It took me ages to sit down and write this – sick toddler, work, etc. all keeping me away from writing.Then, the news of the death of a person I loved dearly – seems like a the perfect time to talk about being a mom and self care.
I wonder if anyone else has had the experience of continuing on, business as usual during pregnancy. As I look back, I realize I’d tried to keep up my regular pace, and sometimes grew frustrated that I couldn’t – I wanted to go out, make new friends, and explore my new home, but instead I was usually struggling to stay awake past 7pm. I wanted desperately to continue high-intensity exercise, but that just wasn’t what my body needed (and it’s apparently not a thing for pregnant ladies here). I was very quickly told that “vous devez faire du vélo statique pendant la grossesse, rien d’autre”, even though at the time I’d been used to training hard. For some reason, I was extremely offended that they would think I should sit on a stationary bike for 9 months! I made the mistake of not only ignoring what I needed, but also becoming resentful with myself and my body for not doing things the way I wanted. I had always seen myself as the kind of woman who exercised throughout pregnancy, who felt energetic and gained only the right amount of weight (and lost it almost immediately once the baby was out). A classic case of control issues, and they certainly caught up with me. The disappointment I felt for not “being able” to make things go the way I wanted them to essentially led to my giving up – I stopped eating well, I stopped even trying to exercise or move much, and with a tiny, new and helpless baby boy (now toddler), I really placed myself on the backburner. Everything became about taking care of him, entertaining him, and making sure that he socialized enough with other babies.
The days as a SAHM were long, and almost entirely baby-centred. I enjoyed that time immensely, but I think full-time mommying is the most intense jobs I have ever done. I wish I had a stronger word than exhausted. In French I like the sound of crevée, but the best way that I can describe it is to say I was a basically a lady shell on autopilot. I’d be up four to five times a night and had been for nearly two years straight. I’d put on my make-up every morning to hide the dark circles, and then I’d smile the smiles, attend the playgroups, listen to too many moms complain about how terrible things were, then come home, make sure everyone was well cared for, that the everything was super clean, and then go to bed (sort of – because sleep wasn’t ever for more than a few hours at a time). One day as I put on my make-up, I simply didn’t have it in me to cover it all up. The little flame inside was nearly burnt out, and I was frightened into change.
Some years later, and as a veteran mom of a nearly three year old (lol!), I’ve picked up a few tips – namely that as busy as life gets, I have to have some rituals in place (and strong boundaries surrounding them) to ensure that I’m well cared for. This will mean different things to different people, but I think part of the journey of becoming a mother is learning to honour yourself and to set boundaries. I have now come to understand how closely my personal well-being is linked to that of my baby and my family. I’m also better at everything if I’ve reserved some time to care for myself.
Here are the top 5 things I do frequently :
- Dors. All people are different (this goes for babies too) and since my son arrived, he hasn’t been un dormeur, or much of a sleeper. He wakes multiple times each night, sometimes just to be reassured that we are still around, sometimes because of a nightmare, and the absolute worst (and the one I know will be the funniest when he is all grown up!) is to read a book aloud to himself at 4AM. In our bite-sized Parisian apartment, nobody is getting any sleep when the little man is awake in the middle of the night, even if he is just singing “Ah les crocodiles” quietly to himself. I don’t need to get into the reasons why sleep is important but for me, making this an absolute priority has been key. In the early days, I used to drag my body around trying to make sure everything was perfectly clean, to try to get some leisure activities in, but these days, my motto is “va te coucher!” – go to bed.
- Respire. All the yogis have been saying this for ages, but I resisted in favour of flipping tires and sprinting. I think I was breathing then, but I see it a bit differently now. I take time each day, even if I only have five minutes, to sit in stillness and bring my awareness to my breath and breathing, ensuring that I am actually taking deep belly breaths. It’s not only a moment where I can let go (which I am very bad at – just ask my kiné, who used the word “beton” or concrete in reference to my tense muscles), but a moment in my day where it isn’t about doing or being anything at all to anyone. Just me, just the present moment, just peace. It reminds me that I have the ability to cultivate this anywhere I go, for myself. How’s that for an act of self love? #lifegoals to be able to do this on the busy metro.
- Bouge. This has been the trickiest of them all. After my c-section, I had terrible back and hip pain, and in fact am still working through it. l’m a former dancer, and so not being able to move freely and with grace did a number on me, not to mention that with c-sections they basically cut you open and then release you back into the wild to carry your stroller up the metro stairs. In France it’s better than North America, with the rééducation abdominale, but still. Ten sessions of sucking my belly into my spine for 30 minutes twice a week didn’t really cut it. I figured out eventually that the only way to begin feeling strong again is to move. I mean, your body responds to what you do most of the time, so I figured that if I wanted to be strong, I should probably avoid being a milking sloth and just move around. It’s been a long and very slow road. Years later, I still see my kiné once a week and my osteo every six weeks.
- Mange. While breastfeeding, I discovered that I really like white bread and butter, cashews, lightly salted potato chips, and basically all things that are not paleo or particularly good for you in large quantities. I especially enjoy these things when I haven’t slept well, or am feeling undernourished in other areas. I think it’s important though, to resist the urge to dump n’importe quoi into your face, and to choose healthy, nourishing and colourful foods. I do this for the most part, albeit a lot less strictly than when I was living in Toronto. If there is one thing I’ve learned living in France, it’s that dessert is part of any good meal.
- Joue. With giant lists of things to do, I got lost in a cycle of doing all of the things and taking on all of the responsibility. Carrying around that mental load and burning out a little taught me that sometimes you have to pretend that everything is done, act like everything on the list is checked off, and to go have some fun! For me this ideally involves travelling and seeing something wonderful, preferably while sipping champagne in the sun – or it can just be lunch with a friend and good stories to share. The point is to always stay in touch with the things that bring you joy, because they’re like vegetables for the soul.
Speaking of soul vegetables, check out the French for Mommy Instagram account for some of my self-care favorites, en français. Hopefully it will give you the confidence to go out and try some things.
What do you do in and around Paris to make you feel good?