I Hate October

I Hate October

I hate October. Ok, maybe I don’t hate it. There are the leaves dripping with their colored gems, and the crispness of the air, that reminder of summer’s warmth mixed with a hint of winter’s chill. There is a freshness, even as the natural world prepares to slumber. And on most days the sunshine still shines bright enough for us to dance with our shadows on our daily walks.

But in October’s past, I was not able to see the sun or the colors or appreciate the uniqueness of the autumn air. Sure, my eyes could see them but my heart could not. I was too focused on the rainy days and on the leaves that lay brown and dingy on the ground and on the nights. The longer, darker nights and shorter, rainier days.

October really isn’t to blame but it just happened to be the month that everything always seemed to fall apart. It took me many years of watching my typically positive attitude reduce itself to nothing more than the muddy leaves trampled outside my door. This is what October did to me, or more accurately, what I allowed October to do to me. It took me many years of watching the re-run of the show I call October for me to begin to put the pieces together. Shorter days, less sunshine, smiles turning into grimaces, exhaustion turning into depression (or maybe it is the other way around, I’m still not sure), happy, patient mommy turning into snappy, critical, definitely-not-fun-to-be-around mommy.

In the years before I saw the pattern, I played the “if-only game.” If only {insert any worldly desire}, things would be better. I reasoned that a bigger house, more money, less rowdy kids, a second car, and a million other things would make me feel better. Of course, they wouldn’t and didn’t even if a wish did happen to come true. I still felt lousy and would much rather have stayed in bed all day than do just about anything else. Fortunately, a power higher than myself worked wonders and I managed never to fall into a place where I couldn’t care for my kids. I may not have been doing it to my standards but at least I was caring for them.

It got so I was afraid of October. I felt like I was an innocent bystander just waiting for the storm to sweep me away and praying that I wouldn’t do too much damage with my harsh words and frustrated scowls until I recovered myself sometime a few months later. I did try not to get swept away, but nothing I did seemed to help.

Looking back, I can see that what I did try; the occasional walk, remembering to take my vitamins a few days a week, stealing ten minutes here or there to read a book, these were all good but not enough. I was sabotaging myself by not being consistent with my self-care. Until rather recently, I still held the misguided notion that self-care was treating myself once in a while to something out of the ordinary. It’s not! Self-care, really effective self-care, is caring for myself, mind, body, and spirit, with the same tenacity and diligence with which I care for every other member of my family. I am, after all, a member of my family.

So now, instead of the occasional walk, I am making it a priority to be active every day and to run at least 3 times a week. I am being attentive to my need for sleep, even if it means heading to bed with the littlest one. I am more conscientious than ever about fueling my body and my mind with the nutrition it needs and that includes many B-vitamins, magnesium, and St. John’s Wort, just to name a few. I am reading to myself and my kids every day. And I am writing! Nothing nourishes me more than putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and letting my thoughts flow free with the words that are bottled up in my mind all day long. Somehow, the paper and ink mix together and transform my jumbled thoughts into something beautiful. Something that lays my soul bare, emptying and filling me at the same time. Sometimes I keep the words to myself and sometimes I bring them here, hoping that they will bless someone else just as I am continually surprised by how much they have blessed me.

So here, now, I am unapologetically caring for myself. The combination of ordinary ways varies a little from day to day and certainly takes some creativity, but the important thing is that it happens. Every. Day. I find it ironic that now, when my life is the busiest it has ever been with raising six kiddos, I am finally making time to really care for myself. But it is because of them that I am inspired to be the most loving, caring version of myself. And to do that, to show them the love that overflows, I must first shower it upon myself. As I do, I might just learn to love October too.

A Shift in Perspective

A Shift in Perspective

I am very familiar with the postpartum time. We are frequent friends. During that time I often feel overwhelmed and need help. Over the past 6 months I have had the privilege of being on the other side, as the doula, the one offering help, and it has given me some new insight. None of it is earth-shattering but can definitely help the postpartum mom, and all mothers, to shift her perceptions and hopefully re-evaluate her expectations.

In spending 3 hours with a family during the early postpartum weeks, I am able to do a couple of loads of laundry, prep dinner, and some light cleaning. It doesn’t sound like a lot but the three hours is full, leaving only a little time for a quick snack and to incorporate the help of young siblings. As the doula, I have the luxury of focusing on these tasks for the three hours that I am there.

I make these points for two reasons. The first is to reassure the mother. It took me three hours to do all of these things. During that time I was not the one feeding and diapering the baby. If I had been, those tasks would have stretched into 5 hours or more.

Another thing I noticed was that I did these tasks without any of the emotional drudgery that I often bring to my own household chores. Even though there was a lot to do, I met the work with a cheerful outlook. So often, when we are in our own homes and recovering during the postpartum time, we see all the things that we cannot get done with the efficiency as we could before baby was born. We may feel like our house is falling apart around us. Typically, it’s not as bad as it seems from our postpartum perspective, but our physical and time limitations in the early weeks (and often throughout the whole first year or so) make even the simplest tasks like folding a load of laundry feel daunting.

So what does all of this mean? First and foremost, the postpartum mother must be gentle with herself. She is only one person and no one person can do everything. Secondly, she should look closely at her personal expectations and decide what is truly reasonable to accomplish during this transitional time. Speaking from experience, the most that can be expected is caring for the new baby and siblings, food to eat, and sleep. Doing a little laundry here and there helps so that you have at least a few clean clothes, but expecting that you will maintain your pre-baby routine is not realistic. Eventually, a new routine will emerge and the postpartum haziness will lessen, but it is a transition. It does not happen all at once. Some days are smoother than others and some days just aren’t. That’s the way it is. It’s normal. It’s real. And you, the mother of this new baby, are doing the best you can and that is enough.

This is a good reminder for those of us not in the immediate postpartum period as well. It takes time to put healthy meals on the table, do the laundry, and clean the house. And on a daily basis, we may also be nursing the baby or toddler, helping children with schoolwork, tending to sibling squabbles, and countless other worthwhile activities. It all takes time and there are 24 hours in a day. There will be things left undone at the end of the day and that is ok. Just like the mom of the newborn who is recovering from childbirth, you are doing the best that you can and that is enough.