We flew Leah–the next mama in our series on pregnancy, birth, and motherhood–and her husband, Mark, across country in 2011 to photograph our wedding (because their photographs were the most candid and beautiful we had seen). When they arrived, Leah was pregnant with their son, Jonah. Since his birth a few months later, I have watched keenly as Leah has very diligently chronicled his growth on their website, imparting wisdom on topics such as weaning and co-sleeping, Montessori-inspired age-appropriate activities, and elimination communication. Here she discusses the value of holding onto what’s most important, practicing radical self-care, and convening regular dance parties!
In what ways have you / your outlook / your priorities changed since becoming a mom?
If anything, I’m more ME than I was before, but that’s not to say there wasn’t a significant shift and re-ordering of my life, values, and priorities once Jonah arrived. It was almost like being pregnant gave me the excuse I was waiting for (but didn’t really need), to focus completely on myself – because it wasn’t just me in my own body anymore. But once I gave myself that permission–to put myself first, to get quiet and slow down and just be–so much came to the surface. And in those early weeks and months, as I held and nursed this tiny new human, everything that wasn’t essential–everything that wasn’t what I most wanted in my life – it all fell away. And it was terrifying. And heart-opening. And life-altering. And amazing.
So what did that look like in my life? One of the biggest things that I realized, was that I didn’t want to go back to work as soon as I had anticipated. I didn’t even want to DO the work I had been doing anymore. And I was one of those lucky people who had what many would call a “dream job.” TWO of them, to be precise – I had a social work job AND an artistic, entrepreneur job. I thought I loved my work! I did love it. But then that changed, and I realized that if I was going to be spending time away from Jonah, it had to be something that enriched and nourished both me and the world even MORE than my two awesome careers had been.
And of course that brought up a lot of fears and questions about what this would mean for me – I never planned to be a stay-at-home-mom, and even considering it brought up SO much – from basic financial/security worries to deeper concerns about feminism and the shifting roles in my marriage. And yet, I knew this was absolutely what I wanted–at least for that first year–so I knew that Mark and I would just find a way to make it work. I had Mark’s full support, happily, and we just crunched numbers and Mark hustled and we made it work.
What is the toughest part of being a mom?
There are different tough things every few months (Jonah is 3 now!), but consistently the toughest part has been self-acceptance. I’m my own worst critic, and now I have this other person watching me, taking it all in, so the pressure is ON. I have this idealized vision of how I want to be – for myself, for our family – and so much of the time I’m NOT that. I get grumpy. I yell. I lose my patience. I haven’t actualized world peace. I’m *gasp!* HUMAN! And I want to accept myself as I am, and not as I wish I could be.
How do you cope?
I get out of my head! We have regular dance parties–especially on the grumpy days. I’m also a proponent of radical self-care. I’m not pregnant anymore, but I still put myself at the top of my priority list. I meditate, I do Reiki (energy work), I take bubble baths. I sing love songs to myself in the car. Loudly. And I seek support. I have an awesome therapist and I am a huge fan of proactive therapy – as in, don’t wait until there’s a crisis, just go on the regular! I have amazing friends–old and new–and I do not hesitate to reach out to them, to get together with them, to confess all the hard stuff, the less-than-stellar moments, and to hear their stories and know I’m not alone, know that we are all working and playing at this thing called Life, made 20 gazillion times more intense with small children to share it with.
What is the most fulfilling part of being a mom?
The loooooooooooove. Oh, the love. So much. From the first kick, to the first smile, to the first hug, to the first I love you – and all the hundreds that have followed. I’m a love junkie. And I get my fix on the regular.
The unexpected moments are my fave – Jonah was falling asleep the other night, and he rolled over and threw his arm around my neck as I was about to leave. I tensed for a minute, because I really wanted to get back downstairs for movie night with Mark, and then Jonah whispered, with his eyes still closed, “You’re my best friend, mommy.” Ahhhghhh, I melt.
What did nobody tell you that you wish you had known before getting pregnant or becoming a mom? What would you tell your not-yet-pregnant self?
YOU HAVE FULL PERMISSION TO PUT YOURSELF FIRST. DO WHAT YOU FEEL IS GOOD/RIGHT/BEST. TRUST YOURSELF. Come home to yourself. There’s this part of you that knows exactly what you want and need, but it often speaks in subtle nudges and faint whispers. Slow down, get quiet, let it guide you.
I know you did a lot of research before Jonah was born. What were the most helpful books, resources, or pieces of advice?
I have a vast library and I’m actually consolidating it all into an online resource, so stay tuned! But here is a small sampling of what I found most helpful:
Pre-Conception: This e-course and forum – SO much good info!
Pregnancy: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin. Seriously, I’m just listing one book here because if you don’t read anything else while pregnant, this book will take care of you!
Postpartum (an all-too-often-ignored/overlooked time): I do encourage parents to read up on what to expect beforehand!
Parenting: This amazing online parenting class.
Also, love this Facebook group – so many links to helpful (and gentle) parenting articles.
Thank you, Leah, for your honest and empowering words and helpful resources! It has been inspiring to watch you navigate motherhood witch such clear eyes and strong footing, and it has been a treat to watch Jonah grow!