I recently attended a yoga class at a prenatal studio — where I was surrounded by 30+ pregnant women all in various stages of the birth cycle. The class I attended was not specifically for expectant mothers, but the studio was buzzing with all forms of classes. Everything from natural birth, and water deliveries, to breast feeding and spousal support. New moms. Third-time moms. Soon-to-be Dads. And then…me. Two years single and no concrete recollection of ever changing a diaper.
I rode my bike to the studio, and arrived earlier than anticipated. So I awkwardly sat there in the entryway, futzing on my phone and losing all resolve to suck my “belly” in. I was in good company.
Things appeared to move slower in this studio. As if I had entered some alternative universe when I passed through the glass door. Pregnant women sat in large sofa chairs and unapologetically sipped tea. Women entered for massages, and three hour “passive” yoga workshops — where you simply lay there while not one, but two or three women stretch and move you while you breathe. Even the bathrooms gave an essence of peace and love. Deep purple lights strung across the ceiling, scented candles, soft towels. I wasn’t sure if I was at a yoga studio or Sedona Spa retreat.
As I watched these women hit the pause button on their day I started to think about the extreme acts of self care that everyone was engaging in. Everyone seemed to be fully conscious that rest, relaxation, and stillness were essential to their birthing process. The only way to take care of the tiny human growing inside them was to take care of themselves. I’ve never been pregnant, but I’ve witnessed the drastic changes in lifestyle that come from a pregnancy. Foregoing coffee, alcohol, sugar — even hair color. More massages. More daily naps. Modified exercises. More home-cooked meals. More time spent being “selfish” — knowing that a small person is relying on you, making your everyday choices anything BUT selfish.
As women, I think we are naturally predisposed to view “selfishness” as a negative attribute. We glamorize being caretakers for everyone else. We applaud women for their abilities to put others first time & time again — be it friends, family, parents, children, co-workers. We’re taught that a life of service and giving is the key to happiness, and I do not disagree for even a minute. But somewhere in my own life — I forgot to serve myself. And as the saying goes, “you can’t serve from an empty vessel.”
I can not tell you if a child is in my future, but I can say with absolute certainty that I do not wish to only devote 9 months of my life to self-care, justified by the fact that I am simultaneously caring for another.
Why as women do we reserve the right to relax for when we are expending energy on growing another life? What about my own life? What’s so wrong with taking naps? Getting regular massages? Sleeping more? What’s wrong with taking it easy on my yoga mat, or God forbid, working out less, and resting more? Why am I medicating my days with wine, when a hot cup of herbal tea will do? Why is that not glamorous enough to put on an Instagram account? Where is the “stillness” filter? The self-love filter?
I’ve chosen to make self-care the top priority in my life because the love I show to myself is a reflection of the love that I give to others. I have to fill my own cup first. And that is not selfish or wrong. I’m teaching others how to love me, but being an example of how I love myself.
I never learned this in school. I never learned this in church. And I all but destroyed my self esteem in college as I planned a life that revolved around serving others. My parents, future bosses, boyfriends, and whomever else I could please to win their affection. But I’ve chosen to put my self-care, and my self-love at the very top of the priority list — knowing that my “selfish” choices will make me that much more capable of loving, serving, and giving. And maybe the mantra will come full circle, and I will find that service & giving is the root of all happiness. I just wish I had realized sooner that I had to serve & give to myself first.
You can’t find yourself be giving pieces of yourself away. You have to be whole first. And it was in this moment at this prenatal yoga studio, that I realized how shameful it is that we too often view self-care as weak & unnecessary. We glorify long, busy work days, and lack of free time, and we are constantly told to try harder, work more, and be more. We give away so much of ourselves to so many people — hopeful that the role of the caretaker and the giver will give us the sense of accomplishment and “completeness” that we seek. I’ve spent too many years trying to give myself away — as if the scattered pieces of my heart could make some beautiful sand art that everyone could enjoy. I no longer want to be spread thin like sand. I want to be the ocean. I want to be whole, and self-contained, and self-serving — so that if the time comes for me to love another, I have a vast, infinite well of love to pull from.