As a pregnant woman, people reach out to touch you; you're like a magnet. Once baby is born, the focus shifts to the child. How can you rediscover and nurture your core in a gale of new responsibilities?
It all begins with the positive pregnancy test, according to Jennifer Louden, author of The Pregnant Woman's Comfort Book: A Self-Nurturing Guide to Your Emotional Well-Being During Pregnancy. "Pregnancy offers women time to value and nurture themselves," Louden says. "When you have a child, it's hard to remember who you are. You need to have an established sense of self to keep you centered."
Does that mean building a meditation room -- complete with New Age music -- and setting aside an hour a day for yourself? Like that would happen, Louden laughs. The important thing, she says, is giving yourself permission to put yourself first. So much, and so many precious people, depend on your ability to do so.
A is for apple and other juicy fruits. Eat some every day and use a plate. Buy kiwi for yourself even though no one else in your family likes it. A is also for abdominals. It never hurts to make a conscious effort to pull them in, even when drifting off to sleep, says Denise Austin, star of Denise Austin's Fit and Light on Lifetime TV.
C is for cuts. Indulge in good haircuts -- maybe while the kids are with the sitter.
D is for decluttering. A 52-pickup clockwise around the room once a day does wonders for the spirit. For more quick neatening tips, go to www.overhall.com.
F is for fine linens. You shouldn't be sleeping on Mickey and Minnie sheets. Your bed (and your sleep) is too important right now.
G is for grownups. Don't be afraid to have people over and specify "no kids this time." G is also for getaways, again sans offspring.
H is for hot tea. Britain got through the blitz drinking it.
I is for "you." What do you like to do best? Garden, read, mountain bike? "Mother" may not have an "I" in it, but you can't spell, or be, "Interesting" without "I."
J is for baby jogger, a running contraption that will help you get back into shape after baby is born. Austin says if you can afford a good one, go for it.
K is for kittens. No, pets do not need banishing. They can even lower your blood pressure. (Just be sure to avoid the litter box during pregnancy.)
L is for love. You may be besotted as you've never been before. Bask in it.
M is for massage. During pregnancy, find a massage therapist trained to work on pregnant women (they even have tables with tummy holes, Louden says). M is also for movies. Don't wait for the video; hire a sitter. And M is for music. Have your spouse make a tape of your favorites and keep it playing.
N is for No. Learn to say it when you feel overloaded. "No, you can't visit now." "No, I can't serve on that committee." You'll see -- you'll develop a rhythm.
O is for Out. Go there! Make every Tuesday night date night with your spouse.
P is for pedicures. Katy Santesteban, a Phoenix social worker who recently gave birth to a 9-pound boy, developed a pedicure habit when she could no longer see her feet. She has no plans to lose it any time soon.
Q is for quiet. One mother used to offer her kids a quarter if they could be quiet for 15 minutes. They would whisper and giggle and watch the clock, but it helped -- and they learned to tell time.
R is for religion. Many churches and synagogues have "cry" rooms where you can enjoy the service even if baby becomes fussy or needs feeding. Some congregations even offer babysitting.
S is for Snuggles. Austin uses her baby as a counterweight to do squats and lunges. She never goes to the gym, she says -- and the baby loves it. S is also for shoes. You may not enjoy buying maternity and "after" clothes, but shoe shopping is a universal pleasure (you even get to sit down).
T is for the tried and true. Remember those guilty pleasures like bubble baths, chocolate, and soap operas? Go ahead -- you may not be away from work long enough to become really addicted.
U is for understanding that your mate needs "attention," too -- and it might be fun for you, too.
V is for visualization. Imagine yourself having a calm, exhilarated birth and being a laughing, fun mother with clean hair.
W is for walks. No equipment needed. Austin started walking with her girlfriends during pregnancy and continues the tradition. She and her husband take the baby in the stroller every evening, too. Remember, as a fitness star, she had to strut her stuff in a leotard just six weeks after having each of her babies!
X is for eXcellent adventure. Take time to look around once a day and see the amusing, strange trip you are on. It won't last forever, though for now it may seem like it will.
Z is for zzzzz's. Try to get plenty, even if you need to put a sign on the door for delivery people and nap when your little darlings do.
"Check in with yourself every so often," Louden advises. If you feel self-centered and shamelessly sybaritic, you are on the right track.
For more vital info for women, go to www.comfortqueen.com.