There’s a vision in my mind of myself as a mom that was inspired by an event long ago: Soon after I was married, my aunt and her young daughter stopped by our house in the city to sell Girl Scout cookies. My aunt, who was in her mid-30s at the time, wore braided pigtails in her hair; her face was bare and natural and glowing. Both she and her daughter smiled brightly as they floated up to our front step, and all I could think was: I hope to embody those qualities as a mom someday — natural, happy, engaged, connected.
Usually, my vision for my future has been helpful, driving me to meet goals and be my best self, but often in these past few years, I’ve had several reality checks. I’ve had to shift my expectations and reimagine what is possible.
The vision I had of myself as a mom evolves almost daily now that we have two kids. Our daughter, Sylvia, is now 3, and arrived almost two weeks early as a smooth waterbirth, with labor and delivery just short of eight hours. Our son, Oscar, was born in June 2017 shortly after my 38-week mark, and came to our world by way of a complicated birth. He’s healthy and happy now, but I’m still healing from the trauma of that experience. The disagreements with the nurses still feel present, and I can’t shake how feeling unheard chipped away at my self-esteem. I can close my eyes and see the room after his startling arrival — 38 hours after my waters broke — and hear the NICU team counting aloud, tracking the time until he took his first breath. Even typing the word “trauma” brings with it such heavy and mixed emotions.
That carefree, laid-back mama I envisioned? Maybe someday — or not.
Some days, I’m “together mom”; some days, I’m frantic mom; other days, I’m playful mom. Always, though, at least for now, I’m tired mom.
Yesterday, I was joyful mom, as my young son discovered how to push himself up onto his knees and hands, propped and ready to crawl.
Two days before that, I was “give-me-privacy-now!” mom, as my toddler recently learned how to turn knobs, and she likes to open the door when I’m in the bathroom.
Still, I remain hopeful mom, as we all must be as parents, even when the news of sexting and teen drug use and school mass shootings saddens and terrifies and angers us. We hope for better laws and better people and brighter futures for them, even when the path to goodness in the world seems unclear.
Perhaps that’s how my vision has been guided best each day, as I wade through the news and the noise and the confusion: That love, light, and truth will remain my steadfast values, will lift me up on dark days, and will keep my children grounded on the right road.
My vision for my life now has me adapting, and learning from his birth experience and the subsequent postpartum depression that I wasn’t expecting. I’ve found myself connecting with new communities through healing circles and mama groups, and discovering new bonds with old friends in new ways. I’ve spoken with moms who felt like they couldn’t previously share with me their hardships during birth because my first birth experience felt so right to me.
When I told a long-distance friend about my depression, she said she had no idea, that everything appeared (on social media) to look wonderful. And it has been, some days, and on other days it’s been difficult, as life can be. There’s no one way to cope with postpartum depression, just as my previous experience with anxiety and depression in my 20s presented differently. Symptoms vary because we are all unique.
That conversation revealed to me, however, that I had been hiding those emotions for fear of others’ judgment, others’ pity. I worried about coming clean because I didn’t want them to assume the worst, or think I was incapable of mothering or doing my job well. I used that worry to push myself to excel so no one would see my secret, and I brought my best self to mothering and editing and managing. If I didn’t discuss my postpartum depression, or just treated it like “baby blues,” perhaps it would disappear on its own accord. Of course, as I’ve learned in the past, when my energy is limited and I focus only on functioning best where it affects others, imbalance occurs and my own self-care gets sidelined. Books collect on my nightstand, my personal goals get bumped on my to-do list, and my kettlebells gather dust in the basement.
As someone who will always hope for a brighter future and progress, I know I’ll continue to move forward, albeit with a reimagined vision:
- I give myself permission once again to allow for flexibility and kindness on the wild roller coaster after a new baby arrives — even, and especially, now that the second baby has joined the family. Every month, every week, every day, baby’s patterns shift, and we all have to evolve as well. The first year in particular is the most unpredictable. None of this “bouncing back” that persists from celebrity culture. This is real life. And each life, each mom, each child is so different, and that’s a wondrous thing.
- I acknowledge that nourishing my body and spirit — through food, creativity, meditation, and sleep — is doing a lot of good for me right now. When I have the energy to add in more movement, exercise, and, dare I say, return to regular workouts at the gym, I shall and will, but for now, a CIZE dance workout in the basement with my daughter mimicking me is a good (and super fun!) step.
- A changing vision for our future from what we once saw is not a failure. I repeat: There is no failure when the standards are malleable. Can we finally let go of keeping up with the Joneses? We are all glorious and weird human beings, and I say it’s high time to sunset these old-fashioned Joneses once and for all. For me, I don’t want to restrict what unfolds to any one life prescription, because the unexpected can often be so beautiful. And when it happens, we can use loss and heartbreak and trauma to grow and improve — what psychologists call “posttraumatic growth,” as Emily Esfahani Smith writes, instead of allowing it to diminish our self-actualization, whatever that means to us individually.
Welcoming our second baby, even though it was a rocky entrance for both him and me, has reminded me that the best vision for our family’s future is an honest one. Some days are messy, some days are simple, but like my original vision, we’ll remain natural, happy, engaged, and connected.