Last week I wrote about the new science of self-compassion in the Washington Post blog, ‘On Parenting.’ Writing that post got me thinking about how our society treats us when we first become mothers. I wonder if this could be part of why it’s so hard for us to actually be kind to ourselves?
Think back to when you were first pregnant; a happy time filled with lots of dreams and wishes. Treating yourself well wasn’t so hard then. There was time for sleep, rest, exercise, and even the occasional massage. Of course there was room for worry too. Reading the pregnancy how-to books and blogs could be stressful but you could still find the time and space to take care of yourself.
But who or what is present in our society to celebrate us after we give birth? In other cultures, new mothers are honored and taken care of by their family and community. There is an expectation that they will be given rest, support, and some acknowledgement of their new role.
In our culture there is no ceremony to welcome a new mother rather, we are often discharged from the hospital without fanfare or follow-up. Our families often live far away and most neighborhood communities are not structured to offer that kind of support.
It can be especially hard for new mothers to think about being kind to themselves because the collective focus shifts so swiftly to the new baby. No mention is made of the seismic shift that hits when a new mother experiences interrupted sleep, sore body parts, and little or no time for self-care.
This is not to say that having a baby is a negative experience. Of course it isn’t. But thanks to our culture, mothers often feel wholly responsible for their new little one’s welfare. Generalizing messages like “breast is best” and other such advice do not take a mother’s particular situation into account. There is an emphasis on self-sacrifice that is almost encouraged in our society.
In this country, there are many rituals that mark the arrival of a new baby but I can’t think of one that acknowledges a new mother. The new science of self-compassion does not recommend pushing through the pain. Is it okay to be kind to ourselves while we are nurturing our children? I think so. I believe that if we want to lead healthier and happier lives we have to be kind to ourselves and engage in personal and political conversations about what mothers need.