After losing my son, finding my new normal took a very long time. Becoming a mother is hard to begin with, but when you lose a child within hours of their birth, it is life altering. Add into the mix having a three year old at home, and another preemie in the NICU that you need to care for, and life becomes overwhelming to say the least. Most days I struggled to get out of bed. The only thing that kept me going was my obligation to my family. My need to take care of everyone else kept me going through the motions of each day, pretending I was holding it all together.
I ignored my grief as much as possible, and pushed my tears back until no one was watching. The middle of the night became my mourning time. The stillness of the night while everyone was sleeping became the only time I was alone, and the only time I could truly let my emotions escape. I feared that if my family saw me break down, saw my weakness, they would think I was incapable as a mother.
Because that’s how I felt. I was incapable of keeping my baby alive, so I was trying to prove to everyone that I was strong enough to keep going for the sake of my living children. I didn’t feel that I had any other choice.
This went on for years, and snowballed into suffering from anxiety and depression on a scale that made daily life nearly unbearable. I found myself unable to see the joy that surrounded me. I threw myself into working as many hours a day as I could to avoid the pain. If I was spending my days focusing on doing something for someone else, it helped me to avoid the turmoil of my life that felt like it was falling apart at home.
I felt like I was spiraling down a never ending well. Waiting to hit the bottom, but the impact just never came.
Then one day, I realized that something needed to change. My daughter was struggling. She needed her Mommy at home, and I needed to do something to pull myself out of the depression that was weighing me down. But how? I felt like I was so far gone that there was no way to come back. My life couldn’t possibly go back to normal.
But all it takes is one small step. One tiny change in your routine, a mindset shift, or a positive thought about what you can accomplish. A little spark can ignite a fire so bright that it can change your life.
The first step I took, was seeking out someone to talk to. I had to admit to someone, out loud, how I was feeling. Finding a therapist that not only made me feel validated in my feelings, but also gave me tangible tools to help me move forward was extremely difficult. It was so much harder than I thought it would be. This first step almost pushed me right back to staying in my well of suffering. But every time I looked at my daughter I was reminded of my reason to keep going.
Once I found the right therapist it made all the difference in the world. I was able to be open and honest without fear of judgment, and it was the most freeing I had felt in years. I learned how to be honest with myself, while also giving myself grace in the moments where I couldn’t accomplish everything I wanted to. I had to admit to myself how much I had been through, and had to revisit the pain. I had to tell myself that it was ok to take time to myself to be with my grief. I just couldn’t let it take over me. I had to acknowledge it, but not live in it.
The biggest thing my therapist taught me, was that taking care of myself was the absolute best way to take care of my family.
That sounded backward to me. How is taking care of myself first not selfish? But she explained that if I’m not taking care of myself first, then I can’t be at my best to take care of anyone else. And if I’m not at my best, then I’m doing my family a disservice. Not only that, but my kids watch what I do, and taking care of myself first is teaching my kids a valuable lesson. They will grow up knowing how to take care of themselves before worrying about everyone else before them.
The last two years have been a journey of me learning how to properly take care of myself. I’ve learned so much yet am still a work in progress. Which is fine with me because I have found to love the process of becoming the very best version of myself. If you don’t love the process, you will never keep growing.
My favorite part of self care is personal development. I am an avid reader, and love learning new things. On a regular basis I have at least three or four books that I have yet to read, and am in the middle of a nonfiction personal development book. I listen to several podcasts, write down what I am grateful for everyday, and use positive self talk and affirmations daily. My daughter thinks I’m crazy, but my son loves saying them with me.
I am beautiful. I am strong. I am smart. I am brave. I can do anything.
Believing in yourself, and eliminating the negative self talk that we all seem to be ingrained with, is the first step to taking care of yourself. It doesn’t matter how much you exercise or how many salads you eat if you don’t love yourself to begin with. You have to love who are in order to want to grow and become the best version of yourself. If you don’t, you won’t always have the motivation to keep going.
The next big thing that helped me, was gratitude. Having a daily practice of gratitude helped me to focus on all of the things in my daily life that I have to be thankful for. Not only all of the big things, but also the small things.
- A smile from a stranger passing in the grocery store.
- Someone holding a door for me.
- A hot cup of coffee on a cold day.
- My kids excitement as I walked in the door from work.
- A hug from my husband after a hard day.
The more you look for the joy in every day, the more joy you will see.
Self care goes so much deeper than bubble baths and manicures. Sure those can be fun once in a while, but they won’t help you to maintain a healthy and thriving life. You need to be able to build healthy and lasting habits that are going to last. Habits that will help you to get to where you want to be in life.
It’s going to be hard. You will fall down. But the most important part is that you get back up. There is no failure in this. It’s all a learning experience. If you try and it doesn’t work, try again. Do it differently, and find what works for you. No matter how many times you fall, don’t give up.
Stand back up. Keep going, because you are worth it, and made for so much more.