A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

When I moved to Vermont in 2011, I was doing thirty hours of editing per week as a long-term contract employee for a communications company based near Indianapolis.


The hours were flexible, meaning that I not only worked remotely from my home, but I was also able to complete some of those hours while my then toddler sons (one and two years old) napped—never at the same time of day, of course.

It was an ideal situation for a new mother who both wanted to work and be present during her kids’ early years.

I’d considered myself a “writer” since college though I had never spent much time developing that craft. But after working as an editor for several years, developing other people’s drafts into finished works, I’d grown antsy.

I wanted to write, too.

With a full editing workload and a husband who traveled 100 percent of the time for his job as an airline pilot, generating additional time and motivation to spend more hours with words that my fingers needed to wrangle was unimaginable and logistically impossible.

I was already giving up needed sleep to earn a living, often working from eight at night until midnight after caring for my kids all day, then up again at six a.m. to do it all again.

I approached my husband with this dilemma. I had just turned thirty, a milestone birthday that felt equally youthful and ancient. I felt I could still do anything with my life, but that time was suddenly ticking by faster. We agreed that I would scale back my editing hours by half and fill the extra time with writing. Neither of us had any idea whether I had any real talent at writing. But I needed to find out.

So I endeavored to write a book.

Over the next year, I joined a few writing groups whose members gave me feedback on my work.

I knew my writing was “voicey” and had potential, but it wasn’t good writing. At first, that didn’t much matter to me. I was happy to be writing at all, trying different styles and forms. But I learned pretty quickly that book writing was exponentially more difficult than it sounded.

A composer, after all, did not simply sit down and churn out a full symphony. She must score the percussion separately from the bass, woodwinds, and strings. Preparing for such a feat takes time and practice. In fact, it is usually one’s career. Not something done on the side, for fun.

Through the writing groups and my own study and practice, I built on my undergrad education in writing and learned to wield writing techniques first separately, then later together in concert.

I also learned about the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference in Ripton, Vermont, and applied with enough naivety about the program’s prestigious history that I believed I had a chance at acceptance. When I was waitlisted in the spring of 2013, I was satisfied with the “almost” achievement and set a personal goal for myself of being fully accepted the following year.

To my surprise, two weeks before the conference someone dropped out and I was offered a position. My husband and I scrambled to pay the conference fees and adjust our schedules so that I could attend. He called off work for part of the twelve-day trip and we flew my mother in from Indiana to cover childcare for the rest.

It was an expensive addition to my experiment.

The pressure, generated by both me (Was I good enough?) and my husband (Would I turn this interest into a career at some point?), was on.

What I believed I still lacked writing ability, I made up in socializing with conference guests. I met editors, publishers, and agents, each of whom sounded interested in the novel I’d been working on for the past year. I promised to send it to them when it was finished, unsure when that would be. Unsure, too, whether their interest was earnest or just part of their job. The conference boosted my confidence in my writing and motivated me to redouble my efforts.

Translation: I needed to spend even more time writing.

Either paid work or time with my kids would have to be sacrificed. I simply couldn’t do all three at once. In the end, I sacrificed both without being emotionally comfortable with sacrificing either. I worried that leaving the workforce for an undetermined amount of time would make it difficult to reenter it.

I worried that the time I was spending writing instead of bonding with my still young family would have consequences I couldn’t anticipate and couldn’t reverse.

I quit the now part-time editing job entirely (the company couldn’t employ me at any fewer hours than what I was already working—they wanted me to work more hours, not fewer) and spent some weekends writing at a cheap LaQuinta Inn only ten miles from home.

My husband and I relied on a tag-team approach to parenting. He would get home at midnight from a work trip, and I would leave in the morning to write for a few hours while he stayed with the kids. The loss of my modest income was felt immediately, as we stopped saving for the future altogether.

I gained weight, which I’d thought an impossible feat in beautiful, outdoorsy Vermont. I resented myself for moving to a state where I’d intended to hike, bike, and boat and instead doing nothing but sit in front of my laptop.

Simultaneously, the need for my own writing space arose. Even cheap hotels were too costly and I wasn’t in a position to attend a writing residency due to my family’s circumstances. (But, Yaddo, how I yearned for you…and still do.)

The kids were getting older, louder, bigger, and needier, and I could no longer find any peace at home among them. Neither could I bear the mommy guilt I was faced with when working from home—it was easier for me to be gone if I was truly away. If I couldn’t hear my children crying or laughing or discovering the world around them. If I didn’t know what I was missing.

I found a few other artistic parents to split the cost of a small, run-down workspace that I could easily bike to from our condo. Because my husband was already gone several days a week, I tried to only work when the kids were sleeping so they wouldn’t notice my absence as much. It hadn’t occurred to me that my marriage would also suffer, but to be sure, it did. It does.

The work and sacrifices paid off when I contacted one of the publishers I’d met at the writers’ conference.

I hadn’t yet finished the novel, but I’d compiled a collection of essays and stories that examined the place I was raised—on the banks of a river in rural Indiana. The publisher agreed to read the manuscript, so I sent it off to her. Six weeks later, we met again at the Breadloaf conference, where she informed me that she wanted to publish my manuscript.

Within a week, I had an agent and a book deal in the works.

But the book wasn’t done. Once contracts were signed, a third of the book was gutted and replaced with brand new writing. Then that draft went through a significant revision. Then that draft was revised. I spent the summer of 2015 putting endless “finishing touches” on Riverine, which had morphed into a memoir I had no idea I’d been writing all along in six months flat.

More time gone. More sacrifice. More missed days at the beach. But I had sold my first book and maybe even created a new career for myself. I had gone through a grueling editing process that was both visionary and taxing.

I had discovered what I was really capable of, what I suspected I was capable of all along.

I not only achieved what I’d set out to accomplish, but also had been awarded the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, a coveted literary prize for an emerging nonfiction writer. I had reshaped my life.

I missed out on some important family time and some gorgeous Vermont weekends. I won’t get that time back. Any minute now, one of my boys will wipe my kiss from his cheek or shrug off my hug.

But I find some solace in the fact that my boys watched me work for what I wanted. I delight in hearing them tell their friends that their mom is a writer. I hope that I have shown them what is possible. I know that the next book will require the same time commitments, the same compromises. I will face the same challenges.

I know now that my family is capable of enduring this process and that I would rather my kids be comfortable in their independence from me than cling to my thighs in tears as I head out the door for my office.

I know that this time around, I need to take walks more often and check my cholesterol. I need to take a day off when the weather is warm. I need to savor the sweet mornings with my kids even when I am too tired and maybe, even, would rather be reading or writing.

But I also need to continue to claim my own time and space to create. I need to spend time with other artists and sometimes stay out too late. I need to do it all again, as soon as possible.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

Subscribe to get inspiration and super helpful ideas to rock your #momlife. Motherhood looks amazing on you.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

Sometimes it's easy to overlook this amazing work we are doing, my love. On the surface, our lives couldn't be less extraordinary. We work our jobs, we care for our children—we embody a simple life. (Though, don't get me wrong, we love every second of it!)

But especially when I think about the work you do for our family, work that largely goes unsung, I'm reminded that, really, it's my job to make sure you know how much it's appreciated.

We both came into this marriage so young, so untested, and so blissfully unaware of the hardships that would come our way through the years. As we grew up together, we weathered our own storms before finally realizing we were ready to expand from a party of two to a party of three.

You were more nervous than I was, but you stayed strong for me, making me feel stronger and shouldering my own moments of uncertainty like the hero I needed.

When our daughter was born, pink and sweet and impossibly small, I never felt safer than when I saw her in your arms. From her first breath, you were there, ready to give her the world if she asked. Your dedication to her, to me, and to this family we continue to build never wavered from that moment forward. From the first moments, you were an incredible parent.

But life has a way of distracting us—blinding us to the everyday heroism even when it's right under our noses. As Edna Mode sagely reminded us in The Incredibles 2, "Done properly, parenting is a heroic act", and I see your heroism.

So thank you, my love…you are incredible to me.

Thank you for stretching to pick up my slack, even when you’re just as tired as I am.

Somedays you walk through the door from work, and you were slammed all day and your commute took an hour longer than it should have, and you're immediately bombarded by a needy toddler and an (almost) equally needy wife. But when I watch you shake off the day in an instant and throw your arms around us both, ready to help, I don't think words can truly express how grateful I am.

Thank you for being strong in my moments of weakness, even if no one else ever knows about them.

I play it so strong all the time, but you know the truth. You know the moments I'm about to break or the days when I truly can't take on another thing. And how do you respond? You make it okay. You let me crumble, you let me whine, you let me cry when I need to. You make it a safe space where I don't have to be #supermom, if even just for a moment. You are my safe space, and I love you for that.

Thank you for the thousands of practical, “little” things you do every week.

From taking out the garbage to changing the lightbulbs to actually remembering to replace the toilet paper roll (something even I forget to do!), those little things don't go unnoticed—even if I often forget to thank you in the moment.

While I may take on the bulk of housework as the stay-at-home parent, you do your part in little ways I never forget. Those little things? To me, they are incredible feats, trust me.

Thank you for being the incredible father I always knew you would be.

I wouldn't have married you if I didn't think "Dad" was a mantle you could take on successfully, but it still makes my heart burst every time I see you excelling at this difficult role. You make our daughter feel supported, safe, and loved every single day, and I'm so, so happy that you are the person I chose to do this life with. Your instincts and commitment to our children amaze me every day.

So for all the million things you do—and for all the millions of times I forget to say it—I thank you. For all the million things you have yet to do for us—I thank you.

You're our hero, and you're pretty incredible.

This article is sponsored by Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles 2 on Digital October 23 and Blu-ray Nov 6. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

As I sit here and write this, I kind of feel like I'm just waking up from a newborn fog myself—like I had been living in a dream and a nightmare all at once. With all the highs and lows of newborn parenthood—I'm realizing that literally nothing could have prepared me mentally or emotionally for it. How could it have?

It's like—how do you prepare the sweet baby you're growing inside you for the warmth of the sunlight they'll feel on their cheeks or the sound of the birds chirping in the spring? Nothing you could ever say could prepare them for that kind of simple wonder.

And nothing I can tell you will prepare you for the simple wonder of being present in the first moments of your baby's precious and irreplaceable life.

Take a mental snapshot of your home as you leave for the hospital. It will never be the same again. Try to remember the way the light poured in through the windows, the way the air felt on your face. I'm thankful I was able to remember to do this myself. Months from that day when the light pours in and the air brushes against your face in a similar way you'll be filled to the brim with heartwarming nostalgia of the day your sweet baby was born.

There is nothing I can say to you that can prepare your body for the excitement, the nerves, the exhaustion, or the hard work that is giving birth. The inexplicable awestruck wonder of your baby's first breath, their first blink, their first cry. The first time you meet them—the only person in the world that knows your heart from the inside. You will be the most beautiful sight they have ever seen, as they will be yours.

There are no words for those moments. But there are actions.

Take a picture in the hospital holding that sweet soul—a picture that includes you. The postpartum you with no makeup on, your hair disheveled, your hospital gown draped over your tired body. Don't wait to be "ready."

Take the picture. I wish I had.

There aren't any words to describe your first night home and the first weeks to follow. They'll be some of the most emotional days of your entire life—highs and lows of epic proportions—waves of pride, frustration, invincibility and defeat. Take them all in and let them shape your experience.

Trust the process. I wish I had been more trusting.

Breastfeed if you want to. Formula feed if you want to. That is your choice. Make it for the right reasons. Don't do either because someone else wants you to.

Make the choice that makes you and your sweet baby happy, healthy and able to be present. I wish I had.

Don't let anyone pressure you into decisions. Don't let anyone make you feel less than for the first choices you'll make as a mother. There is no one on the earth that knows your son better than you. Yes, the diaper is on right. No, the swaddle isn't too tight.

Be confident in your abilities and instincts. I wish I had been more confident.

With that said, be open to support from those around you—particularly from the women in your life. Accept and embrace your vulnerability and surrender, at least for a little while, to the hands of your village.

My mother-in-law told me on the way home from the hospital that she was never more grateful for the presence of her mother than in the days and weeks after my husband was born. She said I would feel the same. And she was right.

Let your mom or mother-in-law or a mother figure of sorts come to your rescue. Let her put cream on your back after the shower and stroke your hair as you take a nap. Be her baby. Now you'll understand the depth of her love for you.

Try to enjoy the moments right from the start. Rock your baby to sleep. Smell their precious newborn scent. Snuggle them endlessly. Let them fall asleep on your chest and keep your skin touching theirs as much as you can. All of this will be pretty difficult as you run on likely very little sleep, so don't be hard on yourself when you feel overwhelmed (we all feel that way at times!).

But as you can— try to be there in those moments. I wish I had been more present.

Know that the first weeks and first months come with a lot more exhaustion than you could ever really imagine—but then they will end. They. Will. End. The sleepless nights eventually become more restful and your days a little more routine.

For many weeks, your nights and days will be mixed up and your schedule shot. Try your best to roll with it. Don't try to force a routine or a schedule—it will re-establish itself in time.

Have faith in those chaotic moments that things will settle. I wish I had had more faith.

Things started to get really fun for me and my son at three months and things seemed to feel like my "new normal," my body included, around five months.

In time, your sweet baby will let you put them down. They will eventually get the hang of eating. There will come a moment where your baby takes a nap in the crib. Life on this side of the womb takes a little practice. Your baby will get the hang of it, mama.

Don't worry about it. I wish I had worried a little less.

Cry with your partner when you have to. Laugh together when you can. Take too many pictures. Have patience with each other. Try to hug every single day—sneak quiet moments together when you can. Try to step back from it all and observe it quietly.

You'll be amazed at yourself, at your partner, at your new family. I wish I had stepped back more often.

…And then one morning you'll wake up from a good night's sleep. You'll wake up from that sleep and you'll sit down to HOT coffee again and you'll realize the fog has cleared a bit.

You'll see that your life is forever changed. You'll realize now that when you gave birth to your baby, you also gave birth to a mother and a father, too. You'll realize now the magnitude of what you've done.

When the fog clears and you realize the enormity of this accomplishment, I hope you reflect back on your experience and marvel at the gift you have been given and also at the gift you have given to the ones you love.

You might also like:

This is birth: An epidural birth story

An epidural birth story: This quietly beautiful birth film features a strong ...

This is Birth: A rainbow birth story

Watch this strong mama and her supportive husband work as a team ...

This is birth: A delivery room gender reveal

Delivery room gender reveal: Watch this mama welcome her 6th—but first "team ...

This is birth: An adoption story

An adoption story: Watch the incredible moment when a family meets their ...

This is birth: A C-section story

A C-section birth story: Watch the intimate, beautiful way that No Way ...

This is birth: A NICU twins' journey

A NICU twins' journey: See the NICU through this mama's eyes, as ...

This is birth: A first-time mama's hospital birth

A first-time mama's hospital birth: This beautifully shot video captures the nerves ...

This is birth: A family hospital birth

A family hospital birth story: Watch this fierce mama work through the ...

This is birth: A boy mom story

A boy mom story: Watch this family welcome their third boy—all, amazingly, ...

This is birth: A midwife birth story

A midwife birth story: Watch these skilled midwives help baby Ezra take ...

This is birth: A home waterbirth story

A home waterbirth story: Watch as this sweet family of three becomes ...

This is birth: A birth center story

"Birth is intense. It's beautiful. It's transformative. It's both an immense biological ...

This is Birth: A Home Birth Story

Home birth story: Watch this video of a strong, second-time mama working ...

This is birth: An HBAC story

An HBAC story: Watch this intense, inspiring video of a strong mama ...

This is birth: A waterbirth story

A waterbirth story: Watch a second-time mama's peaceful water delivery in a ...

This is birth: A NICU birth story

A NICU birth story: After arriving 5 weeks early and spending 15 ...

This is birth: An unmedicated hospital birth

An unmedicated hospital birth: Watch this first-time mama navigate through an unmedicated ...

Marry this person

If I could tell my younger self what to look for in ...

Dear postpartum body

Dear postpartum body: I want to thank you for growing and supporting ...

This is: Becoming a dad

When a child is born, a parent is born, too. Life as ...

A dad is not a babysitter

Watching you as a dad makes my heart so full. You support ...

To the person who falls in love with my son someday

To the person who (one day) will fall in love with my ...

This is: Marriage after kids

Your marriage may feel different after kids—with less time for each other. ...

Dear Mom, I get it now

Dear mom—I get it now. You told me that one day, when ...

A new mother looked at me recently during a conversation we were having about sleep deprivation during the beginning of baby's life.

As a postpartum advisor and doula, I talk to a lot of new mamas.

But I hear all the time from women in the midst of transition to motherhood who are struggling to get their little ones to sleep and to respond to the demands of infant life.

This mama looked at me in desperation and asked, “So do you just not get anything done then??"

Mamas, I want to tell you the truth. Here it is:

You will not get anything done when you are home with a baby.

And anyone who told you otherwise is not being very forthcoming (or perhaps they just have a lousy memory).

You might get yourself fed.

You might get yourself dressed (then again, you might not).

You might take a walk (it makes baby happy).

You might have a short phone conversation or start a load of laundry, neither of which you will finish.

This is your new-mom normal.

So what are you doing all day?

Not much that can be measured, really.

You're simply responding appropriately and with patience (through fatigue) to smiles, to tears, to hunger cues and to drowsiness, teaching your baby how to navigate this complex and (to a baby) highly emotional and raw world.

You are keeping your baby clean, which on some days involves more costume changes (for both of you) than any non-mother can begin to fathom.

You are teaching a tiny, helpless person all about the world—at least the important parts, like how we treat each other and what it means to be connected to a family.

You are creating a foundation of love and trust between you and your baby, one that will help you set your parenting compass, inform your future interactions, and provide a basis for the way your child relates to the larger world.

You may be breastfeeding your baby—another time-consuming task (though once established, it takes less time than bottle feeding) that reaches forward through time to heal and protect your child, and simultaneously reduces your risk of disease.

Oh, and you're becoming a mother.

It started the day your baby was conceived, and it continues beyond birth.

Your baby is stretching and growing into this new body, and you are too.

But that's about it, really. That's your day.

Our culture doesn't have a good way to measure what you are accomplishing.

Your baby will grow and meet milestones: check.

To the untrained eye, most of this work, at the end of the day, will look like nothing.

But we know better.

assets.rbl.ms

There is no greater task than the "nothing" you did yesterday, the "nothing" you are doing today and the "nothing" you will do tomorrow.

Caring for a baby is all about the immediate experience, yet the first two years are all about investment.

It's give, give, give and give some more.

These are hard-fought, rough-and-tumble years that can cut us down to our core and take us soaring high above the clouds, all in the space of five minutes.

And yes, as you do the hardest work of your life, it will seem like you're not getting anything done at all. Crazy, huh?

But here's where it gets interesting...

As much as you need and want a break now (and you should take one whenever you can), no mother has ever looked back on this time and thought, I wish I had held my baby less.

You will not remember the dishes that didn't get done, the vacuuming that you just couldn't make happen or the dirty clothes you wore more often than you'd like to admit.

You will remember the first smile, the first belly laugh, the first words, the first steps.

You will remember the way you looked at your baby and the way your baby looked at you.

So the next time you find yourself wondering how another day is gone and nothing is done, stop.

Hold your baby—feel the way that tiny body strains to contain this giant soul—complete and full of potential all at the same time.

Take a deep, slow breath.

Close your eyes and measure your day not as tasks, but as feelings, as sounds, as colors.

Exhaustion is part of it.

And it's true, you will get "nothing" done.

But the hard parts will fade.

The intense, burning love is what remains, and it is yours to keep forever.

Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.