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. ❤

Being a Mom is Hard

Being a mom is hard.

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again. And it’s not just hard in the ways you’d think. Sure, it’s hard not getting enough sleep and constantly picking up after someone else and getting snot and vomit and urine and who-knows-what-else on you. But there are other things that are also hard. SO hard. And until you’re a parent, you can’t really understand how hard those other things can be.

Like how to feed your baby. This doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult. I mean, as long as you’re getting your baby the proper nutrition (ie: enough breast milk or formula and then later, enough baby food or soft foods and whole milk) it shouldn’t make being a mom hard, right? Wrong.

Feeding my baby has been a source of pain for me since I realize that breastfeeding just wasn’t going to happen for us. I wanted to breastfeed. I wanted it SO BADLY. But because of a long series of things–uncooperative nipples, an undiagnosed tongue and lip tie, no real breastfeeding support in the area, doctors and nurses who didn’t have time to help as much as a new mom needs, and a baby who was rapidly losing weight–I didn’t get to have that relationship with my son. Instead, I chose to use a breast pump and pump for as long as my body would produce milk, which ended up being just at six months, and feed my son with a bottle–first breast milk, then formula, and now whole milk.

This shouldn’t be a big deal. I should be able to look at this, at the fact that I have fed my son and given him the nutrition he needs for over thirteen months now. But do you know what I see in all of that? I failed my son because I couldn’t breastfeed him until he was ready to stop. That’s what I see. That’s what I feel.

There’s an ache deep in my belly that still yearns to have that relationship with him every time I see a mom breastfeeding her baby. Every time I see an article on Facebook about why breast is best, or see other moms (and dads) talking about how awful formula is for your baby, guilt eats me up. Even now, seven months after my supply dried up, a year after I finally realized that pumping was best for James and for me, I mourn–truly, deeply mourn–not being able to breastfeed James. I still battle my mommy guilt and have to talk myself down from just sitting and crying and wallowing in these feelings, even though I know I’ve done all I could to take care of my baby. I still remember the looks I used to get in public places every time I put a bottle in James’s mouth–looks that said you’re a screw up, you could do this better, you should be ashamed.

Being a mom is hard. And the only people who can understand just how hard it is are other moms, but we still judge each other. We think we know what’s best for other mothers, other families. We think that just because we really connect with a parenting style or choice that it has to be the right one for everyone. But we can’t know what other families, other moms, other kids go through. Maybe a mother is breastfeeding because it’s cheaper. Maybe she’s bottle feeding because her baby was adopted. Maybe she did every single thing she could to breastfeed, and for any number of reasons, just couldn’t. There are a million situations with a million maybes out there…

We can’t know other moms’ stories, other families’ plot lines. All we can do is band together, really truly be a tribe of mothers instead of a group of moms who sometimes get along and sometimes judge the hell out of each other. We need to support each other, try and understand where other moms are coming from and try not to cast judgement. We need to stop assuming that the way we’re parenting is the absolute, one hundred percent best way to parent, need to stop trying to “fix” other moms. We need to support each other, love each other, be shoulders for each other to cry on, and love each other.

Being a mom is hard, but having mom friends who get you, who listen to you, who are just there for you (even if you don’t parent the same way or feed your child the same way or whatever) makes it so much easier, so much better.

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My Joyfully Full, Utterly Broken Heart

Nearly every night before I go to bed, I sneak into my son’s bedroom and shine light on him to watch his sweet breaths for a moment. The panicky part of my mom brain does it to make sure he’s OK, that’s he’s alive and well, and the calm part of my mom brain does it just because I want to see him a moment more before I close my own eyes for the night. And while this little ritual is special to me every night, tonight it was very emotional for me, because when I wake in the morning, my baby will be a whole entire year old.

How can I describe what this feels like? Before James was born, I was terrified and excited. After he was born, I fell in love with this tiny human, and somehow managed to fall more and more and more in love with him every minute of every day. And now, I have this wellspring of love and memories inside me, and my heart is full and broken all at once.

Already I miss his sweet baby coos; I miss the feel of his swaddled newborn body as I struggled to stay awake and hold him; I miss his sweet little face and head shape before his surgery; I miss his first time rolling over, his first crawl, his first steps; I miss being in labor and the feeling–both physically and emotionally–the split second after he entered this world and they laid him on my chest.

And yet, I love my toddler (it’s even hard to type the word!). I love the way he walks to me, the way he flings his body toward me when I’m close enough with biggest smiles and sweetest laughs, the way he pulls at my legs and lifts his arms toward me, knowing I’ll scoop him up. I love how he buries his face into my shoulder and sighs. I love how he trusts that if I’m there, he can’t fall. I love the way he throws his arms up when I say, “How big are you? So big!” I love the sound of his voice as he says, “Dada.” I love this sweet toddler phase, even if he’s into everything and so sweetly wild.

So my heart is so joyfully full of how amazing my baby is and how amazing this life is with him, and it’s so utterly broken by the parts of motherhood that are gone forever with him.

I’m so grateful for my son. I’m so grateful that I get to be his mom. I’m so grateful for the last year, and I’m so looking forward to the next. But for the first time in my life, I understand the times my mommy and daddy have said that no matter how old I get, and no matter how far away I live, I will always be their baby, because James will ALWAYS be my baby. As he starts to talk, to walk, to go to school, to drive, to get married and have his own children, he will forever be my sweet baby who was born so very early on a Monday morning, who barely cried at all–until they took him away to weigh him–and who from the very start stared up at me with the biggest, most amazing blue eyes as if to say, “Hi mommy, we’re in this together now.”

James born
Moments after James was born.
James before 1
Moments after James was born.