‘Self-care’ is one of those kind of annoying terms that has become really popular in the past year or two. For me, it conjures images of comfortably middle class women, with relatively easy lives, making time for a bubble bath and a glass of wine once or twice per week in the name of nourishing the ‘self’. As I write that, I realise it sounds pretty mean-spirited – of course, there’s nothing wrong with seeking a bit of rest and relaxation, and no one’s life is so simple and comfortable that they don’t need to be intentional about making time for things they enjoy. I guess my gripe with it is that the people who really need it – people whose lives are genuinely extremely challenging for whatever reason – probably don’t have time for it, or don’t have money for it, or don’t even have the mental space to entertain it.
But, I digress. My point is really that, I am not someone who needs to be encouraged to make time for ‘self-care’. I think I probably take too much care of myself. ‘Alone time’ is really important to me, and I indulge that ‘need’ as far as is realistically possible. If I want to go to a cafe and drink tea and eat cake with a book, I will make time for it within the next few days. At present, I take almost daily bubble baths (sans wine for now). I make sure that I do the work/studying that needs to be done, but I don’t break my back over it, and I’m careful to take regular breaks, lest I exhaust myself with all that reading interesting articles and taking notes…
So pregnancy has simply given me a good excuse to indulge those things even more. Sure, those bubble baths are more physically therapeutic than they used to me on my legs that ache easily, and I genuinely get tired quite quickly when working on my Masters dissertation. But I don’t need anyone to say, “Hey, Gina, make sure you go easy on yourself, you’re pregnant!” Because… I will. Trust me.
But all that said, I think pregnancy has taught me something about what self-care means for me in a way that is actually beneficial for my emotional well-being, and that I hope I will carry with me beyond pregnancy. It has to do with expectations of myself. I generally take my physical health pretty seriously – I’ve never been an excessive exerciser or strict dieter, but I’m always very conscious of how I care for my body, and I don’t feel good about myself if I feel that I’ve let that slide for a while. Now you might think that being pregnant would be precisely the time that this becomes genuinely very important in a new way – which is true. However, due to being very sick in the first trimester, that wasn’t possible. There was very little I could stomach, so if all I could stomach was white bread and cookies, then that’s all I ate. I did less exercise ever – it’s hard to exercise when you’re lying in bed/on the sofa all day.
And really, I didn’t feel bad about it. Of course I want to give my baby the best opportunity to grow healthily, but I trust my body to do that to the best of its ability. I sincerely don’t think it will benefit me or baby to be stressed about the lack of variety in my diet, or the fact that I was walking less than 1,000 steps per day on average during weeks 6-12. Even now that I feel better, I don’t get overly worried about what I am (or am not) consuming. I try not to eat a ton of junk, but I also basically just eat what I enjoy. I’m walking much more now, and I hope to start swimming and/or pilates in the next few weeks, but I have no aspirations to run 5x per week during pregnancy or indeed beyond it. I will be fine, and so will my baby – and if we’re not, I’m confident that it’s not going to be because I’ve eaten a lot of sushi lately, which isn’t strictly recommended for pregnant women.
I also care less about what people think about me – about how I look, about my life choices, whatever. I really couldn’t be happier that I’m going to be a mum at 25, before getting into any kind of career. I love my baby and her daddy. I love the life we are building. I feel extraordinarily lucky to be starting a family now – something I have, for as long as I can remember, felt is the most glorious life I could hope for. My body is changing and will keep doing so, and I’m 100% OK with it – in fact, I want my body to reflect the major change that is happening in my life. I have zero desire to “get back into shape” right after baby is born. There’s something (someone!) now that I care about more than I care about myself, and that’s very freeing.
So to sum up, I guess what pregnancy has taught me about ‘self-care’ is that it’s not a totally stupid concept, and that, for me, it’s more about how I think, than what I do. I have more self-assurance and even self-respect now. Perhaps this is mental preparation for what I know will be essential to raise a child: it’s not going to be an easy job if I doubt myself all the time. I know it’s not so simple, but I also know that I love my baby immeasurably, and that I am enough for her – with or without excessive sushi consumption.