My firstborn was about 18 months old when I cracked a filling. It wasn't really painful, but it was sensitive and annoying, so a few days later, I drove the two-and-a-half hours to my mom's neighborhood, where I'd made an appointment with my childhood dentist since I didn't have one in the town we'd moved to six months before. I also didn't have a general doctor and had only recently started researching ob-gyns because I was thinking about getting pregnant again. (Of course, I had found a pediatrician and a dentist for my daughter long before we unpacked a single box in our new home.)
I left my daughter with my mom and headed into the dentist, where the dental hygienist greeted me, looked at my records, and informed me it had been over two years since my last visit, just a few months before I got pregnant with my daughter. I had been so busy taking care of her, both in utero and in real life, that I had most definitely forgotten about myself.
Sound familiar? Among the moms in my life, it seems to be a recurring theme. We are all on top of our children's health, making them their weekly, monthly, then biyearly, then yearly well visits as they get older, running to the pediatrician any time they spike a fever or complain of an earache, taking them to the dentist every six months, and driving them to specialists to diagnose and fix any potential ailment. They are our charges, and it is our job to keep them well.
And in the process, we often completely forget about our own health. We might drag ourselves to urgent care when we realize that waiting out whatever we've come down with isn't working, and of course, we'll see our ob-gyn regularly in the years that we are trying to grow our families. But once we have them, those families take over our consciousness, and suddenly, it's been almost three years since you've been to a dentist.
If you are guilty of forgetting about your own health and wellness since you've become a mom, here are some simple steps to reprioritize yourself and why it's so important.
- Remember healthy meals and regular exercise are just as important for you as they are for your kids. You wouldn't feed your kids french fries and let them sit in front of the TV all day, every day (once a week tops, right?), so don't shortchange yourself when it comes to diet and exercise. Buy more strawberries and actually eat them instead of just saving them for your berry-obsessed toddler, and find an exercise program that you like (all the better if the gym has child care) so you'll stick with it.
- While you're healthy, find yourself a general practitioner, dentist, and any specialists you need that you actually like. Having a roster of healthcare providers makes it much easier to deal with any issue that comes up and means you'll be less likely to ignore a problem because of the added burden of finding a doctor that can help. Finding someone who meshes with your personality that you like and trust can take time, so start now.
- Set reminders in your phone to schedule regular well visits and checkups. After every dentist and doctor's appointment, I've learned that I need to either immediately schedule my next appointment or set a reminder in my phone a month or so before the next one is due. Otherwise, it might just slip my mind for years.
- Find ways to manage your stress. Motherhood is a tough job, and finding ways to bring your stress level down, whether it's reconnecting with friends, getting a monthly massage, or (shocker!) even going back to work part time, is important for maintaining your health, both physically and mentally.
- Remember your health also affects your partner and kids. When Mom's down for the count, everyone feels it. So by taking care of yourself, you actually are taking care of your whole family.