I was trying so hard not to “let myself go”, that I completely let go of myself.
I had my first child at 25. That’s old to some, young to some, and the same age a lot of us start our families.
To me, it was young. Looking back I definitely ready to have a baby, to be responsible for a baby, and to take care of that baby.
What I wasn’t ready for was to take care of me.
Up until then I had been reliant on three things to build and hold up my self worth.
- My ability to work & make money.
It was really hard to let go of being an income earner. My independence had always been connected to my ability to earn and maintain myself financially. I was a successful hairstylist and at anytime I needed more cashflow I would pick up a bartending job to make ends meet.
But when I had a child and I was at home making zero dollars but working harder than I ever had in my life.
The reward of being a mother is enormous but it is hard to recognize especially in those first and often trying weeks of motherhood.
Not even a smile for 6 weeks?? I mean whose idea was that. That is the true test. If you can make it to the first smile it all gets better from there.
But it was still hard for me to equate baby giggles to my ability to earn. There is no dollar figure attached to the job of being a mother. And there shouldn’t be, because it is literally priceless. But I didn’t learn that right away.
My self worth was dwindling with every scream that child let out. With every nap that was not “on-time” and every milestone that was not perfectly timed.
My friends and my friendships had always boosted me up. They made me feel strong, powerful and useful.
Not only was I in a completely new town when I had my child, I had no friends, my husband worked 14+ hours a day and I knew no one – not even back home where I had friends still – who had a baby in the last 12 months who could sympathize with me over the trials of new motherhood.
I was alone, isolated, and feeling worthless.
Even when I did catch up with someone, or see a friendly face, I was so ashamed of the way I was feeling I couldn’t bring myself to tell them the truth about how I was feeling.
So I was left with shame and worthlessness. And I was all alone. Even if there were people around I wouldn’t have been able to see them or hear them through the walls I had built up.
Here’s the thing, as most anyone who has had a child knows, all those things change drastically if not totally disappear when we have that first baby.
My appearance totally changed. From the shape of my body, to the feeling of my skin, to the amount of time I had to spend being concerned and focused on my appearance it all changed. I didn’t look like me anymore, I didn’t even remember what I looked like.
I had identified with myself as “attractive” under such specific guidelines that I didn’t allow myself to be beautiful in my postpartum state because I didn’t recognize it.
My postpartum body is one of my favourite things about being a mother. Biceps and abs are great but nothing is as impressive as a core that’s stretched to hold now my third child and returned to a state of relative normalcy all the while holding the rest of me together.
Here’s the thing ladies: I didn’t always feel that way. I still don’t always feel that way.
In that first 6 months, that first year after I had my son, my first baby, I was trying so hard not to “let myself go”, that I completely let go of myself.
I lost my self worth and 45 lbs. And it took longer to get them back then it did to gain and lose them in the first place.
I spent day and night worrying about my weight. I spent all my time thinking badly about my body. I left no room for self love. When all I really needed was a little love. But it couldn’t come from someone else. It had to come from me. I had to decide that I was good enough, that I was worth fighting for NO matter what I weighed, what I got paid, or what my friends thought.
So you know where I was. Maybe you’ve been there, too. Maybe you’re there right now.
Where did I go from there? How did I become this confident, life-loving, dream-chasing, do-it-all kind of mom?
I’ll tell you my secret. Because there is no secret. I’m just being me.
For some reason, I thought when I became a mom I had to also become someone different. I thought I had to dress differently, talk differently, act differently in order to “be a mom”. But it turns out, all I had to was squeeze an 8lb baby out of my hoo-ha and BAM I’m a mom.
And me, whether I’m a mom or a carefree teenager, is a confident, life-loving, dreaming-chasing, do-it-all kind of gal.
What I needed to be all along, what I needed to hear and what I had to learn on my own the hardest way was that just being myself was the best way to be happy.
So I lost myself for a little while, it sucked.
To the point that I went and talked to a family counselor. My husband made the appointment for me because he was worried about me.
I didn’t want to go. In come the shame. I didn’t want to need help. But there is in fact strength in needing help. And even more in asking for it.
So I went, and I talked. Okay I sobbed. For a full 60 minutes I spilled my guts. The feelings, the actions, the sadness, all of it. I said all to a complete stranger. She listened as I cried and my 8 month old pulled every book off the shelf and emptied the contents of her purse onto the floor.
And the she asked me something, that I never even considered before she said the words to me.
“What makes you feel happy?”
The simplest question. The simplest answer required.
It was so easy to reply.
“Yoga, being outside, hanging out with friends.”
She said “okay, can you make that happen?”.
“Yes, I think so.”
But inside my heart, my brain, my soul were screaming: “This is it! She’s broken the glass! We have arrived! How did she know? How did she know what we needed? Who is this sorceress? Let’s get out of here before she realizes she wasted an hour of her time on a girl who already had the answers the whole damn time and just didn’t know it. Run! Grab the kid! Get out of here! Honey, start the car!”
When I got home I sat outside. Made small talk with a neighbour. And then at nap time I did a short workout in the sun.
I tried no harder than that. I sought no further accomplishment than to make those 3 things happen every day.
Interact with other adults, move my body(gently and with love), be outside.
And every day it got easier, until it became a habit that I didn’t even have to try for.
My son was about 15 months when I made friends with another mom who had a child the same age. She loved the same things I did. We laughed together over the trials of the first year of motherhood.
I felt like a person again.
But I would have never made that friend if it wasn’t for the work I did on myself to become my self again.
After I had my son, I lost the 45 lbs I had gained. I also lost myself.
In the years since then, I have lost and gained weight and gained another child with a third on the way.
Most importantly, I had become more myself than I ever thought possible. The me I was before I had kids IS me, and I’m even more myself as a mom. A fun-loving, hard-working, reach-for-the-stars kind of mom.
I needed three things to find that self again. And those things were:
- Kind, considerate exercise. A way to move that showed my body love and affection, not pain and disappointment.
- Social interactions. Talking to other moms who had been through similar experiences, as well as ones who had been through totally different ones. I needed to know I was normal.
- Self love. Self worth that came from inside me. Payment in the form of acceptance. Letting go of the dollar figure of an income earning job in order to feel the real reward of being a bad ass mama and seeing my kids grow being all the payment I needed.
I found these things, it took me years.
I don’t want you to have to look that far. So I’m putting them all in one place. And that place is the #betterafterbaby community. In the community you will find self love, body love, friendship and compassion. We will laugh, learn and grow together. No more shame, no more loneliness. Let’s do this together.