of myself in addition to two little people and one boisterous dog, not to mention being a good (I’ll take decent!) partner, friend, writer, editor, and person in the world? It’s a question with high stakes, because when I’m burnt out, I’m not of much use to anyone.
I thought about this a lot as I prepared for my second baby last year. What kind of caring for me is actually doable? Sometimes it’s about taking itty bitty actions that make me feel better. I invested in some cozy loungewear and the softest blanket I could find to make the baby snuggle zone as luxurious as possible. (Sadly, that blanket has been puked on one too many times to keep. It was nice while it lasted!)
I’m a big coffee drinker, and I now set up the coffee pot the night before. If I’m up nursing well before dawn, it feels a little more manageable with a hot cup of coffee with a generous pour of half and half by my side. (For me, cream = self care!)
How can new parents take care of ourselves? I asked this question to new parents, and I’m sharing some of my favorite ideas with the hope that they’ll inspire.
“I learned early on that babies can learn,” says Alison Anuzis, mom of one, with a second baby on the way. “I realized a couple of weeks in that I was better able to care for my kid if I had my breakfast and coffee—that was essential. I did one feeding/changing cycle, then put her in her swing and took care of myself. She cried the first few days, but then she learned, ‘oh mom is just making her food and she’ll be back to hang out with me in a little bit.’”
For me these days, self care might simply entail me taking the time to take a sip of water, go to the bathroom, or take a deep breath before tending to my crying baby or exuberant toddler.
Winn Bolton Baucom is the mother of a six-month-old, a four-year-old, and a seven-year-old. “We’ve found a babysitter and will try to plan a date night either once a week or every other week, which will help. My husband also takes the kids out on the weekends to the grocery store or to the park so I can have some alone time,” she shared. Having a babysitter, family member or friend watch the little ones for even an hour gives new parents a needed moment to catch their breath.
Last week was the seven-year anniversary of my first date with my husband. (How does time go by so fast?) I was tempted to just curl into bed, but I’m so glad my partner pushed us to eave the house and go out for dinner. My parents watched the kids. Laughing and reminiscing over a cocktail and some lamb chops made me feel so much more human.
Asking for help doesn’t come easily for me, but I’m practicing. It really does take a village, which is extra hard to access in pandemic times. Even my OBGYN reminded me to seek as much help as possible when I asked her what to do to prepare for the baby. (I was expecting medical advice, but she urged me to think about easy food, and who I could call to help when I needed to shower.)
“I get so much help!” says Emily Pearly Goodstein, Founder and CEO of Greater Good Strategy and mom of an 18-month-old girl. “Nanny, house manager, meal delivery, housekeeper, laundry service...I’ve outsourced almost everything.” Night nurses, postpartum doulas, and in-laws are all viable options.
If you don’t have the financial resources to hire help, recruit your friends and family as much as possible. Needing others can feel like a weakness, but we’re all interconnected, and it’s actually a strength. I’ve found specific requests to be the most constructive: Could you pick up my toddler from preschool and bring her to the playground on Friday? Could you grab some groceries next time you’re at the store? Almost always, people are genuinely happy to be useful.
Postpartum pictures might look dreamy-perfect on Instagram, but new parent life is not easy for anyone. It’s ok just to survive right now. Give yourself permission to set the bar a little lower than usual. Nobody will judge you if they don’t get a thank you card for that cute onesie (a thank you text will do the trick) or if your home is a little (ok, a lot) messier than usual.
“Not all moms can do self care at the beginning,” says Mariel Null, who has a toddler boy. “It’s temporary and things get better and easier over time.” With the second baby, I’m even more aware how short this chapter is. This too shall pass.