There was a point in the middle of the hardest part of my labor where I was hunched over in my shower, moaning and singing and swaying as hot water streamed all over my back, where I asked myself who was doing this to me. Who was making all of these unbelievably intense feelings happen to me? Instantly, I felt myself answer: You. You are doing this to you. Your body is doing all of this. Also? You're kind of a badass and not one to be messed with. Labor and delivery taught me to love my body, mostly by making me confront just how powerful my body is, despite how little it typically requires to be such a force.
In exchange for some food (OK, a lot of food, in my case), water, rest, and affection, my body not only keeps me alive but has successfully created a brand new (and quite adorable) person. As much as I used to begrudge myself the rest and other inconvenient needs of my body, after labor and birth I just couldn't. All this time, my body was doing so much, and is capable of so much, yet I was looking for ways to cheat it. I wanted to figure out the bare minimum I could get away with, especially in terms of sleep, to stay alive instead of giving it the full care it deserves.
I don't look for ways to cheat myself anymore. I can finally, honestly say that I love my body, not only because it made my precious son but also because I finally realized just how precious I am in the process of birthing him.
I Learned To Take My Body Seriously
There is literally nothing like making a new person to remind you how powerful your body is. Pregnancy jolted me into a new level of seriousness around self-care, but labor and birth taught me that simply listening to my body could yield incredible results.
I Learned To Be Present And Pay Attention To My Physical Signals
Though my mind is often in a million different places, during labor and birth I had to pay my full attention to what my body was telling me. There were no distractions: it was just me, yielding to whatever my body needed to do to stay some kind of comfortable and productive. That's been hugely helpful in my life as a mom (and just for living, more generally).
I Discovered Just How Powerful I Am…
Feeling the most intense sensations my body has ever experienced, and realizing that it was my own body generating them, helped me see that my body is quite literally a force to be reckoned with.
...And How Much I Can Do With Relatively Simple Everyday Actions
Yet I didn't need anything special in order to generate that force — it was just me, after having sex, eating, and sleeping enough. If such simple actions could yield such a profound result, it makes no sense for me to take them for granted. I no longer had any excuse not to nourish, rest, and respect myself as much as possible, and as much as I deserve.
It Totally Changed How I Saw Myself
It was hard not to take myself more seriously, and treat myself somewhat more reverently, after going through such a profound experience.
I Learned The Importance Of Advance Preparation
Even with something as “natural” as having an unmedicated birth, it's incredibly important to prepare beforehand. Winging it doesn't work when you're trying to meet a big physical challenge, whether it's giving birth or running a long-distance race or anything else. I'm so glad my partner and I took the time to take a childbirth class in the weeks leading up to birth, and that I'd spent so much time reading and learning about birth before giving birth myself. I know that it made a difference for me in the end.
I Recognized The Importance Of Rest And Recovery, Even After Positive Events
It’s taken me a long time to recognize and appreciate the value of rest. Even in the moments that I've begrudgingly accepted that I need to sleep and take care of myself, it's usually been after something bad happens — an injury or illness — not just something that needs to happen in the ordinary course of things.
Giving birth made me realize that even if everything goes right, it doesn't mean that my body isn't doing an awful lot and, as a result, requires proper rest to function. Rest isn't just something I should do the bare minimum of to avoid catastrophe; it needs to be a priority so my body can continue to do amazing things.
I Realized I Couldn't Love Anyone Else More Than I Loved Myself…
You can't give other people more than you have within yourself. It's the classic “blood from a turnip” scenario and it just won't work. I realized that all the feelings of love and pride and joy and protectiveness I had during and after birth weren't just for my baby or my partner, they were for me, too. That pride and love and care was for me, too, so that I could have enough to share with my family.
...So I'd Better Love Myself A Whole Lot, If I Wanted To Love And Care For My Baby To My High Standards
So if I was going to take on the physically (and emotionally, and mentally) demanding task of breastfeeding, bouncing, wearing, and loving my baby, I had to make sure I was well fed and well rested enough to keep up. As hard as it was — and as often as I failed — I worked to get as much sleep as I could, and I definitely prioritized as much self-care as I could (especially while I was exclusively breastfeeding).