What my newborn has taught me about self care

Before I became a parent I thought I had self care locked down. A careful balance of time with friends and time alone, semi-regular pampering, good food, the right amount of wine, candles, books (always books). And I was really good at it. I’d perfected the art of saying no to things I didn’t want to do, finding pleasure in small moments, remembering to look up and notice my surroundings. My home is cosy, I often went to bed at 9pm.

Then in January I had a baby. The first six weeks have been a happy whirlwind with a steep learning curve and I’ve come to realise that I’ve been completely over-complicating my approach to self care.

Self care isn’t an hour long soak in the bath. 30 minutes reading a book and 30 minutes spent systematically using all your most expensive products. It’s having a shower at all, remembering to wash your hair and behind your ears.

It’s not painting your nails and filing them neatly into shape. It’s keeping them short and clean and one less thing to look after in this new and busy time.

Self care isn’t a lunchtime trip to Boots for new makeup carefully chosen to trigger the optimum amount of new Advantage Card points. It’s a clean face, removing a week of built up make-up, a splash of cold water to remind you you are a living thing with purpose.

It’s not a fresh cut, colour, and blow-dry. It’s brushing your hair and your teeth and putting on clean knickers each day (ideally all three but sometimes just one).

Self care is not splashing out on new bedding and throw blankets and cushions but making time to change the sheets at all. Sitting comfortably. Not slouching.

It’s not treating yourself to candles or flowers or new artwork or maybe it is but first it’s the basic task of tidying your surroundings, the absence of clutter that stresses you out. If you’re going to spend the day on the sofa it’s hard to see the beauty in gorgeous yellow roses from a friend if your line of vision is blocked by clothes you’ve flung across the room and old plates and piles of paperwork (good lord, the NHS give you so much paperwork).

Self care is peace of mind. Knowing there’s cash in the house for an emergency cab fare should you need one at 4am. Having important numbers to hand. Asking for help when you’re worried about something.

Self care is taking your medication on the right schedule, and if your head is a foggy mess, making sure someone else knows the schedule so they can remind you and bring you the necessary pain relief and refill your water bottle fifteen times a day.

It’s not about springing back and losing baby weight and getting fit. It’s about taking time to get to know your body as it is now, not as it was at a 19(when I was skinny but living on vodka, lemonade, and lime and entire bags of Bernard Matthew mini chicken kievs). Self care is acknowledging the journey your body has been on, getting acquainted with the new normal which for me includes stretch marks and a caesarean scar and a soft, pillowy stomach with tissue-paper skin. It’s gentle stretching. Deep breaths. Kegels. More kegels.

Self care is making sure you eat something. Anything to keep you going short term. And if you can manage to get nutrients that will benefit you long term that’s great too. Veggie sticks, fresh fruit, protein. And biscuits. A tall glass of water or a new habit of carrying a 2 litre bottle everywhere you go.

It’s not farmers markets and long brunches and afternoons in coffee shops with a big slab of chocolate cake. Or maybe it is, but the joy is in the company, talking this new experience through with people who are happy to listen.

It’s not a long bracing walk among nature followed by a pint in a pub with a roaring fire. It’s opening the curtains. Perhaps a quick walk around the block to stretch your legs and fill your lungs, if you can manage it.

Self care isn’t always about long term goals and to-do lists and action plans. Self care is routine. It’s knowing where things are in the house, not having to make decisions, a simple daily plan; I’ll dress you. I’ll feed you. We’ll go for a walk.

It is embracing the rollercoaster. Knowing ups follow downs follow ups. It is recognising what’s gone well, praising even the tiniest of achievements, out loud. It is saying I’m proud of myself, and you, and us.

Eat, drink, stretch, fresh air, a simple plan.

I’m sure in some distant future self care will have a different meaning but for now it’s whatever I need to ensure she has whatever she needs.