Wednesday Missive: Self-Care and Being a Working Mom (or why I decided to take Jonah on my self-care retreat)

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Hello Loves!

*** First: new podcast alert!  Check out my conversation with Damla Aktekin on how to access the power of your intuition.  With the tools Damla offers, it may be simpler than you think. ***

Last week, on February 14th, I sent out this message about self-care and going to the dentist and completely forgot to wish everyone a happy Valentine’s Day!  Ha! You could probably tell my attention was focused much more on my teeth than on my heart.  

(And for those of you who are interested in my dentist saga, the biological dentist told me I had great oral hygiene and only had three cavities, two of which he filled on the spot.  I not only avoided a root canal, but also saved thousands of dollars and left feeling very cared for. Moral of the story: Avoid the dental shame and get yourself a second opinion.)

With that said, I hope you all enjoyed a nourishing day and were able to ponder and celebrate the meaning of love.  Having another devastating mass shooting happen in the same week feels so sad.  I really appreciate the thoughts and action ideas my friend Kelly shared in her newsletter this week. 

This week, I’m sharing another real life self-care story.  As I prepare for the spring round of Self Care 101, I’m talking about how to apply real self-care to the everyday struggles of our lives.  As I learn best from in-the-trenches examples, I’m hoping these stories of struggle and triumph offer self-care inspiration for you, too.

My self-care victory from this past week involved deciding whether to take Jonah on my self-care group retreat.   

For each Self Care 101 course I lead, the class takes  a weekend self-care retreat together.  It’s a chance for us to connect in person and practice the self-care we are learning.

These weekends are some of the most special moments of my life.  On the surface, there’s nothing explicitly fancy about the retreat. Twenty or so women take over a simple but lovely retreat center for three days.  We do yoga, walk in the woods, eat good food and throughout it all, tell each other our stories.  

However, under the surface, a lot more happens. Taking this break from the busyness of our life begins to open us up.  Buried feelings rise to the surface. We realize how freaking hard we are on ourselves, and we cheer each other on as we become our own friends. We cry, we laugh, we support each other.  It’s “sorority” in the purest meaning of the word.

Over the past three years, I’ve led nine of these retreats and have felt like I had them down to a science.  I know what to pack, how to set out breakfast, and how to find the right balance of activities versus free time for our schedule.  It was a routine that worked, so I continued to work it.

However, I’d never done this with a baby before.  This was a whole new thing.

In the weeks leading up to the retreat, I went back and forth about bringing Jonah with me.  The thought of being away from him for three days didn’t sit well.  It felt too soon to leave him with Micah for the weekend.  I knew that wouldn’t work well for any of us.  

But, was it appropriate to bring him on retreat with me?  I was supposed to be the leader, after all.  How could I take care of all these women and their self-care breakthroughs while also caring full-time for an infant?   What if it triggered a client?  What if I couldn’t do all my duties? I was there to help them, not the other way around, right?

I went back and forth in my mind.  Another client told me she wanted to bring her infant,  too, and that nudged me to clarity.  As much as it scared me, I decided to bring him with me.  At five and a half months, Jonah was going on his first women's’ self-care retreat.

Right away, I began thinking of the self-care I needed to make this work.  I asked my dear friend Lindsey - who was already helping me lead our alumni self-care program - to help me with him and the retreat.  Before arriving, we carefully went through the schedule and established who would care for him and who would care for the retreat-goers.  I prayed his nap schedule - already established through a week of emotional yet effective sleep training - would hold through a new environment.

And then it was time to leave.  Just figuring out how to pack up the car while caring for Jonah alone all day was exhausting. I felt nervous.  If leaving were this hard, how was the rest of the weekend going to go?

But we made it work. Through some careful planning and a lot of mad-dashing during his naps, I packed the car and got him buckled in his car seat. We picked up Lindsey at the airport and she sat in the back with him.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I wasn’t alone.  We could do this together.

Two hours later, after a lovely drive into West Virginia, we arrived at the retreat center.  A few ladies were already hanging out at the beautiful, old mansion.  They rushed to help us unload the car.  I brushed away my feelings of guilt and accepted the help.  I knew that the only way to be a real leader for us was to let myself be helped.

That night, during our opening check-in, I told them this much.  I admitted how nervous I felt to bring Jonah and how challenging it had been to find the right balance of work and the rest of my life since having him.  I spoke my fear about short-changing them because of my own needs. I asked for their understanding and help.

The circle of women nodded along compassionately as I spoke.  They told me they were happy to set out breakfast and make sure the dishes were washed and hold Jonah when I needed a break.  From the warmth of their faces, I knew his presence wasn’t an imposition.  Again, I let out a sigh.  I really wasn’t doing this alone.

The rest of the weekend just flowed.  Jonah stuck to his sleep schedule, and even surprised us all with a three-hour nap (unheard of before!) during our closing circle.  I felt centered enough to teach, confident enough to lead, and even safe enough to break down a couple of times, because like them, my emotions were rising to the surface.

I saw that as much as I was there to support them, they were there to support me, too. I didn’t have to pretend to have it all together to teach about self-care.  I just had to honestly show up, ask for support, and then let myself receive it.  It was vulnerable, and I felt on edge, but it was working.

More than that, I think having the babies there was healing for us. Throughout the weekend, we kept talking about motherhood and how it pertained to each of us.  Some of the women were pregnant and others knew they didn’t want children.  A few were really trying to decide if they did.  Some women had young children and another, grown ones.  Everyone shared their fears and hopes about how their choices around motherhood formed their identity as women.

It was a space where everyone’s decisions were supported.  We helped each other honor the choices we had made and found that this made us all feel like more embodied women.  We were figuring it out together.

As we drove home on Sunday, I was tired but also happy.  I felt a strange but powerful feeling of success.  This success did not come from being the perfect leader, which I had always aimed for in the past, but rather from showing up as my fullest self.  This involved tears, honesty and a whole lot of baby spit-up.  

It was uncomfortable and definitely a risk, but taking Jonah helped me see that I could be a working mom in my own way and that this could help my clients’ self-care work go to new places.

***

Thanks for reading my story!  I’m curious what feelings and thoughts it brought up for you.  Where could you show up more authentically for your work?  How could embracing a vulnerability actually help you redefine success?  Where can you lead by example - using self-care - to help others to do the same?

As I said last week, there is nothing revolutionary about these self-care stories.  They are simply how I get through the days and weeks.  We all practice self-care in many big and small ways that go under the radar.  For you, how does that simple but important self-care show up?  Please let me know!

Next week I’ll be back with another nitty-gritty self-care triumph!  Until then, take extra good care of you, not only because you deserve it but because the world needs you at your fullest level of resilience and compassion.

Need support with that? Perhaps the spring round of Self Care 101 could help you in a super structured and supported way.  If you’re looking for a reboot of your self-care routines within a community, click here to learn more and fill out an application here.  This is powerful change - get ready!

With care,
Gracy

***
 

Self Care Inspiration

This children’s book on what to do with a problem is surprisingly relevant to adults, too.  Although I read it to Jonah, I found myself coming back to its wisdom throughout the retreat.  How does one handle a problem?  It’s a good lesson for us all, especially our political leaders in this moment.

Again, this holistic dentist in DC is so, so great.  I wish we could all have medical experiences like this.  A friend also told me about a great one in the Austin, TX, area.  If you’re afraid of the dentist and/or want more natural practices, I highly recommend searching one out near you.

We closed the retreat with this beautiful, opening song (thanks for bringing it to us, Lindsey!).  It reminded me that this whole album is incredible.  Listen up and feel it all.

Last week, I recorded an beautiful “heartstorm” of a podcast with Jingo Lewis, the co-creator of this incredible line of nourishing, natural skincare products.  I used their natural deodorant during the whole retreat and seriously, I didn’t sweat through my clothes.  After many years of being disappointed with other natural deodorants, I’ve found one that works.  It’s a miracle!  (Also, stay tuned for the podcast. It’s so very good.)

This article on valuing the price of breast milk is sticking in my mind.  How much money do we spend on formula?  How much money do we lose when we pump?  If we began to add these numbers up, I sense it would change how we view the value of mothering. These questions bring up ideas that are “lactivism” at its best!