On Being an Individual and Being a Mom

Something has been pressing on me for a while, and I’ve gone back and forth on whether I wanted to write about it. But today, I decided I had to for my own sake. It’s been weighing on me for a few days, so the words have to come out. It all stems from multiple things, the most recent being a photo I posted on a few social media sites of myself three years ago with a caption relating my desire to feel that strong again, and from a photo I posted when I was pregnant with James with a similar sentiment–the desire to take control of my body back and feel good in it again.

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Why is that once you’re pregnant or have had a child, any comment about wanting to get stronger, lose weight, or gain your confidence back, is met with something like, “You’ve had a baby! Be proud of who you are now!” or “Your new body was earned! Battle scars!” or even, “Yeah right. Once you have a baby, it’s all over.” I’m not saying those comments are wrong, (well, some of them are…) but why can’t we say, “Your body has done a lot–carrying a human inside it and then outside! You should be proud, but if you need to do work to gain back your old confidence, your old strength, and you’re willing to do that work, good for you!” 

When a mom loses her baby weight and gets strong again, we don’t say, “Shame on you. How dare you try and change the body your baby helped create!” No, we say, “Yes! Good for you. Way to go!” But when those of us who struggle (and boy, do I struggle–with weight gain and self confidence and feeling good) say  we want to achieve those same goals, it’s like we’re doing something terrible, something shameful. “How could you want that? Aren’t you happy you have your baby?” Why are those things even in the same thought?

I remember when I was pregnant with James, I posted a picture of myself (see the second picture at the top). I had been working  hard for months to drop so extra weight and gain some muscle. I felt strong and beautiful in that picture and I wanted to feel that way again, independent of my son and my pregnancy after he was born.  (I felt beautiful during that pregnancy, too, but pregnancy only lasts 10 months.) On that photo, I got some of the most hurtful, if well intentioned, comments ever. People told me my child should come first. That it was laughable that I ever thought I’d have time for myself or my own body again. That it was all over and to give up now. They told me looks weren’t everything and I needed to focus on the baby. They told me I should be proud of stretch marks and extra weight and saggy skin. They questioned why I wanted that, why I was thinking about it, and then explained what was wrong about my desires and mindset in a not-so-kind way. I felt such guilt after posting that. How could I want this? What is wrong with me to want this? 

But feeling this way is normal. It is. And you know what? Stretch marks don’t bother me. Saggy skin? Who cares. But when I feel weak, when I feel tired, when I feel like a stranger in my skin? That bothers me. Being too heavy to chase my kid without tiring? That bothers me. When I posted that picture, I was trying to say, “I want to someday feel strong like this again.” It’s been just under two years since I posted that and the comments still hurt my heart, even the well-intentioned ones. (PS. There were a few that said, “I know you how feel” or “You’ll get there” and those were more appreciated than the writers could ever know.)

So now I’m pregnant again. 14 weeks along. And this pregnancy has been HARD. Lots of nausea. Vomiting. Dizziness. Fatigue. Back pain. Leg pain. Hip pain. Bloating. GI issues. And I’m only 14 weeks in. So what do I do? I complain some. I let off some steam, and just like with my desire to someday have a strong, agile body again, I hear things like: “But it’s so worth it!” Of course it is, but that shouldn’t minimize or negate how I feel now.

It’s like once you get pregnant, once you become a mom, your feelings as an individual not only become less important, they become almost taboo. And I’ve been guilty of saying these things to new moms. “The first trimester stinks, but it’s worth it in the end.” “Your body will change drastically, but once you hold your baby, it doesn’t even matter anymore.”

Well, ladies, let me go on the record and say a few things.

  1. If you’re feeling bad about your body–maybe you’re pregnant and uncomfortable with your new shape, maybe you’ve had a baby and don’t know how to function in your new, reshaped skin–that’s OK. You’re allowed to have feelings about your body that are separate from the feelings about your baby. Like me, you love your baby more than your life. And like me, you also want to feel good in your own skin. Those two things are not dependent on each other, no matter what people (myself included) may have said to you in the past.
  2. Saying that you miss your body, or your confidence, or your strength, does not mean you don’t love your child, or that you aren’t proud of what your body did/is doing to create a child. I’m SO PROUD of my body right now, because it’s growing my little firefly babe, and that is AWESOME. I also feel like I’ve betrayed my body, because over the last three-ish years I’ve stopped taking care of it, stopped taking care of myself, and because of that I don’t feel strong or confident or good. I gained a lot more weight than I should have, I lost a lot more muscle mass than I should have, and I lost myself along the way.
  3. Becoming a mom does not mean you have to lose who you are. You are going to change. You have changed. And that NEEDS to happen. But you don’t cease to exist. You don’t become a nonentity whose sole purpose is to change diapers and wipe runny noses. You are still you, just a new you. Maybe that means your new body, postpartum, is perfect for you. Maybe you feel amazing (I hope you do!). But maybe that means you want to change your body some, work on it, work on yourself and your confidence. Do what makes you feel good and confident and strong, not what everyone else says you should do to feel a certain way.
  4. Be a mom. Love your baby (or babies). Dedicate yourself and your life to caring for them. But leave time and energy for you. For who you are. For what you love. For who you want to be.

Three years ago, I was strong and confident and agile, but I didn’t have my son. Two years ago I was pregnant with James and less strong, but still strong, and so happy to be pregnant. One year ago I held James as he recovered, days out of cranial surgery. I was thankful for his health and that I was healthy enough to care for him. And today, I’m pregnant with my firefly baby, but I am not strong. I am not confident. And that has nothing to do with the baby I’m carrying, but everything to do with me, as a human, not as a mom or as a pregnant woman. Just me. 

Sometimes, as moms, it’s hard to differentiate between our mom-selves and our actual selves. So here’s me. 

I am a mother and wife, a daughter and sister.
I am a writer and a lover of books and pens and paper.
I am a yogini whose practice is anything but steady.
I love animals, love trees, love the clouds and the stars.
I worry a lot. I am anxious.
I feel things so deeply, so intensely, it’s painful sometimes, even the good emotions.
I want to feel physically strong and confident.
I am proud of what my body has done to birth one child and carry a second.
I am not comfortable in my own skin (but that doesn’t mean I regret having my babies).
I am a unique entity, not just a caregiver for others.

If you do read this blog, and do decide to comment, instead of telling me all the reasons why I should  feel good in my own skin, instead just tell me about YOU. What do you love? What are your goals? What’s your passion? What do you feel? What do you want to work on or grow in? Because as long as your desires, your goals, your wants are things that will grow you as a person, will enrich your life, they’re not bad or wrong or taboo. They’re part of who you are.

Thanks for reading, if you did. And I hope no one took offense. I also want to say, as a disclaimer, I am not saying in this blog that to be happy one must be thinner or stronger or anything like that. I’m saying I need to feel stronger to feel good. But you, as an individual, need to do whatever it takes to make you feel good, feel healthy, feel like yourselves. ❤

When Moms Give Advice

When I was pregnant, I got all sorts of advice from other moms–some solicited, some not. A lot of that advice was wonderful! And some of it made me cry and cry. Then, after I had my son, I got MORE advice with the same stats–I asked for some, I got some I didn’t ask for, some was great, some made me feel like the worst mom in the world.

Because of this, I always said I would never give another mom advice unless she asked me, and then I would try to take into account her situation and not just force upon her the “truth” of my own situation, as if my experience in motherhood was the ultimate experience that everyone else needed to live by.

So, naturally, before I even realize what I’m doing, I start handing out advice left and right. “When James was a baby this REALLY worked. You should try it.” “When I was pregnant, the ONLY thing that worked was this. You should do this. Can I help you get started?”I was that mom all of a sudden. Yikes.

Once I realized what I was doing, I reigned myself in. I’m happy to say that now I limit my mommy/baby/wifey advice to the people who either ask me directly, or who happen to get stuck in a conversation with me where those topics are relevant.

But, here and now, I have a piece of advice I need to share with ALL moms, but to give that advice, I need to tell a story first:

The other day, I walked out of the living room to go get something, and left James playing in his play pen. I come back, and he’s holding my coffee cup–which was on a table that should have been far enough away from him–and it’s empty (don’t worry, the coffee had been cold for a while). I take the cup from him and look to where it was sitting, and there’s a huge puddle of coffee in the floor. Very calmly, I go to get towels and cleaner to clean it up. As I’m cleaning, James tries to climb the wall of his pen. Afraid he’ll fall, I go to grab him, only to fall myself, causing the pen wall to fall and a huge piece to snap off. I yelped and James started to cry, so I pick him up to comfort him, only to discover that he’s had a blow out (for those of you who aren’t parents, that means poopy diaper explosion). I take him into his room, clean him up, and put him in his crib so I can fix the play pen and clean up the coffee. I got back into the living room, and as I’m crossing the room, I step on a hair clip of mine and it shatters, pieces going everywhere (not to mention my foot didn’t feel great). So here I am, smelling faintly of baby poop and stale coffee, with hundreds of plastic shards all around, mixed in with my toddler’s toys, with a play pen that needs to be fixed. And all I could do was laugh for a minute, push my hair out of my eyes, and get to it.

So, what’s the moral here? What’s the advice that I really need to share with all the mommies who read this?

Love your babies, hold on tight, do your best, and always expect the unexpected. 

No matter what you do, there will be someone out there who thinks you’re 100% right, and another person who thinks you’re 100% wrong. Breastfeed, bottle feed, rock to sleep, sleep train, purees, mashes, baby led weaning–someone is going to agree with you on your choices and someone else is going to tell you that you’re doing it all wrong. So what do you do? Ignore them. Do what’s best for you baby. Research things you aren’t sure about. Talk to your pediatrician. Talk to your mom, your grandmas, your aunts, your female cousins, your friends who’ve had kids. Talk to your husband or partner. But at the end of the day, when you’re standing there overseeing the huge mess that you’re baby has contributed to, smelling a little funky with food (or something else) on your shirt, and a smile on your baby’s face because he’s spending time with you, know that you’re doing a great job. We mommies are a tribe of warrior women who raise babies and learn to solve all problems. We should come together in person, online, in spirit, and support each other in our decisions. If you’re a mommy who loves her babies, then you, my friend, are a freaking super hero.

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As a bonus, here’s a totally irrelevant photo of my baby chowing down on a lemon!