We all know how easy this was in our former lives. Just hop in! At any time! With no interruptions and for as long as you want! This is no longer the case. However, a shower can make a world of difference. It is actually one of the main action steps I encourage not only new moms, but also clients recovering from depression to take. Cleaning your body helps your mind. It has the capacity to wash away some of the sleep deprivation and frustration. And it has the added benefit of cleaning away stinky-ness having old milk, snot, and poo that your little one may have generously shared. For at least one moment, your body can be clean, and all your own.
Don’t stop reading yet! I know, if one more person tells you “sleep when the baby sleeps,” you are going to punch them. So I’m not going to tell you that. However, I want to encourage you to carve out in whatever way works for you and your family, a good chunk of sleep for yourself. There is a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. Sleep deprivation can cause difficulties in concentrating, irritability, problems with reading, speaking, and an increase in appetite. If the deprivation continues, disorientation, visual hallucinations, social withdrawal and/or challenges, memory lapses, and breaks in reality occur.[i] One of the main treatments for moms recovering from perinatal mood disorders (anxiety, depression, psychosis), along with therapy and medication, is sleep. And the sleep needs to be for prolonged period of uninterrupted time. (Disrupted sleep is as bad as no sleep – more on this
in upcoming sleep blog).
Here some ideas: hire a night doula, have your partner or grandma take over night feedings for one night, ask your partner to do the middle-of-the-night feeds, or do modified sleep training. Preserve and protect your sleep, however you can. Don’t succumb to the temptation for late night Facebook/Online shopping/Great-ideas-planning-your-new-business-vnture-as-a-mommypreneur. If these are still appealing when you are rested, you will know they are coming from a true need. Otherwise, it’s adrenaline-fueled exhaustion that would be better fed with restoring your sleep.
Did you know that vitamin D is one of the best antidepressant vitamins? Low vitamin D has been linked not only with postpartum depression for the mother[ii] but also increased risk of eating disorders in female offspring.[iii] Getting out of the house can be one of the best ways to bring new perspective to what can feel like drudgery of new motherhood. So pack up all your new accoutrements – diaper bag, pacifiers, bottles, snacks, diapers, etc.- and get out into the sun. It may just be to walk around the block. It may be an adventure like getting to the playground or the coffee shop. You may even coordinate this adventure with another new mom, which leads to the next tip…
It is a recent cultural phenomenon that moms are trying to care for their babies alone, at home, by themselves without a “village” of support. This used to be the extended family, or way, way back in human experience, the tribe. Humans thrive on attachment. Without it, we wither. There is no wrong way to have support as a new mom, other than to not have support as a new mom. Your support could be a mom’s group. It could be your partner. It could be your therapist. It could be YOUR mom. It could be your non-mom friend. It could be your friend who is also a mom. It could be your doula, lactation consultant, or mother-in-law. It could be all of these or some combination of these. But having none of these is a recipe for trying to be Supermom (who doesn’t exist, and lives in the isolated perfectionist imaginations of moms who have no support), which can to Postpartum Depression. I love this quote from Dr. Sue Johnson, the founder of emotionally focused therapy:
“Being the “best you can be” is really only possible when you are deeply connected to another. Splendid isolation is for planets, not people.”
If you are providing attachment to your new little one, YOU need to be strongly attached.
Trying to hold, provide food, and give emotional sustenance to your baby without support yourself is like being a tree without roots. You will fall over, you will wilt, you will not thrive. An then this will happen to your baby, too… It is not only okay, but also essential that you have support! Put on your oxygen masks first, Mama.
- Spiritual practice
Last but not least, having a mindfulness practice can be a helpful tool for tolerating the distress and practicing acceptance with all the learnings of new parenthood. This may be 5 minutes of meditation per day. Or it may be one bite of mindful eating during a lunch otherwise filled with Cheerios being thrown on the floor. It may be a yoga class or writing 1 page in your journal every day. You could practice deep breathing every time you hear your baby cry and your stomach tenses up with anxiety or discomfort. For new moms, it is important to Keep It Simple. Remember: the Buddha was NOT a parent when he became enlightened. Unlike him, you don’t have seven days to sit under a tree uninterrupted. You may have seven minutes. Take it. A good practice is to breath in the suffering of all new moms all around the earth and breathe out loving-kindness to all the new moms all around the earth. I used this practice when I was a new mom. It made me feel so much less alone at 3am.
You are not alone, Mama. Keep going. Keep practicing any and all of these self-care practices as much as you can for as long as it takes. You are NOT allowed to use this blog to beat up on yourself for what you are not doing. If you are doing that, stop now. Thousands of other moms are struggling right along with you, trying to sleep, shower, get support, see the sunshine, and do spiritual practice! Try, to the best of your ability one moment at a time, to find the kind mother inside yourself for yourself. This kindness is where the real strength of motherhood is: it is this place that is rooted and flexible, fierce and tender. It is the one that defends her right to practice her own self-care as a way to then be able to care for others. It is the mother putting her own oxygen mask on first. In the words of Sue Monk Kidd:
“You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside.”
You can do it mama. If you can’t find her, keep looking. You may need to grow your capacity to be a good mom to yourself along with learning to be a good one to your baby. That is okay. She is there, waiting for you to feed, nurture, forgive, and grow her. Oh, and shower her, too!
Linda Shanti McCabe is a Mom and Licensed Clinical Psychologist in San Francisco.As always, this blog is written to provide experience, inspiration, and hope – not to provide psychological treatment. If you are struggling with a perinatal mood disorder, a good resource is Postpartum Support International.
All original art images copyright Linda Shanti McCabe
[i] Bulkeley, Kelly, “Why Sleep Deprivation is Torture” Psychology Today, December 15, 2014.
[ii] Robinson et al. Low maternal serum vitamin D during pregnancy and the risk for postpartum depression symptoms, Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 2014.
[iii] Allen KL, Byrne SM, Kusel MM, Hart PH, Whitehouse AJ. Maternal vitamin D levels during pregnancy and offspring eating disorder risk in adolescence. International Journal of Eating Disorders. Jun 26, 2013.
I’m re-posting this as we are appraoching the halfway mark of the year. That means you have the opportunity to re-assess your vision collage or, if you didn’t make one, do it now!
Every year I make my own as well as facilitate a workshop on creating your very own vision collage (also called vision boards, treasure maps). People often ask me what is vision collage? A vision collage is just what it sounds like: a collage of your vision! When making this collage, you can be very specific with putting what you want 1-year-from-now, you can choose images that make you feel good/appeal to you without knowing why, or you can do both! You can also make sections of your collage for different areas of your life such as family, health, career, and spirituality. Another option, my most favorite, is just glue your images on the paper as you like and trust the process! There is no wrong way to make a vision collage.
How do I pick the right images?
Trust your gut and your right brain.
You do not need to know why something resonates for you or speaks to you. Listen to your gut. Many years ago I put an image of a bunny in a vision collage I was making. I did not know why this little bunny rabbit was wanting to be put in the collage, and my left brain wanted to cut it out amidst all of its other visions and goals for that year. But I trusted my gut and made a space for it. Later that year, as I was deepening work around forgiving and loving my father for not being there for me emotionally in some ways that I needed growing up, I remembered a small bunny rabbit he had brought home for me from a work trip he was on when I was a child. This was a cherished gift from my Dad that opened the window to the love that he did bring me, all the ways in which that love was truly enough, that my unconscious psyche had remembered and stored.
What about specific goals and intentions?
You can also use your vision collage to image specific intentions and goals. Be sure to surrender the timeline and the way these come to fruition.
It is ok, even fabulous, to have specific goals and intentions for the year ahead. A goal is a realistic, tangible and measurable outcome. An intention is a desire and a deep orienting of the self toward a direction. Both are important.
If you are like me, your left-brain is a bit obsessed with accomplishing goals. I had the goals completing the doctorate and getting licensed as a Psychologist on my vision collages for MANY years. Due to the obstacles internal and external as well as the nature of these goals, it took MUCH longer than 1 year to accomplish these. And it was important to keep setting the goals, again and again, for as long as it took. When I was pregnant and approaching my first year of motherhood, I had a sleeping baby displayed largely on my vision collage. This was an intention. This didn’t happen for either myself or my baby very frequently the first year. But it DID happen, and I took action steps again and again to orient toward that intention.
My critic has lots of derogatory opinions that block me.
Make a place for your critic and your obstacles AND do not let them run the show.
When I facilitate collage workshops, I invite people to pick an image of a chair (literally) and place it in an actual chair to make a space for their critic. The critic (that part of the self that is incessantly judging the self) will be there. It will have many opinions about how you/your collage/your goals and intentions are “not good enough, not able to be accomplished, not realistic.” When the critical voice gets louder, that part of the self is afraid of your growth. As Marianne Williamson so eloquently said, “it is not our darkness but our light that we are most afraid of.” It is important to acknowledge this voice without letting it be a dictator holding you back from who you really are and are becoming. Many years ago, in my first few years of eating disorder recovery, I vision-ed what it would be like to no longer have an eating disorder. I didn’t think it would be possible for me. I also thought that I needed my eating disorder to be a good artist. When I finally did Iet go of eating disorder behaviors, I completed my masters degree and held my first painting exhibition of all the paintings that had poured out of me once the eating disorder was no longer blocking my creativity. Listen to your fears, but do not let your critic or your obstacles run the show. Use their voices as information that you are on the right track and keep moving directly into them. If this part of the self doesn’t think it is possible to recover from an eating disorder (or whatever your obstacles are: addiction, debt, financial solvency, depression, relationship difficulties, loving your body the way it is), then go directly toward that fear! This part of the self needs to be directly confronted with opposite experience. As they say in 12 step program, FEAR= False Evidence Appearing Real and the solution is to Face Everything And Recover. Which leads me to
Isn’t it magical thinking to make a collaged vision and then expect these visions to happen in your life?
No. Let yourself dream big. And then, TAKE ACTION on it!
There is a famous quote attributed to Goethe, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” I like how the words dream and do are both here. Dream, and then DO. Obviously you have to take action to make your visions come true. But image-in-ing it is often the first step towards becoming bigger. What is most threatening, fearful and truly exciting to imagine yourself accomplishing, having, being? You have to imagine it is possible before you walk your way into it.
My first year of motherhood, I had presenting at an international conference for eating disorder professionals on my collage. I was desperate to not lose my professional identity as a new mother. I quickly wrote and submitted an abstract and got rejected. Though I felt devastated, I still needed to image this vision to begin to believe it possible to grow that big. The next year, I wrote another proposal. I looked up current research in that topic area, I gathered my own experience, I consulted with colleagues and I hired an editor in the submission process. This one got accepted.
But what if the vision of my life doesn’t look like my collage?
It’s not about the collage. Let the vision turn into the imperfectly beautiful surprise of your life.
For many years, I wanted to be in partnership with a loving, respectful, soul mate partner. I wanted to be married. Early on
in our dating, when my husband saw my massive vision collage on the wall of my home (with an attractive, respectful soul mate partner on it), he was a bit scared and taken aback. He shared “there is no way I can live up to that.” I told him, “that’s ok- me neither! We now are living (mostly) happily ever after in what Anne Lamott calls “the church of 80% good enough.”
What’s your vision? If you haven’t made your 2016 Vision Collage yet, now is the time!
Dr Linda will be facilitating a Vision Collage workshop in San Francisco on July 10, 2016, If interested in registering, email her at Linda@DrLindaShanti.com