Telling “The Mother Effin Truth” is my mission for this blog, and reading Mama Jess’s story, she gushed about every truth every mother feels in the beginning of motherhood. You have been given this precious gift and you are afraid to break your gift. This job is the most important, but let’s be honest it’s the hardest, tiring, and most rewarding job you will ever work in your life. Jess talks about her journey, and it’s fresh in her heart since her little one is only a few months old.
Read her story in her words:
Growing up in a unique, blended family – divorced parents, step and half siblings, a non-traditional mashup where I was at once the middle and the eldest child – I naturally gravitated towards caring for my siblings. Helping make school lunches, babysitting my younger sisters, helping to enforce the rules, wanting us all to get along and enjoying the feeling of being needed. Years later, when taking a Strength Finders evaluation, I would learn that a large part of my natural mothering instinct can be attributed to my innate desire for Connectedness – the desire to “help others find meaning in the unpredictability of the world around them, providing a sense of comfort and stability in the face of uncertainty.” Perhaps it was to prepare me for what was to come – the devastating loss of both of my parents and subsequent familial upheaval – that I developed an early awareness making sure those closest to me were taken care of.
When my husband Matthew I decided we wanted to have children, it was an exciting and natural decision. We both loved children, and I felt desperate to once again feel like I was part of a real family. Long story short, we tried for a few years with no success. Looking back, remembering all those teary, heartbroken moments, starting at a negative pregnancy test, hearing news that seemingly every woman of child-bearing age was pregnant, I’m thankful we made it through. With all the heartache I had experienced thus far in life, I felt like infertility was just another curse, that I wasn’t allowed to rejoin the world of the whole-hearted.
On the morning of August 4, 2014, I wasn’t expecting to see a positive pregnancy test. We had just returned from photographing a friend’s wedding in Leavenworth, Washington the night before. It had been an incredible weekend, but travel can be tiring and I was exhausted. I had taken so many pregnancy tests over the years, it was a rather routine ritual with no real expected results. That morning was just another “hey, maybe I’ll just take one and, you know…”
The line was the faintest thing I had ever seen, and I didn’t trust it. I stared and stared and stared and waited for it to go away. I crawled back into bed, turned to Matthew and whispered “honey, I think I might be pregnant.” He blinked a few times, and we cuddled together not daring to believe it was true.
On April 21st, at 11:53pm our darling girl Penelope Katharine Roy was born. We had an amazing natural birth experience, with a relatively short labor (8 hours for a first time mama, hallelujah!), and an incredible team of doulas and midwife.
At the time I’m writing this, Penelope is just shy of 11 weeks. She’s squawking next to me, so alive and bright and smiling. We are just through the Fourth Trimester, that magical time that no one really talks about during pregnancy. It’s that time where you feel simultaneously physically wrecked and more whole than you could imagine. As a new mama, I only feel semi-qualified to pass along my tiny gems of advice for surviving this postpartum extravaganza, but here they are:
1. Breastfeeding was HARD in the beginning. Not like, oh wow that hurts a bit and it’s new and there’s a learning curve. I mean like oh wow, this is torturous. But mercifully it does get better, and soon you’ll find yourself standing in your bathroom, dripping wet from your half-finished shower, breastfeeding you baby who will be consoled by nothing else. People will tell you that if breastfeeding hurts, that you are doing it wrong. This is not always true! It will hurt, there is no getting around it. Your boobs will be leaky, engorged workhorses* in the great effort to feed your baby. They will be brand new to you. But my advice – do not wait to get breastfeeding support. If you’re lucky like me, you’ll have a great local resource where you can whip out your boobs in front of a stranger and they will help figure out what the problem is. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, there are a million online support groups. You’re not alone – it can be hellish, but you will get through it. (*I mainly use this term to make my husband laugh. Because if you can’t get to the point where you can laugh at the absurdity of it all, then you’re taking it too seriously.)
2. Your body will heal. It will hurt like hell, and you’ll swear you will never ever ever ever want to have sex again, but things will get back to normal. Or maybe not normal, but a new normal. Don’t stress about rushing the process – you’ll get there when you get there. There will come a time when you no longer feel like you just pushed a watermelon out of your vagina, and your memories of the pain will fade. You will go on walks, then maybe jogs, then maybe runs, but for me the first day I could stand and sit and get out of bed completely on my own, and without pain….victorious.
3. Ask for help if needed, but you can also ask for solitude. When Penelope was born we were lucky to have family near by to help with meals and household tasks. But after a few days we really just wanted some down time. We were fortunate that Matthew was able to take paternity leave, so the three of us were able to spend our days navigating the joys and challenges as a new little unit of three. It was wonderful, and I honestly have never felt more grateful for my husband.
But above all, here is what I know to be true: I have never felt more at home, more powerful, more myself, than when I became a mother. My child is a marvel, a miraculous smooshing together of my husband and myself, one of the fiercest, dearest loves of my life.
Infertility is a topic that is brought up a lot, what emotions did you feel at that time in your life when you couldn’t get pregnant?
It’s an exhilarating moment, when you first say ok, let’s have a baby! You think back to health class and how your teacher swore that if you had unprotected sex that you would get pregnant. Easy, right? After a few months of trying I started to feel uneasy…why wasn’t it happening? After a year I felt heartbroken. After two years I felt sad, but more at peace. After that, we decided to just relax for awhile and not think about it. We were both physically healthy with no identifiable reasons why we were not getting pregnant, which at times felt even more frustrating then having a problem. It was during this time that it seemed like everyone I knew was announcing their pregnancies, and I continued to act like it didn’t break my heart and make me cry each time I heard their good news. It was HARD.
Describe natural child birth in 3 words and define?
Whenever I talk about natural birth (or low-medical intervention birth), I’m always reminded of Amy Pohler’s words: good for her, not for me. Except in reverse – natural birth was really good for me, but I know it isn’t for everyone, and I reserve no judgement for women who have had different experiences from me. I birthed Penelope in a hospital without the aid of painkillers or labor aids, with two doulas and midwife, and it was just right for me. (You can read my entire birth story here.)
For me, natural birth was…
EMPOWERING // I have never felt more powerful in my entire life then when I pushed a human out of my body. I literally felt (and still do, let’s be honest) like a true badass.
HOLISTIC // Giving birth is a physical, mental, and spiritual event. I was fully present in my body, focusing all my mental strength, and feeling so spiritually connected (to God, to my own Mom, who had passed away) – everything was connected, and I needed it all to get through it.
CHALLENGING // Obvious and universal, yes, but giving birth without any painkillers is hard. It’s physically painful in a way you could never anticipate or prepare for, and in a way that you’ll have a hard time remembering afterwards. The mental game too – repeating your mantras, remembering WHY you’re choosing this way, not giving up – is so, so hard.
What worries do you have as a first time mother?
Mostly I worry about the 1000 different ways she could get hurt at any given moment. And then I take a deep breath and relax. It took us a long time to get here, and I really don’t want to waste time with her by being overly anxious.
How has your life changed in the last few months?
LESS sleep, time with my husband, showers, makeup, dinner dates, computer time, and long luxurious hours cooking delicious meals, while my husband reads aloud. MORE baby cuddles, Facetime chats with family, coffee, heart-exploding baby smiles, diapers, honest conversations, wholeheartedness, appreciating my husband.
What do you miss about your life before baby?
I miss the luxury of grocery shopping with absolutely no time commitment. I miss being spontaneous with my husband. I miss the sleep.
Now that you have told the Mother Effin Truth, who do you want to nominate to tell their story as a mother? And why?
I nominate the wonderfully kind, creative, and generally fabulous Heidi Miller. She inspires me in so many ways – spiritually, professionally, personally – and I truly admire her. The only bummer about Heidi…is that she lives far away from me. 🙂 I’m so excited for her to share her story – we will all be better for hearing it!