I Want a Baby, But I Need to Learn How to Take Care of Myself First
"Somehow, I can’t imagine doing the bare minimum for myself is conducive to caring for another human life."
October 4th to October 10th is Mental Illness Awareness Week.
Motherhood—and mothers’ voices—should be celebrated every day. But that also means having honest, judgment-free conversations about the complexities of parenting. In our series Millennial Moms, we reveal the beautiful—and daunting—responsibilities of motherhood through the lens of different women’s experiences, from balancing side hustles in order to provide for our kids to dealing with dating apps as young single moms.
One of my defining character traits is that I doubt myself at every turn. I question my intelligence, my talents, and my ability to pull off a goth pin-up girl vibe. But the one thing I’ve never worried about is whether I’d be a good mom. For whatever reason, my confidence in the face of eventual motherhood is unwavering. I can feel it in my bones: motherhood will suit me in a way few other things have.
But, as my husband Lawrence and I initiate Phase I of Operation Baby Lewis, with hopes of successfully conceiving them by the end of the year, I’m experiencing anxiety. Because even though I’m positive I can take care of my future kid, I have no idea how to take care of myself. I understand the general concept, of course: eat well, exercise, get quality sleep. The problem is I’m not great at following through on these self-care practices. All of that requires actually caring about myself—and that’s not something I excel at.
I’m not programmed for self-care. I have so little regard for my well-being that, if left to my own devices, I would wither away in bed like one of Charlie Bucket's decrepit grandmothers from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I do just enough to keep myself alive, and even that can feel like too much. Somehow, I can’t imagine doing the bare minimum for myself is conducive to caring for another human life. It would probably be in my best interest—and Baby Lewis’s—if I put just 10 percent more effort into taking care of myself. But I’m worried that it’s too late to fix this.
Why? Well, at this point, my ineptitude feels irrevocably built-in. I mean, I haven’t slept well since I was 15 years old. And considering it’s practically impossible to get out of sleep debt, that’s 15 years of being in the red. On the other hand, the fact that I wake up several times a night and rarely get sufficient REM sleep seems like a positive for last-night feedings for the baby. If I’m already struggling, how much worse could waking up in the middle of the night to check on a screaming baby be?
Closely related is the fact that I don’t exactly eat like a normal person. I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but sometimes I just can’t muster the energy to eat. The thought of getting up to put any amount of work into cooking for myself is often too much. There are even times when I just give up mid-chew because I don’t have it in me. But once again, I wonder if this is actually a detriment. From what I hear, newly initiated parents take any moment they’re not watching the baby to either shower or nap; there’s no mention of food.
While it was my every intention to get better at these wellness habits in 2020, the pandemic hit. And unlike the people who took the time to learn how to make sourdough bread, I haven’t been inspired to improve myself. Between my regular depression, COVID depression, and political depression, it’s a miracle I can drag myself off the couch every two hours to walk my dog (she is a diva with a tight schedule). Trying to engage in self-care feels like asking far too much of myself—even more than before.
Still, I know I can’t just cross my fingers and miraculously become a perfect adult by the time Baby Lewis has taken up residence in my uterus. Considering how much that child means to me when they’re just a concept, I really need to get my act together. This means that I’ve had to call in the big guns: Lawrence and my best friend Christina.
They are the only two people who are decent at holding me accountable. It’s not that I fear them; that would be a terrible quality in the most important people in my life. I just know how much they worry about me, and I don’t want to contribute to that concern any more than I already have. So, I enlisted their skills as I attempt to become more of a human being and less of a pile of T-shirts and sweatpants.
Now, technically, the only thing they have much control over is whether I eat, but that’s a fairly big endeavor. Lawrence is on “having food in the apartment” patrol. He buys me simple snacks that require little effort to consume, and he’ll even prep ready-to-eat lunches so all I have to do is open the refrigerator and then open my mouth. Christina supports this by checking in every afternoon to see if I’ve actually eaten. It’s not to the point where I have to send a daily picture of a dirty plate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she added that requirement.
I’ve also gotten into the habit of setting myself a lot of reminders. I’ve got alerts to take my medications in the morning, to brush my teeth and wash my face at night, and to do my daily Duolingo practice (because keeping my brain sharp is probably a good idea). Seeing that notification sit there unchecked often provides the right amount of guilt to get these things done. It’s not always right on time, but there’s at least an 80 percent chance that I’ll get around to these things before the day is done. And that’s better than nothing!
These are small steps, admittedly. But, considering I’m underdeveloped in the “caring for myself” department, those steps are worth celebrating. And I’m learning that, when I can’t muster the energy to care about myself, I can count on my support system to step in. After all, it takes a village to raise a baby—and, apparently, their mother.
Still, I won’t lie and say it hasn’t been a difficult adjustment. It just doesn’t come naturally to prioritize my own needs. That’s part of the reason why I feel like I’ll be a great mom; I’m fantastic at caring for others. But I want to be the best version of myself for Baby Lewis when they decide to grace the world with their presence. Moreover, I know that if I saw my child treating themselves the way I treat myself, I would lay down some Ethnic Mom Justice to set them straight. So, I guess I need to practice being my own mom before I’m fully ready to be someone else’s.