Introductory words according to Dakota, SHE II, and Raven Vanguard’s third member, also known as Sloth
Okay - so before you read my favorite and only sister’s Weekly Once-Over, I must admit that I did add some strange things in there, things she might not necessarily say referencing smoke signals and telepathy. OOPS. I spice things up I suppose, she was always the better-behaved sibling anyhow. (To this day that is still true - YOU CAN’T CONTROL ME OVERLORDS - I digress.) I have to say, it was nice to read her writing before typing up this introduction, as it is not every day that she gets to put her words to paper - or in this case a digital form of paper. To talk about her experience as a new mom and a career woman is inspirational and timely, as we are in an age of opinions and insults, gender roles, and toxic masculinity running rampant across our timelines and Twitter feeds.
What is it to be the perfect mom? Wife? How about equally considering the woman, person, human standing behind all those expectations and ask yourself if you could balance it all. (Shout out to men pitching in at LEAST 50% am I right? No, you shouldn’t have to be asked, learn how to do it, and do it for Christ’s sake. Marie Kondo would be proud.) The fact that in 2019 there is even an ounce of guilt-driven friction pushing back against women doing what we have been fighting for, for what seems like the beginning of time, you know WORKING, is bordering on insanity. I’m not talking about self-provided guilt (which most likely stems from outside judgment and opinions). I’m talking about societal pressures that have been around since before every Norman Rockwell illustration depicted a woman in an apron. My sister is a fucking bad-ass for raising her daughter with the precedent that doing what you love, and have worked incredibly hard for, is beyond important. So hell yeah.
Words according to Ashley Jackson, MPH, CCRP, Coordinator, SHE II’s Number 1 Fan, Cheese Board Aficionado, and no connection whatsoever (besides blood) to Raven Vanguard
Dakota (the ever mighty, strong-willed, tattooed badass that she is) reached out to me – her not-so-creative older sister who works in the medical field – to write this week’s Weekly Once-Over. I wasn’t sure where to begin since design experience is not my expertise (watching HGTV and Fixer Upper does not count people). That being said, after we discussed what this forum is about (freely expressing thoughts and opinions about everything and anything from current events to whatever is on your mind), I knew exactly what has been weighing on my heart and mind these days. I’m a new mom as of September 23, 2018 (“YAAS AUNT LIFE” - Dakota), and my life has changed in so many ways that I am still trying to navigate through. In just these short few months, I have grasped how incredibly important it is to share with fellow parents, especially moms, that we are doing our best.
Last week Wednesday I returned to work after being on maternity leave for the last four months following having my first child, Ella Rose. She is as delicate and beautiful as her name – and quite simply the most incredible thing I have ever accomplished with my life thus far. Ah, but the word accomplished. This has been a daunting word, one of many, which I have struggled with lately despite how amazing my life has been and still is.
Working hard and being accomplished, ah yes there’s that word again, have always been my focus for as long as I can remember. At all stages of my life thus far – from high school, through undergrad, grad school and then in the workplace – I always wanted to be at the top of my game. I was perpetually striving to know as much as I could, continually climbing the ladder in everything I did, so that I could eventually get to a point where my role matters, where my work is viewed as invaluable. I know I am not alone in this – so many young women (men too – but this one is for the ladies) push themselves so hard throughout school and upon entering the workforce to achieve the ultimate goals that we set for ourselves throughout the years. In time, while we are working long days and into the nights to achieve our career goals, some of us get lucky and meet the person we are meant to spend our life with. Before you know it, you are planning your wedding and maybe doing this while finishing up school or starting your career with the promise that you are so close to “having it all”. The newlywed years continue, *hopefully* being the most fun you’ve ever had, while you work tirelessly at your respective jobs, and then before you know it, you wake up one day thinking that it’s time to expand your life and heart to include something more.
I could feel it so deeply when I was ready to be a mom. I wanted Ella so much – as much, if not more, than anything I had ever wanted in my life thus far. I spent so much of my early 20’s working towards that dream job and dream husband, and when that moment came, when I finally had those, I was ready to embark on the most exciting and terrifying experience of my life. When my husband and I were first starting out, I remember our conversations about all of the things we wanted to accomplish and needed to check off on our personal and joint to-do lists, before we would be ready to have a family. It made the most sense to us and has honestly worked out well – waiting to have our home, stable jobs, quality health insurance and stable finances. It is completely understandable that each person/couple approaches this differently, but for us this is what we were determined to stick to. One day we finally felt that we were established enough to grow our family. They say that there truly is never a perfect time in life to decide to have a family, but for us we felt as though we had mostly made it there. Being a mom was something that I had always known that I wanted for my life. How hard could it really be being a good friend, loving wife, professional, and a great mom? No matter what, I knew that I would never feel truly fulfilled without children to share my life with. I was determined that I, of course, could find the perfect balance between all of the elements that make up my life to find perfect harmony (cue the laughter now that I have been humbled by motherhood).
Fulfillment. The feeling you are promised to have once you have it all. But what does having it all really mean? The day that Ella was born was by far the best day of my life. If you told me I had won the actual lottery that day, I can honestly say it wouldn’t have mattered because the second I heard my baby cry and had her in my arms I knew I had everything. You can read every online blog and article there is about what to expect when you’re expecting, but nothing can truly prepare you for life as a mom until the day comes for you to cross over that threshold of life. When Ella was born, so was I, all over again. No longer was I a singular entity with my personal goals - I was a mom. A mom responsible for this precious, innocent little girl who graced the world for the very first time and was counting on me. She needed me to care each and every day about myself, in order for her to arrive healthy and vibrant. The weight of that pressure throughout your pregnancy, is incredibly difficult to explain. The Type A person that I am tried to read as much as I could in order to have an informed pregnancy and delivery - but once Ella arrived I was faced with an entire new aspect of life that I would soon need to adopt. No more planning my days away with perfect schedules and regimens. My life as I knew it was completely changed in order for me to care for the most important person in my life.
I had never babysat before or taken care of another child until this point in my life. I was scared beyond belief for a moment, thinking to myself, “how can I make sure I’m doing the very best for my daughter?” I truly did not realize how difficult this would be in time, until I was faced with the reality of my new life (especially at 3 am). Up until this point, everything I had worked towards had a clear path for what I needed to do to get there, to the pinnacle of it all. With parenting, no manual is included, and I did not realize until I became a parent myself, how unprepared that would make me feel. (Which is really unsettling for me.) What I also didn’t realize - at the time - was that despite how much of a learning curve the early days are, you can adapt so quickly, and you are capable of doing whatever is necessary for your kid (despite sleep deprivation and a healing body). I was more in love than I had ever been in my life, yet somehow, at the exact same time, I so often felt as though I was a fraction of the person that I once was both physically and mentally. (Back to that word - accomplishment).
We spend so much time while pregnant focusing on the day you give birth. Looking back at how quickly that day came and went, I wonder why there was never much focus on what happens when you go home. You leave the hospital as a new person, with a new perfect baby, yet you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus and are so incredibly sore and emotional. How was I going to take care of someone else while I myself was not whole yet? You “can’t pour from an empty cup,” yet in motherhood, you quickly learn that by the power of some miraculous internal force you can, and you must. I was taken aback by how quickly my mindset switched to a, somewhat, survival-like mode, where my primary goal was to complete each task for Ella, as she indicated (via telepathic messages and smoke signals) to me what she needed, in order to make it through the early days. In time though, I could feel this longing sensation for what my life before used to be, with getting up for work each day and thinking critically. I wouldn’t change becoming a mom for anything, yet here I was staring at myself in the mirror wondering who this new person was staring back at me. I felt so incredibly guilty. What was wrong with me that this wasn’t enough?
I often would speak my truth to my mom (the ever-wonderful Susie Nesselbush - bearer of life to both Dakota (Sloth) and myself) during the early days of my new life as a mom and 24/7 caregiver to my sweet girl. She has always been the backbone for our family, so I was sure she had the answers to all of my challenging thoughts swimming through my mind. The thing about becoming a mother that I didn’t understand beforehand was how much more I would feel once I had my daughter here with me. I felt SO MUCH. I was completely overwhelmed with the love, the guilt and the fatigue. This was so unlike me - I was always the person who had it together. I could work through the obstacles and still come out strong without letting anyone know I felt so close to my breaking point. That part of me was suddenly gone. With the whole world literally in my hands, I truly felt broken and depleted some days because of how quickly my entire world shifted. While we work our days away looking forward to our next vacation, here I was on maternity leave with my beautiful baby girl, missing who I once was and missing my work. How dare I say that out loud though!
Writing this now even feels like a stinging sensation because by no means does this mean that I regret my choice to become a parent to my sweet Ella, who has changed my life for the better. The hard part that I mentally had to work through was realizing that, yes, I want to be the absolute best mom that I can be for Ella, but staying home and not having my career, for MYSELF, was not for me. I felt and still feel passionate about what I do. I haven’t suddenly forgotten the late nights and the hard work I put into my graduate studies. I wanted to define my “having it all” by returning to work at the end of my leave and showing Ella that women have an incredibly vital role in the workforce across all fields. The world needs mothers who have full hearts and passion for their work - it makes us all better! My husband was also extremely supportive of my desire to return too, for our own security and for the example it would set for Ella. In the weeks and days leading up to my return, I often would wonder silently to myself if it was wrong for me to feel excited about returning to my role. Would Ella and I still have the same bond we do even with me going back to my 50-hour work week? Will she still know her Dad and I are her primary caregivers? So many days I found myself just mentally beating myself down with these thoughts, but by changing my perspective I was able to see the light. Ella is a baby who wants to see and have a happy mom. I was putting an astronomical amount of pressure on myself based on my perspective (accompanied by centuries worth of ingrained patriarchal imagery), to be the “perfect mom.” Who is she? I had to stop myself to realize that becoming a mom does not make you a secondary person in the household and in life - it’s an opportunity to empower yourself to make your child’s life and upbringing even better than your own was. To give your child the best shot at a limitless life full of opportunity and exposure to what the world has to offer. By returning to work and loving what I do, I am enabling myself to give Ella the ability to grow up knowing she can achieve, inspire, and do whatever she puts her brain and heart to each and every day. While we might not have every moment of every day together - my heart is always beating in two places, and that’s what matters most.
The guilt that comes with motherhood is the free sample that no one asked for when you left the hospital. To the working mom who is internally struggling with her balance - give yourself some grace. Sip your coffee, hold your head high, and know you should be proud of yourself for not only creating new life but for also surviving the birth of your new self who also matters.