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“I don’t have time to get sick,” I said to my husband recently as I valiantly ignored the onset of a cold. All my kids had been sick and I was elbow deep in tissues and snot. And yet I soldiered on, because that’s what you do, right?
“Go to the doctor,” he urged as the cold strengthened its grip on me. “No time,” I responded, listing the catalogue of commitments for that day. I had to feed my baby about eight times, squeeze in a quick pump, drop one kid at kinder, take baby to health check, race back to kinder for kinder duty, put on several loads of washing, pick up kids from school, take girls to ballet, come home to prepare dinner, pick up kids from ballet, feed the kids, juggle the bath/books/bed routine, and then squeeze in a couple of hours work on my computer. Sound familiar?
Later that night, when I had ticked most things off my list, I collapsed on the couch. I felt terrible, and I knew I was suffering from more than the common cold. The unrelenting pain behind my eyes and thick congestion made me suspect only one thing: sinusitis.
The following day the doctor confirmed my sinus infection. If you’ve ever had sinusitis you’ll know it’s a sinister, merciless virus and it knocks you off your feet. Literally.
I left the doctor’s armed with a prescription for antibiotics and a strict order to go to bed. The doctor told me that if I didn’t beat the infection, it could possibly require surgery to clear my sinuses.
So, I followed doctor’s orders. My hubby took a couple of days off work and my local community rallied around me to help with dropping kids to and from school and kinder. How good is the village when you need it? I don’t typically do “rest” very well, but this infection didn’t request rest, it demanded it.
Why mums need to prioritise self-care
Being holed up in bed for a few days was fairly miserable, but it did have an upside (aside from guilt-free Party of Five reruns and binging on Big Little Lies). Not only did it provide relief from kid wrangling, it enabled me some time for self-reflection. I considered everything that I’d been through the past six months.
I had given birth, which is a pretty major physical feat. But had I really given myself time to recover from birth? Like most mums of new babies, all my energy was being devoted to the baby. And she was draining every ounce I had. Her feeding issues and reflux meant we spent the first few months of her life attending medical appointments. Her round-the-clock crying meant I was more tired and worn out that I have ever been in my life.
In six months, I had not stopped. At all. And now I was being made to. I reaslied that I had not been giving myself the same care and attention that I was giving my daughters. I was “battling” on like all good mothers – ignoring my own needs and prioritising theirs, as that’s a mother’s job, right?
It wasn’t only my physical health that was suffering. I felt my mental health had taken a bit of a battering, too. If you’ve ever struggled with breastfeeding (we had breast refusal, tongue ties and reflux making it an almost impossible battle) you’ll know how emotionally draining it can be. Add to this the needs of my other three kids, and I was pretty wiped out.
So by the end of my sinusitis hiatus I made a commitment to myself to start ensuring my physical and emotional needs are met. I am now seeing a remedial massage therapist monthly to ease the tension of a tight breastfeeding neck, and an osteopath to help with the hip pain caused by carrying a baby who was unsettled for the first six months of her life.
For my mental health, I am prioritising “pauses” during the day, and dedicating time each week to ensure I recharge my batteries. On weekends I enjoy going for walks (solo), which is a much for my mental benefit as it is for my physical health. I am also resisting pressure to “do it all”. Because a healthy mum pays dividends for the whole family.
The First Thousand Days of a baby’s life are crucial to the health and development of the child, and the health outcomes for the family. During this period, it is vital that parents look after themselves. This is Time That Counts. And I am making sure I look after myself to enjoy and embrace this special time.
If you’re a new mum, remember to look after yourself. Self-care at a time of huge emotional and physical change is important. It can feel contrary to your instincts, because your baby’s needs are so great. But you have needs too. You don’t need to be last in line for all the love and attention.
How well do you do self-care? Do you find that you prioritise everyone else in the family first?
*This post is the first in a three-part series brought to you by Bupa and their First Thousand Days initiative.