Have you ever been in a situation where you just had to survive, not think or feel or enjoy—just make it through? This was my experience with Motherhood.
I had always wanted to be a mother. I read all the books, took all the natural parenting classes, achieved my labor and delivery goals, and then I was given this precious, screaming newborn.
But he just kept screaming, and screaming, and screaming. I knew something was wrong. Nothing soothed him. He cried in pain 22 out of 24 hours per day, he never slept, he couldn’t eat. Everything was put on the backburner to solve this problem. It took me 10 months to solve it. 10 months of pure survival-mode hell. I have very few memories of this time. It’s been blacked out.
And as life goes, things improved, but it was not sunshine and roses. Mothering life was very, very hard. And then I was pregnant with baby #2, achieved another dream labor and delivery, and was ready for a second chance to enjoy motherhood. And this next baby cried and cried and cried. Thankfully I solved the problem in 2 months. But this baby required very intense bodywork and occupational therapy and physical therapy and feeding therapy. To nurse her required me to sit up vertical 3x per night… for 21 months. I remember more of this time, yet I was still operating in survival mode daily.
And then I got a severe case of the shingles. Life was getting very good at kicking me when I was down. Doctors would say, “You must be extremely stressed to trigger the shingles.” And I would say, “Doc, this is the least stressed and most-rested I have been in 3 years.” I began having flashbacks of my firstborn’s year that would send me into a tailspin. I would take my children to the park and lay on a towel in the sun because I was physically too exhausted to sit up or push them on the swing or play chase. Why now? Why was I having PTSD and illnesses and intense fatigue now? I had survived the hard part. Now should be better, not worse.
As many mothers have done before me, I put everyone’s needs ahead of my own for too long. My energy tank was blinking Empty. Any little self care effort I made was too little, too late. If your car is on Empty and you put in a ½ gallon, you are not getting far before you break down again.
Fight or Flight vs Rest and Repair
Your body’s nervous system operates in two modes: Sympathetic and Parasympathetic.
Your Sympathetic Nervous System is responsible for perceiving threats and responding to stimuli. It is your Fight or Flight response. It triggers adrenaline, cortisol, and many other tools to get the body to act. This works well if you wander upon a grizzly during a hike in the woods. However, modern day stressors (work deadlines, schedules, To Do lists, social media political debates, parenting obligations, etc) are keeping us trapped in SNS far too often.
“Its biological opposite is the parasympathetic system of nerves. This is the “rest and digest” system. When parasympathetic activity dominates, healing and regeneration occur. The body performs activities like digesting, detoxifying, eliminating, and building immunity (article).”
To rest we must put our screens away and just surrender. It could be swinging in a hammock, planting a garden, yoga, prayer, meditation, journaling, or sleep. “Sleeping is one way that your body recovers from damage and protects itself against illness,” says Michael Twery, PhD, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research for the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (article). I hadn’t slept in 4 years. I was beginning to understand what was occurring.
My chiropractor’s office had a sign “If you listen to your body whisper, you won’t have to hear it scream.” How can I listen better to my body? How can I rest and repair?
My sage friend, Kim Rowe, runs Healing Collectives to target such challenges. Her course focuses on returning to the feminine by learning to surrender, flow, create healthy boundaries, and listen to your body. During her bout with Lyme disease, she took a week off at home to just Be. This sparked the idea that I was in desperate need of a Rest a Thon! I told my sister about this idea and she became my Accountability Buddy to ensure that I made it happen. Sometimes we need a swift kick in the pants to remind us to remove the obstacles we are putting in our own way. AccountabiliBuddies are great for this.
My Rest a Thon
I went away for 2 days to just be with my own thoughts. No obligations or things I should be doing. I only focused on myself. I didn’t allow thoughts of work or other real world demands to invade my space. I released ideas of guilt or what others might think of this. I thought about the things I had been burying and avoiding a long time. I didn’t trim, tweeze, or shower. I made everything simple.
Here was what I did all day. Each item took about one hour.
- awake, lying in bed
- made breakfast and ate by the pool
- sat on a rock and stretched
- laid on a raft in the pool
- selected trees to set up hammock
- read book in the hammock
- phone call with Mom
- made lunch and ate by the pool
- laid in recliner by the pool
- did yoga and guided meditation by the pond
- laid on raft and read book in the pool
- laid in the hammock and journaled, no deer tonight
- made dinner and ate by pool, a baby fawn joined me!
- shower, face mask, and Yoni egg
- hand and foot massage during a movie
- went to sleep early
I filled up my tank. I rested and repaired and boosted my immunity.
This was my Rest a Thon. This was the location, and time, and way that my body would receive rest. And I had to advocate for it. I had to help my wonderfully, supportive husband understand why this Rest was absolutely necessary, and how this rest did not reflect on him as a husband, father, and person also needing rest. This was about Me and my needs. When we put our own needs last for a long time, our support team may need some time and conversation to help them adjust to the change. The people closest to us generally want to do right by us. We just need to show them how. No one was going to gift me a Rest a Thon no matter how much I thought I deserved it. I am an adult, I suddenly realized I didn’t need anyone’s permission or blessing to create this for myself. I felt selfish, and it felt damn good.
Your Rest a Thon may look very different. In fact, it should. We are all individuals.
This is not a new concept that Mothers burn out, Mothers need a break. But perhaps putting these stories out in the open will allow a new normal, that mothers take more breaks before they reach breaking point.
Jennifer Tow, IBCLC, focuses her work on the principle ‘Heal the Mother, Heal the Baby.’ Imagine how much more our children will get from us when we take the time to address our needs and prioritize our health.
My Rest a Thon was appropriately timed because I returned home to my husband and sweet children. Later that night, my son began vomiting and fever, and my husband left for a 24 hour shift. This is life. But now I was prepared. I was rested. I was able to mother him with kindness and gentleness instead of being sent into a Fight or Flight response.
My goal is not to frequently need a Rest a Thon. My goal is to regularly keep my tank filled up with consistent self care. If there are major events that require deeper healing and rest, then I know that a Rest a Thon is a wonderful way to top off my tank. I will keep it in my Self Care toolbox.