As a childbirth educator, there are a couple of topics that fill me with dread when addressing a group of soon-to-be parents, and one of them is circumcision.
If you’ve spent any time at all on the internet as it relates to parenting, you may have noticed that this topic can spark some very heated discussion, so much so that it can be hard to wade through the rhetoric to find solid information. Folks hold some strong opinions on this topic—and for good reason! The decision whether to circumcise or not will carry into every day of a boy’s life. So, how to give accurate information that will help parents decide? Here’s how I do it:
There are basically 3 things for parents to consider in deciding whether or not to circumcise their baby boy:
Religious or cultural reasons
On this point, I don’t figure I have too much to contribute as a childbirth educator, though occasionally I have helped Jewish clients who did not want to circumcise to explore the idea of holding an alternate ceremony (known as a brit shalom).
These usually fall under the headings of: “wanting him to look like Daddy” or “wanting him not to be bullied in the locker room.” Again, I don’t feel that I can speak to one person’s sense of what looks right or wrong, and I particularly don’t need to know which of the fathers in my class were circumcised or not. But I can note that since the rate of infant circumcisions performed nationwide in the US is around 55%, there is a high probability that there will be another boy in the locker room whose penis looks like your kid’s, whichever route they choose to take.
Health benefits and risks
Since I work very hard to research and present information based on current research evidence in my classes, this final category is the one to which I can really speak. And it can be surprisingly hard to sift through the claims that are out there about risk and benefit!
The American Academy of Pediatrics has been equivocal, to be sure. Their current statement on the one hand seems to endorse the practice, and on the other hand it doesn’t. This statement can be found on their website for parents:
“The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that circumcision has potential medical benefits and advantages, as well as risks. Evaluation of current evidence indicates that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks and that the procedure’s benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it, however, existing scientific evidence is not sufficient to recommend routine circumcision.
Therefore, because the procedure is not essential to a child’s current well-being, we recommend that the decision to circumcise is one best made by parents in consultation with their pediatrician, taking into account what is in the best interests of the child, including medical, religious, cultural, and ethnic traditions.”
Their longer policy statement can be found here and the very detailed and long article from the task force behind the policy statement is here.
So, according to the AAP, the benefits outweigh the risks, but not so much as to become “essential to a child’s current well-being.” Which leaves us where, exactly?
I did my best to dig for solid numbers, and came up with this handy chart to compare benefits and risks. Let’s work our way down the list together, shall we?
Yes, Circumcision is painful
First off, circumcision is painful, and medical professionals recommend adequate pain relief both during the procedure and during the healing process (which takes about a week). The choice to circumcise your baby means he will feel pain, and there is always a small risk that he will have an adverse reaction to the pain medication.
Complications can occur
Further, the choice to circumcise means incurring the risk that there will be complications to the procedure. It is basically impossible to get hard numbers on this, since there is no universal reporting standard on complications. The numbers in my chart are a good guess. Mild to moderate surgical complications include: irritation of the glans, infection, excessive bleeding, painful urination, or scarring of the urinary outlet. The much more rare severe surgical complications include: hemorrhage or having too much skin removed. Some babies will need to have the procedure redone, either because the first attempt was inadequate, or because the skin re-adhered while healing.
For a small number of babies whose parents chose to leave them intact, they will develop a medical reason (often phimosis) that will require circumcision in adolescence or as an adult.
Perceived benefits of circumcision
Now we get to one of the benefits of infant circumcision: the reduction in risk of UTI. It is important to note that most UTIs in males occur in the first year of life, but overall incidence is still low at 1%. Baby boys who are circumcised do have a three to ten-fold reduction in risk of contracting a UTI in the 1st year of life.
Sometimes a reduction in the risk of penile cancer is mentioned as a benefit of circumcision, but the overall incidence of this type of cancer is so low, that the slight reduction in risk for circumcised men is barely statistically significant.
Finally, the other major purported benefit of circumcision is the reduction in the risk of contracting HIV and some other STIs. There have been several high quality studies done in Africa that show significant reduction of these risks. Whether their findings can be generalized to the population of American men is debatable.
It is important to note that rates of contracting sexually transmitted infections are affected to a high degree by socio-cultural influences. For example, the rates of circumcision in Northern Europe are much lower than the United States, but their STI rates are much lower as well. Regardless, the reduction in risk for circumcised men would not be completely protective. In other words, parents would need to teach their sons to wear condoms.
And on the somewhat uncomfortable topic of considering one’s baby boy’s future sex life, it is debatable whether adult men who have been circumcised experience diminished sexual satisfaction and function. I’m not sure whether this could ever be definitively proven, but there are certainly plenty of people who like to argue this point.
And that’s it. The risk/benefit ratio for circumcision as it regards to health concerns. You can see why the AAP has had a hard time making a definitive recommendation in favor of circumcision. It is, as they wisely put it, a decision that parents must weigh for their own sons. If you want to read more science-based conclusions, check out The Informed Parent: A Science-Based Resource for Your Child’s First Four Years.
This guest post was written by Stephanie Spitzer-Hanks. Stephanie gave birth to her first child in the Netherlands, where the nurturing and encouragement she received from so many women there inspired her to become a doula. Now she strives to give unconditional support and evidence-based education to families so that they can be confident in making the choices that are right for them. She is an ICEA certified childbirth educator, an Evidence Based Birth® Instructor, a DONA certified birth and postpartum doula, a StillBirthday certified bereavement doula, and a certified lactation counselor through Healthy Children’s Center for Breastfeeding. On the side of all of that, Stephanie is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, and she serves as a chaplain at a hospital and writes and speaks about birtheology when she gets the chance. You can find out what she is up to at www.revdoula.com.
Your Intuition, Your Gut, Mama Instincts — Whatever You Call It, Listen to It
Pregnancy, labor, and birth are monumental, life changing events. Doing research, educating yourself, being fully prepared, taking proper precautions, and trusting your OB and/or midwife are all important. However, keep in mind that women have been going through this since the beginning of time. Our bodies are engineered to create, sustain, and bring life into this world. Birth does not always go as planned, or as “textbook” as we’d like. There are times when preparation, education, and practitioner’s advice take a back seat and a powerful voice comes into play. Your intuition. A mother’s intuition is an important voice to pay attention to, and the more prepared and educated you are up front, the more you will be able to trust that your gut feelings are coming from a vital place, rather than from fear and panic. Below are some powerful accounts from women who paid attention to what their body was telling them, and the positive outcomes that followed.
Mamas Who Are Glad They Followed Their Intuition
“With my second baby’s birth, I had been 3 cm dilated for over two weeks and having contractions on and off, too. The night before my son was born (1.5 weeks after my due date and the day before my induction), I told my husband, that we needed to call my dad if I had three strong contractions and/or my water broke, because I just felt it would be a quick labor. At 2:30am I had those strong contractions, 3:00am my water broke and at 4:27am my baby was born! If I hadn’t had that feeling of things going quickly after a slow buildup, Sullivan may have been born in the car or even at home!” – Jesica Boro
“…My son was turned. I was feeling nauseous from not eating for so long. The midwife was trying to turn him and couldn’t so they wanted to get a doctor to help. I could feel it was coming time for me to have an emergency c-section. Before the doctor came into the room, I got on my hands and knees which [made me] throw up and that caused my son to turn so I delivered him naturally like I wanted. – @Celeste2401
“A week after i had my daughter in June, I was terribly ill. At a time when I was supposed to be mending and enjoying my new baby, I was so sick that all I could do was cry. My friends and family told me it was just after birth cramping and that I was still healing, but I finally decided to call in to the midwife and let her know what was going on. She advised me to go to the ER right away, and hours later I was having an emergency d&c for a retained placenta that was hemorrhaging. I am so glad I listened to my body. If I had waited any longer it could have been a much different outcome.” — Jamie Van Nuys
“I was laboring in the labor tub. I had only been in for 15 minutes and was just checked 30 minutes prior and only 5 cm. My intuition told me to get out and go lay in the bed (they don’t let you deliver in the tubs). I was standing up and felt the urge to push. Two pushes later and about two minutes later my son was born.” — Brittani Fink
“When I was in labor about a month ago, we were waiting for my mother-in-law to come watch our two older children. When she was about 40 minutes away, I got the feeling that we had to leave for the hospital NOW. My husband was a bit skeptical because I had only been in labor for about two hours. But, he went and woke up the neighbors in the middle of the night and we left. Our baby was born about one hour later. If we had waited, I would have had him in the car!” — Nicole Kavanaugh
“After three cesareans and no natural births I was told by my doctors that my body “wouldn’t know how to labor” so I decided to get a private midwife, not step foot in a hospital again for the rest of my pregnancy, and set my mind on a homebirth. Everyone gave me their unwanted opinions about it all and only my husband stood by me. After about 100 hours of labor, I gave birth at 42 weeks + 1 day to my biggest baby ever (all 9 lbs 10 oz. of him) in a pool in my living room! THE best feeling ever! I’m now 39 weeks with baby number 5, I have the same midwife as last time, and I cannot wait to give birth to this baby. I never believed for a second my body was broken, and I proved all the doctors and midwives at the hospital wrong. I did it.” — Rose McMurrie, Liverpool UK
“After the birth of my son last Thursday I was over the moon…but something kept telling me something was wrong and after the experience I went through I will never doubt my intuition! Three days after birth I knew something was wrong when I had been experiencing severe edema, painful headaches that wouldn’t go away, and sky high blood pressure. I decided to go to the emergency room and the doctors then told me I had developed postpartum preeclampsia. I was immediately admitted, I was at high risk for seizures, a stroke and even the possibility of going into a coma. After four very long, emotional, rough days I am finally responding to medication that is maintaining and stabilizing my blood pressure. I am back home with my baby and my fiance and most importantly I am alive and well…If I didn’t rush to the emergency room when I did, the signs I was showing could have been fatal for me. I appreciate my life so much more.” — @Ox.vs
“My first birth, I was in labor barely an hour when I told my husband to call the midwife. I had to push before she even got there. She didn’t even check me, but when I said I had to push she called the backup and got set up and my daughter was born 20 minutes later. So glad I didn’t fall into the thought that first births take a long time, or else I would have been birthing unassisted. Very glad to have planned a homebirth from the get go! Though my midwife training would have come in handy!” — Meganne Odile Coyle
“My baby’s bilirubin levels were high. Day three of life, the pediatrician made the assumption I wasn’t producing enough milk. “The baby will eat it if it’s there,” he said, and told us we needed to supplement with formula. I asked for a pump and made them weigh him before and after a feeding as well as pumped after. I was producing more than enough and wouldn’t you know it, his chart was being read wrong and he had been back to normal levels on day 2. Still breastfeeding like a champ nine months later.” — Marji Taylor
“At 38 weeks 5 days pregnant with my first son, I woke up in the middle of the night and found myself bleeding. I called my midwife who immediately recommended that I go into L&D and she would meet us there. Upon arrival at L&D the attending doctor recommended an induction and suspected that I was likely experiencing placenta abruption (i also had a low lying placenta). My partner and I decided to wait on the induction and the hospital admitted me for observation and told us to let them know when we were ready to be induced. But somehow, I felt that my son wasn’t ready to come. The bleeding eventually subsided, and after 17 hours of being observed, after one doctor after another came in telling us we needed to be induced, and braving through judgemental looks and fending off their repeated push to have an induction; against doctor’s orders, we decided to check ourselves out and go home. A day later, I went into active labor. After 9 hours, in the safety and comfort of our small apartment, with my partner and midwife by my side, my son was born at home. It was the home birth that we had wanted. I listened to my body and my son. My partner stood by my side and although it was very scary to leave the hospital, it was the best decision we made that day.” – @Bbmee
“The nurses wanted to check my dilation when I arrived at the hospital. I told them not to bother—I wasn’t fully dilated yet but was in transition and it would be soon. I told them my second stage is always under 5 minutes. They didn’t believe me. When I felt a shift I told the doctor I was ready to push and baby was coming. She checked and said, “No, you’re only at an 8.” She stood up and walked to the sink, and I called to my husband (who always catches our babies and who was ready), “She’s coming, catch her! “I heard his calm voice reply “I’m here, I’ve got her.” And she was born into her father’s hands at that moment, with no assistance from others. Which was exactly as I had wished.” — Elisabeth
“After 26 hours of non-medicated labor with a baby who had his head turned sideways and was in no hurry to come out, I decided to transfer from the birth center to the hospital to get an epidural. I knew that even if I did dilate all the way, I wouldn’t have enough energy to push my baby out on my own. After the epidural, I was able to get a few hours of sleep and when I woke up I was fully dilated and ready to push! I truly believe I was able to have a vaginal birth because of the sleep I got after the epidural! I am happy that I listened to my body and I have no regrets! My birth was hard, but that is what it was. My birth.” — Kristi Merideth
“I was on hour 6 or 7 of my twelve hour homebirth when I began to hyperventilate. I was in the birth tub facing away from everyone, so I don’t think they knew I was starting to lose it. I hadn’t dilated much at that point; how little, I don’t know. But I sensed the air of concern. I didn’t want to go to the hospital. That was my greatest fear. I began going down the “what if” spiral of doom and lost control of my breathing. Just then my intuition kicked in and told me to look up and open my eyes. A birth affirmation my friend made me came into view. It said: Think strong. Feel strong. Be strong. I began saying that over and over in my mind, pushing away the fear. My breath calmed, my outlook improved. I could do this. I would do this. At the next check, I was fully dilated!” — Katie Bunten
“When you reach the end of what you should know, you will be at the beginning of what you should sense.” ― Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam
I took a class in college called “Mind Body Health.” It was fascinating. It was all about the immense power of the mind and how it actually influences our physical chemical processes. Our attitude and thoughts can determine how disease prone we are, our life expectancy, our moods, our relationships, and even career success.
The Power of Meditation
The professor told a story of his friend who had a pretty aggressive cancer. The doctor wanted to do some drastic surgeries, but she was really against it. Her white blood cell count was really low, and she believed that she could increase her count by doing meditation. Her doctor gave her a few weeks and said if it wasn’t at a certain point, he would have no other choice but the surgery. She said she’d work on it. And then she really worked hard. She meditated for a few hours every day and envisioned in as much detail as possible white blood cells being produced and flowing through her body. She went back at the designated time, and her numbers had increased dramatically. It still wasn’t at a level the doctor was comfortable with, but he was pretty impressed at the progress. She asked for an extension, and he agreed. Again she worked really hard at meditating and producing more cells. Again, when she returned, her count had drastically improved. This happened one more time and she was able to avoid the surgery.
The mind truly is a powerful tool, and I believe an untapped resource to our emotional and physical well being. There’s been countless studies on the benefits of mindfulness meditation. It improves overall physical health, reduces stress, improves relationships, and on and on. Expecting mothers who meditate have less stress, less discomfort in pregnancy, and even shorter labors!
Mindfulness as Daily Self Care
As a mother, I have found mindfulness practices to be invaluable. I was first introduced to the power of meditation when I decided to study hypnobabies with my 3rd pregnancy. I practiced every day for about 45 minutes. Positive affirmations like “I am strong, and I listen to my powerful body” started to become the common thoughts floating around my head. I started to really believe that I could have the birth I was envisioning, even down to how far dilated I would be when I arrived at the hospital. When I delivered my baby almost exactly as I had pictured it all those weeks, I knew there was something to this meditation thing.
Meditation In Hard Times
I was re-introduced to meditation and mindfulness through therapy as I was experiencing some major hiccups in my family relationships. Again, this simple practice produced amazing results. I found myself more confident, filled with peace, filled with love and energy, even amidst emotional pain I was living with. My therapist told me that repetitive behaviors create routes in your brain and your brain will want to take the easiest route to get a signal where it needs to go. So if I normally cope with stress by Netflix and ice cream binging (anyone?!), then in the future when I feel stressed, I will have strong cravings to open that freezer. If we can replace a negative reaction (yelling at the kids) with a positive one (doing a meditation) that route will start to become easier for our brain and we will crave THOSE behaviors more. Interesting, right?
I have continued this practice and try to meditate several times a week. Just today after a rough morning with the kids (barking orders, drill-sergeant style, and constant threats until they were out the door—please tell me you have mornings like this!), I could feel the stress and tension inside my body. My heart was pounding, my shoulders were tight and high, my eyebrows were scowled, and my breathing was shallow. Instead of succumbing to this being a horrible day, I decided to do a quick stress reduction meditation. I got my preschooler set up with some toys and laid down with my phone and earbuds and did a 10 minute session. It completely worked. Deep breathing, focusing on the sensation of my breath, feeling every part of my body, being present in the moment, imagining all the negative energy flowing out of me…it all worked. The mood was just gone. I was able to get up and play with my daughter and start getting stuff done.
Mamas everywhere can greatly benefit from this powerful practice!
Here’s a few resources to help get you started:
- Expectful—An app for pregnant mamas, and non-pregnant mamas as a way to connect with yourself and your babies. Free trial available.
- Headspace—mindfulness that moves you through training stages. They also have categories for a variety of situations: pregnancy, stress, sleep, work, etc. As little as 10 minutes a day. Plus the leader has a lovely British accent so it’s fun to listen to.
- Hypnobabies—I highly recommend this if you’re thinking about a natural unmedicated birth. Many women have very positive empowering experiences birthing their babies. At the very least, it’s a wonderful meditative practice that completely soothes body and mind and connects you to baby.
There you have it. The answer to a more peaceful you! Can I still pound a pint of Ben & Jerry’s while I watch 4 hours of Gilmore Girls? YES! And sometimes I really enjoy it. But I’ve added in some other things too and the balance is coming! Hang in there mamas. Happy meditating!
This post is written by Austyn Smith.
Life with young children is a paradox.
Viewed from the outside, nothing is getting done. But the reality is that so much is happening, between mother and child as well as within the family. The exhaustion mothers feel isn’t just the result of sleep deprivation or stress—we are working in the most primal and beautiful sense of the word.
Settling Into Your Role as a Mom
And yet in the moment, even as you are giving everything of yourself to the baby who is your everything it can feel like you’re stagnating. The 200th diaper change feels no different than the first. Breastfeeding sessions blur into each other. And that cliched question is always there: “What does she do all day?”
The real, honest answer is that the day-to-day grind is this rollercoaster of beautiful highs and confusing lows. Becoming a mother is a capital-B big deal. Your body changes. Your mind changes. Your outlook changes. Your relationships change. Have a baby, and suddenly everything you’ve ever known may be called into question. You’re so in love with this tiny human who can’t give you anything but has given you everything.
The truth of it is that motherhood is something you can’t really know until you’re there living it. It’s a joy and a privilege and awe inspiring, but it can also be filled with guilt and boredom and self-doubt and even fear. Because of the contradictions people around you can sympathize but not empathize, wishing you the best but not understanding a whit of what you’re going through.
Find Comfort in a Support System of Other Moms
Having a support system made up of other mothers is key. Popular culture has created this fairy tale where having mom friends is about raucous wine nights and cutting loose but that depiction ignores something fundamental about friendships between moms. Motherhood is hard, and the only ones who know just how hard are mothers themselves.
Every family’s story is unique but the bond we all have with our babies makes it easy to find common ground in a community of mothers. It turns out the Mommy Wars were fought and won years ago, and the fight didn’t pit mom against mom but rather mothers as a whole against the isolation that has too often been a part of the motherhood experience. Mom friends, as a concept, made headlines not because it was trendy but because it was needed.
After all, there’s something both powerful and empowering about knowing that someone a block or a text or an email away has sat next to an isolette in a NICU or rocked a colicky baby at 3am or agonized about whether and how to vaccinate. Knowing that they, too, have wondered over and over again, “Am I a good enough mother?” and will continue to ask that question for a lifetime.
It Really Does Take a Village
None of us has all the answers and we may disagree on some of the most basic fundamentals of parenting but that doesn’t mean we don’t need one another. We need one another badly, especially in those lonely early days of caring for a newborn when every single day feels endless and then again when our children begin to pull away from us to begin the process of evolving into who they’re someday going to be.
When you surround yourself with a network of mothers who accept you for the mom you are, motherhood may not get easier—but it will get better. A network of supportive mom friends will laugh with you and more importantly cry with you even when the rest of the world feels like they just don’t get it. Mom friends believe you when you say, “This is bad,” and then cheer you on while you work toward the good. They will be the people who will be there for you at your worst and never stop seeing the best of you.
Someone Who’s Been There
Mom friends do all of that not just because they love you but because they have been there, too. That’s the true value of mom friends whether you’re living a life of diapers and nipple cream or trying to power through what feels like a rerun of the toddler years with your teens. As much as your partner cares about you, they’re never going to grasp the heights of joy or depths of pain that our children can inspire in us as moms simply by being.
When to Make Mom Friends
As to when the best time to build that network is, the logical answer is before you need it but the honest answer is whenever you need it. Some mothers are lucky enough to find and connect with a circle of supportive moms while pregnant but that’s not at all typical. Unfortunately most of us don’t realize how important mom friends are until we’re in the thick of motherhood, surprised at how tough it really is.
And it is tough. But never forget that we’re all in this together.
This guest post was written by Christa Terry. Christa is one of the founders of HelloMamas.com, an app for iOS and Android that helps local moms meet, communications director of Graham’s Foundation, and mom to two small but incredibly loud humans. Courtesy of Hello Mamas cofounder Meg Gerritson.
Note: My body looks nothing like these models and I actually tried to get some real-life pictures for you but failed miserably! You’ll just have to trust that these undies look amazing on me and my post-baby pooch!
After giving birth, for most women their tummies just aren’t the same as they were pre-baby. Even when (if!) you lose all the pregnancy weight, you are often left with what I fondly call my postpartum pooch. Due to this pooch, I’ve become a diehard fan of high waisted pants that hold everything in and don’t cut into my belly. Lucky for me, high waisted pants are in style! If you’re curious, my favorites are these jeans and these leggings.
Once I started wearing high waisted bottoms every day I realized just how annoying it was to have a low rise bikini panty and began my search for high waisted underwear that don’t look like granny panties. When I told one of my close friends that I would send her a list of my favorites she said that compiling a list would be a public service to moms everywhere and that I should share it with the world, so here we go!
Most Flattering – Knock Out
The Knock Out brand is my absolute favorite and my latest discovery. They offer high waisted underwear that feel supportive without looking like granny panties AND without squeezing you so hard you have diarrhea (side eye at girdles and some types of Spanx).
Most Support: My favorites are these high waisted bikinis which come in black or nude. I recommend sizing up one for reference I wear a medium in Hanky Panky and a size 10-12 dress and order a Large in these. They also come in plus size.
Thongs: They also offer this style in a comfy and supportive (HIGH WAISTED!!) thong if that’s your thing. I have one nude and one black thong for the rare outfit that looks better without a VPL (visible panty line).
Light Support: They also offer a high waisted option with a little less support—just thin stretchy lace on the top instead of multiple layers of fabric. These are insanely comfortable but I did put a hole in the lace with my thumb pulling them up so just be careful there! They come in a lot of colors if you’re the type that likes variety in your underwear drawer! They also come in plus size up to 3X.
Most Comfortable – Hanky Panky
Hanky Panky is known for their skimpy one size fits all thongs but they’ve actually expanded their line quite a bit and have some lovely high waisted options worth trying out. While they aren’t quite as high waisted as the Knock Out brand, they cover the parts that matter if you know what I mean. I like them because they are super stretchy, look sexy on and off (as in they don’t look like huge granny panties when they come out of the wash) and they come in tons of gorgeous colors and patterns.
Bikini: My go-to from Hanky Panky is the Retro line specifically the Retro V-kini. It’s super comfy, doesn’t squeeze you and make love handles and doesn’t roll down. It also comes in plus size up to size 24! I’m in love with the leopard print because why the hell not!?
Thong: I also have the Retro thong for those rare occasions when I need a thong. They are actually crazy comfortable (as far as thongs go) and offer the coverage you want with a post-baby pooch. They also come in plus size. I’ve been lusting after this rose pattern!
Most Feels Like You’re Going Commando – Spanx
My days of squeezing into Spanx are long gone but they do have a newer line of underwear that’s less supportwear and more just supportive. It’s called the Spanx UndieTectable line. My favorite style is this one and it comes in a handful of different colors. The only caveat here is that the sizing is way off in my opinion. I typically wear a medium in underwear and I wear an XL in these to keep them from squeezing me into a muffin top. Luckily Amazon has free returns so you can try a couple sizes if you want. They also make a plus size option in tons of fun colors.
For That Time of the Month – Period Panties
I finally invested in some period panties from Thinx (this link will get you $10 off!) this year and love the hi-waisted option. When I bought mine the side panels were made of lace and they’ve since changed the style to be mesh but I’m assuming the fit is the same.
I ordered mediums and they fit but I wish I’d gotten large because there’s a tiny bit of muffin top with the mediums. They also go up to size 3XL.
I’m totally a period panties loyalist now (also a menstrual cup loyalist!)—it’s so nice to not have to worry about a leaking tampon overnight (or during the day) and I especially love them for the last day or so of my period when I’m really just barely spotting and don’t want to deal with panty liners. I could see them being really helpful for pregnancy as well when you’re producing so much extra cervical fluid.
* This post contains affiliate links and if you click a link I will receive a few cents at no cost to you. As always all opinions are my own and I have personally tried all of the products mentioned and use them daily!
Upon becoming a mother, I really worried about being a good one. I wanted to fill my child’s life with happiness and comfort, to teach him, feed him, love him, and float from one blissful moment to the next. I’d read a lot books, talked to friends, babysat, and I felt ready. I naively thought the best way to achieve these high expectations was to give everything I had to serving the baby. Isn’t this how “good” mothers do it? After months and months of striving for these unrealistic expectations, I hit rock bottom. One day I found myself in a blubbering mess while on the phone with my boss (poor guy). I couldn’t stop crying. I felt like my soul had been sucked out of me and a hollow robot shell was left going through the motions. Worst of all I was filled with resentment toward my baby and husband, like this was somehow their fault. I knew something was wrong but had no idea how to fix it. The only reasonable explanation I could come to is that I wasn’t cut out to be a mother, and I wish I’d known beforehand.
Valuing Self Care as a Mother
It took several more years of life experience to learn the invaluable lesson and secret to enjoying motherhood and life—The value of self care. In order for me to become the best version of myself I needed to invest time in, and practice loving myself.
I received quick validation as I first started trying this out. I had an obligation fall through one morning and found myself with 2 hours of unexpected free time. I initially started running through my to-do list in my mind and then remembered I was going to start trying more self-care. It was a beautiful sunny day (sometimes a rare occasion in Portland, OR) so I called my good friend to see if she wanted to join me in a walk. She did. We walked and talked and connected on so many levels. I came home completely energized, and felt so good that I wanted to do something for someone else. I thought of my friend *Jenni who just had major surgery and I decided to make her dinner. I surprised her later on and she was so grateful. I was full to the brim. I learned that self-care does not breed selfishness (as I had feared), but rather it breeds a greater capacity to love.
The airline safety advice to secure your own oxygen masks before helping children is a good analogy. If you you pass out while helping your child, due to lack of oxygen, you are no good to anyone. The same goes for motherhood and self-care. You can’t give from an empty bucket; and if you are trying to, what you are giving out is low quality and pretty useless. This is a great children’s book about filling your and other’s buckets.
I adopted this new affirmation from Melody Beattie. “I am a gift to myself and the universe. Nurturing self-care delivers that gift in its highest form.”
So, how can a mother invest in herself and still be a useful, productive woman, wife, and mother? I have a few suggestions.
Things to keep in mind when first starting out
Drop the guilt
Guilt serves one purpose, to alert us when we’ve done something wrong so that we can make restitution. That’s it. It is not helpful to let it creep in where it doesn’t belong and tell us lies about not being enough, or that we are selfish for leaving the children to do something for ourselves. Dismiss the guilt and stick to your guns. Write down some positive statements and read through them at the beginning of your time. Like these:
- When I take care of my needs first, I am a better mother.
- If I fill my bucket, I will be refreshed and ready to face my responsibilities with more energy and joy.
- I am teaching my children that my needs are important. When they are parents they will understand that investing in themselves is worthwhile.
Start with some ground rules
Boundaries are your friend. Set some for the children and for yourself. These are the rules I follow.
- No bothering mom allowed. If my kids disturb me during my “quiet time” they get to lay in their beds for the remainder of the time. More on how to occupy children during Mom’s Time later.
- Set daily and weekly appointments with myself and treat them as such. If I receive an invitation or am asked a favor that overlaps my scheduled time, the answer is usually no. I have an unbreakable appointment…with myself!
- No to-do lists allowed. No running errands. I am only allowed to do things that rejuvenate my soul. I keep a list of ideas handy (more on that later).
- No “vegging out” on social media. Not only is it a time trap, but comparison to social media “perfection” can be a quick recipe for depression. Right now, I need something to recharge me.
Learn to say no
We all love to be “team players,” help out friends, and volunteer ourselves. These are all good things, but they have to be done in balance. I think of the balance as a pendulum. On one side is service to others, and on the other side is selfishness. It can take a lot of practice to understand what it feels like for the pendulum to rest in the middle; a nice balance of meeting my needs and helping when it would fill my bucket to help. I remember the mantra “Just because I can, doesn’t mean that I have to.” I also like to Brene Brown’s philosophy to “choose discomfort over resentment.” It can be uncomfortable to say no to making 60 cupcakes for the PTA fundraiser that’s tomorrow, but if you will be aggressively whipping that batter with resentment, it’s better to decline.
Ask for help
This can be very hard for someone who is used to being a “people pleaser.” Guilt may creep in, but remember the purpose of guilt? To remind us when we’ve done something WRONG! Asking help of people is not wrong. In fact, accepting help provides an opportunity for others to show their love for you. Let one of your friends drive a carpool, or come and fold your laundry when you are sick. Let them love you and your children.
How to logistically make time for self care
Make a plan
Childcare: If you have young children at home, it can be tricky to get some time, but can also be the phase with the most urgent need for self care. You might need to get creative. Here’s some suggestions:
- Set up a babysitting co-op with some friends. Sit down together and assign a few days a month for each of you where you will watch everyone else’s children for a few hours at a time.
- See if your community or rec center offers babysitting. Some will give up to a few hours at a time for a small fee. Remember, no errand running allowed!
- Take advantage of gym time. Many gyms offer a few hours of childcare at a time while you exercise. Use the extra hour after you are done working out to sit in the hot tub or sauna, take a long leisurely bath, do a mediation, or even just sit in the lobby with a magazine or book.
- Swap with your partner. Choose one night a week that you have “off.” Hand off all responsibilities to your husband, while you go have some fun for a few hours. He gets another night for himself. This has worked great for my husband and me. I sometimes choose Saturday morning instead of an evening (because I’m usually exhausted by 4pm). That’s awesome too!
- For some daily peace, instigate quiet time. I have been doing this for years. Right after lunch, the kids know they go up to their rooms for an hour. I usually pull out some activities that are reserved only for quiet time, so it’s exciting for them (books, puzzles, building toys—things that occupy their minds), and they have to play quietly.
They know they have to stay inside their room and I come to get them when their time is up. I get an hour to myself to take a quick nap, read, meditate, connect spiritually, or work on a hobby or project. It’s the perfect break I need to recharge and then I’m ready to see my kiddos and tackle the afternoon. This can also be particularly helpful when you have a new baby. You can even do it a few times a day in smaller doses.
Give yourself an allowance
It makes quite a difference to have money set aside that is just for you. Add it into the budget. Buying something nice for yourself is an act of love, and it makes you feel really good. It is much easier to say “yes” to fun activities, lunch dates, or nights out with friends when you have some money set aside for that exact purpose.
Get to know yourself
- Make a list of things that bring you joy. If you are not used to having this time to yourself, you may find yourself wandering around wondering what in the world to do with your time. Take some time beforehand to write down a list of things and activities you love to do. You might have to think back to before motherhood!
- Think about your personality and your needs. Are you energized by being with people (extroverted) or does that drain you (introverted)? What phase of life are you in? What do you want and need the most right now? Some good girl talk? A massage? To sleep for 3 hours? A combination?
List of ideas for Self-Care
- Gather a support group of friends that can have “real talk,” and get together regularly. I credit this one thing for my emotional health the past several years, and those girls are my most prized gifts. Our get togethers are safe places where there is love and acceptance, healing and support.
- Keep it well rounded. Make a list of physical activities you enjoy, things that uplift you spiritually, and things that are healing emotionally.
- See a therapist regularly. Even if it’s once a quarter. My college psych 101 teacher stated, “Even the healthiest person will benefit from seeing a therapist.”
- Meditate. Listen to guided meditations, long or short. Light a candle. Do it while some tea is steeping. Indoors or outdoors. Meditation classes can also be fun. Keep a list of affirmations handy. Statements about you as a woman, a person, a mother.
- Yoga. It doesn’t have to be a physically challenging class (unless that’s what you want!) to be effective. Even some gentle yoga stretches or poses can rejuvenate your body and soul.
- Listen to an uplifting podcast, book on tape, or music.
- Take walks in different environments. Get to know your city. Find a peaceful garden, a country road, or a neighborhood with stunning houses.
- Schedule regular massages.
- Take a bubble bath. Add some bath salts or essential oils, light some candles, play some music, read a book. Really use your senses as you soak.
- Sleep. Make your nap really restful with cozy blankets, temperature, clothes, lighting, and quiet. You’ll awake completely refreshed.
- Create something. Draw, paint, sew, decorate, write. A friend once said she tries to do one thing everyday that cannot be undone (by the kids!). It makes her feel like she accomplished something.
- Discover a new hobby. Take a class, go to a craft store, take up a new sport, make some plans.
- Do things that enliven your senses. Light aromatic candles, use essential oils, discover new music/soothing sounds, gaze at beautiful or interesting art, snuggle with fluffy blankets or buy a new sweater. Taste new flavors at a restaurant, sample new drinks—seasonal flavors are fun.
- Write. Start a self care journal. Record your recent thoughts, dreams, and ideas. Include things you are grateful for.
- Ask yourself, “What do I need to do to take care of myself today, or for this moment?” Truly listen to yourself, and trust the answer that comes.
Learning to love and care for yourself leads to the best version of you. It’s a very worthy and worthwhile investment. Best of all, you’ll find an increased capacity and love for your family and others.