In a recent Instagram post, author and spriritual guru Gabrielle Bernstein announced her long-awaited pregnancy by saying that she had finally become a mother by learning how to mother herself.
This is something that I have always thought should be at the center of every woman’s fertility journey, but so often it’s a concept that gets pushed aside.
When I talk about this with my potential clients, they usually have no shortage of ideas of what they most look forward to about having kids and how they expect to be as a mom. Words like kind, compassionate, loving and supportive always make the list. Some might also add in fun-loving, creative, free-spirited, and courageous.
And yet, for most of the women I work with, displaying these qualities towards themselves is a bit more of a challenge.
We expect to accept our children unconditionally, and yet we reject ourselves for our own perceived shortcomings.
We expect to treat our children with kindness and compassion, and yet we judge ourselves harshly for our own mistakes.
We expect to nourish our children with high quality food, and yet what we put in our own bodies doesn’t seem to matter so much.
We expect to play with our children and have days filled with laughter and joy, and yet we don’t make room to have fun in our own lives.
We expect to love our children for the miracles that they are, and yet we forget that we ourselves are miracles too.
I consider myself incredibly lucky to have a mother who has always supported me, who has loved me from day one, and who sees the best in me despite the times when I can only see the worst. She gave me away at my wedding and told me that no matter where I was in the world, she would be there to take care of me when I got pregnant and had her first grandchild.
Cancer had other plans, however, and we found out that my mom had breast cancer two weeks after I discovered that I was expecting my son. Instead of having her there by my side, I had to figure out everything on my own (in another country at that).
When my son was born, I devoted all of my energy, time, and resources to him while putting my own needs on the back burner at every given turn. It wasn’t until my mom could finally come to visit when he was eight months old that I realized how very little care I was taking of myself.
During those two months that she stayed with me, my mother made my health and happiness her top priority.
She cooked me nourishing foods to help me sustain my energy while breastfeeding, she encouraged me to rest when I was tired, she cheered me on with words of encouragement when I was filled with self-doubt, and made sure that every day we did something fun, whether that was shopping for new clothes or just watching a silly movie on the couch. Most of all she reminded me that, as her only daughter, I was somebody special and that I mattered very much.
When she left after nearly two months, I felt lost. But I knew that I couldn’t go back to the way things were.
I would like to say that this has been an easy process, but the truth is that I am three years into the endeavor and am just now figuring it out. Healing is rarely linear and old habits die hard, but for the first time in my life I have learned to finally be a mother to myself, as my mother has always been to me.
How do you mother yourself?
Whether you are trying to conceive for the first time or you are already a mom hoping for the next one, here are five ways that you can try:
1) Take time to prepare yourself nourishing foods.
If you have a look at the way you’re currently eating and you would never dream of feeding your child that way, ask yourself what you need to change.
How are you fueling your body on a regular basis? Do you take time to make your food interesting and appealing? Do you put in the extra effort so can’t wait to eat what’s on your plate?
Also consider those foods that might taste good on the one hand, but make you feel like crap on the other. If you knew that your child liked certain foods, but they made him/her sick, would you keep feeding them those things that made them feel bad or would you look for other yummy alternatives? If you’re honest with yourself, what are you eating and/or drinking that doesn’t make you feel your best?
We can also apply this idea when it comes to emotional eating. If your child were sad, would you want to help them work through their feelings, or would you sit them in front of the TV with a pint of ice cream? The first option, right? In those times you want to eat a box of cookies instead of deal with your sadness, frustration, or grief, ask yourself what you really need in that moment. Time to rest? Time to talk? Time with nature? Time to cuddle? Think of what you would offer your child in times of suffering and apply the same rule to yourself.
2) Speak to yourself with love and compassion.
Most of us would never speak to our children the way we speak to ourselves.
If your mother is like mine and constantly telling you how great you are, think back to things that she would tell you regularly and allow yourself to believe them.
If you don’t have a mother who says nice things, think of what you wish she would have said or what you are looking forward to saying to your own son or daughter one day.
Write yourself love notes, place affirmations on your bathroom mirror, write yourself a compliment and use it as the background on your phone.
Think of ten things that you like about yourself every day for two weeks. Feel free to repeat items on the list, but make acknowledging your good a daily practice for greater self-love and fulfillment.
When you make a mistake or feel the inner critic rear her ugly head, practice self-compassion and offer yourself loving kindness instead.
3) Make your need for rest a priority.
We all need to sleep. We all need to rest. We could even do with a cheeky nap (or two). Yet many of us are unwilling to acknowledge this need to slow down, or at least without a huge heap of guilt.
As you would your child, make your night time routine a priority. How do you wind down after a long day? This is something I have struggled with in the past, but it’s so essential for everything from our emotional to our hormonal health and plays an important role in our fertility.
Make your bedroom a place you actually like to be and maintain the same bedtime most days of the week. Invest in comfortable bedding, diffuse essential oils to help you settle into a restful sleep, and engage in a relaxing activity such as reading or journaling that doesn’t involve screens.
Since screen time before bed has been linked to hormonal disruption and lower quality sleep, leave all electronic devices at the door and unplug at least an hour before bed.
4) Be your own advocate.
If your mom growing up was anything like mine, she would always speak up for you when she saw that something wasn’t right. As adult women we have the power to do this for ourselves too. Set boundaries. Say no. Stand up for your needs, your time, and your health and well-being.
Make your regular checkups, doctor and dentist appointments a priority just like you would for your child. We may be adults, but our bodies as women are continually changing and it’s always better to find out sooner rather than later if there is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Getting a checkup with your gynecologist is essential BEFORE you start trying to conceive, not just after the positive pregnancy test. That goes for the dentist as well, since dental problems like periodontal disease have been linked to infertility and miscarriage. Either way, you want to get yourself sorted out before you have a baby on board.
If you’re not happy with your current provider, be proactive and look for someone else who will better meet your requirements.
5) Treat yourself
When you think of treating yourself, what comes to mind?
This is one way that my mother and I differ. In my house growing up, “treats” always involved something sweet. Treating yourself was synonymous with ordering dessert at a restaurant, having ice cream after dinner, or baking an apple pie.
These days, however, I don’t eat any sugar, grains, or dairy making all of the things I just listed impossible for me to eat (at least if you use the conventional recipes). Furthermore, they make me feel sick or bloated or at the very best tired and moody. Does that sound like a treat to you? Probably not.
So I have found other ways to treat myself that actually make me feel good.
I go to the beach. I use essential oils. I meditate. I make cups of my favorite tea. I make love to my partner. I make love to myself. I read books that inspire me. I indulge in ripe mangoes and plump cherries. I splurge on organic raw dark chocolate. I dance. I play music. I wear clothes that make me feel beautiful. I give myself manicures. I paint in watercolors. I take breaks. I play.
And the bottom line is, the more you take care of yourself, the more love you have available for your children, whether they are already here by your side or are still on the way.
How do you mother yourself? What’s one way that you can try?