Should there be a change in cabin pressure… put on your oxygen mask first before helping others. As a new mom, I would roll my eyes every time I heard these instructions before a flight. At the time, I believed I had an invisible cape and that all moms were invincible. I couldn’t comprehend how these flight attendants could suggest for a mother to put herself and her needs before that of her children. As a new mom, I genuinely believed motherhood was synonymous with self-sacrifice. And living with this belief was exhausting. When I was at work, I had mom guilt for not being with my daughter; when I was at the market, I rushed through the aisles to make sure I made it home before she awoke from her nap. I was constantly - mentally and physically - drained. By the time my son arrived three years later, I was knee deep in the hustle. I was sleep-deprived, fatigued, and burnt out trying to start a new business.
A phone call from a doctor stopped me dead in my tracks. After several imaging appointments and biopsies, the doctor confirmed that the lump I had felt while nursing my newborn six months earlier, was indeed cancerous. She immediately told me that she recommended a double mastectomy and believed I would need Chemotherapy. I was a sleep deprived mom of two. I was barely holding it together until 7PM when I could put my little ones to bed.
How was I going to make it through this? Would I be OK? Would my kids grow up knowing their mother?
Everything I believed in and thought I knew, changed in an instant. For the first time ever, it made sense to me: Put on your oxygen mask first before helping others. It is such a common metaphor, yet I honestly believed it applied to everyone except for mothers.
As mothers we are taught, conditioned and expected to give so much of ourselves to our children. We deplete ourselves of everything - as if there is an award or medal to be won. And we wear mother’s guilt like a badge of honor. The moment I realized there is no medal or badge, just the realities of life; everything changed. I realized I was living as if life was a sprint, when in fact, it was a marathon. I realized the only way to beat this cancer diagnosis and ultimately be a mother for my children for years to come was to put my needs, my mental and physical well being, first. And only then would I actually be able to be there for my children.
Self-care has transformed my life. My wake-up call was a breast cancer diagnosis. I had no choice but to let go. And when I did, I became a whole person again; even through something as shattering as cancer. During that year, when I was going through the hell of cancer treatment, I vowed to make a change.
My ring is my reminder of the vow I made to myself to take back the person I used to be and to have balance again in my life. It is my reminder to practice self-care. It is my reminder that there are no awards for martyrdom and mother’s guilt. It is my reminder that I must be whole, healthy, and happy for the sake of my children.
Rita R. Naffas
To connect with Rita, visit her Instagram, Journey_with_Rita