Highs, lows of 2017 + my 2018 intention

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Credit: Monamie Photography

Happy New Year! As I write this, I’m hiding out in my bedroom while my husband entertains our 11-month-old. I have my laptop, my coffee, a cozy blanket and snuggly dog, and I’m feeling especially grateful to be indoors on this chilly day in the city. It’s heavenly.

It’s been pretty quiet on this blog the past few months. Jay and I are on the other side of a particularly difficult parenting season. To keep things simple and maintain my sanity, I gave myself permission to take a writing break both professionally and personally during that season. In doing this, I was reminded of a valuable lesson: Sometimes, the only way to find inner peace is to let go of the expectations you set for yourself.

I missed writing. I missed this space.

I often found myself composing blog posts during my commute home only to arrive at my doorstep with an overtired baby, overtired mind and daily chores to complete. Once I had a free moment to myself, choosing to consume content versus create it was the easier course of action. After a difficult string of sleepless nights, I was reminded of my therapist’s advice to be gentle with myself. I stopped feeling guilty about getting lost in a good story or scrolling through my phone and just enjoyed it—particularly season two of The Crown, this YA novel, this bookthis podcast series and my fair share of Instagram stories.

In 2018, I want things to be different. I don’t want to stop reading and watching and listening and learning, but I do want to start creating and sharing more with all of you, friends. God has put a deep, burning desire to write on my heart–and I’m eager to lean into this passion and see where it leads me.

I won’t call this a resolution. By now, I know myself well enough to know I am not a resolution maker. (Frankly, the barrage of life and health and wellness challenges for the new year on social media this year is a bit overwhelming!) Instead, I’ll borrow from the yoga world, as I have done in the past years, and set an intention, a focus, going forward.

This my intention for 2018: to use this space and all the other channels available to me to tell my story, to create + connect with you. I intend to write and post more regularly, to not let fear, excuses, overwhelm and busy-ness get in the way of carving out a little space to reflect and share. The connect part is important to me too—this is my way to make my small corner of the Internet a more positive space, to find common ground with others, to keep in touch with friends, to inspire and encourage you on your journey. Speaking of which, I’ll start with some thoughts on the past year.

My year in review 

For me, 2017 was a year of change marked by the highest highs and lowest lows I’ve ever felt. The biggest change? Becoming a mother, which involved learning to get comfortable with change and challenges as our son moved through various stages of infancy. He’s on his way to becoming a toddler right now and I am amazed by the growth that happened right before our eyes. It seems like just yesterday we were bringing Jack home from the hospital, and now he’s on the verge of taking his very first steps.

As for highs and lows, here’s my list . . .

Highs: Giving birth to my son, breastfeeding and nurturing him, watching him grow and hit major milestones, growing closer with husband and other family members through parenthood, reuniting and connecting with Valpo friends, witnessing our goddaughter grow older, sharing in our godson’s baptism, getting back into yoga, publishing a couple essays, leading Living Lutheran‘s first theme issue, writing about Millennials and the church, sharing stories through this blog.

Lows: Processing postpartum trauma, transitioning back to work after maternity leave riddled with anxiety/heartache/doubt, vacillating from worry to disgust with the current U.S. administration, feeling lonely in our new neighborhood, struggling to keep up with work and home, dealing with my own newfound forgetfulness, receiving rejection emails, sleep-deprivation, illness, grieving the loss of innocents to more mass shootings, grieving the loss of two beloved grandfathers.

Undoubtedly this was the most challenging year of my life and my marriage. And it was also the most rewarding. Becoming a mother opened my eyes to the simple beauty and wonder of childhood and the deep joy and love of parenthood. It also pushed me to build greater resilience and grit.

Although I was at best an intermittent church-goer, I continued to pursue my faith in other ways, through reading and listening to podcasts and praying. I’ve prayed a lot more since becoming parent, and I’ve found the simple word, “help,” (of Ann Lamott’s “Help. Thanks. Wow.“) to be my particular Hail Mary in times of stress.

Our family lost two incredible men of faith this year–my Grandpa Joe and Grandpa Richard. Grandpa Joe was the strong silent type, but he loved baseball, square dancing with grandma, tending to his garden and going to church. Grandpa Rich, too, was an avid church-goer and he sung in the choir. He was incredibly outgoing, a good listener and a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan. Both were dedicated husbands, fathers and, first and foremost, Lutherans. I really miss them both, but know they’re smiling down on us from heaven.

All in all I’m deeply grateful for the rich blessings God has bestowed on our family this past year, especially the gift of our son. That God entrusted this little wonder to our care never ceases to amaze me. Just today I found myself changing the diaper of my wild baby who would prefer to be naked wistfully wondering when the “real” adult/parent would step in and rescue me. While washing my hands, I looked at myself in the mirror and remembered, “Oh yeah, that’s… me. I’m the parent. I get to deal with this poop on my son’s leg. On my own. (Also, when did I start looking so tired? Have I looked like this all year?)”

This may sound trite, but the poop, the tears, the sleepless nights, the dogged tiredness, the doubt, the forgetfulness, the frustration, the annoying pump sessions… they’re all worth it. All it takes is a giggle, a smile, a snuggle, a hug from my son and my heart just melts. This joy, this love, this wonder–I never knew life could feel so full of brightness until I became a mother.

And that is what I’ll take with me from 2017. I’m leaving behind all the other icky stuff (I know, there was a lot of it) and remembering this: 2017 was the year I became a mother. It was the year Jay and I received the greatest gift of all, our son.

Help. Thanks. WOW.

Blessings to you in 2018.

 

Making peace with my post-baby body

It happened on a Tuesday morning. I stepped on the scale and it there it was, the number I’d been longing for—my pre-baby weight. Seven months had passed and finally all 50 (yes, 50…) pounds I’d gained via pregnancy were gone.

This moment I’d built up in my head, this goal achieved felt strangely anticlimactic.

Despite all my work to “bounce back,” deep down I knew the truth, and the truth is this: my body will never be the same again. Since giving birth the skin on my stomach is a little stretchier, my butt’s a little saggier, my laugh lines are a little deeper. My hair is perpetually shedding. My hands are starting to look like the way I remember my mother’s hands looked when I was a child, etched with extra lines and wrinkles.

My body will never be the same again.

As a new mama I’ve made peace with this fact, though it’s taken me some time. When I first got pregnant, I didn’t fully comprehend the physical and mental transformation I was about to undergo. There’s a lot that has been said about how becoming a mother changes your sense of identity, but I think that the natural, slow progression of women’s bodies postpartum is not talked about enough.

What the media tells us about mothers’ bodies

In the U.S., the media and our culture celebrate the beauty of the glowing, expectant mother. There is nothing inherently wrong about this.

Here’s the rub: The messages a mother hears change quickly after she has given birth. She is exhausted, hormonal and experiencing a seismic life transition and what does the media say a new mother should focus on?

Well, for starters, her baby, but also her “post-baby body.”

Really?

Yes, really. Women—especially celebrities—are expected to drop all the healthy weight they gained as part of pregnancy ever-so-quickly, practically the moment their baby’s out of the womb.

Almost as soon as Beyoncé had her twins, entertainment sites were covering her weight and shape. (See: this, this and this.)

All women face this obstacle

We ordinary women feel the pressure, too. After I had my son, I felt unnecessarily anxious about dropping the extra padding I still carried, even though I knew holding onto this weight was completely natural. This certainly wasn’t in the forefront of my mind what with so much else to worry about, namely, figuring out how to care for my infant son, but it was still there, lurking in the background. As I recovered from my C-section and struggled to make sense of the trauma of Jack’s birth, I was troubled by the worry that my body would stay “big.”

I know I’m not alone in this.

Mamas, I wish we could give ourselves some grace about our postpartum bodies, but popular culture is working against us. Whether we believe them or not, we internalize messages we receive from the media we consume that promote the archaic lie that a woman’s worth is measured by how small she is. (Being pregnant is the one time this “rule” is suspended but even pregnant women have body image issues and wish their pregnant bodies looked a certain way. I’m working on a future post on this too–stay tuned.)

As media companies embrace more body-positive messaging, I see the tide turning, but overall we in the U.S. continue to be obsessed with judging women for their bodies. The thinner, the smaller, the better.

Health and fitness companies prey on postpartum women’s insecurities, encouraging new moms to buy their [protein shake/workout program/coaching service] NOW to get their pre-baby body back.

What the media and health/fitness industry fail to mention is that this set of expectations is not healthy or normal. This pressure to get back to normal (whatever that is) is harmful and quite frankly, offensive.

The early days and weeks post-birth are an incredibly tender and trying time physically and emotionally. Your body is healing and yet it’s also being tested with the demands of caring for an infant. That’s enough in and of itself. If you haven’t lived it, it might be hard to understand but trust me: that’s enough. Just live and let your body heal.

Yes, I know this is easier said than done. A wise friend once told me that it takes a woman’s body 40 weeks (give or take a few) to transform and bring life into the world, so she should allow herself that time or more to recover. This advice was a great comfort to me as I struggled with my postpartum body.

My journey

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I titled this article “Making peace with my post-baby body” — how did I do that?

First, I managed my expectations from the start of my pregnancy. I knew from the mamas in my tribe and from books and articles that pregnancy and birth would change my body–for good. I also knew that breastfeeding would help me lose some weight naturally, over time.

It’s one thing to know this, but it’s another to live it.

Early on after I gave birth to my son I hit a weight loss plateau for a few weeks. The number on the scale wasn’t dropping the way I thought it should. During this time I worried I had some sort of thyroid issue, that my body would stay this way forever. I realized in my worrying I was being ridiculous and I had other, more important things to worry about (i.e., taking care of our son), but I still worried.

I kept breastfeeding, drinking water and eating healthy meals when I could.

At six weeks postpartum, I was cleared by my doctor to start working out again. I joined my local yoga studio and started going to classes here and there while my son was napping.

I remember the first time I got on my mat after having Jack. I barely recognized my body in the mirror. My body was lumpy and weak. I felt a bit like I didn’t belong.

But by the end of class, I felt transformed.

I felt calm, powerful and refreshed.  My body remembered yoga and it craved more of it.

Going forward, whenever I could find a free hour away from baby, usually 2 to 3 times a week, I’d go to my studio. Practicing yoga made me feel more confident and grounded.

Early on one of my instructors began class by talking about intention on and off the mat. “What is your intention for this class, this season of life?” she asked. 

In that moment I realized that my intention would need to be patience. I would need to trust that my body would heal the way it was meant to, slowly and over time. I needed to stop stressing that my body even defined me–what defined me was my character, my roles as a mother, wife, daughter, sister and child of God.

Buoyed by my intention of patience and the truth that our bodies do not determine our self-worth, I began my journey toward body peace and acceptance.

And wouldn’t you know, slowly the weight began to come off. However there are ways my body has changed that are permanent, and I know once I stop breastfeeding I’ll go through another whole set of changes. I have simply acknowledged these changes, then acknowledged that they have nothing to do with WHO I am as a person.

Maybe that’s why the number I recently reached on the scale isn’t so important anymore.

I’m making healthy choices, but I also have a healthier mindset towards my body. It was my journey over the last 6-7 months toward self-acceptance during which I cultivated a deep peace and comfort with change. 

Now that’s something worth celebrating.

Have you ever felt insecure in your own skin? What helped you cope?