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A Mother’s Identity Crisis

On November 20, 2008 at 4:42 AM I became a mom when my son Calvin was born. I was 23, and had been married for almost four years. We had been trying to have a baby for almost six months before we got pregnant, and were so excited to be having a boy first. When he finally made his debut at 8 lbs 12 ounces, Jess and I were overcome with emotion. That was one of the most beautiful days of my life holding my son in my arms. It was also the day that I lost my identity.  I’m sure this happens to pretty much every new mom, but I wasn’t even cognizant what had happened to me for years.

Hello! My Name is Mom

When we brought Calvin home from the hospital, my mom stayed with us for the first weekend and she was so much help. She was great at helping me adjust to the non stop feedings, clothes washing, and diaper changes. After she left, reality set in because for the first time in my life I was a mom, and I was doing it solo. Things got hard, really hard. I mean, no one really warned me just how awful the recovery process is after having a baby is to begin with.For those of you who don’t know, you have ice diapers and mesh underwear for the first few days down “there”. Plus, you bleed for weeks after, and your body is just healing in general from this watermelon you just pushed out. Let’s just talk about for a second, just how painful it is when your milk finally comes in. I mean, I thought my breasts got larger when I was pregnant, but when the milk dropped, I was like Dolly Parton! I tore “down there”, so I also had stitches that I needed to have heal, my tailbone was cracked, and I needed a blood transfusion for nearly bleeding out when I hemorrhaged all over the delivery table. Let’s just say my first experience in childbirth was a wild ride. So you’re drugged up, in pain, exhausted and yet you’re still supposed to care for a newborn. It’s like you ran a marathon, then had a boxing match, then rode the dizziest ride at the amusement park and someone hands you this little newborn and says “good luck!”.

I sort of fell into this rhythm 24 hours a day of only worrying about the baby. Because I was now “mom” and not “Heather”, I didn’t matter. It was all baby all the time. My days revolved around feedings, naps, diaper changes, and laundry. I was frumpy, tired, not losing the baby weight, and did I mention tired? A week after he was born was Thanksgiving, and someone snapped a picture of Jess and I both asleep on the couch. Tired was really an understatement.

I can vividly remember catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror one afternoon and was horrified at the woman looking back at me. I honestly didn’t recognize this tired, spit-up covered, haggard woman looking back at me!

Somebody That I Used to Know

In the weeks after having Calvin, I had a really hard time accepting the fact that I wasn’t the girl I used to be, not just figuratively speaking, but physically. My body had changed big time. I have a small frame and large babies, so my stomach stretched very far out, which resulted in very stretched out saggy skin. Not just that, but my hips were wider, my hair was falling out, I was constantly sweating from the hormones raging inside my body, and constantly in pain from the over abundance of breast milk that I was producing. Engorged breasts hurt!

For someone who had never had an issue with my weight, I was suddenly carrying around 30 extra pounds, and it really affected me. It also ended up affecting my marriage negatively.  Trying to fill the new role of being a mom and be a wife at the same time was definitely a hard road to navigate. I was trying to juggle the baby and the long list that he entailed, PLUS all the other house wifely duties I still needed to accomplish. Then, on top of ALL of that, I was still supposed to do my wifely duties including the ones in the bedroom. The honest truth is that sex was the last thing I wanted to even think about. I felt disgusting and completely not sexy. My body hurt, and by the end of the day all my energy was gone because all of it was given to this little person. Plus the scant amount of energy left was used up making sure the mountains of laundry were done and the house was still cleaned and meals cooked,  so the thought of being touched was just not appealing. Plus I could always smell spit up, even if I couldn’t find it. Who feels sexy when covered in spit up? Not me. All I wanted at night was to sleep, because sleep becomes precious once you are living with an infant. So not only was I suffering, but he was too.

It wasn’t until I broke down and finally explained to my husband everything I was going through that he understood. My problem for a long time in my marriage was that I assumed Jess was a mind reader and knew what I was feeling.

Spoiler alert: men are not mind readers!

The problem was not the emotional roller coaster I was going through, but that I was not communicating to anyone about it. Communication is key! Suffering in silence does nothing but hurt.

The New Girl

Let’s just get one thing clear in all of this: I love my kids and I love being a mom. But I hid how much I was struggling because I felt like such a failure feeling that way. I thought I just needed to soldier on because this is life and it’s tough. How could I be feeling so crappy when instead I should be like the perfect moms on Pinterest and in all the magazines? I’ll tell you why: it’s normal. It’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed by being a new mom, and not just with your first baby. I honestly got a little overwhelmed with my second and third babies too, but once I figured things out, and we got into our new normal I was able to accept that it didn’t make me a failure.

I also had better support when I was feeling like I was drowning because I felt more comfortable opening up to my family and friends that I needed help. If I need to stress anything in all of this, it’s that if you need help ASK FOR IT! I hope you can hear me yelling those three words- I put them in caps to further press how important it is. Asking for help doesn’t make you any less of a capable mom, in fact in my opinion it makes you more of one. If you’re not taking care of yourself, then who’s taking care of your kids? Self care is a vital thing to do when you’re a mom. I always take time for myself now, whether it’s as simple as going to Target by myself, getting my nails done, or going to the gym. Honestly even just driving in the car by myself and blasting music is great!

I’m still mom, and will always be. I am proud and grateful for that role I have been blessed with, but I’m also still Heather, even if it’s a new and different Heather than before I had kids. Frankly, I am still trying to figure out just who I am, but it’s good to know that I can identify as more than just a mom and that I don’t have to feel ashamed to do so. I can find fulfillment in being the mom and also being Heather too.

CDA0D6F6-05F0-40D9-A69E-0B6B72285886Photo by Meg Oldroyd

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

|Lagos, Portugal|

We finally made it to paradise!! After a few hours on the train from Lisbon, we were greeted by warm air, sunshine and blue skies. We hoofed it a few miles to our Airbnb which was located at a hotel.  I will be honest that this Airbnb was my least favorite, and we were there the longest. It was in a hotel, but we had no real amenities. In fact, we had less amenities than any of our other Airbnbs we stayed in our entire trip! We even had to rent a beach towel for 4 Euros which I thought was pretty lame, so we only rented one and all shared it. But, it was clean, there were two bathrooms, and we all had beds so it was just fine.

We stayed in Lagos for four days and three nights. It was a great change to know we would be in one place for longer than two days. Our intent was to plan it this way so we could hang out on the beach for the last few days of our trip and relax.

After we unpacked our things and rested for a while we changed and headed down to the local grocery store for some supplies for the next few days. Then we walked down to the beach closest to our place. It was a five minute walk, but all of the beaches required you to climb down the cliffs. Most of them had stairways and access to them so it wasn’t a big deal. We laid out and played in the water for a few hours. Jess and I collected a good amount of seashells to bring home, since we have collected them on all of our trips. I also found some really cool rocks to add to our growing collection. We then started trying to hike up the coast, but with sandals on, the cliffs were a little scary to navigate. So,  we went back to the room to shower and get ready to go into the downtown area to see what it was all about.

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Downtown Lagos had a lot going on at nighttime. There were plenty of restaurants, bars, and stores to keep us entertained as we explored. Jess was determined to get gelato since the previous night we were about to eat some when I got super sick in Sintra. So Jess was on the prowl for some good gelato. Once we found some we listened to some live music in an open square until we were ready to head home. Once home, we watched some tv together until we were all ready to sleep. The nice thing was the next day we could sleep in as long as we wanted, and we definitely did!

We packed our bags with lots of food the next morning after breakfast and planned to spend the entire day at the beach. We hiked up the coast, this time with the appropriate shoes on, in search of the perfect beach. Along the way, we hiked out and down the cliffs, which in some of the more precarious parts had ropes attached to the rocks for easier climbing up and down. It was gorgeous. There were arches, and grottoes all along the way, each one just as beautiful as the last. I had heard that the coastline of southern Portugal was breathtaking, but you cannot truly appreciate it unless you see it in person. Some of the more famous caves were only accessible by boats, and we decided we did not need to see them.

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On our hike we happened upon the most amazing hidden little beach! We initially walked past the trail down, because it was hidden among some bushes, but after some exploring we found it. It was quite a steep climb down, so it was not for the faint of heart! There was a rope attached at one point which was convenient and helped us get down a little easier. But it was totally worth it! It was in this little hidden cove and when we first went down there were only two other people down there. As the day went on, a few more people braved the climb down, but there were never more than ten of us down there which was just perfect. We laid out, played in the waves, and explored the little caves surrounding it all day. It was seriously the perfect beach for us!

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When the tide started coming in high enough to reach our stuff stored in the caves behind us it was time to leave. So we climbed back up the cliff and headed home to make some dinner. After dinner we headed back downtown in search of some trinkets for the kids, but we didn’t hang around too long, because being in the sun all day really wore us out! We went home, and once again had a tv marathon until we were exhausted and went to bed.

The next morning, our last full day in Lagos, we once again slept in, but then decided to spend the entire day at our secret little beach. That’s exactly what we did! For most of the day we were the only people there, but eventually a handful of people came and went. Once again, we had the most relaxing day in our own little paradise. We really hated to leave it when the tide came in again. We took our time walking home and ate the leftovers in our fridge from dinner the night before. After doing laundry and packing up our things, we went to bed early since we needed to leave to catch our train at 6 AM back to Lisbon.

It was a bittersweet goodbye, but I really hope to go back to Lagos one day!

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette