Hey there friends! Welcome back to the show. This is the Live Free Creative Podcast. I’m your host Miranda Anderson.
Today is Episode No. 38. I’m super excited to share some ideas with you that I’ve had these last few weeks about motherhood, specifically about taking care of the mothers.
Perspectives on Mother’s Day
This week is Mother’s Day, and I know that it can be a complicated holiday for some. For some it feels like all flowers and chocolate and sunshine because your experience with your own mother was wonderful and your experience as a mother yourself–if you are one–has also been wonderful (with challenges here and there, like any normal life). For some of us, Mothers Day is a celebration of all that we hold dear and the role that we feel really divinely inspired to have and to do well.
But there are a lot of other perspectives on Mother’s Day. There are people who don’t have a good relationship with their own mother or who have a complicated relationship surrounding having children, wanting them or not wanting them. Maybe some of you are mothers and you don’t like it very much or maybe you are having a really hard time with it. Maybe you don’t feel like you’re the type of mother that you wanted to be or aren’t living up to your own expectations or maybe someone else’s expectations for what motherhood is supposed to look like in your life.
Mothers Taking Care of Mothers
I had an episode planned for this week about magical motherhood moments, and I was excited to share some of the beautiful pieces of motherhood and a perspective on that. Then, a couple of weeks ago due to some of my own personal experience that I will share a little bit later in this episode, I realized that I wanted to share a different type of episode for Mother’s Day. I wanted to talk more about mothering the mothers, about taking care of motherhood and the women, all of that.
All of us, all women, have a role to play in motherhood in one way or another. I believe that motherhood is a really wide-reaching word. It is an umbrella term that encompasses all of the nurturing, and loving, and teaching, and guiding, and taking care of, and thinking of, and, yearning for and struggling with, that surrounds the building of relationships within our families and our communities. I think that we’re all connected and motherhood is one of the ties that binds us as humanity.
A Mini-Series on Mothering
I want to share some tips for how we can focus on that role in ourselves and in those around us. Mothering the mothers is going to be a series, a mini-series of three episodes.
This week is the first episode where I’m going to share about mothering the mothers physical health.
Next week I’m going to share about mothering the mother’s is mental health.
The third week I’m going to share about mothering your spiritual health.
I think that as we just take a moment, each of these weeks to think about motherhood from a fresh perspective, we might all gain some insight on:
(1) Caring for Ourselves
First, I share some thoughts on how we can better care for ourselves, mother ourselves as mothers. And I’m using that term really generously wide open whether you are a mother yet or a mother now or want to be a mother in the traditional sense of the word. We are all included in today’s episode and in this series about mothering the mothers.
(2) Caring for Each Other
Second, I share some thoughts on how we can open our eyes a little bit to those around us in need. My hope is that we can not only mother our own children but also ourselves, and that we can see the needs of others, whether that’s our friends and family, the neighbor down the street, the woman in front of you in the Carpool Lane, or the woman in the grocery store with her crying toddler. We can see their needs and we can feel more compassion and offer more love, extend more love, support, and encouragement to the mothers that we encounter in our daily lives.
So I’m going to dive into all of that after a quick segment so I can get you up to date on what is happening in our life lately.
An Absolute Circus
I was telling a friend this morning that I’m hesitant to even share what is happening in our life lately because it’s almost too absurd to even mention. It feels at this point like an absolute circus and a joke. And if you have been following long or listening to the podcast for any amount of time, you’ll know that our last six months have been kind of wild.
Moving Back In…Kind of
We had a giant flood in our house in November. We moved in and out and around and into Airbnb’s, one of which had a flood while we were staying there, and then we moved back into our unfinished house a couple of weeks ago. They’ve been finishing up the tile in the master bathroom, the trim, and some painting upstairs, so we moved into the main level. Dave and I are sleeping in Milo’s room on his queen bed, and all three kids in the other bedroom on their triple bunk bed.
Luckily, we still had that hanging around from when we were in our rental that only had two bedrooms, so we hadn’t completely moved back into the house yet. Our belongings were kind of stacked around. We’ve been trying to live in these two rooms with all of our stuff, so there’s no closet space upstairs available yet. Just imagine everything from your bedroom and take it all out and empty that room completely. Empty out your bathroom into your bedroom, too, and then kind of scatter everything throughout the rest of your house. That is the way that we’ve been living for the last two weeks.
It Happened Again?
Well, you will never believe what I’m about to tell you. Last night I was getting ready to sit down to record this podcast episode and I remembered a book that I had, that I wanted to share a quote from. And that book, I believed, was upstairs in our storage room in our attic because the storage room is where, when they moved us out of our house for a flood repair, they put a lot of our stuff from our bedroom. They kind of tucked it all in there.
So I thought I had seen a box in there with the books that I needed, and I went upstairs to look for them. I stepped through the small door into the room and I started shuffling around. But I accidentally knocked over Dave’s golf clubs and they fell straight down to the side, and they fell straight onto the exposed to water pipes for the master bathroom.
So if you imagine the bathroom is finished with drywall and just behind that wall is where the storage room is. It’s an unfinished attic space. There’s access through a little door in the closet, so back through the closet door, all of the pipes that come out of the bathroom are exposed because this is an unfinished room along the floor and then down, you know, to wherever they connect to all of the other pipes.
Like Beans Falling Out of a Bag
This house is old friends. It’s a 1948 house and the bathroom was added some time later, probably in the 80s we’re guessing. So the pipes are a little bit old. They’ve been fine. Well, until the last six months.
So I heard the golf clubs fall, and then I heard what sounded like beans falling out of a big bag. And I thought, “Gosh, we don’t have beans up here.” I couldn’t figure out, I mean this is a split second. And I turned around and I saw the golf clubs had landed on the water pipe and snapped one of them completely in half.
There was water shooting straight out. And I went–this is 1130 at night–I went running, screaming out of the attic, “Dave, turn off the water!” We luckily know exactly where the water shut-off is. We were able to go out–we had to use a pliers to turn it off–but within about five minutes had the water turned off to the whole house.
We’ve Been Through This Before
Within that five minutes, we once again had water coming through light fixtures in the dining room. This is the ceiling light fixture that was put up one week ago and there was water coming through. I had put a garbage bin beneath it and in the bedroom. The one bedroom that was unaffected by our flood in November now had water coming through the ceiling, through the light fixture, and forming beads along a crack in the ceiling. Now that’s the one room that does not have a new ceiling. It has an original plaster ceiling.
Needless to say, we know what to do when a flood happens. We were able to get the water shut off. I called a flood restoration team. They came out about a half hour later, started assessing the damage, and luckily the dining room ceiling seems like it’s going to be fine. It was dry everywhere except for right by the light fixture so they put a dryer on it. We’re going to see if we can save the ceiling and not even have to do anything. Just maybe drying it out will be enough.
In the other bedroom it’s going to be a little trickier. They drilled holes rather than immediately taking down the whole ceiling. They drilled holes through the plaster along where the humid line. We are hoping that if they could get a dehumidifier in there, and get the air mover in there, that they could dry out that ceiling as well, and not have to take down and replace the whole ceiling. We don’t know yet whether or not we’re going to save that ceiling. This just happened last night, so hopefully when they come back this afternoon they’re going to tell me things are looking good. We’ll just have to patch and paint.
This Isn’t Helpful
There was a moment in the middle of this water yelling at Dave to turn it off and looking around and just having flashbacks to six months ago and all that we’ve gone through to get back into our house and try to repair and restore it and still not being all the way settled in, still not being finished.
I felt myself kind of start to cry, like, you know, like breakdown almost like my tears were all coming and I was like giving into that and I know that it’s good to cry and it can be healthy to cry. And I started to do that and then like my body stopped. Like I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t. As I was having this moment of sort of total breakdown, my mind automatically said, “This isn’t helpful.” Like this is not helpful and it’s not gonna feel good to break down into cry about it like that there, there’s nothing that you can do.
And so my automatic reflex was to say, “Okay, what can I do? What can I control? What can I do to make things better right now ?” I don’t know if I did anything, but I know that sometimes there is just no sense to the things that are happening in life and our life lately really for like the last two years has not looked anything like I expected.
We’ve encountered one unexpected trial, obstacle, problem, whatever you want to call it, after another in the last few weeks. I feel like it’s been near constant that every couple of days something has happened that was unexpected, that felt hard and stressful. I am, if nothing else, gaining compassion for people who go through really hard things.
I feel like I’ve been simultaneously learning all of these great tools for managing my mind, for overcoming stress and overwhelm, for exercising gratitude, and for replacing all of the fear and anxiety that comes with problems and with not really clearly being able to see the immediate solutions–replacing that with hope and peace.
Now the universe is teaching me not only to learn them but to exercise these principles and to really to really put it into practice. I have been taking it slow and I’m going to talk more about this kind of stuff in the episode, but I’ve been utilizing the tools that I’m learning about, of mindfulness, of getting sleep, of eating properly, of taking care of myself, of taking a break of not piling on more to what already feels like too much.
We Can Make It Through
I am rambling now. If in case any of you are feeling like life has been a lot lately or you don’t know when the problems are going to stop, I want to tell you that I am right there with you and that we can make it through that. I don’t know how, but I do know that it’s all gonna work out. Things are all going to work out.
That has been a little bit of life lately. Now I’m going to end this update on a happy note because along with all the bad, there is so much good that’s happening in our lives. Even the small blessings of, you know, not having the ceiling immediately need to come down and knowing exactly where the water shutoff valve is because we’ve been through this before. All of those things have been really helpful. The silver linings within the problems themselves.
And Now For Some Good News!
But let me tell you about life lately. Something fantastic that has happened this week.
The finished manuscript of my book was approved and sent to the printer. That means it is out of my hands. Friends, I’m going to definitely share a podcast episode or two about the whole process, but for now I want to just celebrate with you. The book is done, it will be printed and shipped and available for preorder at the end of this month.
One of the perks of preorder for the book More Than Enough is that you will get an audio book file for free! So the audio book, I’m starting recording the audio book on Monday and Tuesday next week. And that audio book will be available on Amazon and Audible just like any other audio book. But if you preorder the hard copy of the book in the end of May when that’s available, then you will automatically get the audio book for free.
So for those of you who like listening, I know there’s a lot of you podcast listeners who have asked whether or not there will be an audio book. Yes, there will be. And if you order the hard copy, you will get the audio book for free. So it’s a two-fer, which is always fun. We like a two-fer.
The hard copy book will be really fun because not only does it have a reading portion and the narrative and the lessons that I share, but at the end of each chapter there’s also a workbook section. So you get to answer some questions and have some lists and things that will be really helpful to refer to as you are learning your way through my story.
Well, there it is friends. We have some bad and with it we have some great life lately.
Main Topic: Mothering Your Physical Health
Now let’s jump into this episode. I want to talk today about mothering the mothers. And I want to start by inviting you to remember yourself as a child, how you were looked after by your own mother, by your teachers, by maybe a friendly neighbor or a wonderful nanny. What did those people do for you? Everything, right?
They made sure that you were fed, that you were clothed, that you got enough sleep at night. You probably had a curfew when you were a teenager. You probably had a bedtime when you were a child. You were invited to go to school and to learn and to develop yourself and every step of the way there was someone looking out for you.
I can still hear some of the things that my mom would tell me about making sure that I was eating a vegetable or getting enough sleep so that I wouldn’t be cranky or grumpy. The next day, she made sure that I was bathed and made sure my hair was done and sometimes we do it in these really fun braids and put flowers in it. For me day, it’s one of my favorite memories.
When I was sick, my mom, who was a nurse would make sure that I had saltines and Gatorade or sprite and come check on me and take my temperature and make sure that I was getting the rest, that I needed to feel better. And when I was sick or injured with things that required medical attention, she made sure that I got to the doctor and that I was taking care of, that the follow ups were completed and that I was whole at the end of my treatment.
Learning to Take Care of Yourself
There’s usually some inbetween years when you’re kind of out of the direct care of your mother or that mother figure and you’re learning to take care of yourself. And some of us learned that better than others.
Some of us ate well when given the option. Some of us got enough sleep–I would venture not a lot of us though during some of those college years. And you just sorta start to figure it out, how to take care of yourself, meet your needs and you know, get to the doctor when you’re sick or impose a curfew on yourself when you were tired.
And then these women, us, you, me, we become mothers, some of us in a traditional sense where we actually have a child in our arms that we need to take care of, and for me it was at that moment that I became a mother to someone other than myself, that I needed to take care of this little person and then the next little person and then the next little person and put their needs all the time ahead of my own.
And what this looked like for a lot of my young motherhood was that I was super sleep deprived, that I never sat down to eat a meal, that I didn’t always know exactly what I wanted to be doing or how to take care of my own needs and the needs of my child.
This is a definite paradox. It’s an age old question, I’m sure. Although some cultures tend to have it a little bit more right than others.
I think in western culture, mothers are given their children and sent home and invited to figure it out. And if you’re chronically sleep deprived, then welcome to the club. If you haven’t eaten a real meal, you’ve eaten goldfish and leftover apple juice boxes, sips here and there before you toss them into the garbage can. Well, guess what? That’s life. And when your health is suffering because of some of the wounds incurred during the very act of becoming a mother, then you must have done something right because the rest of us are feeling the exact same way.
We Need To Be Mothered
Now, I don’t want to be a downer. What I want to do in this episode is to encourage. I want to encourage you and to remind you that you need to mother yourself, that if you are a mother traditionally or not traditionally or not yet, that you get to be responsible for loving and caring for yourself the way that you do for your children.
How do you mother your children? How did your mother mother you? Take all of that positive and remind yourself that you need mothering. All of us do. In today’s episode, I want to dive into a little more detail on three specific aspects of mothering ourselves. When it comes to physical health. One of them is going to be sleep, one of them is going to be food or eating and then taking care of our own injuries or illnesses. I’m going to share specifically about some of the wounds of childbirth that I realized just a few weeks ago that I am still needing help to recover from.
First Aspect: Sleep
So let’s start with sleep. Women, we need to sleep. I just read a fascinating article that was entitled, something like, “Why are we torturing the mothers?” And it went specifically into how sleep deprivation has been widely recognized as a form of torture. We’re talking about real torture, like torturing terrorist type of torture.
Keeping people awake night after night after night is not safe and it’s not healthy. Yet, so many of us accept this as part of what it means to have children.
I remember in nursing school, one of my professors told us that if you got less than eight hours of sleep at night, your judgment level the next day would be like someone with a blood alcohol level that would be convicted of a DUI. I don’t know the specifics of what that exactly percentage looks like, but one of the questions on her exams was “Did you get eight hours of sleep last night?” And it was a graded question. I mean I guess you could have been dishonest if you hadn’t, but she cared so much about us getting enough sleep so that we could operate on our fullest ability that she added it to her nursing school tests for points.
In the article that I referred to, that I will link in the show notes at livefreecreative.co/podcast, it talked about how chronic sleep deprivation means that you are up consistently not getting enough sleep consistently and not able to recover from your sleep debt. I love that term sleep debt.
I remember a study that I read years ago and I’m going to have to find it so that I can link it, that it talked about how you could recover from your sleep debt with just one to two good solid nights of sleep–even if you had been up, you know several times a night, several days in a row, you didn’t have to add up. (Like if I was up for five days in a row, then I need five solid nights of sleep to recover.) *correction* In digging for this article, I found I had misunderstood this point! In fact, you can not recover from chronic sleep loss in just one or two nights. The correct way to recover is by adding a couple hours of sleep every night until your body feels rested!
Advocating for Your Own Sleep
But women, who is going to advocate for you to get that sleep? That’s my question. Who is mothering the mothers? The answer most likely is that no one is, and so you have got to do it for yourself.
You have got to tell someone that you need help. If you have a young baby that still waking up to eat in the middle of the night, this may look like taking some extra work to have your partner pitch in and do some of the night feedings. Maybe that means learning to give the baby a bottle, maybe it looks like, rather than trying to get everything else done and bounce back to normal as soon as possible, once that baby’s born that you really take it seriously to sleep during the day and find someone to help with the laundry or hand that job over to your partner for the first couple of months except every single offer for help that people give you.
So often I’ve seen young mothers who say, I’ve got it all together. I’ve got it figured out. I can handle this, and yet they’re not sleeping and they’re not eating.
We have to advocate for ourselves. When someone offers help, say yes. If no one is offering, then ask.
Once your kids get a little bit older, if becomes a little bit easier to get a good night’s sleep. Yet I can still be guilty of not getting the sleep I need by choice because I am working on a project, or I get involved watching Netflix, or something else and I’m not protecting my sleep. I’m not mothering myself.
What would my mom say if I imagine myself right now as still being her daughter in the way that she was looking out for me as fully as she was when I was younger? She would invite me to go to sleep because she would tell me I need my sleep so that I can be fully aware, fully functional, and have all of the coping that I need, and all the patience and joy to embrace the next day and whatever it might bring.
How many of you find yourselves over tired? Not because the kids got you up all night, but because you simply didn’t go to bed. You have to mother yourself. This goes as much for people who have their own children in the home. As for people who don’t have children or who have, don’t have children living at home anymore. We are responsible for taking care of our own sleep and protecting it.
I Thought I Didn’t Need Much Sleep
I am learning to be better at this. I can’t tell you how many years I told myself that I was a person who didn’t need a lot of sleep.
I would go to bed at like three in the morning after putting the kids to sleep and then sewing or working on a blog project until the wee hours of the morning. And then I’d groggily climb into bed, go to sleep, and wake up at six to go running with my running group, and then get the kids ready for school, and start the day all over again. I felt like I was high functioning.
But then when something little things sometimes went wrong, I kind of felt like I couldn’t cope or I would be less patient than I wanted to be. Both with myself and with my kids and with other people. I wasn’t as creative because I felt exhausted. When we don’t get sleep, we don’t function properly.
Making It Practical
Now, I want to make this as practical as possible and I know that some of you have scenarios that feel hard to overcome, whether it’s young babies at home or kids that are still getting up in the middle of the night, or just worry or anxiety, or maybe you work a night job and you have a hard time putting yourself to bed during the day. I can’t address every single circumstance and I wouldn’t have all the right answers anyway because our lives are so different.
But what I want to invite you to do is to consider how you can advocate for yourself. How can you solve the sleep problem? How can you ensure that you are mothering your own sleep, that you’re taking care of yourself with the same love and tenderness that you do your own children?
I know that there are solutions and I know that you can figure it out if you need help for figuring out a babysitter or talking to your partner about sharing some of the load when it comes to sleep. He may say that he needs to be alert for work all night and that’s true, but you also need to be alert for taking care of those children and taking care of yourself. So maybe if you get up all week that you could sleep on Friday night and sleep in to your heart’s content on Saturday.
Maybe for a season that this means not doing all of the other things that you want to do so that you can sleep. Maybe not doing that project, not saying, “Yes” to that responsibility because sleep is valuable, it’s important and you need to be the one who makes sure that you’re getting enough.
Second Aspect: Eating
Okay, number two, let’s talk about eating.
You guys can see where this is going. It’s the same thing. I laughed thinking about even this morning, even as I have been considering this and pondering on it and getting ready to share this episode, I was making breakfast for my kids. They usually have scrambled eggs, fresh backyard eggs and toast in the morning or sometimes oatmeal. We have like a hardy breakfast.
My kids don’t go to school until a little bit later so we have a lot more time, which is nice in the morning to have a nice breakfast. So Eliot made the scrambled eggs while I was putting toast in the toaster and I poured some chocolate milk and then I put plates in front of each of the kids and I had a plate for myself.
But I started to pick it up to eat it as I was standing so that I could put away dishes from the dishwasher. As I was going to do that, I remembered that I was about to sit down and record this episode where I was going to advise you to mother yourself when it came to your eating habits, to sit down and enjoy an actual meal, to not just grab handfuls here and there and tell yourself that you’re too busy or you have too much going on to take care of the way that you eat.
And so I sat down with my kids. It took five minutes. It wasn’t like an hour long leisurely brunch. I sat down in the chair and I chatted with my kids as I eat my eggs and I eat my toast and I took a few deep breaths. The dishes are going to be there.
Aligning Our Actions With Our Values
Mothering ourselves when it comes to eating means aligning our actions with our values. Like I shared–and Natalie Norton shared–in that episode a few back, aligning our actions with our values means we know the way that we would like to eat. We know what’s healthy. We know everyone’s eating habits are a little different. What you like to eat, what times you like to eat, those sorts of things, and I think it looks a little different for everyone.
You know what feels right for you, but how often do you actually do what feels right?
What If You Were Your Own Child
Do you eat the way that you tell your children to eat? I know that I always encourage my kids to choose a vegetable at each of their meals or to eat until they feel satisfied and not not eat anymore. Or if they get home from school and have an afterschool snack and an hour later they’re hungry again, but dinner’s almost ready. I say, “Why don’t we wait a few minutes and we can eat dinner?”
While I don’t think I’m overbearing, I consistently coach my kids around eating habits. I want them to have a positive relationship with food. I want them to feel comfortable making choices. I want them to eat when they’re hungry and not overeat. I don’t want them to use food as an emotional trigger or buffer even though we all do that. But do I do those same things for myself?
This is just an invitation for you to ponder. How would you treat yourself if you were your own child? That’s what mothering the mothers is all about. It’s flipping the script a little bit and recognizing that we as mothers need someone to take care of us and that person is ourselves. We need to advocate for ourself. You will know what your own challenges are surrounding food.
If You’ve Got This, You Can Help Someone Else
Maybe you feel like you’re doing great on this one. Maybe you eat healthy foods, the kind that you know nourish your body. You sit down for a couple of meals a day. You enjoy your food, chewing it slowly and tasting all of the wonderful sensations that come with eating.
If you’ve got this one nailed, then great. Maybe there’s someone around that needs a little bit of help. If you’re making a fresh, wonderful dinner every night or a few nights a week and once in a while you could double batch it and give some to someone in need. Someone in your neighborhood, someone in your congregation at church, someone at school who just had a baby.
We need to take care of ourselves when it comes to meals. And this is also a really, really fun one where we are able to easily take care of others.
Benefits of Healthy Eating
When you’re eating properly nutritiously you feel more balanced hormonally and emotionally, you’re able to think properly. You’re able to have the energy that you need to accomplish the tasks at hand. I often think about that acronym, HALT: halt, hungry, angry, lonely, tired.
There’s a reason that “hungry” is first on that list. I think I can definitely be “hangry.” I mean Dave jokes with me about that, and Plum has just entered this phase where she will get just like so emotional about little tiny things and as soon as she’s hungry. She kind of goes off and starts crying about something silly, like you know, my shoe buckle came undone, and just the waterworks. And Dave and I just look at each other, “She’s hungry,” we know right off and she doesn’t know that she’s hungry. But we can tell by the way that she’s acting by the way, that it’s manifesting in her emotional state, that she’s hungry and we get her something to eat.
We get her a snack or we have a meal and she’s back to her pleasant, totally wonderful self.
Raise your hand if you relate. I know that I am that way when I feel especially overwhelmed, it’s usually because I’m hungry and after I sit down and have a handful of almonds or a bowlful of chocolate ice cream, whatever the case may be, I usually am able to feel a little bit better.
Challenge Yourself to Sit and Eat
Sometimes it’s just taking that break and sometimes your body actually needs food. You have a low blood sugar, nothing’s working properly. You need to feed yourself more than just leftover snacks or fast food in order to feel the way that you want to feel. I want to give you a quick challenge with this one.
I don’t know if everyone has a problem with sitting down to eat their meals like I do, but I know breakfast and lunch are tricky for me. We all sit together as a family at dinner, but I will often eat breakfast or lunch on the go as I am heading to work or as I’m running errands and have a quick rx bar in the car.
I want to challenge you every day this week from today until whatever day of the week you’re listening on next week to eat all of your meals seated, sitting down and enjoying them and maybe as a bonus putting your phone aside and just eating. Treat eating itself like an activity that is important enough to matter, to have space set aside for it.
I am excited to do this and I’m going to share when I do on Instagram so you can check that out @livefreemiranda, and I invite you to share as well. Maybe I’ll make a hashtag for that challenge and say #takeaseattoeat. Something like that. That’s good one actually. So look for that.
But I think even just the act of taking a seat to eat, because I’m going to run with that and now that I came up with it, that creates the space where we actually then are thoughtful about the meal and then maybe we’re not just grabbing a bag of potato chips or not that there’s anything wrong with potato chips.
I’m not going to tell you what to eat because, number one, I’m not totally qualified for that. Even though I did work as a diabetes educator and nutritionist for five years, I am not going to approach that. And also because you know better than anyone else. And so, I think just creating the space by sitting down and having your meals can be really helpful. I tell my kids this too.
I mean, here’s another thing. Mothering the mothers. I’ll tell my kids, just sit down and eat and then you can go play. Don’t take your popsicle stick out on the trampoline. Just sit down and have your meal and enjoy it. So let’s try to do that together. Okay. Who’s with me?
Third Aspect: Healing
Finally, let me talk about healing ourselves physically from injury or trauma. Specifically, I’m going to talk about wounds of childbirth.
But before I get there, I want to just advocate as a healthcare professional. I’m just going to pull the nurse card a little bit. Even though I’m an registered nurse, I haven’t worked as a nurse for about five years, but I am educated as a nurse. I have a current license as a nurse and I just have to advocate as a healthcare professional that we need to be taking care of our health.
When was the last time you saw a doctor for a physical?
When was the last time you had blood work done?
Are you keeping up with your breast exams?
Do you see a dentist? Are you taking care of your oral health?
All of these things that we know that our parents did for us as we were growing up are the things that we now have to do for ourselves. It’s sometimes is referred to as adulting, making a doctor’s appointment for an annual exam. That’s adulting friends. That’s also mothering, that’s thoughtfully caring for yourself and your body and your health.
I know as well as anyone that the healthcare system can feel very complicated and everyone’s financial and insurance situations are very different and so you will know best for yourself. But I have to recommend that you keep up, keep on top of having a medical home. That means having a provider that is aware of you and has your history somewhere so that if something does happen that you know where to go.
Healing After Childbirth
Okay. Now I know I had a lot of questions and interest about my current struggle with the wounds of my own child bearing years in the form of diastasis recti, which is the separation of my abs that happened during my pregnancies and a weak pelvic floor.
If you haven’t heard of either of these things and you have had children, then chances are you want to inform yourself. Because both of these things affect everyone who carries a child to term. And the stretching that happens during pregnancy naturally separates our abdominal muscles to some degree. And in some people they’re able to easily come back together. And in a lot of people, about 40% of women who carry a baby to term, those muscles don’t come back together on their own. And in fact they can’t, unfortunately, because of the tissue involved, the muscles will not naturally come back together after that point.
A permanent solution for that is surgery, but it’s not covered by insurance and it’s considered a cosmetic surgery. The secondary treatment, which can be as helpful but has to be maintained for the long term, is physical therapy. Learning the specific exercises that you need to know to strengthen the layers of muscle that surround your core, including your pelvic floor.
My Childbirth Experience
So let me just back up for a second and tell you my experience. I had Milo and had a fairly straightforward pregnancy. I gained a lot of weight, but I don’t know that that was unusual. And then I had him vaginally and I tore a little bit and had some stitches and then was sent home and pad my six week follow-up. They said everything’s looking good. And then that was that.
A couple of years later I had Eliot and again I had a hard pregnancy, but physically I, you know, gained a lot of weight. I had this big belly and my back was sore, kind of textbook pregnancy and then he was born and I was repaired and I was sent home and went on my merry way.
And then I was pregnant with Plum and I gained even more weight with Plum because she was 11 days late and I had a natural child birth with her natural vaginal childbirth.
By the way, in case you are a child birth person and you want to know more about my birth stories, I just have to call out that I did record them with The Birth Hour, and I will link all of those episodes in the show notes in case you’re interested. I go into lots of detail.
So Plum was a natural water birth and her delivery was uncomplicated and I delivered her in a birthing center at about six o’clock in the morning and by eight o’clock in the morning I was back home in my own bed recovering. That’s very fast, faster than even the couple days that you get in the hospital. But I was happy with that.
My mom was there to take care of me as she was with all of my pregnancies. I was super lucky to have my mom. We didn’t live in town and she came into town and she took care of me, took care of the baby, did the laundry, did the dishes, really just took over for a week and then Dave’s mom came and did the same thing for another week.
My Diastasis Recti
And then we really were just on our own at my six week followup with Plum, I noted that, you know, my, my belly was still big the way that it is after you have a baby. And the doctor noted that I did have a large separation. This is what’s called diastasis recti, the separation between your outer abdominal muscles. And she recommended that I see my primary care doctor to decide what we wanted to do moving forward.
And so I went then to my primary care doctor and she told me that the only way to repair that type of deep wound was with surgery. And then she explained a little bit about what the surgery entailed and told me that I needed to be definitely sure that I was done having kids by then because the way that it’s done binds your abs together so that then you can no longer expand them to accommodate another pregnancy.
Putting Off Surgery
So although I was mentally done having kids, it just felt really early to make that decision. And so I decided to wait five years to see how I felt about it and that I could decide whether surgery was going to be the right option in five years.
Fast forward, I’m recovering and healing and feeling okay. Actually I took it a lot slower with Plum than I had with any of the boys and really soaked in her her infancy and her babyhood and I didn’t try to get back to exercising as quickly and I didn’t try to bounce back. I just really soaked in knowing that I needed time to heal and I needed time to feel better and feel a little bit more like myself. And I’m glad that I did that.
Then we moved and I didn’t really have a reason to see an Ob/Gyn because I wasn’t planning on having any more babies. And so it took a while. But one thing that was kind of persistent and lingering from plums pregnancy was that I had this lower back pain, just kind of dull ache. It wasn’t ever sharp. It didn’t feel like I was dying. I just kind of hurt all the time and I always would kind of laugh it off and say, “Oh, I’m just getting old.” I feel like an old woman. I have this consistent lower back pain. And it was really kind of annoying. And some days it felt better and some weeks it felt really bad, like a lot worse.
And so I tried a few different things and I tried yoga and I tried, um, a heating pad and a few different things and it could feel better for a time, but it was just persistent. At the same time, I had learned a little bit more about diastasis recti and seeing that there were some online programs that encouraged pelvic floor recovery and abdominal support specifically for diastasis recti. And so I did one of these programs and I did six weeks of exercises and I felt like I was doing it right and doing it well.
I Thought I Noticed Improvement…
And I noticed some improvement in the way that my abs felt like I felt like they were getting a little stronger. And so I thought I was doing it and I was really proud of myself. And I also learned about some of the things that you’re not supposed to do, like running and weight lifting and things that are hard on that particular condition. And so I had stopped those things for a while.
But after I did this exercise program I thought, “Gosh, I feel pretty good.” And I didn’t really know how else to exercise because running and weightlifting is kind of what I’ve always done and what I enjoy. And so I started back up, you probably know that a few weeks ago I ran a half marathon and I had been training for that for weeks and felt really good about it. In fact, two weeks before I ran the half marathon, I had made an appointment to see an ob Gyn just to check in cause it had been a couple years and I felt like it might be time to, like I was talking about earlier, advocate for myself and just do my regular checkup.
…But Then I Saw A Physical Therapist
I should mention that it’s recommended to do an annual exam with an Ob/Gyn if you are of child bearing age. So a couple of years was even stretching it. I hadn’t gone in a while. And one of the things that I mentioned in my checkup was that I had this persistent back pain and the doctor diagnosed again my diastasis recti and she said, “You know, the first thing that I want to do is send you to physical therapy because even if you do end up getting surgery, physical therapy is the first place to start. So let’s do physical therapy first and then we can talk about surgery down the line.”
I was sent specifically to maternal health physical therapy. So this is not just a regular physical therapist that I would have gone to. You know, like when I hurt my knee skiing and tore my meniscus when I was in my twenties and I spent six months doing exercises that an orthopedic physical therapist. This is not the same thing.
This practice of physical therapy specializes in maternal health. They specialize specifically in the muscles and ligaments and bones surrounding the pelvic floor and the abdomen and the back. All of the places that are affected by childbearing and child birth. This is their specialty.
I actually didn’t know really what to expect and so I went in and was surprised when I was asked to put on a gown and they explained to me that they were going to do an external exam and that on my next visit they would do an internal exam because the pelvic floor muscles are deep and you can’t assess them from the outside, which is probably part of why so many women go without noticing or understanding that there was something wrong.
Pelvic Floor and Abdominal Dysfunction
They handed me a packet and it talked about all of the things that the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction and of abdominal dysfunction that we call normal motherhood, like peeing a little bit when you laugh or having persistent lower back pain or abdominal pain or that little Mama Pooch, that doesn’t seem to go away no matter how much you diet or how much you exercise, that kind of badge of motherhood, all of those things are not normal.
Those things are not healthy post baby years. Those are all symptoms of a deeper problem of something that is actually happening that can be healed within yourself.
I’ll be honest, I was very overwhelmed and a little bit emotional when I realized that this issue that I thought I had kind of overcome and taking care of myself through the little exercise programs and getting really fit and healthy, that I in fact still have quite a wound from my child bearing years. My abs are very separated and my pelvic floor is very weak and these are all things that need to be taken care of. They need to be healed. The way that they’re going to be healed for me right now is by doing physical therapy and I’m going weekly and sometimes twice a week. I’ve had a lot of people when I reached out and shared about this on Instagram, a lot of people asked if I could share the exercises that they’re giving me or things like that.
Healing Is Individual
And the truth is it’s just so individual. They’re tailoring the exercises every visit to my body and my progress. And the other thing that has been really tricky and why I recommend that you need to mother yourself. If you have had children yourself physically that you probably need to see a physical therapist. You probably should have seen one right after childbirth, as part of the post-partum care in every single other developing country except for America.
The issues that you may have with your post childbearing body are going to be different than the ones that I have. And so just sharing the exercises that are sort of cut and dry for me might not be the ones that work for you. I at my last visit asked my physical therapist what she would recommend to women who have had babies and maybe didn’t have any follow-up care.
This is the reality of the wounds of childbearing and childbirth. They are not recognized. They’re invisible. We carry bodies inside our bodies for 9 to 10 months, and we get them out either by squeezing them through our tissues and muscles or by going under the scalpel and having them extracted through major surgery.
Then we’re sent home and we put all of our care and focus on taking care of that little infant, and we need to do that. We need to take care of our babies. But moms, we also need to take care of ourselves. Who mothers? The mothers. We have to.
My physical therapist who’s wonderful and was so passionate shared with me that in every single developing country except the United States, there is a built in post-partum care that includes physical therapy, sometimes lasting up to six months. Of course, we know that in lots of other countries there is a lot more care given to families in terms of maternity leave and paternity leave and all of those things, but specifically regarding a mother’s health post childbirth, there is so much that can be done and it’s kind of a blind spot in our healthcare system.
Why I Share This Message
I felt really kind of betrayed, not only by the doctors who had watched out for me and I saw midwives, I saw incredible women who supported me, all through my pregnancies, and then they all kind of dropped the ball at the end. I didn’t know enough to support myself during one of my appointments.
I left the physical therapist, and I called Dave, and I was crying because it was kind of emotional and I told him I am a white middle class, highly educated college graduate who was also a nurse, and I worked for years as a healthcare professional. If I don’t know this stuff, if I’ve never heard about how to take care of myself after I have a baby and I have all of these privileges, how is there hope for anyone else? Anyone who circumstantially doesn’t have the same benefits of understanding or of education or have access to healthcare?
And this is why I felt really called to share this message, not only about these specific wounds that we incur, childbearing and childbirth, but also just generally about how our health matters to your health matters, to taking care of yourself matters.
You need to mother yourself, and love yourself, and think of yourself, and care for yourself, as you do for your children.
My physical therapist also went on to share that in third world countries or are not as developed countries. They don’t have the same maybe built-in system for post-partum care and physical therapy that are in other developed countries, but that culturally there is a natural community surrounding the mother.
Sometimes sisters and aunts and neighbors and members of the community will come sit in and basically move in and live with the young mother so someone can take care of the baby and everyone else can take care of the mom, and they’ll feed her, and bathe her, and clothe her, and help her rest, and help her exercise, and make sure that her body is healing properly. All of the things that you would do for your child.
If your child went through such a traumatic event, a major surgery or a body changing circumstance like childbearing and childbirth, what would you do for your child after going through major, major bodily trauma? You would sit with him or her. You would care for them. You would feed them. You would let them rest. You would create a situation in which they could heal. You would make sure that that child had access to therapy and to doctors and to follow up and to specialists and to whatever they needed in order to heal in order to become whole.
It was incredible for me to hear this therapist tell me that all of the symptoms that we call normal after childbirth are not normal, they don’t have to be, you don’t have to live feeling like you have been permanently damaged by the bearing and birthing of your kids.
She shared that some women come in and their forties and fifties, their kids are grown and they have problems that stem back to 20 years before or 15 years before when they had their children. And they never took the time to care for themselves.
She said that sometimes during menopause, which is you know, this natural part of a woman’s hormonal journey that all of the things that are unresolved in childbirth, we’ll come back to haunt you and by then it’s a lot harder to take care of them because you’re not as young and your body doesn’t bounce back quite as easily.
Final Thoughts: Take Care of Your Physical Health
So to finish this episode, I want to invite you in whatever stage you are to mother yourself and your physical health, to take care of your sleep, to take care of yourself and eat, and to take care of your own physical health, including as the case may be, the wounds of childbearing and child birth.
The best way to assess and take care of that last one is to see specifically a maternal health physical therapist, someone who is trained specifically in caring for and healing your inner workings as a mom. Depending on your situation, your insurance or lack thereof, you may need a referral from an Ob/Gyn. You also may be able to just reach out to one directly and go see them.
I know with my insurance I did happen to get a referral, but with my insurance I could have just called and made an appointment myself. When I shared about this on Instagram, like I mentioned, I had literally hundreds of women reach out to me to share their stories and how they feel like something has been wrong for years and now they might have an idea of what it is.
And so if in sharing these ideas more of you will have the permission that you need to take care of yourself to mother yourself than I am more than happy to be sharing my own experience.
Okay guys, that was a big one. Sleep. Eat. Heal, that’s our goal.
I hope that this idea of mothering the mother, and mothering yourself, is something that will stick with you, that you’re making decisions about how to take care of yourself, that you’ll remember that you matter, that you are someone’s child and to take care of yourself the way that that mother would want to care for you, the way that you care for your own children because we need you.
We need you healthy. We need you whole. We need you vibrant and alive and happy and fulfilled. Your children need you that way. Your partner needs you that way. Your community needs you that way.
As a companion to this episode, I want to invite you, if you haven’t yet listened to Episode 19, entitled Wholeness in Motherhood. This is a great time to revisit this episode. If you haven’t heard it, listened to it for the first time and if you have heard it given another lesson, I think that you will enjoy it especially right now as we’re talking about motherhood.
Thank you so much as always for being here. I hope that you enjoyed this episode. I would love to hear what you think about it. You can leave a review on iTunes or you can send me a direct message on Instagram or you can leave a comment at the bottom of the show notes.
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I want to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day, whatever it looks like for you, however that makes your heart feel. Know that it can be a time of celebration and that you can choose to use Mother’s Day as a day to mother yourself, to advocate for yourself and to care for yourself. Have a really wonderful week. I can’t wait to be back here and talk to you next week where Mothering the Mother is about mental health. See you later.