habit shift: taking tender care (of me).

May 11, 2023

On Monday I had my first gynecological exam since Calder was an infant. It was over before I realized it and I hardly felt a thing so I’m glad I avoided it for three years. Tomorrow morning, I’ll go to the dermatologist for a full body scan of the various constellations and mud splatters that dot the canvas of my epidermis. I have an appointment scheduled for June to see a pelvic floor physical therapist (and an insurance deductible for the privilege that I’ll probably never meet). Next month I’ll see a primary care physician for the first time since mine left town six years ago. I’ll get blood drawn and tested and maybe we’ll figure out why I’m so very tired all the time. Tomorrow I’m getting my hair cut. I’m thinking I’ll cut my bangs short again because I could use something meaningless to fuss with. I’ve been exercising. Yes, I’m a human being with a body. It’s been news to me, too.

It’s been three years since Rachel Welch first reached out to me about the postnatal fitness program she runs called Revolution Motherhood. Online and in person Rachel works with postpartum birthing parents to restore and repair the bodily infrastructure that gets, pardon the phrase, fucked by pregnancy. I was eager to take her course after Calder was born, but as we know, things in 2020 didn’t go exactly to plan. In my own freshly postpartum state I found myself at home, in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City, a newborn, a three-year-old, and a kindergartner zooming her way through learning to read. James threw himself into tending his sour dough and taking our children for socially distanced park visits. He toted warm water and soap in an insulated bottle to use for hand washing and I rolled my eyes and locked myself in the only bedroom and listened to sirens while trying at least to maintain the appearances of working. I sobbed over taxes and closed playgrounds and shuttered schools and studiously ignored my aching back and tight hips.

For all intents and purposes, and certainly on a surface level, our family has made it through the past few years relatively unscathed. That I’m lucky in a million ways goes without saying, but there are other ways where I can recognize how I’ve shrunk in on myself, ignoring the ways my body was asking me to do things differently and adapting my behavior to make up for the deficits. My back aches and so I often write from bed, or don’t write at all. A borrowed heating pad from my parents’ house works overtime, trying to keep me nimble enough for school pick ups to say nothing of getting out for a good wander solo. Lifting something the wrong way landed me in the emergency room this fall. I was sent home with prescriptions for muscles relaxers and physical therapy. I went to every appointment and didn’t take even half of the medicine and still, I have not been feeling good in my body. All of which is how I have found myself—preternaturally resistant to group exercise—donning leggings each week and kneading my cranky body on a foam roller in one of Rachel’s classes.

In class this week, Rachel coaxed us into crow pose. I did a modified version of the stretch, squishy blue ball tucked under a butt cheek that positively will not touch the ground. Stay there, she cooed and then laughed: “All we want to be is alone and we get there and we have to face some stuff. It’s easier to just go back to scrolling.” And how!

Like no doubt others this week, I’ve been rocked by the news of Heather Armstrong’s passing. In her beautiful piece for the Washington Post, Lyz Lenz writes, “Heather’s writing was sack-of-meat raw, raunchy and transcendently real. She wrote fiercely and furiously.” She goes on, “Heather had shown me that I didn’t need to ask permission, I didn’t need to wait for approval….She showed a generation of women who would become mothers that the stuff of our lives was valuable and important, that our voices and stories mattered. She elevated the humdrum of domesticity into an art form — one that made you laugh so hard you thought you’d have to lie down.”

I am no Heather Armstrong. I don’t often lay bare all of my messiest stuff, the demons I wrestle with don’t threaten to destroy me. I’m sure I’m not half the wit or half the writer, but I do know something of what it is to exist, at least partially, online. “You sound sad” in the comments section always rings like an admonishment and so I instinctively do my best to avoid hearing it: Command + Shift + Arrow; Delete. Command + Shift + Arrow; Delete. But sometimes I am sad. This week I’ve been sad that Heather didn’t make it. (Devastated, if I’m being honest, that some of her last published pieces were deeply transphobic.) Sad that it can be so hard to be a human.

This afternoon I went for a private session with Rachel. She worked on my overtaxed hip flexors, my jumpy back, my pelvis that doesn’t like to move but needs to. She held my head in her hands and massaged the length of my neck. I don’t always warm easily to care. Confronting my human body and caring for it hasn’t always come naturally to me. But I’m making and keeping my appointments. I’m doing my little exercises and rolling on my silly rubber balls and foam roller. It feels good. If you’re a person with a body that has carried a baby, I can’t recommend Rachel’s class enough. If you’re a person with a body at all, I hope you find a way to care for it this week.

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42 Comments

  • Reply Rosa Ergas May 11, 2023 at 7:49 pm

    Thank you Erin for being present with your life and this community you’ve created. You deserve care. We all do.

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    • Reply Jen May 12, 2023 at 6:33 pm

      Crazy back low pain here too. 3 kids. Started around Covid. Whenever I do a “cleanse” or the like- it gets way better. Signs point to it maybe being more of a gluten/inflammation thing than a pelvic floor or muscle thing.? Maybe it’s both! Idk. Thought I’d share in case this helps you.

      Beautiful post. Heather’s passing was indeed shattering and horrifying and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I heard. Xx

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  • Reply Gail nelsen May 11, 2023 at 8:21 pm

    I’m so glad you’re doing all that…and hope you’ll begin to feel better. Even if you’re sometimes sad like we all are some.. or hurting like we all are some, it is still wonderful to hear from you .. I love your writing and miss you when you’re away…so glad too for your new camera. …. I often pull out your book!! And can’t wait for your new one.

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  • Reply Brooke May 11, 2023 at 8:23 pm

    I went for my first well check in 5 years (before having my last baby) and I thought I had postpartum anxiety that just wasn’t going away, but I found out I have hyperthyroidism. And now I’m one month in on medication and healing my thyroid and I feel amazing! I wished I would have gone for a well check years ago because the last 5 years were filled with so much needless anxiety. Glad you are taking the time to take care of yourself.

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    • Reply Mado May 11, 2023 at 9:37 pm

      Fist bump, I was also diagnosed with hyperthyroidism somewhat recently! Only the most recent in a series of health problems since giving birth more than several years ago, but hopefully the last for now (based on feeling healthy for the first time in years).

      I have a slightly different story than you Erin in that I came to postpartum-focused exercise during the pandemic, but it has changed my life. I have like actual muscles now, which is something a human body needs, go figure. Somehow 90s diet culture and bookish nice girl culture neglected to mention that fact for the first 34 years of my life. I wish you much luck in feeling better in your body!

      I don’t think I’ve read any of Heather Armstrong’s writing in about 8 years and I was never a regular reader, but I was still a bit of a mess last night. It didn’t help that I had my own first gynecological checkup since 6 months postpartum (7 years ago) yesterday morning. Mary we all take a little better care of ourselves.

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  • Reply Jackie May 11, 2023 at 8:43 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. I had my second baby during the pandemic, and this resonates so much (especially having an unlucky lift lead to an ER visit!) It’s been three intensive years of growing/taking care of small children, while working, and largely cut off from outside support. I feel barely human, and am starting to work through a similar list of long overdue body maintenance. Good luck to you.

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    • Reply Rachel Welch June 10, 2023 at 2:46 pm

      Oh Jackie. Sending courage and hugs. Reach out any time if I can be of support. Erin’s discount code for the RM App is RMT50 for 50% off your first month. Good luck! xo – Rachel

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  • Reply Lauren May 11, 2023 at 8:52 pm
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  • Reply Tamara May 11, 2023 at 8:56 pm

    Really resonate with this post. When my kids were the age yours are and I was just a few years younger than you, it’s not an exaggeration to say yoga classes at a small gentle studio saved me. My body ached not just from the labor of motherhood but also the pent up emotions of trying to mother unsupported in this society. Movement didn’t cure everything but it was certainly a balm and a needed release. And trying to make time to take care of my body in the various ways it needs has been a bumpy journey too. But I’m glad you are finding things that are helping and also writing about it. I really appreciate your words

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  • Reply Cindy Wallace May 11, 2023 at 9:39 pm

    Erin, this is just really beautiful, and it reaches something in me. Thank you.

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    • Reply Rachel Welch June 10, 2023 at 2:47 pm

      Erin’s authenticity is inspiring all of us

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  • Reply Cat May 11, 2023 at 9:44 pm

    “If you’re a person with a body at all, I hope you find a way to care for it this week.”
    Oof. Thanks for saying that, and glad you’re taking care.

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  • Reply Katrina May 11, 2023 at 10:08 pm

    Beautiful.

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  • Reply Mado May 11, 2023 at 10:29 pm

    It’s one of the main reasons I am unsure if I’d like a third child, something I always said I wanted when I was childless. I’m two kids in and my body aches constantly. Not sure I have it in me to mess with it again. Thank you for writing this.

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  • Reply Sally May 11, 2023 at 11:20 pm

    It took me 3 years of my hands throbbing with pain and going numb, living with carpal tunnel, to finally getting surgery and realizing how much my body needs care. I slowly realized how important maintenance (and affordable healthcare!) is for our bodies. I still struggle to work out regularly but I attribute that to our 40 hour work week + all of other life’s demands than my own laziness. What I would give for less time working to survive / pay rent and more time to care for our bodies.

    I wrote about this time a few years ago, about carpal tunnel, care, maintenance, finding time for self-care (and no I don’t mean a face mask, I mean getting yourself to a doctor) while also fighting to care for the environment and other basic human rights: http://sarahcatherinececilia.blogspot.com/2020/08/

    Since carpal tunnel, I have started therapy, acupuncture and occasionally get a massage for my continued chronic pain. Ironically, all three of those are not covered by my insurance but they are so worth it and I love paying for the care workers that so deeply help me. I’m glad insurance covers doctors visits but it is my acupuncturist and my therapist who look at me with the most care. Chronic pain is no fun but finding those that help is a true balm.

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  • Reply Lindsay May 11, 2023 at 11:22 pm

    Hugs. That’s all I can offer. Thank you for your vulnerability and for being real. Hugs.

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  • Reply Angy Braine May 12, 2023 at 12:06 am

    “Self Care” has been the biggest mind f*** of my life. Raised by parents who hated the word victim, who lauded a noble character and who forbid the word trauma . . . well you can see how there’s a mess of humans out here (there? everywhere?) who have no clue how to prioritise themselves over others.
    Nothing and no one encourages it or demands it.
    Religion asks of us
    Government expect of us
    Media messes with us
    Family demand of us
    Friends require of us

    And the body we move around in waits patiently for us to heed its call – all the while working harder than all the aforementioned collectives. Each cell prolifically manifesting miracle after miracle after miracle. Processes we can’t even begin to fathom occur at lightning speed within the confines of our temporary skin suit.

    I had to hit rock (ROCK) bottom to realise that without my health I had nothing (NO THING)
    I would be ashamed to admit it, if it weren’t for the fact that “placing oneself before all else” risks a greater level of admonishing.

    Online communities fighting with each other over the right way to achieve just about anything are additional proof that we lack leadership and guidance . . . that is until we stop and listen to the only expert in our lives. Ourselves.

    I often say to my son . . . “You can only play your own game . . . you can’t be a player in someone else’s game” . . . and by that of course I mean the game of life. Yes we’re connected – but more so to our selves than we can ever be to anyone else. We HAVE to cut an Umbilical cord. . . and then breathe on our own, feed for ourselves and learn what life is there to teach us.

    I applaud you Erin. I truly do. This is a world of everyone looking but not always seeing – hearing but hardly ever listening . . . and most definitely liking but hardly ever loving.

    10 years ago now (I am 49) I began trying anything and everything to crawl out of my poor mental and physical health. What worked was actually very simple – breathing well, eating well, moving well, thinking well . . . nature & love too of course.

    The hardest part of all of it though . . . choosing ME first.

    I love this piece so much Erin. Thank you for being vulnerable and honest.
    Most especially thank you for looking after YOU.

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  • Reply Melissa May 12, 2023 at 1:41 am

    Thanks for this. And I’m glad for you that you’re doing some small (and not small!) self care. And just: not a human who has birthed anyone but oof does so much of this resonate regardless. <3

    And also, sorry for your loss — I read the WashPo piece via someone else, and it’s such a wonderful piece of writing; it’s so strange and also great how those we don’t actually know can have such an impact regardless.

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  • Reply Debbie May 12, 2023 at 3:05 am

    ♥️♥️♥️

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  • Reply Elizabeth May 12, 2023 at 4:34 am

    I believe this is a feminist issue, not dissimilar to the situation of the chickens that have been bred to painfully overproduce eggs for a short period of time, after which they are slaughtered. Perhaps we are the new animals in our own industrial culture of violence. Self care is radical.

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  • Reply martha May 12, 2023 at 5:02 am

    i couldn’t love this or needed to read it any more, thank you:)

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  • Reply Stephanie May 12, 2023 at 7:33 am

    Resonate with this a lot. Would also love to hear more about your experience with a pelvic floor therapist.

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    • Reply Erika May 12, 2023 at 1:10 pm

      Not Erin, but I did Pelvic Floor PT after both my daughter’s births and it is extremely helpful. There are so many physical therapists ready to help you heal. I can’t promise it will always be comfortable, but it will not be as awkward as you assume.

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    • Reply Maria May 12, 2023 at 4:40 pm

      I second this. Takes a bit of letting go of prudishness (a bit like birth in a way ha), but I can honestly say it changed my life (and very very quickly, which surprised me. Within a couple weeks I was feeling like my pre-baby self). Definitely recommend it, find someone professional and you won’t feel embarrassed at all

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      • Reply Sil May 14, 2023 at 9:47 am

        Another voice in support of pelvic floor pt. Turns out part of my issue was over-exercising my pelvic floor by never fully relaxing it – something I never would have learned without the pt. I hope you get a wise and supportive therapist!

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        • Reply V May 18, 2023 at 9:07 pm

          Same here! It was an illuminating experience for understanding how my body was put together and how to care for it more successfully. I highly recommend pt if you have a prolapse, it was a night and day difference for me.

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    • Reply Sarah June 21, 2023 at 3:17 am

      Adding another nod to this! Learning to relax the pelvic floor muscle was truly life changing for me. Understanding the connection between mind and body was just everything. I did PT pre pregnancy for other reasons and I was so glad to have the knowledge going into birth and post partum. You will not regret going! I wish I hadn’t waited to see one for as long as I did.

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  • Reply Vania May 12, 2023 at 11:18 am

    I’m happy you’re back to more frequent blogging. I missed your writing! 🙂

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  • Reply Sam May 12, 2023 at 11:58 am

    I’d never heard of Heather Armstrong until this. I went to her website and randomly clicked on a post and it’s about her daughter not wanting her to leave at school drop off. The coincidence of reading about her death and then this post is like a gut punch.

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  • Reply julie May 12, 2023 at 12:51 pm

    Maybe I’m also a little sad today. It happens. But, good on ya for tackling self-care in a real way. You’ll be better for it as will your whole family, think of it as something you’re doing not just for yourself but for everyone! ha! Us, too. You’re just lovely.

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  • Reply Erika May 12, 2023 at 1:08 pm

    Good Lord, I didn’t know about Heather’s passing. I sincerely hope she found the peace she so desired, and I am welling up thinking of her children. Yes, let’s all be a little more gentle with our physical and mental bodies. May you and yours find rest this weekend.

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  • Reply riye May 12, 2023 at 2:02 pm

    Pelvic floor physical therapy is not just for menopause aunties like me! I’ve been really surprised that its making a difference for my body. I was resigned to start shopping for adult briefs at the big box stores but now I’m feeling pretty hopeful.

    Hang in there and thanks for sharing what’s going on with you! Big hugs.

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  • Reply C May 12, 2023 at 2:55 pm

    I will have plenty of out of pocket medical needs this year despite meeting my deductible in the first month of the year due to a very hefty medical procedure. I promise qualifying for the other side is far from privilege. I say this not as criticism of your words. It’s all incredibly unfair and criminal. I hope healing comes your way.

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  • Reply E May 12, 2023 at 3:32 pm

    Thank you for this. Just called my doctor to schedule a check up and get a referral to pelvic floor therapy! Tried to start PFT right after baby number two, but between caring for a newborn and a two year old, a husband deployed and all my family living 2000 miles away…. It didn’t happen. Thank you for inspiring me today! Also going to give myself the gift of a personal trainer for a couple months, I want to learn how to properly lift weights!
    p.s. opening a new post from you is always a delight!

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  • Reply Maria May 12, 2023 at 4:36 pm

    I’m so glad to have your writing in my life again, thank you! And really resonate with trying (and often failing, but at least trying) to look after ourselves into motherhood. For a long time I didn’t bother trying. Now I’m trying, and when I manage to stick with the plan existing feels so much better 🙂

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  • Reply Ella May 12, 2023 at 7:51 pm

    Thank you for sharing, Erin. I am glad you are making time and space for yourself and your body. I wish Revolution Motherhood’s website didn’t have so many photos of thin white bodies (Rachel’s?), and flat midsections. My belly has never looked like this, and never will. That’s okay—I could barbell squat and deadlift my body weight before my pregnancy, and hope to be able to work back to this after I give birth.

    P.S. I highly, highly recommend Casey Johnston’s work, including her beginner lifting program Liftoff and her newsletter She’s a Beast. She is revolutionary!

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    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 12, 2023 at 9:43 pm

      Rachel’s really a one woman show, so it is images of her own body on the site. The class is really all about finding your way back to a functional body from an internal muscular level and not at all about looking one way or another, but I appreciate this critique re the imagery and understand the ways that could be off-putting at best and damaging at worst. No doubt you’ll be back to your barbells in no time. Thanks so much for the recommendation.

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      • Reply Ella May 14, 2023 at 10:23 am

        I hope you find your way back to a happy, healthy, functional body! All bodies deserve care.

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  • Reply Jillian May 13, 2023 at 8:26 pm

    I really needed to hear all of this this week. Thank you always for your beautiful words.

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  • Reply Sarah May 14, 2023 at 3:28 am

    ❤️

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  • Reply Christine May 16, 2023 at 4:32 am

    Honest and touching and vulnerable. This piece made me want to give you a hug, and I’m not a natural hugger! Advice is probably very much not needed/wanted but … if you were a close friend, I would urge you to find a good osteopath right now. In fact I would take you to see mine. Take great care.

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    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 17, 2023 at 8:21 am

      thank you! a v welcome reminder!

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