My niece was looking up at me with her wide brown eyes and wildly curly hair when she smirked. You see, I had dared to try to take a shower while she was taking a nap. Her cries caused me to hurry up to the bedroom half-dried and wrapped in a large white towel. She had these crocodile “how rude of you” tears in her eyes and suddenly starts giggling behind that slick little smile. She enjoyed me being a little frazzled.
I laughed and shook my head before I started to dry myself off. She started to cry again because my focus went elsewhere. So I started my routine of singing her an improvised song. I never remember these tunes but I sing with my usual jovial gusto and she starts smiling again. As long as I keep singing and making goofy faces I’ll be able to actually get dried off and changed.
I pulled on a casual set of clothes- a sports bra, leggings, and a strappy tank top. The temperatures had been staying within the high 80’s range, so keeping cool was a must. I ducked into the en-suite bathroom while the baby watched me and quickly applied some light concealing cream, touched up my eyebrows, applied some eyeshadow with golden tones and slapped on a coat of mascara. The baby started to fuss again and I took my lip gloss with me as I went to pick her up, applying it in a hurry.
In June my life stopped being about me in so many ways. My husband and I had learned that my sister-in-law was about to give birth in May and it was a situation where it was safer to place the baby somewhere. That somewhere ended up being with us, with the agreement of my sister-in-law after I aggressively tracked her down to find out what was going to happen to the baby and talked to her face-to-face after meeting with her social worker (at the time). I got there just in time, as she had only been induced an hour prior and had the baby the next day by C-section. In a matter of days, I became an unofficial foster mom to a newborn. The baby was 6 days old when I brought her home. She’s on the cusp of 4 months old now and I already have a lot to reflect on.
Having a newborn in your home full-time when you weren’t exactly planning on having one is a jolt to your reality, especially with all of the things you suddenly have to get in order to make it work well long-term. It also forces you to see things from an entirely different perspective and the baby just takes center stage at all times. You start to realize how and when you’re not doing enough to take care of yourself. That’s where I am at now in my uncharted journey with her.
A typical day with my niece involves a lot of face-to-face conversations to her delight, playtime in the garden while I work on establishing something I can teach her to take care of one day, and trying to squeeze work and housework in during her naps. Every day she gets a bath and a massage afterward and I lie next to her on the bed telling her how special she is. It became my mission to keep her not only healthy but well loved and happy. I found excitement in the ability to teach her everything I can and give her the best odds possible in life. I suddenly had this strong desire to see her thrive and win in life. Essentially, I learned a lot about what it means to be a mom.
However, I was creeping up on 40, overweight, out of shape, and generally unhappy with how little I was accomplishing with my time. My marriage was strained because I wasn’t loving myself how I should be and couldn’t accept responsibility for it. And here I was taking care of every need for this helpless little human and I wasn’t holding myself accountable for ensuring that I had “me” time too.
I had decided to cut off almost all of my hair because I realized it took too much time to maintain that I needed to delegate elsewhere. It felt like a business decision, almost, but the freedom that came with it helped me feel a little more confident in my appearance. I started sneaking in “dance breaks” when the baby would close her eyes for a bit so I could make sure I was getting a bit more physical activity. With Bluetooth headphones and no one else around I felt comfortable enough to keep doing this every day for a good half hour. It’s not a drastic change, but it’s a step in the right direction.
There is a smidge of insecurity laced into there because every time I would run into friends or family I’d eventually get a passive-aggressive comment about my appearance. Sometimes it was “Oh, you actually did your makeup today. It looks nice,” or (as my brother-in-law told me), “You look butch with that haircut,” which understandably both pissed me off and made me take 10 less-confident steps back as I really questioned how much I had let myself go, since a comment like that implied that no man would find me attractive. While I should take this with a grain of salt, I did know there was a need for me to stop being so careless with how I presented myself to the world and ensure I gave my best effort in everything I do.
I always manage the basics of hygiene and such every day, so it’s not like I’m neglecting to take care of core needs, but I wasn’t doing much to put some pep in my step. I wasn’t getting ahead, and I wasn’t getting my confidence back. Mind you, my husband never ever made me feel unattractive a day in my life and would still be affectionate when I felt like an ogre so I wasn’t really worried that much about what other people thought. But I knew I was doing myself a disservice and had to figure out how to correct that. I wanted to feel good about myself for my own good. I needed to take a bit more time to invest in self-pride and care.
This little person made me learn a lot about the need to slow down and really savor the time that it takes to love yourself. I found myself less and less inclined to rush through anything, regardless of whether or not it was a diaper change or rocking her to sleep. If she suddenly became agitated I had to stop what I was doing right then and there and go through the process of figuring it out.
This usually started with a diaper change (and sometimes a bath, if it was the right time of day) while I would talk animatedly to her face so she would forget she was irate. As she’d smile, I’d carefully make sure she was clean around her neck due to a lot of teething drool and change her into fresh clothes if applicable. She’d get a fresh coat of lotion on her thighs and elbows (they’re prone to be dry otherwise) and we’d “talk” some more. She’d be offered a bottle right after and would either play with it or actually drink it. I’d burp her while softly singing in her ear or talk to her about what I was doing. If she was still upset at this point, I’d hold her close to my chest and rock her slowly to sleep. If she’s full and comfortable I usually would end up getting a break for a couple of hours, minimum.
I would do this process several times a day. It takes an incredible amount of patience, but I never found it to be stressful or anything. I actually really enjoy being able to spend this much time with her at such a young age. It’s so rare to be able to raise a baby nearly from birth and I spend quite a bit of time marveling at how lucky I’ve been. As someone who has been pining for a child of her own one day (something that may never happen due to reproductive issues and this change in priority), this is the next best thing. I didn’t know my heart could hold that much love until I started caring for this feisty being.
She depends on me now, and will for a long time. I’ve been given the gift of being able to raise this child during her most formative years and how I go about that could make or break her potential later in life. I have a chance to set the bar high and raise a strong, independent, loving and fearless woman. But for me to do that, I had to BE that, and I haven’t been for quite some time.
It takes a lot to really be able to not only be honestly critical of yourself but to put it out there on display. I try to stay transparent in a way that others might understand, if not relate, to my journey at any stage. Sometimes people want to listen and sometimes they need to hear what I have to say. But I am not perfect, I’ve fucked up many times as an adult and I can either baste myself in that negativity and create a child that follows that same path or I can learn to be the best version of myself so she does the same.
For me to address being a better me, I had to first rebuild my foundation. That foundation is my need for self-care. Without that, I won’t have the time, nor energy, to really revise my approach to life and better my situation as a whole. So while everyone’s journey is a little different, this is actually close to where mine started. I needed to reinforce myself before I could truly grow. And for me to get there I had to set some markers for what I needed to address in order to get there, including:
Health (physical and mental).
Without these, I might as well throw in the towel. I need to work on my physical and mental fitness and ensure that I am keeping my mind, body, and spirit positive. This includes stepping up the time I spend being physically active, being around positive people and focus on chasing the goals I set out to crush. I spend more time meditating, resting, and doing things that bring me genuine and limitless joy.
I depend on my home to be a space that I can raise the baby and also earn a living. Having it set up and maintained in a way that makes the rest of my productivity optimal is important. This includes carving out time to do the “tedious” tasks during the week so it doesn’t dominate the weekends I have with my husband and his kids. The more proactive I am about tackling the needful the more free time I can gift myself later in the week.
Another part of this journey is also making sure to start to tackle the list of things that need to be done for upgrades and updates on different aspects of the home. Fresh coats of paint, replacing things that aren’t energy-efficient with those that are and sprucing up the decor. I also have to prepare for the eventual baby-proofing spree that needs to run its course now what the baby is starting to show early signs of crawling and will need a safe space to do so.
One of my biggest insecurities in life is honestly the home I live in because I don’t feel like it’s “mine” as well. Once I start to settle my roots in a more genuine fashion so much else will come together.
I put goals under self-care because of a basic principle: when I tackle something I set out to do there is an immeasurable injection of motivation and inspiration that I use as fuel to set out on the next milestone. It’s important to start small but also celebrate those smaller victories with the same passion as the big ones. Every little goal I manage to conquer is getting me a step closer to bigger and better things.
Creating a solid list and holding yourself accountable is key when it comes to making progress. Having visual reminders is important and helps reinforce the satisfaction that can be found in seeing these goals through to completion.
Be selfish sometimes
One of my flaws was that I put too many people before myself 99% of the time. I started taking some of that time back, even if it meant staying up a couple hours later when everyone else was asleep or taking an extra-long bath while someone was home to help with the baby. It’s important to take that bit of time to refocus and relax because once you allow yourself to be stressed it’s hard to recover from. It won’t solve everything but it’ll help ease your mental and emotional load for the day and give your body a moment to ease up.
Whether you choose to do this for a bit every day or have a day each week to invest in yourself, don’t make excuses as to why you can’t carve out some “me” time. If your schedule is so busy then that might be a red flag you need to take seriously. We can’t run at full speed 100% of the time. It’s okay to take a break. It’s okay to be selfish sometimes. It’s sometimes a lifesaving step you can take.
Restoring confidence is a pretty personal thing because it means something different for everyone. In my case, I felt like I let my efforts dwindle when it came to my appearance. While working on the other facets of my life will help get me where I need to be, it’s also important that I get some of my “mojo” back.
So I will go out of my way to do things that will challenge me to keep my head up a bit higher. Being able to provide for my family is a big thing for me and I haven’t been able to as much now that I’ve gone on hiatus to focus on this child. Pursuing those ambitions that can help me put food on the table again will be part of my personal process. Overcoming some of my social and professional fears will also be crucial. In order to obtain growth, I need to embrace some major changes.
In the end, it’s up to me to get things back in motion.
This is a point in my journey that requires a lot of patience, persistence, and positivity. I’m in a situation where it’s so important that I learn to lead by example so I don’t spend my years telling this child how not to do what I did wrong and show how to do things the best way possible. I want to raise a winner that will thrive in any capacity she so chooses.
Now it’s time for me to become one and treat myself with the kindness I deserve. The worst that will happen is that I will become a better mother, aunt, and wife…..but especially a far better human being.