Where do I begin with this one….
This is strange. Empowering. Embarrassing. Weird & liberating all at the same time.
Before I had kids, I thought to myself ‘I won’t be one of those moms who loses themselves.’ I was going to bounce back fast. I was going to breastfeed. I wasn’t going to get stretch marks and I definitely was NEVER going to let my kids watch iPads.
And then I had kids.
Then things changed.
And then I realized how fucking hard having a child was on a woman and her body physically, mentally & emotionally. So many people told me about labor and how beautiful having a child is but no one ever told me the part when you go home with a brand new human wearing a diaper (not just the baby.. you.. YOU were the one wearing the diaper). No one told me about the struggles of breastfeeding. The loss of identity as a woman. The struggles and emotional rollercoaster I’d be on for the next couple of years. The stitches. The comparing yourself to other women, mothers or not. The effect on your relationship with your partner, and more importantly the relationship you have with yourself- the woman you were, the woman you are and the woman you will be. No one told me about any of this.
Why doesn’t anyone talk about these things? Why are we so scared?
I guess.. because it’s scary.
When I first became pregnant it was strange & exciting. I had always wanted to be a mom and felt that it was in my nature to nurture. Well, the process of becoming a mother comes in phases.
Phase One: Excitement.
That first trimester I was on my phone non stop, reading all about labor, how big my baby in my tummy was. Was he the size of a pea or an orange? No one knows but I really was excited about my new custom glider chair, fuck ya! There wasn’t much worry during this phase aside form the occasional nausea. I had a cute bump and that was about it. I slept all day and binge watched shows eating my Jalepeno cream cheese bagels & ice cream sandwiches. I even finished a Costco size box of Ego’s waffles. I was wearing tight clothes still and felt great. Everyone told me how great I looked. Everything was great. Right?
Phase Two: Move over Shamu.
After the initial two trimesters of pregnancy pass, you’ve had your baby shower and set up your nursery, the excitement dwindles down and the ‘oh shit’ starts to become more apparent. I had gained 60 pounds, collected a farm of cellulite on my legs, peed my pants in Costco more times than I’d like to admit, and lost almost all self confidence. Although my lips were full (I did love that), I looked in the mirror and had no idea who the hell I was. Who was this fat woman? That’s how I felt. I felt fat. I felt tired & lazy. I felt out of control of my body. That’s what it was.. I felt out of control. Of my body. Of my sex life. Of what I could (or couldn’t) wear. I felt gross waddling around. My ankles were swollen. My jaw line and clavicle bones had disappeared completely. My vagina looked like a fucking animal. Oh ya- no one tells you at one point you can’t see your vagina anymore! My boobs and nipples looked like an episode of National Geographic. I felt so. out. of. control.
This wasn’t me. I did not know this woman.
Phase Three: Welcome baby, welcome Superwoman depression.
Wow. Talk about what no one tells you. Yes, labor and delivery is incredibly beautiful. But to tell you the truth the one word I’d use (aside from torturous) is EMPOWERING. Holy shit. I think I actually had super powers in that moment of delivering both of my boys. Giving birth is this rush of adrenaline that over powers your body. I felt strong.. like I had superhuman strength. I’m trying my best here but it’s truly indescribable. It really is one of those experiences you don’t fully understand until you’ve lived it. And after hours of painful labor and 15 minutes of screaming, tearing and pushing, out slides a 9.5 pound baby (both times, crushed it). What. A. Moment. You just made a HUMAN inside YOUR body. No one else did that. YOU did. You made it. Your child.. a part of you.. was finally here. What a rush. It’s just beautiful.
SIKE. It’s actually just the beginning.
Within hours of delivery both of my boys my milk came in. My already DD boobs became engorged with milk. Everything was working fine at the hospital but once I got home the depression slowly crept in. As if coming home with a stitched up vagina bleeding nonstop, stinging, constipated, wearing a diaper wasn’t a big enough hit to the ego, my boobs had become so engorged it literally brought tears to my eyes. I started to dread breastfeeding. When the moment came to feed my own child I dreaded it… I’d look down and both kids would have blood in their mouth from my chapped, bleeding nipples. I hated it. And I’m not ashamed to say it. I hated breastfeeding.
Do I wish I could have breastfeed? Absolutely. I had planned to my entire life to breastfeed my kids for “at least a year.” I judged moms who didn’t. I thought they were selfish or lazy. How naive and ignorant I was to ever judge a mom. For anything.
The sadness became a full blown mental depression. I was sleep deprived. And in my unique case with my husband away across the country for training camps with both kids, I was alone. My rock was gone. I had engorged breasts that physically felt like heavy rocks that would fall off and tear from my skin at any given moment. I had to hold them with two hands. I was throwing out sweat pants left and right from blood stains. My boobs would embarrassingly would leak at the grocery store. I wasn’t social. I rarely had time to shower. All I ate were animal crackers because it was easy. I felt the depression once, and I felt it coming again with baby #2. With societal pressures weighing heavy on my mind, my heart said one thing but my body was screaming another. So I threw my hands in the air and said fuck this shit.
I had made the decision to stop breastfeeding & exclusively pumped for a couple months, eventually switching to formula. I felt immediate relief. I think I even smiled that day.
Fast forward a couple months I always thought I would “bounce back.” That’s what everyone does on Instagram, right? All the celebrities are “snatched mama”… that’s what I was supposed to look like, right? Why don’t I look like that? Why don’t I have a six pack? Why do I still have cellulite? Why are these stretch marks still here? Why are they on my boobs? Why is my skin splotchy? Why are my under eyes hollow? Why do I have saggy skin? WHY WHY WHY?
No one talks about this part. The part where you have to look in the mirror and ask yourself a huge question. Maybe it’s been a couple years since you’ve been forced to ask yourself, but you have to ask.. “who the hell am I?” And the answer is, “I’m a mom.”
It took me a long time to accept this “new me.” For so long I’d compare myself to other moms, to other women who AREN’T moms, hell, I’d compare myself to photoshopped 21 year olds. Why? Because I was struggling. I couldn’t accept my new body, my new “warrior wounds” as my husband likes to call them. And as if the societal pressures of being a woman wasn’t enough, try throwing being a mom in the mix. “She shouldn’t wear that, she’s a mom… She shouldn’t drink that, she’s a mom.. Wow, she goes out, mustn’t be a good mom.” If she wears tight, sexy clothes, she’s trying to hard or is “too revealing for a mom.” If she wears sweat pants she’s “given up.” It’s this uphill battle that you constantly feel like your losing. You feel like you can’t win or that you’ll offend someone one way or the other. It was hard, and some days it’s still hard. But one day it just clicked..
..if I don’t love me.. if I don’t love my body, who will?
Boom. It was this epiphany that had taken me not one, but two pregnancies to understand. It took me gaining and losing almost 200 pounds in 2 years. It took me tons of tears, tons of baggy clothes, tons of emotional sessions at the gym to say screw this. Screw this feeling of insecurity. Screw trying to please social media and society’s standards. I had to stop fighting to be the girl I once was and accept and embrace the woman and the mother I had become. And honestly, I haven’t looked back since.
The Universe is a crazy thing. The way it works, the timing of it all.. I truly believe everything happens for a reason. When I was alone with two kids under 2 years old, living in the Penn State dorms in the middle of nowhere, I had nothing and no one as my husband was constantly on the road leading by example by chasing his very own childhood dream. All I had was the gym. I threw myself in there and focused on becoming the best version of myself physically, mentally and emotionally. And then, I opened my phone and saw Sports Illustrated Swimsuit was doing a Swimsuit search again via Instagram. It’s something I had always dreamed of doing my entire life but the previous year had thought my body wasn’t enough and that no one wanted to see a mom in a bikini. Then I realized, I was enough. I realized a mom in a bikini is empowering. It is more than a body and swimsuit, it was a message. A message I wanted to be a part of, a platform I wanted to use and stand tall and say “I AM A MOM AND I AM SEXY, TOO!” I’m a mom and I can wear whatever I want. We don’t shrivel up and die and we aren’t not sexy because we have warrior wounds. If anything, it makes us sexier than before.
I want to be that voice for the mothers out there. For all women, young and old, mothers or not. I want to be the voice for self love, for overcoming struggles of insecurity and anxiety. It is my purpose. This isn’t just for me, it’s for all of you.
Now I could have done some thought out, well produced video submission for SI, instead I thought to myself ‘if I’m going to do this, I’m going to be me.’ Filmed in the entry way of my college dorm room, with one toddler playing Batman in the background and another baby at the time 4 months old throwing up in my arms, I did it. First shot. Submit. After all, it was me. Just a mom with a message following her dreams. And how empowering that was. Like Tyler told me when I asked if I should submit, he told me “do it for the moms.” And I truly feel like I did. I did it for all of us.
Because of my struggles with body image, depression and accepting your body as a mom, this is something I try so hard daily to do- embrace other women, promote self-love and to love the body you work hard for. Some may see my Instagram feed and see boobs. Or a girl showing off her curves. Or a selfie. That’s so easy to judge, she must be looking for attention, right? Wrong. I see a girl who fought hard to accept that new body, that new version of herself. I fought hard to accept the stretch marks on my saggier boobs. I fought hard to love my curvy body. I fought hard as hell to look in the mirror (or cell phone for that matter) and say “I love you.” So when you see someone showing off their body, instead of judging them, embrace them. Compliment them. Push them even higher. You never know their story.
Regardless of our genes, good or bad. Regardless of help, a nanny, or a helpful husband. Regardless if you have time for the gym or you make time. Regardless if you have one or four children. Whether you breastfeed or don’t. Sleep train or co-sleep. Work or stay at home. At the end of the day, a mom is a mom is a mom is a mom. We are warriors. We are in this together and we need to support each other. We have shared so many struggles together. We have all asked ourselves the same question at some point in our journey. All of our bodies have changed, for better or for worse. And some days I get sad still, but at the end of the day… I know I have love and acceptance within. And when you have that you glow from the inside out. You radiate the most powerful emotion- love. Now that I love myself I find joy in loving others. I make sure every time I see a woman, mom or not to compliment her. Even if she does have baby throw up on her.m
Phase Four: Acceptance.
Leaving the girl body behind is hard. I know. But I promise you.. I PROMISE you.. once you accept the new woman you have become, once you let her in and accept her… she will be your best friend. I promise.
Look in the mirror. Now tell yourself. I am beautiful. I am strong. I am enough. I am a mother. And I am goddamn warrior. I love you.
And I love you, too.