I recently read an article that removed mere acts of personal hygiene from the realm of self care. Basically the author was saying, ‘Taking a shower is not self care, it’s being a human.’
Apart from the fact that lots of folks don’t take showers and can still be classified as humans, I understand the sentiment that self care should be more than what we have been taught is just good basic hygiene. But when you feel like you have to fight for basic hygiene, more radical notions of self care (i.e. spa days, brunch with friends, etc) can seem far out of reach. And I’m not talking just about logistical reach (scheduling, finding a baby sitter, etc); I’m talking about financial reach too. If you’re concerned about paying your water bill, how could you possibly afford a massage?
So there has to be a middle ground. We have to find simple, sustainable ways to take care of ourselves because we are human and we deserve it but also because our families and our communities need us.
Postpartum with my second child, I decided to take a sitz bath every day. I needed it for healing. If you’re of the ‘a shower is not self care’ mindset, then I would assume you’re also of the ‘wound care is not self care’ mindset. But hey, let’s work with what we’ve got. I had to fight and be intentional for 10 minutes on the toilet alone. I upset my husband, my toddler, and probably myself to some extent in the quest for this time.
So when the struggle for radical self care feels all too real, let’s opt for simple self care. I believe we can take these mundane opportunities for good hygiene and transform them through mindfulness into nurturing experiences.
Let’s revisit the idea of taking a shower. Be fully present with yourself during this time. In order to do this, you’ll need to make sure your kid(s) is covered. Ideally, another adult will be present to take point or you have a baby monitor just in case a sleeping baby needs you. If you’re an early riser, waking before the rest of the house might make this activity easier. It may help you avoid washing your hair too many times on accident!
Get all your senses involved. Listen to the sound of the water. Feel it making contact with your head, neck, shoulders, and back. Take a deep breath in through your nose and as you exhale through your mouth, imagine the water washing away tension from those areas. Continue down the body. As you begin to wash yourself, take time to smell the product you’re using. Notice how it feels in your hands and on your skin. Massage your scalp when shampooing/conditioning. As you wash the rest of your body, thank each part for its hard work. Especially for postpartum moms, thank your breasts if you’re breastfeeding; thank your belly; thank your thighs. Shift away from judging those parts of yourself. Nourish them with your touch. When you’re finished, take care as you dry yourself. Take time to apply lotion or oil to your face and body, massaging as you go. Long strokes are good for your limbs and circular strokes are good for your joints. Continue to thank your body. Feel nourished by your touch. You can also imagine you’re applying a sort of body armor that can help you deflect stress and negativity throughout the day.
This will definitely take a little longer than your normal shower routine but you don’t have to leave the house, pay a babysitter, or spend any other money.
Another hygiene practice I tend to skimp on or rush through is brushing my teeth. Maybe what it boils down to is taking a moment to feel grounded and put things in perspective. The ADA recommends brushing for 2 minutes. Because I meet my baby’s needs for love, nourishment, and shelter, I can remind myself that 2 minutes of crying does not equal an adverse childhood experience (the kind that creates toxic levels of stress). Also, when faced with the choice between a good healthy brushing (because you deserve it) and a pile of laundry (or dishes or tidying up for guests or …), we should always choose our teeth.
My children need to be able to occupy themselves for 2 minutes (preferably longer). My toddler likes to ask me questions or inevitably loses something the second the toothpaste starts to froth in my mouth. I’ve ruined shirts by trying to talk with a mouth full of toothpaste. It’s not worth it. My daughter might wind into a tantrum or feel unhappy that I can’t talk to her right then but I’m okay with those emotions. And if she needs to tantrum, let’s get it out sooner rather than later.
So yes, taking a shower and feeling clean is not flashy self care. It’s simple and humanizing. I know there have been times in my postpartum life when I just felt like a cow with leaky udders. Nurse, spit up, cry, repeat. Taking a shower did make me feel like a human again. Those brief moments alone were sometimes just enough to keep me going. I can’t stress enough how crucial it was to have another adult in the house to take point on the kids while practicing this self care shower. I hear phantom cries in everything so I needed the reassurance that if indeed the cries I heard were real, someone else was going to handle it.
In conclusion, yes, self care should perhaps be more special or sacred than showering or brushing teeth. BUT the reality is often less glittery than that. This is an ongoing conversation – especially the social justice component of making self care practices available and accessible to all. I’d love to hear your thoughts. How are you practicing self care? How do you fit it into your budget and your schedule?