Self-Love – the art of loving oneself. A simple enough concept, but one often overlooked by many women, I suspect. Psychologist & social philosopher, Erich Fromm defined self-love as caring for oneself, respecting oneself, taking responsibility for oneself and knowing oneself. In his 1956 book, “The Art of Loving”, he proposed that in order to truly love another person, one must first love oneself in this way.
I consider myself to be a reasonably well-rounded, intelligent, articulate woman, yet as I approach my forty-first birthday I am only just beginning to grasp the importance of the concept of self-love. Prioritising our mental and emotional well-being is something which I, and I suspect many women my age, simply do not do. We may go to work, care for our families and if time permits, squeeze a quick hour in down at the gym, but we don’t necessarily make our emotional and spiritual well-being a priority. And if we are not firing on all cylinders, then how can we properly care for and invest quality time in those around us? Well I have resolved to make 2014 the year that I make changes in the self-love department. Here’s why…
The birth of my son four and a half years ago was pretty traumatic. At forty-two weeks pregnant and two weeks past my due date, I reluctantly decided to take the advice of my midwife and be induced. It was a far cry from the natural birth I had hoped for, but having weighed up the risks, I decided to go ahead. Things did not go well.
Several hours into my labour, my son suffered a shoulder dystocia – his head had delivered, but his body had become wedged tight behind my pelvis – a medical emergency. Forceps, ventouse, episiotomy, the ‘McRoberts manoeuvre’ (not pleasant) and finally a grey limp baby. Not moving, not screaming, just floppy and apparently lifeless. I watched as he was flung onto a table where two paediatricians administered oxygen. ‘He’s pinking-up’ someone shouted and the young student midwife who was there to observe, saw my desperation and gave me a nervous thumbs up. And then I heard my baby cry. A collective sigh of relief in the delivery room. Time started again.
But my baby was not out of the woods. He had suffered Erb’s palsy (paralysis down one side resulting from birth trauma), torticollis (muscular spasm of the neck muscles which manifested in his head being severely twisted to the side), plagiocephaly (a flattened skull) and two broken ribs. My husband and I were devastated. We left hospital and the months of physiotherapy began.
While my friends pushed their new-borns though the park and met for coffee, my husband and I spent that Summer in hospital waiting rooms or at home, where several times each day we would administer the most brutal physiotherapy exercises on our screaming son. As the months passed, my baby’s condition improved and my mental health worsened. I was prescribed anti-depressants. Eventually we tried to have another child but instead we had miscarriages – three, one after another. Oh the unfairness of it all.
Gradually my depression lifted, my son recovered and life moved on. But the trauma and sadness of his birth remain, just bubbling away below the surface, always ready to catch me unawares; a news story about a lost child, an advert for nappies on the television, a friend falling pregnant – it doesn’t take much and the tears begin to flow. It’s not over – not by a long chalk.
I suspect that many of us have similar stories – miscarriage, a painful divorce, fertility problems, illness. We tell ourselves to ‘chin-up’, ‘toughen-up’. We distract ourselves with work or the gym. We tell ourselves there are others with bigger problems. We hit the wine to take the edge off it all. But it doesn’t go away, it’s bigger than that.
Well we deserve more. We’re worth it, as they say! And that’s why 2014 is going to be the year that I hold my hands up and say ‘enough!’ This week I have made an appointment to see a counsellor. I’m going to dredge up all the sadness and heartache, rake it over and put it to bed once and for all. I’m going to grant myself the luxury of taking care of my emotional well-being. I’m going to spend my money, not on booze to numb it all, but on me and my head!
It’s a start, and it feels good.