Music was softly playing in the background and my three-year-old and infant were sweetly sleeping in unison while my husband and I were driving on our way to a fun family outing. Breathing in deeply, I quietly savored the calm that surrounded us in the car. My husband must have also been enjoying that moment of tranquility because he leaned his free driving hand over to me, palm held upward ready to be clasped by mine. Irritation immediately set in my body. I plopped my hand into his and shifted my gaze to the view outside of my window.
The tension alone in my hand and arm was so starkly contrasted by the relaxed state of his entire being. I started to give exaggerated sighs and irksomely shifted in my seat. Cautiously he looked over at me asking if everything was alright. The forced words, “Yep. I’m fine,” left my mouth as I pulled my hand away to scratch my itching neck.
Looking down, I saw his open hand still waiting patiently for the return on my own. Another sigh escaped my lips before I could no longer find a reason to withhold my hand and I aggressively dropped it back into his.
“Do you not want to hold my hand?”
That question, asked so earnestly, snapped my emotions back into my body, revealing tears and grief for an issue I had yet to verbalize. It’s not that I specifically did not want to hold my husband’s hand, I just wanted to not be touched, by anyone, in that moment.
When I became a first-time mother, I saw the term “touched-out” here and there in various “mommy forums,” but I never had a personal connection to it beyond the general definition. It wasn’t until I had my second child that my body unequivocally knew what that term meant. Through grieving, angry tears I shared with my husband how exhausted my body was of being touched.
Suddenly, with the birth of our second son, my body no longer felt like it had autonomy. Every day I had a three year old climbing all over me looking for attention and snuggles and a newborn searching for milk-filled breasts to feast and sleep upon with abandon. I was aching for my own body to find nourishment in the form of quietness and solitude, but as a new mother that felt something akin to climbing Mt. Everest. There never seemed to be a moment of privacy or sustainable peace to settle into my postpartum body with care and love.
In response to my inability to find nourishment, my mind began to leap to larger more desperate ways to achieve isolation. I would fantasize about getting in the car and driving to a remote cabin in New Mexico. Other times, I would comb through airline flights and Airbnb’s to create the perfect, fantasy vacation where I could sit in silence and just be alone. When the dollar signs began to add up, I unhappily closed the multiple tabs I had accumulated. Frustration shifted to shame which morphed into defensive anger. What kind of mother wants to run away and not be touched? How can I be so selfish? But I just need to breathe, why can’t anyone understand that?!
Left alone to process those questions and feelings was overwhelming and created an unhealthy isolation that starved my heart and body. But that day in the car, with our sleeping children in the backseat, my questioning was met with kindness, understanding, and an invitation to be honest when I was feeling touched-out and needing space.
My husband and I sat together and sought out ways to be intentional for my body to find healthy nourishment. Sometimes that has looked like him taking the kids out for dinner so I can enjoy a stack of chocolate chip pancakes in bed while watching “real” housewives scream at each other on tv. Sometimes it looks like me going out to a movie by myself or spending the day at Ikea or taking a “momcation” in a nearby city.
By doing these things, I am able to reenter the daily grind with a renewed energy. My soul and body are honored and nourished; my questions have important truth placed upon them.
Tired, touched-out moms need to have space to breathe and there is great beauty in being able to care for my body without someone tugging on it or demanding attention.
Requesting help and care for my body doesn’t mean I love my people any less. An important truth I am still learning is that setting aside duty for kind nourishment is never selfish – it is always life giving.
Mal Arnold is a passionate Latina wife and mother who is a chaser of dreams and believes in living life with abandon. She writes to pour some of herself out for any who care to experience her heart, but is also an avid reader, lover of old movies and going on journeys with family as well. She has seen heartache and trauma in her past and is learning to let her Maker heal her broken places.