grace for your post-baby body.

I stepped up to the station to have my mandatory flu shot at work (yes, mandatory. That’s a whole other post yet to be written). The nurse was prepping the shot, not looking up at me while I confirmed it was okay to get even though I am still breastfeeding (it was – dangit). Right before she stuck me, she stopped abruptly.

“Your arm is so small, let me switch to the smaller needle”

“Oh good… yes. Please do that.” 

As she is switching the needles, she says “Well honey, is your baby just sucking you DRY?” 

I didn’t realize what exactly she meant. “Uhhh, I guess so…?”

“The same thing happened to my daughter when she was breastfeeding. She looked just terrible!!”

Silence. Awkward, awkward silence. I only stayed long enough to grab my band-aid and signed form, hoping the line of people behind me hadn’t heard her humiliating comment.

I’ve told this story to some family and friends and we joked about how this nurse would for sure take home the Foot In Mouth Award. But truthfully? It stung.

Here’s the worst part: I don’t think it ever even occurred to her what conclusion I must be drawing about my own appearance based on her comment. Did she mean to hurt my feelings? I’m sure she didn’t. But this is just one of so many body remarks I’ve received since having my baby. And I know I’m not the only one. I’ve learned one thing through it all:

We can’t win.

During your pregnancy, you either gain too much or too little according to the medical professionals and nosy, non-experts surrounding you. Then, post-pregnancy, everyone is keeping an eye out to see when you will “bounce back,” which is probably (definitely) the farthest thing from your new mom mind, considering your all of your thoughts are laser-beam focused on keeping your tiny human alive and well. 

So, basically one of three things happen: you don’t shed the pounds as quickly as everyone expects, you look like you were never pregnant to begin with, or you lose too much because your baby is “sucking you dry.” All equally looked down upon, especially from other women.

I still had a legit baby bump in those first couple of months postpartum and very few of my old clothes fit – but hey, who cares, because I JUST GREW AND BIRTHED A HUMAN, by the way. I had a front row seat to witness how powerful and expertly built our bodies are as women. It’s actually insane, what we are capable of. 

Looking back at my daughter’s newborn photos, I see my ten day postpartum body and think that body just performed a miracle. Being pregnant and giving birth were my proudest and most empowered moments. I learned so much about overcoming fears and gained a whole new sense of confidence. I vividly remember leaving the hospital believing that if I can give birth, I can do anything. A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G

Never before had I experienced God’s strength through my weakness in such a real and tangible way.

 my hands still swollen, a week and a half after she was born.

I became very comfortable in the new softer and curvier body my baby gave me. I carried those extra pounds proudly for over a year altogether, from pregnancy through postpartum, and I actually wanted some of them to stick around. (I’ve never been the “curvy girl” and you know what they say about the grass being greener.) Maybe I’ll gain a few back when I stop nursing. Maybe I won’t. So when the pounds began to really drop, I felt too thin. This body felt bony. sharp. too many angles. unfamiliar. It no longer reflected the enormous change I had gone through. 

Physically, I was looking more like my “normal” self. But my heart would never be the same. With every body comment made, I could feel the insecurity start to creep in and those feelings of confidence I had felt so strongly were fading. How could such a supernatural event already be a foggy memory? But then God sweetly reminded me: whatever I may look like, this is the same body that assisted in His miracleI never want to betray my body by shaming it for the miracle it performed. Instead, I want to celebrate it.

Did you know your appearance has no bearing on what kind of mother you are? Baby weight to lose, underweight, C-section scars, stretch marks, grey hair, still wearing your maternity jeans a year later….none of it matters. Loving your baby well? Now that matters. 

…..and all the insecure mamas said amen.

Can we just agree to a little mom to mom grace? Let’s choose to walk alongside each other instead of sizing up the person to our left or right. We need to be built up, supported, and loved on. And then loved on some more. Let’s be more intentional and constructive with our words. Let’s show each other overflowing grace, not just about our bodies, but all of it. No one wants their insecurities drawn over with a highlighter. How about asking that new mom how she feels? Ask her what her favorite part of being a mom is. Ask about the newest milestone her baby just became a pro at. Give her a safe space to talk about the tough and lonely moments of motherhood. These are the important things.

And to you mamas who are in the thick of this, struggling with your post-baby body image…whatever side of the scale you fall on, I don’t need to know you or even see you to be able to say this with 100% sincerity: You Are Beautiful.  Really, truly, honestly beautiful. The kind of beauty that reflects from your heart and shines on your face. Beauty in its purest form. 

When you become a mom – rest assured, you have been marked with beauty. That is a title you can carry proudly. 

All professional photos in this post are credit D. Crowe Photography.

being a new mom {& what I didn’t see coming}

There is a vast difference between preparing for childbirth and preparing for a child. So much focus is placed on the pregnancy and how your baby will arrive, but we can’t just brace ourselves for labor when there’s a whole new life as a mother waiting at the end of the delivery. Moms-to-be, you deserve to have realistic expectations so you aren’t completely overwhelmed on Day One of Motherhood.

In a nutshell, it’s one-hundred times harder than you ever imagined it would be. It’s also one-hundred times more spectacular than ever imagined it would be. Here’s my take on it. 

{P.S., I have updated portions of this post with my thoughts on things one year after originally writing this!}

Overall, I enjoyed being pregnant. Sure, the heartburn was horrendous and towards the end I was just super uncomfortable. But there was something so special about it. I regularly had complete strangers congratulate me, make gender guesses, speak a blessing over me and my baby, and even physically lend a hand. And yes, there were a few awkward belly rubs here and there, but even those didn’t bother me as much as I anticipated.

 I actually thought I was going to miss being pregnant. That is until my kid decided to stay put nine days past her due date and come out weighing almost as much as a bag of potatoes. Anyway, I’m not bitter.

Aven was born on February 6, 2014 and I can honestly say I’ve never felt more elation than that first moment she was placed on my chest. It was the hardest and most beautiful day of my life.

It didn’t take me long (read: one day) to realize being a mom is definitely the toughest job in existence. It never ends. It doesn’t just start at 6 or 7 am when I get up, because I’m responsible for her all night as well. It’s all consuming

There isn’t someone else to hand her off to when she’s being fussy – I’m the mom. 
There isn’t someone else to wake up at 12, 3, and 5 to nurse her  – I’m the mom. 
There isn’t anyone who can sit in the car with her while I run in the store for just one thing – I’m the mom. But at the same time, being the mom is what makes it so worth it.

Because there will come a time when no one else will do, but me. Her mama.

Here are some things I didn’t see coming for anyone about to venture into this crazy thing called motherhood. Consider this your head’s up.

1. You will cry. A lot. 
Hormonally, (if that’s not a word I just made it one), you are all over the place after having a baby. You are spent in every way imaginable. Add in the severe lack of sleep and it won’t take much to send you over the edge into the ugly cry. When you need a moment, take it. Hand over the fussy baby and take a hot shower or a walk. I promise, you’ll feel like a whole new woman.

A few days after coming home from the hospital, Aven was crying non-stop and I couldn’t figure out why so I just started sobbing too. In that same moment, my husband walked in to find both of his girls a complete wreck. He scooped her up and took over so I could have a very necessary break. I really struggled with thinking that I should always be able to console my child, when the truth is NO mother can comfort her baby 100% of the time. Realizing this freed me up from feeling so defeated during her difficult times.

That brings me to my next point.

2. Your baby will cry. A lot. 
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I kind of thought that as long as your baby was not hungry, needing a diaper change, sleepy, or gassy, he/she wouldn’t cry. Ha! Not true. Sometimes they just cry. It’s part of being a baby, apparently. I actually read that newborns need to cry for at least 15 minutes a day for no reason other than to expend some energy. 

Babies cry. Don’t blame yourself.

{Update: I noticed a huge change in my baby after about 6-8 weeks, not just in this area, but her entire demeanor. Maybe part of it is that I learned how to read her cues sooner and the fact that she was on a much more solid schedule by then, but whatever the reason all I have to say is thank you Jesus.}

3. You will think your body will never feel normal again after all it’s been through. 
Take this one from me. I’m a small framed girl and I gave birth to a 9+ pound baby. I couldn’t sit without wincing for a couple of weeks. Not to mention how many drastic changes your body has gone through to house your little babe for 10 months. But like the last point, it WILL get better. Remind yourself that your body just facilitated another person coming into the world, for crying out loud, and if you’re nursing you also happen to be sustaining a human life. So there’s that. Remind yourself that pregnancy and nursing is a sacred privilege; don’t betray your body by feeling ashamed of everything that comes with that.

{Update: For me, I started feeling and looking much more like my “old self” between 9-12 months postpartum. It takes time. Try to be patient and nice to yourself while your body transitions. HAVING A BABY IS A BIG DEAL.}

4. It ain’t about you anymore.  
This seems obvious I know, but I’m not exaggerating when I say your life literally revolves around your new baby. Meeting a newborn’s needs is pretty consuming. Don’t be surprised if some days 4pm rolls around and it dawns on you that you have yet to shower. When you’re sick, you still have a baby to take care of (this happened to me when Aven was only 10 days old). When you want to run to the mall for something, it’s gonna require a little more planning than you’re used to. And all kinds of things piled into a diaper bag. 

I used to wonder what people meant when they said every decision they made was impacted by their child. Well, now I get it. I totally get it.

5. This is a whole new level of tired. 
When I think back on how I used to complain about being tired before having a baby, one thing happens: I laugh. At myself. Because this post-baby tired is just so constant. Waking up even once a night may not sound terrible (and it’s actually a milestone parents look forward to!), but when that’s every night? It becomes more and more difficult to feel fully rested. 

But also – hear this: even if you’re so tired you can barely lift an eyelid, when that baby needs you, you will find enough reserve to rise to the occasion. I promise. Also: caffeine, obviously. 

{Update: I will admit to you that even now with my daughter sleeping consistently through the night, I still feel tired in the mornings. I have resolved myself to the fact that I will rest when my babies are grown! And I rely heavily on McDonald’s sweet tea.}

6. Getting on a schedule is imperative for your sanity. 
For your own mental health, just trust me on this one and start getting in a routine as much as possible, as soon as possible. The first couple of weeks will probably be a complete crapshoot, but after that, begin some semblance of a schedule with your baby. It doesn’t have to be strict…the purpose is to just provide some structure and will actually help you anticipate your baby’s needs throughout the day. I used the Eat, Awake, Sleep routine which was a game-changer for us. (Reading Moms on Call is a good place to start.)

{Update: we are still very routine-oriented when it comes to eating times, naptimes, and bedtime. I do try to be flexible on a regular basis though, because I don’t want things to become so cemented that the routine rules our lives. But for the most part I find it so helpful. And Aven is much more well-behaved when we keep a schedule.}

7. Expectations about your baby can cause disappointment and unneeded stress.

Every baby is different and has his/her own unique personality. Just because your friend’s baby breastfed like a champ doesn’t mean yours will. Even if it’s unintentional, we all make assumptions about our baby, and even how we will be as moms. 

Breastfeeding wasn’t an issue for us…but bottle feeding was. It never occurred to me that my baby might not take a bottle. It took two months of working at it every day, and lots of trial and error, for her to take a bottle consistently. Needless to say, this made going back to work very stressful for me. It’s not a given that your baby will sleep through the night, like riding in the car seat, or take a pacifier. Be prepared for things to not go as planned. 

8.  Prayer and community will help you get through.
Becoming a mom has brought me closer to God than I ever imagined it would. I’m grateful for the way he crafted my motherhood to reflect his Fatherhood and extravagant Father-love for me. I didn’t have a close-knit community of moms to rely on in my early motherhood journey, which is also a big reason why I started this blog. I relied on prayer to get me through my hard days and nights, and God was the one who heard my delight over my daughter. But the Lord also wants you to find community; it’s one of the ways He shows up in our daily lives. It is worth it to seek out those relationships, I promise.

Other things that help on the hard days: laughter and chocolate. Amen and Amen.

9. How fast and how far you’ll fall for this tiny human that has taken over your life. 
I knew I would love her. But I didn’t know I would love her. Sometimes I feel like the word “obsessed” is more of an accurate depiction of what’s going on here. But whatever.

It may not happen right away. But you will….you’ll marvel at her every move. Be in awe of each and every milestone. Keep track of mundane things like poop frequency and ounces gained. (For real though.) You’ll document every single face he makes with countless pictures until your phone runs out of storage. And you’ll find yourself just so grateful that this is your new normal.

And finally.

If you’re a mother or not, encourage a new mom today. I guarantee you she needs to hear it. She needs to hear that she’s doing a good job.
And if you are a new mom, begin each day with a fresh start and let go of yesterday’s struggles. Remember, “the days are long but the years are short.” 

 It’s the hardest, best, most beautiful, and insane thing I’ve ever done in my whole life. 

Life is just better with her in it.