Well, look at you. You did it. There was a human inside your body and now it's on the outside, which makes you presently the breathing, walking (with some discomfort) culmination of everything that is legitimately magical about being a human. No matter what went down during your pregnancy, labor, or really any other part of your life up until this point, you successfully did the single most impressive and difficult thing that humans have come up with so far. Which is why there's one thing you should do for yourself immediately after your baby's born. I mean, this is it. It doesn't get harder or more amazing than the thing that you just did. In other words, dear reader, it's time for you to celebrate yourself.
I'm telling you that because it's vital that you understand it — like, really, fully believe with every cell in your body that what you've just accomplished is pure magic — because what I'm about to tell you to do might seem contradictory to everything you've been told about what parenthood (especially new parenthood) is supposed to be. You see, when you have a new baby, you're trained to believe that your needs stop mattering. As a pregnant person you were cared for and supported and tended to, but as a new mother everyone's focus shifts to the tiny human you brought into the world. That's problematic, for a variety of valid, undeniable reasons.
Modern parenting messages are sometimes laden with reminders that you shouldn't forget to take care of yourself when you have a fresh human under your care, but even that relatively recent addition to our new-mom marching orders is essentially for our kids. Like, please remember to feed yourself enough and sleep enough that you stay alive and functional for your baby. Self-care, in the context of parenting, stops being about you and, instead, turns into one more thing on an already impossibly long list of sh*t you're supposed to do for your baby. "Breastfeed for a year and make enough time for yourself so your baby isn't burdened with a mediocre mom." It's bullsh*t. It isn't about you at all.
What if you forced yourself to stop connecting every positive thing you do for yourself to the ways in which your baby tangentially or directly benefits?
You see, when you have a new baby, you're trained to believe that your needs stop mattering
Look, you obviously care about what your baby needs at least marginally more than you care about what you need, and that's reasonable. It's not making yourself a martyr in service to parenthood, and it's not forgetting that you were (and still are) an autonomous individual, despite having a new relationship in your life and wanting to excel at your performance in that relationship. You're an adult. You're inherently more solid than a baby. That's just the deal. And you signed on to raise a baby, which are little more than delicate bags of water who can't do a goddamn thing for themselves, for whom every little choice matters a great deal more than little choices matter to fully formed adults because they are actively constructing the foundation upon which the rest of this person's life will be built.
In other words, a baby's needs are a very big f*cking deal. Your needs matter too, but your foundation is built. If your sh*t takes a backseat to the baby's sh*t for a while, you'll survive and they'll thrive. It really is how parenting works, so no, I'm not suggesting that you beat yourself up and try to rewire your brain to become some highly evolved parenting beast who lives free of the weight of her kid's needs. That's not how humans work, nor should it be.
What I'm suggesting is that you rewire your brain in a much smaller way, and that you endeavor to do it as soon as that baby falls out of your body. What I'm suggesting is that you cut the mental cord that connects every single thing you do (or don't do) to its impact on your baby. Let some things be just about you.
What I'm suggesting is that you cut the mental cord that connects every single thing you do (or don't do) to its impact on your baby.
Because right after a baby is born, it's so easy to feel like their an appendage, or that you're their appendage. You were sharing blood and nutrients and physical space for so long; how could they not? But that's the thing about them being born: They become their own person, and so do you, once again. And if you can quickly check your brain whenever you start reading all of your thoughts, feelings, and actions through a filter of what they mean just for the baby, you'll both be much better off. After all, if you make sure you can comfortably maintain your internal sense of autonomy, it's going to be infinitely easier for you to acknowledge theirs and be a supportive part of their later-in-life motions to exercise it.
So when you have a chance to get a few extra hours of sleep, and you take it, and it feels incredible and restorative, try to not dwell on how you just refueled the batteries on the baby's mom machine. It won't stop being true if you don't focus on it, and focusing on it as a thing you did just for you, just as you, will help retrain your brain in ways that benefit you both. And when you mean to get sleep but stay up late binge-watching The Wire (yes, again), and you're exhausting the next day, just feel mildly sh*tty about it because you made a dumb choice that you're paying for, not because it now means you're giving your baby an inferior mom for the day.
You're always going to think about what your baby needs, and when it comes down to prioritizing their needs or yours, you'll pick theirs. You know you will, even if a lot of articles would tell you not to. But mentally cutting the cord between you two after they're born doesn't rob them of anything at all — but it does give you back to yourself. And you deserve the world after the magic you just did. You should give yourself this.
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