If you’ve ever flown, you’ve heard the pre-flight safety message and instructions. “In the event of a loss in cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you…If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, then assist the other person.” In fact, since flying with my daughter, I’ve noticed that the flight attendants actually come around to each parent traveling with a small child to reinforce these instructions.
These instructions get used often as a metaphor in self-care, along with others like, “You can’t fill from an empty cup.”
While these are great metaphors, sometimes they can be challenging to embrace in real life—especially when you’re parenting your child born after loss. In fact, one of the reasons they reinforce the oxygen mask instructions with caregivers is because it feels counterintuitive to put your own mask on first. Our instincts tell us to take care of our child first. It takes WORK to turn our minds to ourselves and our needs. But, this put your own mask on first metaphor took on new meaning for me over Mother’s Day this year.
The week before Mother’s Day my daughter and I both got sick.
I thought we were dealing with a particularly bad allergy season, compounded by our air conditioning not working and having to have windows open. But, when my daughter spiked a fever on Wednesday, we headed in to the pediatrician. Turns out, she was wheezing and probably has allergy-induced asthma like her Mama. Poor kiddo. We were sent home with a nebulizer and allergy medications.
Stitch was not a fan of the nebulizer, and I spent the next couple of days knee-deep in sick toddler care. I didn’t even notice how sick I was getting. I used my inhaler a few times and was completely drained, but I thought it was just normal allergies and parenting exhaustion. But, early Friday morning I woke up and felt achy, like I had the flu. I took my temp—102 degrees. I took some Ibuprofen and went back to bed. An hour later, my fever had gone up, not down. I found a local urgent care and planned to go as soon as they opened.
The nurse practitioner felt I was in the midst of a severe asthma flare-up that had caused inflammation and the fevers. She sent me home with my own nebulizer and a course of steroids. I figured I’d be feeling better in about 24-hours. Basically, I took it easy on Friday and Saturday and planned to be back to normal on Sunday, Mother’s Day.
Instead, I spent Mother’s Day in the Emergency Room with a 102.7 fever, my asthma not improving.
Mother’s Day is complicated enough for loss mamas. I pushed myself that morning, because I wanted my Mother’s Day. I’d “earned” my Mother’s Day breakfast, presents, snuggles, and flower at church. But, I pushed myself too far, earning myself an afternoon in the ER. Honestly, I’d been pushing myself too hard all week, putting my daughter’s needs before my own.
I’ve paid for this lack of self-care for several weeks now. I was completely out of commission for at least a week, and even now, a few weeks later, I’m still not back to 100%.
So, my tip to you: don’t be like me.
Put your nebulizer mask on first. If you need help, call in reinforcements. Make sure you’re getting the basics:
- Drink plenty of water.
- Eat three meals a day.
- Try to get enough sleep (so hard as a parent, I know!).
- Take a shower.
- Get some fresh air.
- Do something soothing—take a bath, get a pedicure, or drink a cup of tea.
And, always be gentle with yourself. Sometimes life feels completely overwhelming and you just have to get through. The dishes will pile. Emails will go unanswered. But, you’ll get through. The dishes and emails will still be there. Always put your mask on first.