Self-Care, Feminism, and Good Mothering Can, In Fact, Co-Exist

Posted by in Boston, Family Issues, Self-care on Nov 13, 2010

On Thursday, an article about primping before birth came out in The Boston Globe and I was quoted as being in favor of it, which — obviously — I am, given that I put it on the record. As I expected, the reaction to the article was mixed; people either thought the article was entertaining and fluffy, told me it resonated personally (“Yes! I hated my fugly post-delivery photos too!”), or expressed that they were pissed. And I mean, really, really pissed. As in, I was accused of things such as reversing the progress of the feminist movement, being a selfish, negligent mother, and not being a mindful human being.

I found the fuss intriguing. Obviously, the Globe story was not all about me; they couldn’t capture the extent of my circumstances at the time of Laurel’s birth and why I’d like to have decent photos this time around (and no, it’s not for the sole purpose of flaunting them on Facebook and Twitter). Regardless, what struck me was that the things I want to squeeze in before delivery or engage in to kill time during early labor (e.g., haircut or blow-out, eyebrow wax) are things I do on a semi-regular basis anyway, but suddenly were representative of a strike against the feminist movement because they were being discussed in juxtaposition with the topic of birth. Never mind that some of my other lofty post-birth personal hygiene goals include showering, combing my hair, and wearing something other than a stinky gray t-shirt and sweatpants –- none of which I managed to accomplish during the 5-day hospital stay that followed delivering Laurel via emergency C-section at 42 weeks amidst food poisoning, a mystery fever, fetal distress, and a birth that was pretty much the complete opposite of the woo woo natural birth I had planned.

In my opinion, feminism (wherever one lies on the spectrum) and being a good mom can, in fact, co-exist with the desire to shower, comb one’s hair, and brush on some concealer at least once within the span of 3-5 days post-delivery. Wanting to feel something other than sweaty and unkempt after delivery does not seem like an unreasonable request. As I mentioned in the article, I have always believed that parents would do well to follow the airline procedure of securing one’s own oxygen mask before helping others. And I will most definitely go so far as to say that taking care of myself — whether it is via healthy eating, exercise, meditation, showering, wearing something other than yoga pants, and/or engaging in my lighting fast 5-minute makeup routine — does help me be a better mother to Laurel. Meaning, I don’t feel resentful for always putting myself second. I feel happier when I don’t stink. I feel more energetic and present with Laurel when I’ve taken the time to nourish my body and spirit with good food and exercise. And so forth.

Obviously, an article such as the Globe’s is meant to spark controversy; an article focused on the flip perspective just wouldn’t be, well, newsworthy. The article did give voice (albeit briefly) to the fact that not all women are on board with the concept of primping around the time of delivery, but clearly the topic hit a deep nerve for many women in the non-primping camp. In fact, it almost seemed as if it was more of a primping versus non-primping battle in general (even though some claimed that not to be the case), and that using birth as the vehicle through which to frame the issue offered those in the non-primping camp deeper and more complex ammunition on the matter.

At any rate, I’ll conclude with three things. First, anyone who knows me understands that I am all for forward progress for women (hell, I lived in a feminist dorm in college and am forced to explain regularly to my mother why I choose professional projects over scrubbing my kitchen sink), that I am an attentive and loving mother (in fact, I have been told in the past that Laurel’s painful adjustments at school would be way easier if I didn’t engage her in so many fun craft and baking projects at home), and that I am, in fact, a mindful human being (whether it relates to breathing, eating, working, or being with my family). Second, clearly, I believe that self-care and mindful motherhood can, in fact, co-exist — even postpartum. Just as much as I believe that non-primping and mindful motherhood can co-exist. And third, the polarization over this issue makes it clear to me that moms still have a hard time realizing that ultimately we’re all on the same team. Lip gloss or not.

What do you think? I’m truly curious. In fact, I’ll probably mull it further tomorrow, while I’m getting that haircut I’ve been neglecting for four months. Which I purposefully scheduled during Laurel’s skating lesson so as not to waste our precious weekend time together.


  1. Nov 13, 2010

    Christine – agree with you 100%. My guess is that the initially vocal few outnumbered those who agree 100% with your position since we were all out getting our nails done while our highlights processed in our hair. (kidding) Don’t let the negativity get to you. Those who know you, or even those who are just getting to know you through Boston Mamas, know that Laurel, roll, and John always come first.

  2. Nov 13, 2010

    I know I’ve already said more than enough on your Facebook post, but this article really bothered me and the flip responses about lip gloss and showers seem to be missing the point. I’m don’t believe that this comes down to a primping vs. non-primping issue. And, once again, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that new moms shouldn’t comb their hair or take a shower. In fact, I think that if you were to tell any of the dissenters one-on-one that you’re hoping to get your hair blown out or have your make-up done, the worst that might have happened would be that they’d roll their eyes at you. But print has power. And just as many women feel that fashion magazines glorify the skinny (implying that if you’re not skinny, you’re not worth glorifying), the article on primping around birth gave off a superior vibe. That women who care at all about their appearance will want to make sure to pack that mascara in their birthing bag. In comments on Facebook, the word “unkempt” was put out there. I take issue with the idea that woman who has just given birth is “unkempt.” There’s nothing wrong with being skinny, of course, and there’s nothing wrong with primping if that’s your thing. But neither of them are necessarily the gold standard of womanhood, either. The article was a frivolous one and, given how many women struggle to get pregnant, suffer loss, and are faced with life-threatening situations (for themselves and their babies), I don’t think it’s surprising that people reacted so strongly. Obviously that was the point, because it could have just as easily been an article about the importance of nurturing your own femininity (whatever that means to you) as you move into motherhood. But I guess that would mean adding some depth to the lifestyle pages…

    P.S. I know you’re a fabulous mom to Laurel, and I know you’ll be an equally fabulous mom to your new addition, whether you get your hair blown out or not. =}

  3. Nov 13, 2010

    There will always be people in the opposite camp, whether you’re debating a topic as inocuous as this or world peace. People are bored and use the internet as a platform to make their small voices heard. That said, as interesting as you may be, I’m confused as to why this was even a topic worthy of space in the Globe.

    Bring on the lip gloss and tweezers.

  4. Nov 13, 2010

    I have given birth to two girls. The first was a unplanned c-section when an induction didn’t work. The second was a planned c-section. Both times I was wearing concealer, powder, and waterproof mascara. Does this make me vain? Do I have self confidence issues? Do I care? No! I feel better when I look better. It really is as simple as that.

  5. Nov 13, 2010

    It’s interesting how easy it is for people (Moms or otherwise) to criticize the practices of others instead of looking at oneself deeply and making an honest assessment of one’s own behaviors, values and principles. For the readers this could have (and may have been for many) been a fabulous oportunity to look at oneself as a Mother (as a Woman…) and decide, internally, and/or through conversations with friends, ask “am I the person I want to be today? And if not, what is getting in my way and how can I make the changes I need to in my own life?”. Much easier I suppose to lash out at someone else instead of going inward.

  6. Nov 13, 2010

    I think we all agree that the article was frivolous — it was the intent from the start. The strong reaction was telling. But everyone carries their own issues and is free to express them.

    But like you, Christine, I feel and I feel this strongly, that one can take care of yourself and be a good mother. Even if you pack mascara in your hospital bag. And comb your unkempt hair after being in labor for 24 hours and having the OB extract the baby after a tough delivery. It is possible.

    (Sorry Christy, but you took unkempt the wrong way — of course a woman will look messy after giving birth. I did three times. And I made it a point to say that it is unrealistic to look runway ready. Here is what I said: “Although some women do get dolled up for the delivery, Sarmiento, 34, says that doesn’t make sense. “I’ve seen pictures of people with mascara running down their faces. You cry or you get all sweaty. It’s a very emotional time.’’ — but did I freshen up to have some nice pictures to send? Sure did. Guilty as charged.)

  7. Nov 13, 2010

    One more thing…can we all agree that my son looked ADORABLE on his birthday?

    Ah, the memories! :)

  8. Nov 13, 2010

    Aaaand, I still pack my lip gloss. Yep, after 20 years and 4 kids…I take a few minutes out of my day, to make sure that my head is on straight and my eyebrows haven’t drifted too far down my face…trust me, the world is a much better place for it ;) Sorry, but folks need to chillax and quit bringing other folks down in order to make themselves feel better about, you know, themselves…IMO.

  9. Nov 14, 2010

    Very intriguing discussion here…

    I looked like a complete disaster after both my deliveries and the last thing on my mind was makeup. I let Janice snap some photos, but I sure wasn’t live vlogging or updating Facebook with photos.

    I wouldn’t judge anyone for putting on makeup for photos after delivery, even if I wouldn’t do it myself. But I will admit that after reading this article, I feel like perhaps I would be tempted to primp pre and post delivery if I were going to deliver another baby. But since that’s not in my future plans, I likely won’t have to worry about it.

    I spend 80% of my life with no makeup on. But the truth is I also tend to feel worse about myself while I’m not wearing makeup. It’s amazing how much better you feel when you’re made up.

    Part of the reason I continue to not wear makeup in my daily routine is that I’m a work at home mom so generally the people I see are during school drop off and pick up and I figure oh well, they’ve seen me without makeup on already, so what’s the point. LOL

    Also, I tend to prefer the feeling of my skin with nothing on it and my complexion stays clearer.

    I do think we women ought to remember that we are all on the same team… let’s not judge each other for our decisions, but let’s also try to not add extra pressure on each other to always be presenting a perfect package.

    And about the moment after delivery photos… I think they are actually priceless. I love to see shots revealing the strength and raw, messy beauty of the ultimate task that culminates in the ultimate love.

    My recommendation… let a few photos snap without any extra primping and just show off your exhaustion. You’ll smile to remember what an amazing feat you survived. Then, sure, if you want, powder and Facebook your photo.

  10. Nov 14, 2010

    Agreed! And your hair looks glossy. Nice! Truly, I aspire to pack a hairbrush this go around.

  11. Nov 14, 2010

    Loved the article. So 2010. I facebooked my entire 3rd birth through status updates and it was FUN. not everyone’s cup of tea, but it was mine. I had fun, my friends had fun and some people think I’m crazy for doing it, but that’s me. Oh, and primping all the way!

  12. Nov 14, 2010

    Christine. Four words. MOVE TO THE SOUTH. All of your pre-delivery primping techniques are EXPECTED here. It’s totally normal to get waxed, have a mani-pedi, etc just before delivery. And on that note, my OB cracked up because right after I gave birth, I asked for the big childbirth mirror so that I could do my makeup before the first mother and baby photo. All I knew was that that photo gets e-mailed everywhere and I did NOT want to be one of those sad, smiling moms with no makeup on! ;D

  13. Nov 14, 2010

    I have makeup that goes really nicely with the red top I wear at Christmas, which works just fine, as that is pretty much the only time I wear it!

    I figure that whatever makes someone feel their best is what they should do, with one caution: makeup can obscure physiological responses that doctors and nurses look for in their patients, as both indicators of well being, but also as early warning signs of problems. Mascara and lip gloss are unlikely to be problematic, but foundation could hide flushing or paling of the skin, which could be problematic. (Also kind of surprised that no one mentioned perfume.)

    The only part of the original article I had issues with was the idea that there was ‘downtime’ in the first few hours after giving birth. I can’t even begin to think of a time when I wanted to be more present to what was going on; I had a new family members to meet!

    That said, distraction during contractions, or while waiting for labor to finally arrive, is a WHOLE different ballgame. If we go for #4, I might think about an eyebrow wax myself! ;)

  14. Nov 14, 2010

    Oh gosh! I always felt so much better if I touched my hair and face up during labor (if I felt like it) and after birth (if I felt like it) (and I think I did feel like it all 4 times)- but I wouldn’t think anything of someone that didn’t, or think that I was doing it and being vain.

    I did it because it made ME feel better at the time! Is it wrong then that I felt that way? I don’t think so, and I am a very strong woman. I looked better then than I do right now just up for the morning with messy hair and no bra on and I’d totally open the door if someone came to see me. It’s just how I am.


  15. Nov 14, 2010

    As you know I was mentioned/quoted in the article. I was most surprised that not a mention that we all believe that our own health (and that of the baby of course) is our PRIMARY focus, not how we look. That was omitted I’m sure on purpose for sensationalism.

    In fact, if you read the first two paragraphs of the article they are contradictory: the author editorializes that the make-up kit Ashley Steele is bringing to the hospital is “perhaps the most important thing” in her hospital bag and then follows-up with a quote from Steele saying it’s “100% about the baby.” (Not sure everyone picked up on that distinction though)

    I think the response to the article would have been much more different if it were made EXPLICIT that every woman interviewed for the article felt health was the more important of the issues (and I’m confident that it was either expressed to her or that each mother believes that).

    When I wrote my “primping” post on Designmom there was no backlash because I think I made it pretty clear in the post (and through Alphamom everyday) that HEALTH is first and foremost on my mind.

    I didn’t bother to read the comments to the article past the first few because BAH, that article was a trend/link-bait piece through and through.

  16. Nov 14, 2010

    With Bunny I had a cut and color appointment the day she was born. When it looked like I was going to miss it (birth was imminent), I called to cancel and the salon was so appreciative that I even took the time. I did the same thing AND scheduled a brow wax and pedicure the day before Wallie’s due date (she arrived the next day). Why? Because knowing what I knew after having #1, it would be months before I got around to doing all those things after the baby was born. Like you, I do these things anyway so I was just trying to get a jump on things. Was I concerned about looking good for people before, during, and after birth? Hell no. I brought some make up with me to the hospital (because I am someone who wears a little make up every day anyway and always has powder and gloss in my purse) but I didn’t touch it. (Did I even wash my hair in four days? I can’t remember…) Once my newborn little ones were in my arms, that babe was all I cared about and focused on. And boy do I have the pictures to prove it.

    I think the lesson to be learned from my story is not that you should take time to do the little pampering things before the baby is born, but that if you schedule a cut and color or pedicure very close to your due date, it’s a great way to ensure you will go into labor! The moment you make the time to do something for yourself, the baby has a different idea. Which is something every parent should get used to as soon as possible! ;-)

  17. Nov 14, 2010

    Wait, yoga pants are dressy?

    Mostly kidding, but I think much of this comes from a misunderstand about birth. Most of the time it is not the emergency you experienced the first time. Most of us have plenty of time to futz with our hair or toss on some lip gloss. Most of the time it doesn’t look like the sit-com emergency birth or the ER hour-long drama emergency birth. There is a bit more downtime than most people realized.
    The other bit comes from the fact that we generally distrust women. None of us would stop for lip gloss if it were endangering our own health or our child’s but our society doesn’t believe that. It believes it is looking out for us & our children by chastising us. Society would do better to pass paid sick leave and stop nagging us about bullshit issues like having nice photos of our births.

  18. Nov 14, 2010

    The sooner society gets over the fact the mothers must be martyrs the sooner feminism may move forward.

    I did not give birth in the age of Facebook & Twitter but you know what the day before I was induced I had my haircut and my toes done. Why? Because when the hell would I get to do that next? And because at a time when you feel pretty crappy & about as unattractive as you will ever feel it made me feel pretty.

    No harm done to my daughter…no harm done to anyone in society…just a little something for me. Because like you, I believe in putting on my oxygen mask before taking care of others…and I’m often taking care of others now. (While still getting hair & toes done).

    Goodness – why we care how others choose to live their lives is beyond me. If you don’t like your life change it…but stop judging others.

    You go Christine! Do whatever you’d like before, during and after birth with my full support. The only one you need to answer to is you and yours…everyone else…who cares.

  19. Nov 14, 2010

    Motherhood, for many, it at the core of female experience and matters in the multiple ways we live, work and contribute to our world.

    My hope and dream is that the relevance and meaning of feminism embraces this, allowing us to support each other in the deeply significant commitment of raising life.

    And, we my hope is that we will not judge other women’s choices for self-care. At the end of the day a desire for a shower/makeup during or after labor and birth should not polarize women from each other.

    If this is enjoyable and helps a woman feel better, go for it. If not, A woman be encourages to do whatever helps her nurture herself.

    And, while we may not agree on everything, let’s acknowledge each other as a community ready to walk together on this fundamentally important path of womanhood.

  20. Nov 14, 2010

    Right on, Karen!

    You’re correct. I went on and on above about the need for the writer to have made it explicit that health was the subjects’ primary concern. But that should be accepted. But rather the readers mistrust and misjudge.

  21. Nov 14, 2010

    The article obviously had an aim – baiting the controversy. But I say, if you (collective) have the wherewithal to pack mascara and primp before, during, and after your labor, then more power to you.

    I got a pedicure and a wax before I had my kids, but that was just part of my regular routine.

    I could have given a crap about how I looked during labor because it was the hardest however many hours (save my most recent birth)I’d ever experienced in my life. I liken it to putting on a full face of makeup to go to the gym. Not something I do because I know I’m going to sweat it off and look like sh*t in a matter of minutes.

    And after? Well, I don’t wear make up every day nor do I get pictures taken with the baby. Let’s be honest – no amount of make up would make me look at all presentable in a photo after giving birth. LOL.

    But by all means, mamas. Take care of yourselves. I say this after not showering for 5 days in a row and wearing the same pair of pants for last however many days.

    Martyr? No. Just a little overwhelmed.

  22. Nov 14, 2010

    You KNOW I’m all for moms taking time to primp and feel pretty, and I support how a happy, confident mom makes for happier kids, spouse, family dynamics, etc. etc. And I CERTAINLY had my pedicure freshened before my deliveries.

    But there are two other important points here: 1) The internet (especially the Globe!) breeds anonymous trolls who want nothing better than to rain on anyone’s parade, and will spit vitriol all over comments pages with impunity; and 2) Both of my boys were born in the wee, small hours of the morning (post make-up removal, pre-sleep), and while both were long before the FB age, the photos my snap-happy hubs took of me are GORGEOUS and glowing, even without primping – I think sometimes we forget or discount that natural and joyous and radiant from WITHIN look just as beautiful, if not more so, than conventional “photo-shoot” standards would lead us to believe.


  23. Nov 14, 2010

    I don’t understand why anything like this is anything you have been called. I think the biggest issues women have is that we are so quick to judge each other and berat someone for something they feel will make them feel a little better. Let’s just stop being so judgmental and be who we are…makeup or not!

  24. Nov 14, 2010

    After an emergency c-section – after 20 hours of labor including 4 hours of pushing – a dear friend of mine brought me a Burt’s Bees lip gloss when she came to visit. At first, I thought she was nuts. I could barely stand, I hadn’t taken a shower since my water broke, and I had been crying for hours (thanks hormones). Not to be dramatic, but that lip gloss was like a life-line to my old life. It reminded me that I could still have a shred of decency after a traumatic birthing experience. If I am so blessed to have another child, I will be packing my own lip gloss. And I’ll be springing for a pedicure before my due date – it would have been nice to stare at pretty coral-colored toe nails during those hours of pushing!

  25. Nov 15, 2010

    you know, I’ve thought about this a lot in light of Karen’s comment below. I shouldn’t be so hard on the writer. I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt.

    So, she wrote a trend piece (which I know it was). I wish she had mentioned health as a priority. But just because she didn’t doesn’t give the readers a right to judge mothers for their choices so quickly.

    Haven’t we come farther than this? Isn’t this similar to judging women in the workforce for their dress and make-up choices rather than for their smarts and work ethic?

  26. Nov 15, 2010

    Isabel, I agree. As I wrote above, it seemed to me this article hit a nerve that was more about self-care and personal appearance, and that couching it all in the context of birth gave many in the non-primping camp more complex ammunition to draw from.

    Like you, I didn’t bother reading the Globe comments because I knew exactly what they would say. But I was a little mystified to have accusations launched directly at me (via Twitter and Facebook) — someone actually told me it/I was the “antithesis of everything our grandmothers fought for!” And that I couldn’t truly be mindful if I was worried about how I looked, etc.

  27. Nov 15, 2010

    When my daughter was born, she was a slightly early surprise, brought on by pre-eclampsia. I didn’t have time to do any of the things I had wanted to do before she was born, like say, wax the hair on my face (it is really bad, a combination of genetics and a hormone issue) and because I didn’t primp at all, and I had gotten really sick, I hate EVERY picture of her early days that has me in it. The only good thing was that I remembered to pack a pretty smelling body wash. After days of not being able to clean up because of IV’s with meds for my blood pressure, it was heaven.
    When the next kid gets here, I plan on making sure that if I don’t get to wax before hand, I have the supplies with me to do it. I want to be able to look back at those pictures without disgust.

  28. Nov 17, 2010

    I am just starting to read your blog, and blammo you go and touch on something I have been puzzling about – the whole feminism label. I agree with a lot of what you have said here. I feel that if I wear makeup and primp a bit in my every day life, why is it wrong to want to do that post delivery, pre-picture taking? Does that really take me down a peg on the feminist scale? These are pictures you will have for the rest of your life, why not look as good as you want? I had a similar experience to you with the birth of my son. Emergency c-section at 34 weeks because my kidneys were shutting down and my blood pressure was skyrocketing. I didn’t shower for a week or so and wow did I look bad. Which is fine, I was alive to hold my baby, but if I had the ability to go back in time and do a little touch up, I would.

  29. Aug 18, 2011

    More power to moms who can primp before giving birth, I was in too much pain to care for my first because my epidural never really kicked in. For the next two births, I think I was more panicked about kids at home freaking out with grandma on deck.

    I think primping is good for women. Keeping ourselves up shows self respect as any chic Frenchwoman will tell you.

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