After the birth of my first child I was initiated into the old ways of zou yuezi, or the Chinese art of “confinement,” by a dear older aunt. A few days after I gave birth she arrived at my home in Los Angeles toting satchels full of goji berries, chicken feet and other exotic ingredients that would be part of the healing soups and stews that I would consume over the coming weeks.
I’ve since had two more children, birthed a business, and written a book about empowering real women to find a way, and there are many ways, to take a sacred time out after bringing their babies into the world. Blending ancient ways with new ways is our way. The First Forty Days is a modern guide to the time-honored tradition of holding a woman up as she moves into this radically new chapter of her life.
But the support doesn’t end once you’ve recovered from pregnancy and birth and have moved into the world as a mother. I’ve been a single mother for eight years and continue to learn time and time again that self-care is the heartbeat of inspired mothering. Single motherhood has its obvious, and less obvious, challenges, but there are gifts in the set up, too. Sharing custody with my children’s father has given me the ability to sink into days that are just mine. While some mothers have to squeeze in me-time, I have it built into each month. The days I spend without my kids at home are my time to learn about myself: what my spirit requires to remain bright and open, what my body needs to feel strong and healthy, and what my mind needs to stay uplifted and engaged. And, beautifully, the care I give to myself actually helps me in my relationships. When my cup is full, I have more to give to the people in my life. I lean on this understanding whenever an ounce of guilt threatens to take me away from things I know are good for me. As women and mothers, we are programmed to believe that seeking our own pleasure or comfort means that we are taking something away from the ones we love. It is easy for mothers to equate self-care with selfishness, a belief system that dismantles our fundamental need for nurturing.
To keep my engine running, I make wise food choices as often as possible, move my body whenever I can, nurture deep and meaningful female friendships, and actively connect with my kids. But I also do some small and simple things that keep my cup full. These steps work for me and from the feedback I’ve received they work for other mothers as well. So whether your baby is 2 days old or 20 years old, I hope you’ll use these suggestions as a starting point to make some necessary time for you.
Note: I understand that full-time mothers may not have the luxury of built-in alone time. Carving out time for yourself can seem nearly impossible when your kids and partner are your every day roommates. But I implore you to make the time for you. Just as you and your partner work to prioritize date nights to keep your relationship healthy and vital, you must maintain your connection with yourself. This may look like telling your family that you’re retreating to the bedroom for 20 minutes of quiet (or two hours if the age of your children allows for it). Tell them that you will be back and ask them to please give you the uninterrupted time that you are requesting.
1. I ask questions. Just as we inquire into our children’s needs by asking, “are you hungry? are you tired?” we need to do the same for ourselves. Whenever I’m feeling off, I take a moment to see what it is that I’m lacking by asking questions. A quick inquiry helps me understand if I need sleep, nutrition, touch, comfort or something else entirely.
2. I sleep when I’m tired. I don’t reach for sugar or coffee when I’m dragging. I simply close my eyes. And my naps aren’t big productions. I don’t need three hours and piles of cozy blankets. A 5-20 minute cat nap will give me the reboot I’m looking for, without the inevitable energy crash that comes with a latte and brownie. And if the situation doesn’t give me the space to lie down, if I’m at the post office or waiting to meet a client at a cafe, I can often recharge with just two minutes of deep rest. Sitting in a chair or in my car, which is often the case in LA, I uncross my arms and legs, rest my hands in my lap, place my feet flat on the floor and close my eyes. I scan my body from top to bottom noting places where I feel tension or constriction. I then gently breathe into the stuck places until I feel release.
3. I walk slowly through farmer’s markets. Eating and cooking bring me great joy, and so farmer’s markets are my very happy place. Each week I turn my produce shopping trip into a mini retreat for the senses. I stroll through the aisles taking in the colors of the fruits and veggies, picking up a tomato to see if it’s ripe, bringing a basket of strawberries to my nose to take in their bright, sweet scent. Farmer’s markets are my happy place, but yours may be your best friend’s kitchen table or your favorite hiking trail. Wherever it is, be sure to visit it often.
4. I make soup. Soup is the ultimate healing food. It’s warm, easy-to-digest, and sweet to share with someone you love. I almost always have a pot simmering on the stove. Lately, I’ve been loving the Creamy Kabocha & Red Lentil soup (featured in The First Forty Days).
5. I pamper myself with gorgeous body oils. I often massage my entire body with a natural oil (coconut, olive, or sesame oil) after I take a shower or bath. Rubbing oil into the body feels wonderful, is deeply hydrating for the skin, and also calms the nervous system, ideal for days when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed. This practice also gives me time to connect with my skin, a few precious minutes of self-love. One of my favorite blends, Rose & Coconut Oil, is super easy to make at home and fills you with the heart-opening scent of roses (featured in The First Forty Days).
6. I seek out water. My ultimate retreat is a quiet body of water. I could be sitting on the shore of a peaceful lake in Maine, dipping my toes in the salt water of Laguna Beach, or drawing my own bath at home, with a dash of Himalayan salt or lavender essential oils. Water cleanses my body and spirit, releasing the tension that’s taking up space for more positive experiences.