Fit with Sally: self-care in motherhood

In October 2021, I was already seven months pregnant, and running had become an unpleasant exercise for me. Therefore, I had to resort to other activities, such as prenatal pilates. I used to hate pilates. Breathe in, breathe out, stretch the right leg and bring the left arm above your head. Certainly not my cup of tea. My body needed pregnant-appropriate but proper exercises.

A first search on YouTube showed up on Sally’s channel, and I got immediately hooked. Was it her natural way of demonstrating safe but intense zero-equipment exercises on the mat for pregnant women? Was it her encouraging smile and soothing voice? Or was it her evident dedication to producing videos with quality content? All the above factors pushed me to subscribe to her channel, which I have followed since.

Sally is a certified Fitness Instructor and pre and postnatal personal trainer from Germany. Sally used to work in the corporate world but soon realised that fitness was her true passion. She now lives in San Diego with her husband and son, expecting the fourth family member. 

Since then, she has been working hard to create valuable exercise tutorials and designing the REBUILD program, a successful postpartum fitness program. Her latest achievement is the worth-checking out BUILD & BURN workout program for every woman who desires a strong and healthy body.

I met with Sally online to discuss motherhood in relation to self-care. She replied with inimitable honesty to my questions while sharing intimate experiences and opinions.

Motherhood brings about numerous changes in a woman’s life. What has been the biggest change for you?

The biggest change for me has been that another person dictates my entire day. I used to be a very productive person. Besides my work, I had scheduled what I would do for the day; when I was going to eat, what I was going to cook when I was going to get up. So, everything was planned out. Of course, when you have a child, then all of a sudden, another person is dictating your entire day. That was, for me, probably the biggest challenge. To go from one hundred per cent efficient to ten per cent efficient. I wasn’t able to sleep whenever I wanted, eat or take a shower whenever I wanted, talk to a friend. These simple things were all of a sudden not possible anymore. 

How do you feel about the mom guilt? What role does it play in your life?

I am still definitely affected by it, and I can’t imagine that there is any mother that isn’t experiencing it. I think there are different types of mom guilt. 

Some mothers are influenced by others, such as family or friends, their opinions and advice. So, you question everything that you do with your child. 

Another form is definitely comparing yourself to other moms thinking that they do a better job. 

But for me, these two types were not mainly my type of mom guilt. I learned, a few years back, to be quite self-confident, so I stopped comparing myself to others. 

My main type of mom guilt was the guilt that I built myself. I was at home with my son for one and a half years before starting daycare, and I didn’t really enjoy it. I was starting my business at the same time; I tried to grow it, and I was always trying to juggle time with my son and find time to work. So, I was mainly working when he was sleeping, and I was basically all day waiting for him to go to sleep so I could get my work done. 

When he was waking up from his nap, I was kind of upset that my time was over. This, at the same time, made me feel so guilty for not being excited for him to wake up from his nap to spend time together; for not really enjoying the moment but waiting for the day to be over so I could get back to work. 

I was feeling that I couldn’t be one hundred per cent in both roles. I wasn’t one hundred per cent into being a mother because I always needed to work. With my work, I wasn’t really giving one hundred per cent because I was also a full-time mom. That was a real struggle for me and gave me a lot of guilt. I felt like I was not a good mom because I didn’t want to spend all day, every day, every single second with my child. 

But I realised that every mother is different. There are mothers that thrive by spending time with their children, but also others that need other things. And that is totally ok.

It doesn’t mean that I love my child any less or that I am not a good mother. It’s just that I am a person with other needs than being a mom alone. And that is totally ok. There are mothers that enjoy playing on the floor all day with their children, and I just don’t enjoy it. I want to do other things, and that is ok! Every person is different. I still struggle with it, but I need to accept that I also have other needs in my life than my child.

If someone experiences mom guilt based on competition, comparing with others or taking others’ opinions, I think that has mostly to do with self-confidence. If you are a self-confident person, then you can just ignore all these things, and you can be happy with yourself and your child. But it is hard to get there. The work should start before having your child. You need to be happy with yourself before you give birth, and then it is easier to have less mom guilt. 

It is so strong if you are able to ask for help because it’s so difficult to do it; giving your child to someone else (babysitter) is a big thing. So, I struggled with this, especially in the first year. I wasn’t comfortable with getting any help. So, I think it is so strong for a mother to ask for help; it’s not a weakness.

Motherhood and self-care: is there space for self-care in motherhood?

It comes in phases. There are times when your baby needs body contact all day long (teething, growing, sickness etc.), so I totally get when there is no space for self-care; it is survival mode, and you just need to get through this phase. 

But when times are better – your baby is sleeping a bit more- there is space for self-care, but it is actually very difficult to do it because when the baby is sleeping, you probably want to relax and scroll. But if you take thirty minutes to scroll through Instagram, that probably did not give you any energy for the rest of the day. 

So, it is actually pretty hard to get yourself to do something for yourself. But if you do it, you feel so much better. If you use the time to make yourself a healthy meal or a smoothie or get some exercise in or just take a thirty-minute warm shower all by yourself, I think a woman can feel so much better. And, sure, she will be so satisfied that she took that time to do something instead of sitting on the couch and scrolling social media.

I don’t say that I don’t do it. I do it often and end up wasting time on my phone. So, I really need to tell myself when my son goes to sleep, “I am not going to sit with my phone now and I am going to do something for myself”. 

In addition, I think it is totally ok to get a babysitter just to have time for yourself. I feel that many mothers feel like, “Oh, I can get a babysitter if I have an urgent appointment or work”. No! You can get a babysitter to just hang out with a friend or take a bath or exercise. It is totally ok to get help for that because when you do something for yourself, you go back to your child with so much more patience and energy, which in return benefits the child. 

And the child needs to learn early on that mama is not always there; mama needs to take care of yourself. So, a child will learn that self-care is equally important for themselves at one point.

I also want to say here that date night is not self-care. It is again spending time with another person. Of course, you will enjoy it. But self-care is, in my opinion, spending time alone with yourself. It is for yourself.

When you are with your partner, in some kind of way, you try to please them because maybe it was a stressful week going back and forth with the child, and you are just sitting there trying to have some happy moments. So, you are also working for your partner at that moment.

What can a mother do for her self-care? What is your self-care routine?

First of all, there are a lot of things we can do in terms of self-care, even when we stay at home with the child. Self-care doesn’t happen only when you have a babysitter or help. 

We need to celebrate already the little things we incorporate into our day. It could be, for example, that you managed to make yourself a hot cup of water with some lemon in the morning, and you drink it hot. Or that you ask your partner’s help for twenty minutes, so you can really take a shower alone, without a child in front of the shower. 

Just these simple things are, for me already self-care. 

Also, things that I do which are simple but important. For example, I really try to make myself three warm meals per day, sit there and eat them while still warm. For me, nutrition and exercise are obviously very important because I thrive when I eat healthily and move my body. So, eating three full meals is important to me because I crave less in between meals, and I have more energy. Mothers tend to snack all day long. The snacking spikes their insulin and then drops multiple times a day again, leading to losing a lot of energy and fatigue.

Another thing I like to do is to move my body, any type of movement, every day. It doesn’t always have to be a full workout. It can just be a walk around the block, also with the stroller or a walk to the next coffee shop to get yourself a coffee. Movement is great for getting some oxygen in.

Lately, I have started doing something which I haven’t done in the past; for a very long time, I didn’t get properly ready in the morning. Especially when you are at home with your child, you have all day. So, I would basically take a shower whenever I found the moment or put on my joggers, no makeup or hair done. I feel so much more energised and confident if I take the time to shower properly in the morning, get dressed, do my hair, put some makeup on. This is something that I try to do every morning, and it gives me more energy.

I also try to get a massage here and then. Just to book a massage for myself. 

Additionally, I like to have alone time in the evening. Yes, time with your partner is important, but I personally couldn’t spend every evening with my partner. I need my time alone to be able to wind down, read a book, watch a show or cross things off my to-do list.

Also, fifteen minutes before going to sleep, I like to turn off any electronics and read a book until I am tired and then fall asleep. I feel that gives me so much better sleep. 

Of course, I am on social media, which is part of my work, but I think they are also very dangerous. I try to be very careful about which accounts I follow. Every few months, I go over the accounts that I follow, and then I unfollow people that I think are not giving me any value. I try only to follow accounts that I learn from, like parenting accounts, DIY, cooking or exercise accounts, but nothing where I just see beautiful pictures and start comparing myself to those. This is also part of my self-care, to filter who I follow. 

I also recommend turning off any notifications, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, so another person doesn’t dictate your day again. You decide when you want to go on any social media platform. And I have dedicated time slots to social media for when I upload my content or reply to people.

3 thoughts on “Fit with Sally: self-care in motherhood”

  1. Absolutely loved this real raw interview. I feel heard!! It took me to have two kids to start to enjoy motherhood. I can relate to everything in this. Thank you for sharing 😊

    1. Hi there Siobhan,
      I am so happy that you find something that resonates with you in this interview. Thank you for reading this essay and leaving a comment!

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