#mightyifitkillsme, food, insert emoticon here, The Tiniest Capen

turning “you don’t have to” into “go go go!”

It’s really interesting to me how many people say “you should be easier on yourself” or “take it slow” to postpartum women, and genuinely mean it as a kindness. I mean, I totally get it when it’s in reference to “I can’t figure out what do do with this creature that wants to eat and then cries anyway and then wants to eat again and oh god its butt is wet again and why do baby clothes have so many snaps and did I eat yet today I can’t remember oh crap it’s hungry again but wait it apparently hates my nipples so maybe it’s not hungry but if it’s not hungry how do I know what’s wrong and I think I snapped its clothes wrong anyway so let’s start there but oh god now it’s peeing on me.” Going easy on ourselves on that stuff? That part makes perfect sense. Cut yourself some slack. Infants are bugfuck crazymaking.

But when it’s about me, and how I choose to navigate my adult existence, about the choices I make about shaping my life and lifestyle, about things for which I have clear agency and an active locus of control, I wonder. My health. My fitness. My diet. My housekeeping. My time management skills. My daily planning. I am actively in charge of those things in my own world, or partnering with Justin on them, making choices together. And about those things, I wonder why we say “Oh, go slow, honey!” or “Take it easy on yourself. You don’t have to be [insert thing here].” I hear those responses every time I talk about anything vaguely self-improvement related, and I just wonder at it. Of course I don’t HAVE to be [insert thing here]. But I do get to make choices about how I live, about what I desire, about my goals for myself and my lifestyle. And I’m choosing to be [insert thing here]. And why is it not the default to assume that I’m actively content with those choices? Why not assume that I want to live as I’m setting forth as a goal? Why not assume that I actually desire to live to the standards I’m openly choosing to hold myself to?

Instead, it seems like people are assuming I’m responding to some external impetus — some social force, some unwritten expectation — that says that I must do these things. And so people say “oh, you don’t have to [do that thing]” in a way that seems to assume I probably don’t want to do the thing, and am only doing so because I don’t have permission not to. To which I often think in response, “Have you MET me?” I am a deeply action-based person, driven by the intrinsic rewards of successfully completing tasks I’ve set for myself. Having reached age 38, a second marriage, fulfilling hobbies, and a healthy career, all of which have contributed to making me the happiest I’ve ever been, I rarely do shit I don’t want to do. And I certainly don’t set myself goals that don’t have value for me. So when I say I’m going to get fit, eat better, get to work on time, write my thank you notes, take the dog for a walk, stop eating oreos and staring at the ceiling, or whatever today’s goal is, you can pretty much trust I’m saying it because I want to do it. Because I have agency over those choices and actions. And because I value the outcomes of making those choices and doing those things.

Knowing that’s my headspace, I can’t see why people want to tell me to stop. So I pretty much assume they aren’t thinking of my likely headspace, or they aren’t familiar enough with me to understand it. And I know that most everyone means well, is trying to be supportive and encouraging, and speaking from a place of compassion.

But it lands wrong, with me. If you want to encourage me, what I want to hear is “GO GO GO! You can do it!” Continuing to live in a totally indulgent postpartum headspace where I’m late for everything, the dishes are always dirty, household paperwork is piling up on my desk, I don’t exercise, and I’m mainlining Oreos really truly isn’t going to make my next 6 months of climbing slowly back to work and fitness and health any easier. Is it fun to live a life of laziness and cookies? You bet your ass it is. Does it promote goals I value, and outcomes that make my life better? No way. Not at all.

So I’m defaulting back to where I started my pregnancy, when I said “I’m just pregnant, I’m not broken” a lot.

I’m just postpartum, I’m not broken. And I don’t want permission to stay that way.

6 Comments

  1. Michelle

    Not only are you my fierce-librarian-hero, you’re also now my new-mom-hero as well. I had twins about six months ago, and have been really struggling with figuring out my new work-life (including exercise/eating well) balance. At work, so many people just straight-up assumed I would be returning to work part-time or quitting my job, which I have never wanted or even hinted at! I also keep hearing the “take it easy” or “don’t even try to do (x) thing you want,” “be realistic.” But as Lorde sings, “I want them back/The minds we had/It’s not enough to feel the lack (I want them back, I want them back)/I want ’em!” I want people to tell me that I can do whatever I put my mind to, and that I will do it, and it’s all going to be okay. Glad to hear someone else articulate this as well.

    Reply
    1. Jenica Author

      Having kids changes your life, and it changes your identity, but it doesn’t erase who you were. If that person you started from had goals, the new version does, too. And why should we tell this new version not to try?! It makes no sense to me.

      GO FORTH AND KICK ASS. It’s gonna be okay. We got this.

      Reply
  2. Maryah

    I like to think that I’m super mom on some days when need that kick in the pants to GO GO GO . It helps 🙂 those days I don’t want to do anything. I decide. I have a baby, it’s okay, then I go about lounging on the couch with tatertots. yum.

    Also, Having a salad in the fridge or some kind of easy vegetable is helpful. As for the dishes. make Justin do them XD.

    Miss you guys <3

    Reply
  3. So from here, I see intellectually that this is the case for you. But it is so far from anything I can imagine being true for myself that I don’t actually grok it. And not grokking it, I don’t trust my intuitions about what I ought to say to you, or how I ought to react when you say stuff. (Which means I end up defaulting to pressuring myself not to react to a lot of the things you say about motherhood, because I assume I will be wrong and you will be angry at me, and that’s not an outcome I want, but I don’t know how to avoid it except by not talking.)

    Reply
  4. Being one of those who wrote a response to your last post, all I can say is — I don’t think I told you to continue being self-indulgent. At least I hope I didn’t. I looked back at what I wrote to make sure I wasn’t part of that chorus, and what I perceive is: Do it slowly but steadily AND I know you will do it. I guess you could say, that is my version of Go, Go, GO! Hopefully it was encouraging to you, and not irritating. (I’m inherently a slow but steady kind of person, so that is what is natural to me. Would you say that is true for you or not?)

    Reply
  5. I think it’s weird in general how much people want to give advice to new moms (women?) in general. It’s like everyone thinks they know us better than we do.
    I’m not a new mom yet but am actively trying to become one (heh heh), and it’s starting to drive me crazy how many people say things like “You think you’re going to do/be/think/feel this, but you’re wrong,” “You think you want it this way but you’re wrong.”
    I get that pre-parenthood you have no idea what it’s really going to be like, but it feels so belittling when people refuse to engage what you’re saying and just smugly tell you you have no idea.
    I guess that’s my personal rant.
    GO GO GO! Goals are necessary and awesome, and you can do it!

    Reply

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