BY ANNA ROORDA, CONTRIBUTING WRITER
An intro from Hannah:
Anna and I went to college together and our husbands (then boyfriends) were good friends. Our sons were born a few weeks apart and Anna and I frequently share mom videos and articles with each other. I'm so grateful to be walking this journey with her and applaud her honesty and heart every step of the way.
Learning to care for myself has been just as much of a struggle as learning to care for my son.
My husband, Josh, is at the tail end of a full-time doctorate program at the University of Iowa to become a nurse practitioner. He also works full-time as an ER nurse. Because of his busy schedule, a lot of the load of caring for our son has been put on my shoulders as a stay-at-home-mom. As a teenager who enjoyed babysitting, I daydreamed about this role. But I truly had no idea what it entailed until it became a role I couldn’t walk away from. The job of parent, whether you’re stay-at-home or not, seems to be one where you’re "at work" all day and a lot of the night too, simply because kids require a lot of attention and sacrifice, something I am still in the process of learning.
My new title as MOTHER at first drove me away from self-care simply because caring for my newborn son was so new and foreign. I had to figure out how to get Isaac to sleep, how to comfort him when he was crying, how to breastfeed and pump, etc., on top of all of the normal things that are required of being a living, breathing human. It’s easy to make a list of these things, but it’s far more difficult to actually do each one. I could write a thousand pages on the excruciating pain of learning to breastfeed, for example, but I’ll spare you all of the gory details and just say, my toes curled with the pain. Thankfully, over time, it got easier and less and less painful, and even enjoyable.
My first summer with Isaac, I found myself asking: how can I find time to make the bed or take a shower, or, miraculously, put on real clothes AND makeup AND brush my teeth? And then to try to do all of that tomorrow? Is it possible to have a baby AND make dinner? Will I ever exercise again?
There are ways. You start slowly and that is-with lots and lots of help. Thankfully extended family from both sides came to help after Isaac was born. This gave me pockets of time to eat healthy meals, steal a shower, put on some mascara, and feel like a person again. My mom has continued to provide these kinds of moments for me with her frequent visits from her home five and a half hours away. She’s always looking for ways to help lift my load so I can do something for myself. I’ve taken her up on that many times by going out alone to get a haircut, go shopping, or go out for a run. These mini-getaways are worth more than gold. In my everyday life, there’s the support I get from Josh. Many evenings, I lace up my running shoes and hit the pavement outside after Isaac goes to bed. My gracious husband plugs in the baby monitor next to his desk, sits and does his schoolwork, and listens for Isaac’s cries while I get to take that time away for just me. These moments of caring for myself seem luxurious, even the smallest parts of them, like taking that rewarding shower after exercising.
Over time, as I began to adjust to motherhood, I implemented my own forms of self-care without so much assistance from others. Slowly, I began feeling comfortable enough to load Isaac up into the jogging stroller and take him for a run with me. When Isaac was only napping for 30-minute segments, I began to learn the parental art of efficiency. If I wanted to do anything for myself, I had to take any free moment I was given. Eventually, I could: make the bed, shower, get dressed, put on makeup, and make breakfast for myself all in that 30-minute chunk of time. And though it was pretty rushed, it was self-care. It was taking care of myself and my surroundings, and getting what I needed for the day.
"it was taking care of myself and my surroundings, and getting what i needed for the day."
Now, as Isaac’s first birthday nears and the early, nerve-wracking days of motherhood seem to be more and more in the past, I find myself able to carve out self-care a little differently. I found a Fisher Price kids water table on Craigslist for $25. So, on sunny days, while Isaac stands and splashes in the water, I plant herb and vegetable seeds in seed-starter pots in our driveway and onion starts in our garden beds. I stop every now and then to interact with him, but he is happy now to play by himself, and I get to soak up the time to work with seeds and soil, doing something I enjoy, in the company of my son.
GROWING AND GREEN TEA
It isn’t always easy. Sometimes a weird sort of guilt shows up when I’m trying to just get one thing done, like the laundry folded or the dishwasher unloaded. I feel guilty for not interacting one-on-one with Isaac at that very moment. I even asked my husband one day for a clinical definition of neglect, just to make sure that I wasn’t neglecting Isaac when I am trying to get the kitchen cleaned up from breakfast and he is on the floor banging together pots and pans. Josh assured me that is not neglect, that’s just normal parent stuff. Whew. That’s reassuring, because the normal parent stuff does seem to happen a lot.
So here’s to that steaming cup of green tea in the morning, that hot shower in dim lighting, that quiet run down dark, empty sidewalks, even that moment when I get on my knees and scrub the darn dining room floor. Though it will be dirty again tomorrow with splats of yogurt and bits of cooked broccoli, the beauty is that for this moment, it’s clean and that makes me content.