Becoming a new mom has been one of the most humbling—yet painful—experiences of my life. No one ever told me I would give birth to an entirely new version of myself the day I gave birth to my son.
No one said that once life falls back into a somewhat more manageable schedule, I would be left living with a body and brain I no longer recognized.
No one told me that once that “new baby buzz” wears off, motherhood can feel isolated and restrictive.
I have a new scar, a wholly altered set of hormones, thinner (and frizzier) hair, breasts that no longer resist gravity, and a different relationship with my husband. Not to mention the endless new responsibilities and learning curves that no amount of Googling can help me adequately tackle.
I feel like my sense of self has been pulled out from under me, quickly yanked away, and replaced by a trickier-to-navigate version. This new me is far more complicated than before and always wonders, What did I do with my free time before I became a mother?
There are days that I’m left floundering. I feel unable to adequately communicate my needs to those around me, and find myself struggling to pull myself together to show up for the tiny human that sits in front of me with the sweetest sense of wonder in his eyes.
But I am in awe of both the strength and softness my body and mind possess to nurture my son. There are many times that the love I feel for him is so overpowering I can’t help but pause and feel its depth. To soak it up and fully recognize its strength and secretly hope that some of that profound love makes its way to me. Because there are many days I can’t help but wonder, Why is it so hard for me to love myself?
When I spend time and reflect on finding the answer to this question (which is usually about five uninterrupted minutes in the shower), I conclude that the self-love I struggle with finding is rooted in the absence of emotional preparation and acceptance that I put into transitioning into motherhood.
During pregnancy, I spent hours researching the best sleep-inducing swaddles, organic crib sheets, compostable diaper pail bags (a terrible idea, in retrospect), and the precise age to introduce a pacifier to a breastfed baby. In addition to all things baby, I fell into rabbit hole after rabbit hole with each new twinge or ache I experience as my pregnancy progressed.
Armed with all of this new knowledge (little of which I used, mind you), I never once considered spending time getting to know myself as a pregnant woman, someone preparing to bring a new human into this earth. I didn’t sit with the feelings and thoughts that solely had to do with me, as most everything focused on my growing baby. I never once thought about the type of person I would be outside of my role as a mother once my son was in this world.
But there isn’t one aspect of myself that is the same since I’ve given birth.
In retrospect, some preparation around the emotional changes that occur when entering motherhood could have armed me with a stronger sense of self-love. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been caught so off-guard with every twist and turn that comes with my new role as a mother.
Here’s what I wish I could have told myself many months ago:
You will feel disconnected from yourself for a while, and that’s okay. I love you anyway.
You will see a (sometimes challenging) change in your relationships, and that’s okay. I love you anyway.
You will lose your hair in clumps, and then it will grow back in short, spiky patches, and that’s okay. I love you anyway.
You will doubt and question yourself over and over again, and that’s okay. I love you anyway.
You will hold onto those last 10 pounds until your body no longer needs them, and that’s okay. I love you anyway.
You will become used to running on nearly empty for days on end, and that’s okay (and it’s also temporary). I love you anyway.
You will wonder if chasing your career over watching your son grow up makes you a bad mother (it doesn’t), and that’s okay. I love you anyway.
You will mourn the loss of your old life and feel guilty for doing so, and that’s okay. I love you anyway.
You will look down at your body and feel like it is foreign for many, many months, and that’s okay. I love you anyway.
You will snap, cry, break down and repeat, and that’s okay. I love you anyway.
You will look at photos of yourself and wonder who that woman is staring back at you, and that’s okay. I love you anyway.
You will find that sometimes your anxiety will overshadow your intuition, and that’s okay. I love you anyway.
You will discover that your pre-baby clothes don’t fit like they used to, and that’s okay. Buy yourself some new clothes, and yes, yoga pants are acceptable. I love you anyway.
You will never have it all figured out (no one does), and that’s okay. I love you anyway.
While the love for my son flows without limit or condition, working on feeling the love I feel for myself is a constant challenge. To help me better navigate this time, I’ve decided that instead of seeking the grand idea of unconditional self-love (which, to be honest, feels unattainable right now), I’m working on self-compassion instead.
Self-compassion sounds less intimidating and provides me with ample wiggle room to navigate those “How did I get here?!” days with a greater sense of kindness for myself. I believe that if I can approach each hurdle of motherhood with self-compassion, I’ll one day be able to look at myself and recognize that the self-love has actually been there all along.