“I think I need help,” I confessed to a friend during a recent chat. “I love being a mom and being there for my family, but I feel like there is no balance in my life. Between looking after my son, working, cleaning, laundry and cooking, I think I lost my sense of self somehow. I don’t even remember what kind of things I used to do for fun!”
The friend I spoke with is Erin Pasquet, a NYC based birth and postpartum doula and pre/postnatal fitness instructor. A mom to a toddler herself, she could relate: “As mothers, we are conditioned to make sacrifices. We put our baby first, and ourselves last. And inbetween comes the cooking, the laundry, the cleaning, and all the other stuff that has to get done. Our own needs are often ignored, pushed aside or neglected. Think about how something as basic as being able to take a shower is considered ‘self care’ for new moms, and just how low that bar is set.”
This mommy-martyrdom I felt myself falling into left me overwhelmed, burned out and resentful, and the more I spoke with other mom-friends, the more I realized I wasn’t alone feeling this way – we were starting to feel the consequences, too: my friends reported physical symptoms like tension, muscle aches, chronic fatigue and back pain, as well as emotional issues like irritability, anxiety and depression.
How to Begin to Feel More Rested, Balanced & Fulfilled
So how would be get ourselves back on track? “Ideally”, Pasquet says, “you can already set the tone for a balanced mom life during pregnancy. A regular workout regime and prenatal classes can help with postpartum recovery and prepare you to get back into an exercise routine after giving birth.
Delegate However Possible: While you have the time, write an inventory of your basic needs: sleep, nourishing food, taking a shower, exercising, uninterrupted alone time, or whatever else you want to add, think about how and when you can make these things happen, and what you will need help with. Consider adding items like a dog walker, a massage, or a food delivery service to your baby registry or wish list, which will help you carve out ‘me-time’ after baby is born.”
The Importance of Prioritizing Exercise
Bring Along Baby: When it comes to ‘sneaking in’ me-time, Shira Vinik is an expert. The mother of two is a Pilates instructor who specializes is pre- and postnatal Pilates and injury rehab. In her post-partum Pilates class, moms are welcome to bring their newborns along, bouncing them in their baby carriers and wraps during squats and pliés, taking breaks for nursing, or letting them nap next to their mat. Her home exercise videos require no special equipment, and one of her instagram videos even shows you how to use a roll of toilet paper as a workout prop.
“It is so hard to find time for yourself as a mother”, she says, “and when you do, you feel guilty about it.” Physical exercise is an important part of the post-partum recovery process and beneficial for your health and wellness in many different ways. “After you have given birth, please do yourself a favor and see a pelvic floor specialist, so you can start working out based on your individual rehabilitation needs.”
At-Home Exercises for All
For exercising at home, Erin recommends to keep it ‘short and sweet’. “I learned early on that I needed to adjust my expectations. Aiming for a 90-minute workout is just not a realistic goal for me at the moment. But if I can do 15 minutes of yoga at home three times a week, that’s really great. If I set the bar low, it is easier to meet my expectations, or even to exceed them.”
Break into Segments: Vinik agrees, “I try to break my workouts up into little segments. If I have five minutes, I usually start with stretching exercises. I love using a foam roller for shoulder and chest opening, because mom-life is so much about bending over, crouching down and leaning forward. Sometimes that is all I can do, and that is enough. It already helps me to feel good, and 5 minutes is better than nothing! If I have five more minutes, I move on to strengthening my abdominal muscles, five more and I am working out my glutes, legs, and arms. Setting yourself small goals means setting yourself up for success.”
Find an Instructor: For longer workouts, both women acknowledge the value of having a professional instructor. Even online, there are so many options right now. When you pay for a class, you are more committed to taking it, and less likely to make excuses. Having someone else talk you through an exercise routine makes it easier to stay focused, and it keeps your mind from wandering off after 20 minutes to think about all the other things you still have to do at home.
Mastering the Art of Multi-Tasking: Shira has mastered the art of multi-tasking; she describes doing leg workouts while washing the dishes and pelvic floor exercises while folding the laundry. Her level of dedication impresses me. While this may be effective, I am not sure if I would let this count towards “me time” – for me personally, at least, it does sound a little exhausting.
The Versatility of "Me Time"
As a model, I was used to a regular workout regime, and when my doctor told me to ‘take it easy’ due to a high risk pregnancy, I secretly felt a little sense of relief; this was an excuse to take a break from my strict exercise routine and I was looking forward to being a little less demanding towards my own body. It didn’t take long, however, until I missed my daily workouts, and the way they gave me strength, endurance, flexibility and joy.
What Makes YOU Feel Good? Of course, me-time does not have to always be workout related. In fact, sometimes it means just doing nothing. To breathe. To go for a walk, read a book, call a friend, write in a journal or drink a cup of tea. It can mean that you get up an hour earlier than usual to have some time to yourself before the rest of your family wakes up.
It can mean that you ignore the pile of laundry and the sink full of dirty dishes while your baby takes a nap, or to disregard the fact that your child is playing a computer game instead of e-learning. For some, it is helpful to have a list of things that you like to do when you feel the need to reset and re-energize. Taking care of yourself should not become a burden, another item on your agenda to cause you stress. Breaking it down into little steps can make it less intimidating, and depending on the situation and how much time you have, you can pick something from your ‘me-time catalog.’
Practice Makes Perfect
“The more you practice doing this and making it part of your routine, the easier it will get”’ Shira knows. “Many of us have this notion that taking care of ourselves is selfish, especially if it involves spending money - like getting a massage, hiring a nanny or booking a personal trainer. But in fact, it is the opposite. We need to think about it as an investment into our health, our sanity, and into a happy family. How are we expected to be strong for our children if we don’t feel strong for ourselves? How are we supposed to keep going if we feel overwhelmed, annoyed, impatient, or frustrated?”
Find a Designated Area: Taking me-time at home is much more practical and time-efficient for many mothers than having to go somewhere. If you can, designate a room or even just a corner in your house for this. Set it up with things that relax you and make you happy – a painting maybe or a photograph, cozy floor pillows, a yoga mat, an aromatherapy candle. Put stressful thoughts aside for the moment. If you use your phone to listen to a meditation podcast or take an online class, make sure to disable all other notifications, so you allow yourself the space in your mind as well.
Find a Community & Share Your Feelings
“I’ve been ignoring the small ways my body has been telling me to take care”, Erin admits in a candid social media post, “I ignored the louder ways, too. And now it’s just screaming at me to FIX THIS MESS NOW!” Sharing your goals with others is a great way to hold yourself accountable. Indeed, both women emphasize the importance of having a support system of other moms to encourage and check in with each other.
During this time of not only physical, but also spiritual change, transition and transformation, we tend to be quick to judge ourselves harshly. Mom-guilt, a feeling of blame, shame and failure, are all emotions that come up for mothers frequently. It is important to acknowledge and normalize this, and to treat ourselves with compassion and appreciation. And whether ‘me-time’ for you means hiring a babysitter so you can go for a run, or locking yourself in the bathroom so you can enjoy a hot cup of coffee and a bubble bath, know that you are worth it!
Embrace Convenience AND Quality: And as always, for those days when cooking or making homemade meals and snacks for your tribe seems like just another thing you have to do, our baby food pouches and apple sauce are 100% regeneratively farmed, biodynamic, organic & GMO-Free. That means the convenience of grab-and-go without ever sacrificing health and wellness for your little ones and their planet.
Meet the Experts!
Follow Erin on instagram for more honest and inspiring posts, and visit her website www.doulightNYC.com for more info about her professional services.
You can find Shira’s pilates videos and other awesome workout tips (with and without children) on her instagram page and find out more information through her website www.shilates.com
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