” Rest is not only an act of self-care but of reclamation, rememberance and resistance.”
I began writing this at 31 weeks into my second pregnancy and it has taken me over a year to finish it. It is on a topic that has been on my mind for a long time, especially since experiencing pregnancy and being a mom and it is around our ideas of Rest. What does it mean to truly rest and why is it so hard for so many of us to do? Why do so many suffer from chronic fatigue? Why do most of my patients, especially the mamas come to me exhausted, stressed and still pushing themselves? Why is it that when someone is sick or injured they go back to work the minute they can. If anything I would have hoped Covid would have taught us to slow down and really wait till we are better before we go back to work, but alas it seems that now we just work from our homes and continue to push ourselves.
Ever since having my daughter four year ago I have felt tired on some level or another, there were moments before that, of course, while busy trying to study and work or when ill or injured but nothing quite like trying to be a working mother. Add another pregnancy and a second job and it was hard to function without multiple naps. I certainly am better at allowing myself to rest these days, as I know how trying to rush back to things leads to more illness and exhaustion, and yet I still feel that pressure from somewhere deep inside myself, a seed planted, a family icon calling to me that I should be doing more, I should be better by now, I should be able to get up and go like I used to.
As I see it there are many factors that affect this, One of the most insidious of these runs back to the origins of North American colonization, that of the Protestant Ethic. An idea that the work we did was what made us worthy under the eyes of God and the harder we worked the more “holy” we were. This can easily be seen playing out in the “American Dream” and the idea that we can create anything from our hardwork, no matter who we were born to or our status in society. This powerful messaging has been carried forth by our culture and our families. My Father’s family who came to North America very early on has this story woven into our DNA, I saw it in the way my grandfather, father and uncle worked so hard, and how they indulged in booze, food and marijuana to make them feel better in their lives and I have seen it in myself, how i push myself to achieve more or take on more things than I can handle.
This history of hard work and no rest that is woven into our culture has caused many to feel like failures, sinking into some form of addiction to numb the voice of disapproval or manifesting some illness that will not allow them to work hard anymore. The body or mind demanding the rest that is so desperately needed. This has been a recurring theme for myself and many I know, taking on too much and then either becoming ill, getting injured or having to cancel a commitment that you made because it is all too much. The sense of failure leads many to some form of addiction or self-beratement that pulls us further down the spiral of having to work harder.
Then there is the need to survive in this reality we have created, rising food costs and rent, mortgages and childcare. I recently discovered that Canada has one of the highest housing to income costs in the world. In the face of the cost of living I understand why people don’t rest when they need to and yet as a society and a country that is evidently one of the best to live in in the world we don’t take very good care of our people.
But there is another way, a way our ancient ancestors knew and a way that many are starting to find and that is to move more slowly, to recognize these stories within ourselves and our culture and resist them, to allow ourselves to fully rest when we need to. At one point in time the Estimated Due Date (EDD) for a woman was known as the Estimated Date of Confinement (EDC) and it was not the date when baby was expected to arrive but the period of time she would remove herself from the world to care for herself, to nap and walk in nature, to eat many small nourishing meals, to nest and move into the deeper delta waves of the brain that are needed to birth and care for an infant. It was also common practice that a mother and babe would be left alone in the quiet and dark of their birthing space for weeks to allow for the full healing of the mother’s body and the gentle welcoming of the baby into the world. At birth we are blown open and our babies are just entering into a whole new world, still half in the realms of spirit they need time to settle into their bodies and become aware of the world around them. It is up to us to reclaim this practice of rest and care and support each other in it.
So what can we do? Firstly, we can honour our need to rest and when our bodies feel exhausted we can lie down or take a nap. Set boundaries around your time and capacity so you can nourish yourself first in order to give back to the world. Secondly, we can look to our friends and family and recognize when they are in need of an extra hand. When visiting a new mom bring her food and offer to do some laundry or wash some dishes. When a friend is ill or had surgery check in and see if you could pick up their groceries or medications or bring them some soup you lovingly made or bought. Offer to watch your friends kids for an hour or two and let them go and do whatever it is they most desire to do; nap, watch a movie, get a massage,….. It is only through caring for ourselves and then those we love that this will ripple out into our communities and eventually out into society at large.