By Doula Jen
As a postpartum doula, I am constantly reminding my clients to simplify, eliminate stress, and embrace the chaos and imperfection that inevitably nips at the heels of motherhood. “Your children will appreciate being raised by a human being,” I say. “If peanut butter and jelly for dinner is wrong, who wants to be right?”
I warn the mamas that I know, work with, and care for about the dangers of supermom syndrome. “Supermoms are sick,” I say. “No really! They are the ones who I visit in the hospital, sick with exhaustion and dehydrated, because they’ve forgotten to eat and sleep.”
I have often claimed that I wish I could doula myself the way I doula my clients. I wish I could put the same love and nutrition into my own soup, boss myself into an early bedtime or a hot bath. I wish I could give myself the same message that I give WBC families: you’re doing to much; you’re thinking too hard; and truly, you are doing a great job!
Over the last few months I’ve been busy. One thing or another. Clients and writing deadlines. Side projects and presentations at health benefits companies. A visit from my mother. My daughter’s birthday and the million surprises that somehow must accompany that.
On top of that let’s try every apple orchard and pumpkin patch, Halloween event, and school carnival. Somehow recreating, with glittered felt and a glue gun, the little purse that accompanied the Halloween costume. The one that was lost at the Como Zoo and inspired fat, heartbreaking tears.
Volunteering for reading groups at school, having long talks about life with loved ones, feeling like I have to have it ALL figured out…today. Saying yes to this and yes to that, spending too much time worrying. Berating myself for spending so much time worrying. Worrying about how hard I am on myself for worrying.
Suddenly, I am grinding my teeth at night. Suddenly, I am just a series of spinning plates.
Last Sunday, after the third in a row of tremendously over-scheduled weeks, my son fell ill. Immediately I flew into fix-it mode. Racing out for popsicles and juice, softer Kleenex and a puzzle to do together. I held him like a baby, hovered over him all night, and the next day—while he stayed home from school—became his personal short order cook, letting my heart seep into every bowl of soup and every half-eaten grilled cheese sandwich.
I stripped all the beds, organized the closets, ran out for supplies once the whole house succumbed to the bug—pushing past my own aches and pains, chills and fever; taking care of everyone, because that’s what doulas do. That’s what moms do.
On the one day that week that both kids attended school, I kept my weekly appointment as the reading group volunteer, only because I had told my daughter that if she went to school, I would make myself well enough to go. I would be there, as usual, to work with her class.
In the end, the virus hit me the hardest. They usually don’t, as is the case with most moms. Moms miraculously escape many conditions, or at least seem to will themselves into a milder case. What choice do we have? Kindergartners need to be held like babies and daughters need an alternating flow of kisses and wet washcloths applied to their sweet little foreheads. Beds need to be stripped, novels written. Rome can be built in a day. Just let me have a crack at it.
Lesson immediately learned? Unfortunately, no. I cried at my weakness, stomped my feet at my inability to write as much as I usually do. Apologized profusely to the client that I had to skip out on, for fear of infecting the sacred postpartum bubble with what felt like the plague. Plans were put off, appointments rescheduled, laundry pushed to the corner. It pissed me off.
And, as my kids’ trip up north to see Grandma fell through, I promised a movie theater outings and coloring books, pumpkin muffins and the public library. Still supermomming, still overdoing, still trying to make myself available to everyone and everything at all times.
On that note, I am temporarily making myself available to you: readers, doula enthusiasts, new mothers and fathers.
Listen to your doula. Slow down. Eat your soup. Live your sweet life in the way that you would advise your dearest friends to live theirs. Don’t be a supermom. Or a steam train. Or a hyper-active cyborg capable of levels of multitasking previously unheard of. Be human. Be you. Be careful with yourself.