I loved becoming a mom at age 33. I cherished the early days with my daughter. We bonded and explored and crawled and laughed and cried together. I'm fortunate to have a true partner in my husband, who tried to evenly divide night feedings even when she rejected his 3 a.m. visits due to his stubborn refusal to lactate. But after recovering from delivery complications and an unplanned c-section, my naturally perky self was in shambles. Plus, we'd just moved across the country, and I had no other family members within 2,000 miles of us. Add that to the fact that I hadn't gotten a full night's sleep in well over a year and I was truly exhausted.
Although I'm not usually prone to pessimism or depression, I'd been reduced to a specter of dark undereye circles, foggy thoughts, and growing resentment of virtually everyone and everything. More than anything, I needed a solo vacation away from my kid.
My exhaustion crept deep into my bones. I began to fantasize, not about exotic beaches but about quiet hotel rooms: anywhere without a baby monitor that wailed every 70 minutes. One of those nights, to keep myself awake while breastfeeding at 4:00 a.m., I scanned getaway deals on my phone. My eyes fell on a picture of a woman stretched out in a serene poolside cabana at a Palm Springs hotel. This level of rest felt so unattainable that I bitterly wept all over my iPhone screen. I needed a retreat from my motherly duties, however temporary.
The next day, my husband asked what I wanted for Christmas. "To sleep in the sunshine for three days straight, somewhere where there are no baby monitors," I said quickly. When Christmas rolled around, my husband gifted me with a pre-arranged long weekend at a hotel in Lake Las Vegas (not Las Vegas — this was the very quiet, very non-Las Vegas Lake Las Vegas) while he volunteered to stay home with our now 1-year old daughter. Any mom guilt I might have otherwise felt was drowned in the anticipation of a full night's sleep.
When I told people I was taking a vacation by myself, they were baffled. "You're going on vacation without your baby?" (Yes.) "Won't you miss her terribly?" (Also, yes.)
I initially planned on asking one of my girlfriends to come along, but when I broached the topic with my BFF, she gently reminded me that the point of the trip was to be on my own schedule alone for a few days. Honestly, I couldn't argue with her. Still, although I enjoyed eating, seeing movies, and even flying alone, I hadn't ever taken a full-blown solo vacation. But when I told people I was taking a vacation by myself, they were baffled.
"You're going on vacation without your baby?" (Yes.) "Won't you miss her terribly?" (Also, yes.) "Is everything OK with you and your husband?" (Yes, and now I'm annoyed. When he went to Chicago a few months before for a kid-free weekend with his best friend, it raised zero eyebrows.) "Are you depressed? I don't get why you wouldn't just all go." (I want to sleep. I am exhausted.)
At this point, I started to seriously doubt whether this was a good idea. Would my daughter be OK not seeing her mom for three days?, I wondered. When they drove me to the airport, I briefly but seriously considered canceling the whole thing, but somewhere deep in my soul, through my emotional goodbye hugs, I knew I needed this.
Though I missed my daughter acutely, my reservations soon melted away. Fun fact: even discount coach air travel is luxurious when traveling solo. I read (!) and napped (!!!) on the flight. By the time I landed and boarded the hotel shuttle, the trip had virtually paid for itself.
I woke the following late morning to the joyous realization that I'd slept 10 hours, had awakened naturally with no baby monitor, and I had nothing to do.
Looking back, I don't actually remember what my room looked like for two reasons. First, the property was so gorgeous there was no reason to be inside while awake. Second, the sleep I enjoyed there was so long and immersive that I was wholly unconcerned with what treasures awaited me in the mini-fridge or what was on TV. I woke the following late morning to the joyous realization that I'd slept 10 hours, had awakened naturally with no baby monitor, and I had nothing to do. I threw open the window sash and literally gasped like someone overacting in a travel commercial: the lake and mountains glittered like a postcard.
At the breakfast buffet, I lolled over my omelette and my long-deferred Amy Poehler book. After breakfast, I explored the sprawling grounds, which reminded me how tiring light recreational walking can be when you're an overtired human being. I went back to my room for the most indulgent 11 a.m. nap of my life. I will remember that nap forever.
The joy of addressing my own needs and wants without giving my family my undivided attention was overwhelming.
I woke up for a late lunch on the near-empty pool deck under the palms, and realized this would be the perfect moment to write some comedy, which is my creative passion. Rested and focused, I quickly jotted two fully formed sketches in my notebook and promising ideas for a handful more. The joy of addressing my own needs and wants without giving my family my undivided attention was overwhelming.
At night, I dressed up in my favorite dress and heels and went to the hotel's very best restaurant by myself. I relished my sushi, steak, and wine. I moved outside to scarf down dessert by the fire pits and watched the breeze blow on the lake. The following day, I took the hotel shuttle to the nearby Neon Museum and strolled leisurely around, snapping photos and chatting with kind strangers.
I'd wondered if three days away was truly enough to make a difference, especially knowing that I was returning to more sleepless nights. But just 72 hours later, I truly felt like a different and rebooted version of myself. The sleep and sunshine had melted my resentment, conquered my hopelessness, reclaimed my sense of agency. I'd caught a glimpse of my future self and realized this postpartum season was more fleeting and also precious than I'd realized. I found peace with the idea that new motherhood wouldn't define my whole life, even though my daughter needed (and deserved) so much of me right then. I couldn't wait to go home and snuggle with my favorite people in the world.
I'm the best mom, wife, professional, and woman I can be when I'm also honest about my needs and engaged in my creative passions, not when I martyr myself for some sort of imagined mommy brownie points.
Sure, there are still some long and frustrating nights. There were days when I'm covered in a thick film of GoGurt and Cheerios, and I flip through my vacation pictures and wish I could go back for another afternoon or two. But overall, my solo vacation was a much-needed re-set for my body, mind, and spirit. I was reminded that self-care is not merely selfish: I'm the best mom, wife, professional, and woman I can be when I'm also honest about my needs and engaged in my creative passions, not when I martyr myself for some sort of imagined mommy brownie points.
By the time I returned, my daughter mercifully decided she was, at last, amenable to weaning (which is good, as my trip had effectively dried up my last stock). This in turn set off a chain of beneficial developments — longer sleep cycles, less crying during mommy's conference calls — that further bolstered health and happiness. The fog in my brain slowly lifted. I felt consistently willing and able to give and engage deeply and cheerfully with the adored people I get to call family.
It sounds like a lot to pin on a few pillows, palms trees, and omelettes, but it made all the difference.