Learning to treat myself gently

“Did you leave a candle burning?” I was cuddling Edith in bed and Eric was passed out next to me when I smelled something funny a few nights ago. Eric roused himself to investigate.

A few minutes later, half our apartment was filled with stinky vapor. Eric had found the source of the burning scent: a half-melted Tupperware lid inside the dishwasher. I had loaded and started it earlier (gasp! The new mom cleaned something!). I had put the plastic top on the bottom shelf.

I could blame sleep deprivation or mommy brain fog or the fact we haven’t had a dishwasher since I moved out of my parents’ house. But I think I made the mistake simply because that’s where the lid fit.

We opened every window, the balcony door and the front door to air out the apartment and faced the fans to blow air outside. Then we bundled up a sleeping Edie, leashed Finn and went outside.

Eric treated our impromptu nighttime stroll like an adventure but I was beside myself: Only five weeks in and I almost poisoned my family. One stupid mistake and my newborn was inhaling who knows what toxic fumes.

When the air cleared at home, we set Edith down in her cosleeper. She had slept through the whole ordeal. I, on the other hand, couldn’t sleep. What had I done? What sort of damage had I caused? What if we’d already been asleep?

I’ve always skewed toward the anxious worrier side of the spectrum, and I have a hard time letting myself off the hook. My stomach still drops when I recall mean things I said in middle school. If beating yourself up were a sport, I’d have medaled in the Olympics by now.

Eric tried to reassure me and pointed out that our baby was sleeping peacefully. Eventually I nodded off. And although the Tupperware was destroyed, no one else seemed to have suffered any lasting damage.

Since then I’ve thought a lot about that night and my reaction. I’ve realized that learning to be gentle with myself is harder than learning how to swaddle a baby or soothe her or make myself breakfast one-handed. Yet it’s perhaps even more important in becoming a good mama.

After all, I will teach Edith by my example. If I want her to learn to be kind to herself—and I do—then I must follow my own advice. That will be one of the most important lessons I hope to impart to her: Love yourself, and be quick to forgive yourself.

I’ll continue to read up on baby milestones and work on perfecting my swaddling technique. All the while, I’ll practice being a bit less critical and a bit more understanding to the mama I’m trying to become.

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