When Audre Lorde (1988) wrote that, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”, she was dealing with serious illness. These words, however, are often quoted in articles on self-care, and rightly so. Caring for ourselves in health, and in an effort to preserve health and wellbeing, is just as political an act. Women in particular often feel that they are being selfish when they take time for themselves, and yet martyrdom helps no-one.
Pushing oneself beyond reasonable limits and denying needs or pleasures actually makes us less able to give to and care for those around us, including clients and our families. Many modern midwives work in stressful systems or situations that push them to the extreme, and few employers prioritise caring for carers. Almost everybody knows at least one midwife who has experienced burnout. Not caring for ourselves can lead to long-term and serious mental and physical health problems, as well as having an impact on women, colleagues and families.
Taking care of ourselves, on the other hand, sets a great example for others, and the festive season seems like an ideal time for us to remind each other of the value of taking time out. I am conscious that the last thing that busy midwives need is another thing added to their ‘to do’ list though, so the following are merely ideas, suggestions and questions to ponder that I have been gathering from midwives, therapists and others. Not everything on this list will be everyone’s cup of tea, but I hope you might find something in here that will inspire you to take a bit of time out to replenish your own energy. Huge thanks to all those who have contributed to this, and my hope for the holidays is that everyone who reads it will find something in here that will inspire them to give themselves the same kind of care that they give to others.
Questions to ponder
Ask yourself what would nourish your body? What would feed your soul? What would real self-care look or feel like to you?
What’s in your personal medicine bag? Does rescue remedy help after a long day? Does arnica or peppermint foot lotion help soothe your aching feet? Do your headaches respond well to a particular essential oil? If so, do you carry it in your pocket at work? What really helps when you remember to put it in your bath? Are these things handy, or could you put them somewhere more accessible, or where you would remember to use them more?
Ask yourself what depletes you, and how you can reduce those things, or make coping with them easier?
Consider visiting an acupuncturist, naturopath, nutritionist, massage therapist, cranio-sacral therapist, homeopath, reflexologist, hypnotherapist or other practitioner of something that appeals to you. Ideally once a month and even when you’re well; just for a ‘tune-up’. Midwives and students tell me that this is a life line and enables them to cope better at keeping going in a constructive and energetic way. Taking time out to see a therapist and pay for their care and attention is a statement to say that we are worth it, and a recognition that we can always appreciate help to gain perspective on how we are in the midst of it all.
The importance is in rest and receiving touch and attention. The body can discharge its stress better, and heal, and the mind can rest and restore and the person can continue being effective in challenging conditions.
Midwives’ thoughts on self-care
It’s not about indulgence. It’s about replenishing your own energy so you have plenty to share with others.
I used to swim 24 lengths regularly, in an outdoor pool, with my best friend. Without that chance to share or vent out with her, on occasion, especially whilst working in isolation. I think I would have quit, and not had the strength or capability to carry on with the caseload.
My self-care is working part time. I would like to work full time to have more continuity with women but I see how burnt out and frustrated the full time midwives are. After a recent 12 hour shift with three sweets and half a cup of tea, no toilet break and no thanks from colleagues as they too did the same; I feel I need a few days to refresh and come back with enthusiasm which the women deserve.
Love and support from other midwives (especially independent colleagues) helps me find strength compassion and endurance I didn’t know I had. Without any request from me, a very dear indie colleague travelled 40 miles in the middle of the night to bring me love, a hug, the chance to take a break and hot real coffee during an extended and challenging birth. Mid-midwifery is a powerful healing balm.
Take a break. Asking for a break or a drink is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s a sign of strength.
I think it’s important that we remember to support our colleagues too. If someone is in a difficult situation, take them a cup of tea. If everyone was more caring of each other, midwifery would be quite nice.
Boundaries are hugely important. I don’t think midwives always have good boundaries. Strengthen your boundaries. Know what’s acceptable to you and what isn’t. If you have a rule that says ‘I deserve respect and I deserve to have a drink every few hours’, then you’re more likely to stick to those boundaries and make those things happen. It may have become a cultural norm that you go home late or miss a break but that’s still not acceptable.
For me, having good boundaries is about not checking email out of hours. And not feeling like I have to please everybody. I’m not responsible for how other people feel: they are.
Quick self-care suggestions
Meditate. Nap. Walk. Cycle. Colour. Stretch. Forgive. Thank. Read. Hug. Stargaze. Breathe.
Instant relaxation techniques (for when you only have a minute or two) include mindfulness techniques, essential oils (for relaxation, or invigoration as needed), lots of pep talks with like-minded midwives, yoga, chocolate, music (and dancing) and long baths!
Find a teapot you love, buy some loose leaf tea and make time for a daily tea ritual.
Try out some positive affirmations; for instance ‘I am a relaxed midwife who takes good care of myself’.
Close your eyes and do nothing for the next few minutes.
Spend time with people who make you laugh.
Take yourself and a picnic blanket on an outing to a beach, the woods or a local park. Picnic optional. Or just spread a blanket on your lawn or the living room carpet and use it as a personal oasis.
Debrief with work colleagues and also other midwifery friends who can give you another outside perspective, especially with work stresses.
Indulgence is for Every Day
Don’t stockpile beautiful stationary, expensive toiletries and posh candles … you’re worth it now! I realised I was doing this with toiletries, so I got a basket and put all the really good ones in it. Now I have brilliant pampering sessions once every couple of weeks.
Use the good sheets / china / silver if they make you feel good. If they don’t make you feel good, can you declutter? It’s amazing how much better you feel…
Surround yourself with beautiful aromas; buy yourself flowers, use your best perfume, light a scented candle.
Start a wish list of books, music and other gifts you’d love on an online shopping site, so you can point your family in the right direction at present-buying times of the year. Then, ring-fence time to enjoy them.
Make a list of things that you’d love to do, and then pick three and either do them right away if you can or, if they need a bit of forward planning, start making plans…
Commit to trying a new kind of restaurant, therapy or each month for a year. But only as long as it feels good.
Visit a new coffee shop with a great book you’ve wanted to read for ages.
Join the relaxedmidwives group on facebook. Midwife Jane Pardoe created this group for midwives who are in need of relaxing. Jane says, It is for sharing positive quotes, funny stories, pictures, jokes, ways to relax, social events and just general support for those stressful days. It is a group to make you smile and feel relaxed.
If you don’t have the time to any of these right now, you might like write a few of them on a note on your fridge, or send them to yourself an email, or create a timed calendar event, so that you’ll be reminded at some point in the future. If you can’t think of when you’ll have time to do them, then you’re probably more in need of self-care than most, so you might need to schedule more!
Lorde, Audre. A Burst of Light: Essays. Ann Arbor, MI: Firebrand Books, 1988.
Relaxed Midwives can be found at https://www.facebook.com/groups/relaxedmidwives/