My husband and I were sitting in our final birthing class, watching a required video about cesarean sections. I had been feeling uncomfortable for much of the class, telling my husband I might go stand in the back of the room because I couldn’t find a comfortable position in my chair. However, I didn’t move. Instead, as a graphic appeared on the screen illustrating how, exactly, they get the baby out during a c-section, I felt my body temperature rise at an alarming rate. I took my jacket off and closed my eyes, trying to ward off the dizziness.
As nausea washed over me, I considered leaning over to my husband to tell him I was unwell but, I thought, it’s our last birthing class! What if they make us come back to retake this session? What if we miss valuable information? We only have one hour left! I can power through!
And I could power through. Until, of course, I couldn’t. I thought about the little girl inside of me, her life and health being sustained through mine. As the movie ended and the lights came on, I leaned over to my husband and surrendered. “I’m sick,” I muttered, and then I looked at the teacher, willing her to come help me.
She immediately noticed my pale, sweaty face just as I dropped it to the table in front of me. And then, the flurry of activity: ice chips, water, honey, and a wheelchair were set before me almost immediately. Before I knew it, my husband and I had been taken to a nearby room and my doctor was on the phone, listening to my symptoms. Soon after, the color returned to my face and the strength came back to my body. My doctor decided not to admit me to the hospital but, instead, sent me home with strict instructions to keep my blood sugar in check.
“Your baby is absolutely fine,” he told me, “this is just you.” Before sending me home, he reassured me once more that the baby is getting what she needs—I, however, am not. There was enough food (read: energy) for her, but not enough left for me, leaving me facedown in the middle of my last birthing class.
I was embarrassed as the nurse wheeled me out of the hospital to my husband, who was waiting to usher me into the car. I should know how to take care of my baby, I thought. And then, instantly, I thought back to the doctor’s words spoken just moments earlier. My concern was never once directed towards myself, it only went as far as my baby.
I’ve read so much about self-compassion lately, but the one line I keep coming back to is this simple instruction from Soren Kierkegaard: “Don’t forget to love yourself.”
So often, we’re the last ones we think of. I nearly lost consciousness in the middle of a birthing class and, at the end of the night, I was just ashamed that I wasn’t taking good enough care of my child. Somehow, it didn’t cross my mind that I really missed the boat on caring for me. After all, I wouldn’t have spoken up about feeling ill if I wasn’t concerned for my little girl; she alone is what moved me to ask for help.
It’s not selfish or prideful to care for ourselves—it’s wise and important. Our wellbeing shouldn’t only matter when we’re growing life inside of us. Self-compassion is a job for every day—pregnant or not, young or old, man or woman. Right now, I have to be eating enough for both me and my baby. In all seasons, I need to be loving myself enough to pour love out to others.
I still have an incredibly vivid memory from when I was a little girl, standing in the bathroom with my dad while I prepared for bed. He stood by me as I brushed my teeth, making sure my brush made it to each tooth, even the ones I couldn’t see. “Tiger teeth!!!” He would say, prompting me to show my teeth as I brushed them. And brush them, I did—with vigor, actually.
Through the years, I’ve become an incredibly aggressive tooth brusher. It’s as if I’ve forgotten that this is a way I’m taking care of my body and, instead, I see it as a task to be completed with accuracy and efficiency. OH WELL IF THERE’S BLOODSHED.
Now, my dentist makes interventions to keep me from drawing blood every time I put a toothbrush in my mouth. “It’s okay to be a little gentler with yourself,” my dentist tells me. I smile, agree, and then wonder how a bi-annual check-up at the dentist’s office could carry with it such poignant life advice?
It’s okay to be gentler with ourselves. It’s okay to speak up when we need help, or to let up on our teeth and gums a bit when it’s time to brush. It’s okay to consider ourselves—our own health, our well-being, our happiness, our contentment.
The needs of others will have to come before my needs sometimes (especially with a newborn!), but tending to their needs does not mean ignoring my own. It can’t, or else it won’t be long before I’m no longer able to care for my baby or others in need. We have to be able to speak up when we’re not well; we have to dismantle the shame that can creep in when we push pause on our lives (or on a c-section video) in order to tend to ourselves. It is good and honorable to care for and about our own self, even if it means that we take twice as long brushing our teeth.
At the end of our lives, there’s no special prize for having powered through without feeling any concern for our own well-being, and there’s no tooth fairy bonus for having brushed with so much purpose that we spit blood. Don’t forget about you. Don’t forget to love you; it is, after all, okay to be a little gentler with yourself. My dentist says so.