I got pregnant with my first child four years ago, in the midst of summer. The hot, Ozark smog made the nausea so much worse. For the next nine months, I went through the radical changes of pregnancy and motherhood. I surrounded myself with pillows. I rested for hours on the couch between my chores and workdays. I massaged my belly, and spent time reading about what was happening inside of my body. I didn’t drink coffee. I took every supplement I could afford to keep myself and my baby healthy. I walked daily. Keeping up with my house, job, and relationships seemed like enough–more than enough–for me to keep track of. The only thing on my mind was pregnancy, nesting, birth, baby, health.
Cue second pregnancy with my 18 month old. I felt like I had less time to devote to snuggling up to my pregnancy, but I felt pretty okay. I hurt a lot more. I didn’t have a mountain of pillows around me. I was a lot more tired. I drank coffee every day. I took a great prenatal, ate well, and pushed my son in the stroller whenever I could. From time to time, I’d sit and read about what was happening that week in my body, how my baby was growing. I felt excited and connected and scared. I didn’t spend all day thinking about my pregnancy, and I stayed busy with school and work and taking care of my son, but I felt that “pregnancy glow” between the changes that were happening.
And here I am, 27 weeks pregnant with my third. Sometimes I am astounded at how fast it’s going, and sometimes I am dreading the next three months. Because it’s hard. I now have two toddlers. They are demanding. They need boundaries, space to play and grow. Even simple errands have become daunting and draining, all the bending and buckling and towing. I routinely drink more than one cup of coffee. I only realized I needed more pillows last week, after having back spasms. I don’t come first, or even second anymore. I come last, it seems, after breakfast, diaper changes, bottles, cleaning, tantrums, messes. When I remember how many weeks along I am, I remember I should be paying more attention to the little guy growing inside of me. I feel weak and often like all of this–my life–is just happening and I’m along for the ride. I haven’t stopped to really honor myself and the good work I’m doing. Instead, I feel like I’m never doing enough, and that everything is always unfinished or chaotic. I’m scared, or I’m trying to ignore everything I have on my plate. I’ve hardly taken a prenatal. I’ve suffered severe sickness and GI issues this entire pregnancy. I had to start going to therapy and taking medication because I was so depressed and anxious. Taking care of myself seems like a chore. It’s the last thing I want to invest in, at the end of a long day.
Self-care during pregnancy is different. It isn’t as easy as a glass of wine and a bath. For me, it requires more stretching, intentional nourishment, and conscious stress reduction. And I’ve seen during this pregnancy how quickly and subtly my health and quality of life slips through the cracks when I don’t stop to recognize how important it is that I do care for myself. It’s almost as if I am the last one on my to-do list for the day, and I just keep pushing myself further and further back until I’m grumpy, frazzled, in physical pain, or mentally unable to stay calm and confident as a mother and wife.
Motherhood becomes less and less about us mothers and more about everything else, especially when more babies come into the mix. Can you blame us? We are the best nurturers, the best at loving and the best and getting everything taken care of. But mamas, we have to remember something: we matter too. How often have you sacrificed your physical comfort to comfort your children? I bet you do it all the time. I do it, too. And while it’s important that we continue to comfort and nourish our families, we must also comfort and nourish ourselves. Let me be the living testament to you right now that when you do not take care of yourself properly, especially while you are pregnant, not only do you suffer, but everything else suffers too!
Families thrive when mothers thrive. Children thrive when mothers thrive. And not only that, but when we invest in our own health–mental, physical, and spiritual–we are able to help other mothers thrive too.
So self-care during this pregnancy has a different meaning. It means I will spend extra time in the morning stretching and drinking enough water between my coffee and toddler negotiations. I may be interrupted a thousand times. It means spending some quiet time every day to touch my growing belly, even if I have two curious toddlers poking my belly button and trying to climb over me. It means honoring what I do daily as a mother, and taking time to bow to myself for all that I do–even when it never feels like enough, as my toddler throws dinner on the floor. It means asking for help so I can take a quick trip to the grocery store without hauling 50 lbs of kids on top of everything else. It means investing more time and energy into taking my supplements and being very intentional about my diet, even if it means that I spend a little more money on food or spend extra time making food and snacks that I like. It means jumping in on nap time, even if I have dirty dishes and laundry and a phone call to make. Doing these things does not make me selfish, or weak.
The best I can give myself is very different with this pregnancy than it has been with my other two. All of it is harder than ever before. But just because I can’t give all of my focus to myself and the growing baby inside me, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to give myself whatever I can muster. My best may look different from day to day. Yours will too. Even if you aren’t pregnant right now, you are still important to your family. How you feel matters to your family. And how you treat yourself, every single day, will impact how you feel. So feel better, mama. Do what you must to get there. And do it knowing that you’re being a good mom for investing yourself. Trust me on this one.