When the oxygen mask drops: Why as mothers we need to sometimes put ourselves first.

My first days as a mother were challenging to say the least.  My son was unable to breastfeed, and in fact, did not attach for the first time until he was 4 weeks old.  Because of this I basically spent that entire first-month feeding,  sadly I’m not exaggerating as much as you would think.

I was advised to feed him every 2 hours so I would try to breastfeed for about half an hour, feed him milk I had previously expressed for half an hour, and then I’d express milk for his next feed, this took around half an hour as well.  Every 2-hour block, I would get around half an hour to myself, or to do non-feeding things.  I thought I was going to lose my mind.

Things did get easier, we eventually established breastfeeding, and life went on.  But I was a mother now, and everything I did reflected that; the clothes I wore, the books I read, and the people I now socialised with.  My life had changed forever and I just went with the flow, trying to do the best that I could.

No longer could I just go out on a whim, every outing needed a mammoth effort.  I had to pack a nappy bag with extras of everything ‘just in case’.  I had to make sure it wasn’t his nap time or feeding time so he was in the right mood.  Even if I planned and timed everything to perfection and was finally on my way out of the door, I would often be met with the sudden stench of poo, which typically would be the result of a poosplosion which required a bath and complete change of clothes.

Beyond the practicalities was the mental load.  Was I a good enough mother?  Should I use cloth or disposable nappies?   When should I start solids?  What foods should I give?  How should I discipline? The questions and concerns never end.

Just when I thought I had it all worked out and starting to gain in confidence I arrived at the next phase, the next challenge and it started all over again.  And when the craziness that is motherhood became my new norm I discovered I was expecting another addition, as if the chaos that has was my life wasn’t enough.  But I loved it and wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Those early days were like a blur.  The days became weeks, the weeks became months, and the months became years.  Somewhere along the line, I came to a scary realisation. In my attempts to be the best mother I could be, I realised that I no longer knew who I was.  In my effort to dedicate myself to my children, I realised that I was losing myself.  I didn’t quite know what to do about it, but I did know that if something didn’t change soon I was going to burn out and that wasn’t going to be good for anybody.

So I started thinking of myself and making decisions that in my mind were selfish.  I bought myself a nice new camera and took up photography.  I toyed with the idea of starting my own business.  I took time regularly to just relax and do nothing.  I started putting myself first.

All of a sudden that pre-flight safety demonstration that had perplexed me so much as a teenager made sense. In case of an emergency, the instruction is to put an oxygen mask on yourself before tending to your children.  It took me so long to understand this.  After all, what kind of a mother would put her needs in front of the needs of her children?

A good mother. A mother who takes care of her needs first will be there for her children when they need her.  In an emergency situation, a mother who takes care of her needs first will be conscious and able to better assist her children in case of an emergency. In our day to day lives, a mother who takes care of her needs first will be happy and energised, better able to nurture her children.

So the next time you put your needs of yourself in front of those of your children, do not let the mama guilt prevail.  Remember that by taking care of your needs you are better able to take care of your children. Just make sure you put your needs first when the oxygen masks come down, maybe not so much when the food trays come out.  But sometimes, when they’re not looking, that’s ok too.