Life Lessons

{imperfect is the new black}

{imperfect is the new black}

Insecurities are a funny thing. Over the years, I feel like I’ve been pretty open on this blog about mine. In general, I don’t consider myself an insecure person, but that hasn’t always been the case.

For the most part, I’m a person of very cyclical moods. About once a year, I experience what I consider to be some kind of depression or low point. (I say “consider” because I’ve never been officially diagnosed with anything.) It typically lasts anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. It’s usually marked by an increase in mood swings, sensitivity, and a marked uptick in my insecurities. (And, you may have noticed, a lack of blog posts. The blog starts to feel incredibly insignificant during these lows, and I can’t imagine anyone caring what I have to say about anything.)

It’s not fun, but I at least feel more in control of these times than I used to because I’m now able to recognize them for what they are. Anyone familiar with depression can tell you what a liar it is — it tells you you’re not good enough, you’re unlovable, you’re just not enough. So, for me, there is power in being able to feel those things but still step back in my mind and remind myself I won’t always feel that way and that they probably aren’t true.

The insecurities I deal with have evolved over the years, but they’re usually a mix of doubts about something superficial (in high school, the size of my thighs; now, my teeth and nose) and something social (in high school, that my friends and family didn’t really like me; now, that my friends and family don’t really like me).

It’s at this point that I feel obligated to remind you that, in my rational mind, I know my friends and family love me. I do. You don’t need to tell me you do; I know it. Depression just makes me not believe it for a while, or wonder when the day will come that they will stop loving me.

I think everyone handles these feelings differently, for better or worse. For me, I workout (the best therapy for me) and I think about it — a lot. I reason on my feelings, what brings them on and what I can do about it. Often the answer to the latter is simply to ride out the storm and keep reminding myself that depression is a liar. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever really discussed these feelings publicly — I’d venture a guess that most of the people in my life don’t even know I deal with them.

I’m kind of a hermit when it comes to my own struggles. But I’m trying to be better about that because bottling it up (surprise!) doesn’t really seem to help anything.

I’m happy to tell you that, while this post was inspired by my latest bout of low-ness, I can already tell I’m coming out of it. Good talks with some close friends and a weekend with my family were huge helps to reaching the other side of this valley. But even though it’s (hopefully) almost over, the most lingering part of my lows are always the insecurities. Kind of like a bad cough.

I think about my insecurities a lot now as a mother of a daughter. Girls seem to be especially plagued by insecurity, almost to the point where it is weird if you’re confident. I don’t know if I can keep Vivian from having her own self doubts, but I never want her to feel crippled by them.

I want her to laugh loudly even if she thinks her laugh is obnoxious. I want her to wear the sleeveless dress she loves even if she doesn’t like her upper arms. I want her to get down on the dance floor even if she worries someone will think she looks ridiculous.

I want her to live her life bravely, even when she doesn’t feel brave.

And the fact is, I’m going to be her best example of how to do that. So I had better start being a good example.

Which brings me to my new project: Eradicating my superficial insecurities. I’ve decided I’m going to stop only taking photos from what I consider to be my “good side” — just because my nose and teeth are straighter from the left. I’m going to grin broadly — even though in the back of my mind I think my teeth are big and slightly bucky. And I’m going to do whatever I can to stop letting myself slip into the old habit of being who I think people want me to be — and just trust that anyone who does stop liking me was never all that great to have to begin with.

Because I want Vivi to do all those things too. Because, to me, she is perfect. And who else could she possibly be to be better?

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I wanted to wait a few weeks until I wrote this post. Partly because I realized pretty early on that there’s not an easy answer to the question I pose in the title (and even if there was, it changes pretty much every hour). But also because, for the first two weeks of Vivi’s life, my mom was staying with us, so I didn’t really feel like I was experiencing “real life” with a baby until this past week.

So, you’re wondering, how has it been?

In some ways, it’s a lot how I expected. A newborn is really time-consuming. (SHOCKER.) Mine wants to be held as often as possible. She’s hungry a lot. She doesn’t really do that much besides eat, sleep, and poop. I don’t have any time to myself except for a few moments stolen while she naps or when Joey comes home and can spend some time with Vivian. I’m usually not as well rested as I could be. (Hahahaha understatements!)

In other ways, it’s not at all how I expected. And not always in a good way.

For example, I was really worried about breastfeeding. It was something I felt very strongly about and really wanted to do, but I had heard so many stories of women who had trouble — babies that couldn’t latch, milk that dried up or never came in, intense pain or discomfort that deterred them from sticking it out. It seemed like this supposedly natural process was a minefield of potential parental disappointment.

But I was fortunate. Vivi starting nursing literally moments after she was born, and we never had any issues while in the hospital or the first few days at home.

And then the real milk came in. And (apparently) with gusto. Suddenly, I had a baby that was getting too much milk and who would promptly spit up everything she had just eaten after every feeding. There were days I literally changed both of our outfits upwards of three times, and I regularly found myself near tears that this one thing I thought I had down was suddenly (and literally) backfiring on me.

Thanks to some advice from our pediatrician, though, we got through it. Sure, I still get doused in vomit occasionally (the creed of new parents everywhere), but it doesn’t really faze me at all anymore. (Remember this post? It’s so much worse after you actually have the baby.)

My voracious little eater aside, though, most of the surprises of motherhood have been positive for me.

For one thing, I was always kind of worried I wouldn’t be that into the newborn phase. They really can’t do that much yet, and a lot of their (extremely limited) awake time is spent fussing because they’re hungry or tired. We usually get 20-45 minutes of happy, fully alert baby at a time. I was worried I would be bored or, even worse, mildly irritated most of the first three months. But I’m really happy to say that I’ve been enjoying it a lot more than I expected. It helps that I just love this little girl so much, even just staring at her while she sleeps feels like a fun activity for the day. But I also just really appreciate getting to be with her every day and watching her change nearly every hour. She’s extremely curious, and I love watching her slowly discover the world around her. She’s also so strong, and it kills me seeing this tiny person hold her head up for the first time or scoot her body around on her play mat.

You know you’re a new parent when: watching a veritable slug of a person kick on their tummy for five minutes thrills you.

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Basically, the whole experience has been even more fulfilling than I ever imagined. And now that she recognizes me on sight and can make prolonged eye contact? Well, I’d be lying if I said the first few times she looked at me — really looked at me — didn’t draw a few tears from this new momma. (Though we can probably blame some of the weepies on the hormones and sleep deprivation, right?)

Speaking of sleep-deprivation (because I know you really just want the gory details, not any of this “gosh I love my baby” mush), I’m happy to report that Vivi sleeps decently well. She usually sleeps from 6:30-8ish out in the living room with us (either in someone’s arms or in her swing chair), but I try to have both of us in bed (me in my actual bed, her in her bassinet) by 10/10:30. After that, she typically wakes up about three, sometimes four times, but we usually get two 3- to 4-hour stretches of sleep between the wake-ups. Vivian also takes a short morning nap (about an hour) around 10/11 a.m., and a longer nap (2ish hours) around 2:30 p.m (I try to join her for that one). The rest of the evening is a mix of wakefulness and sleep until the process starts all over again.

If it sounds like not at all a real schedule, it’s because it isn’t. It’s just the life of a newborn — they sleep a lot, but rarely for all that long. In fact, there is typically at least one night a week that she throws the whole thing out the window and just wakes up every hour and a half the whole night through.

Fun fact: That’s also how they torture prisoners of war.

True Life: My baby could be an evil dictator.

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{still cute, though.}

But you know what’s kind of funny? Even though I feel like I should be a zombie, I don’t really feel more tired than I usually did pre-baby. These crazy bodies of ours are capable of adapting to just about anything, apparently.

So, yes, I’m tired a lot. And regularly covered in someone else’s bodily fluids. And sometimes (often?) smell. As in, I literally stink. (Post-pregnancy hormones make you sweat a lot.)(GLAMOUR!)

{I'm probably unwashed here. But Vivi manages to make it look good.}

{I’m probably unwashed here. But Vivi manages to make it look good.}

But I really wouldn’t trade a second of it. Because while I’m sure I’m making a million “mistakes” along the way, I feel like I’m good at this. Or, rather, that I can be. I feel like, slowly, I’m figuring this little girl out. And, maybe in spite of everything, having a lot of fun along the way. Because just when I think I’ve hit my limit and might be the worst mom ever, she does this:

{I promptly died of cuteness overload after taking this photo.}

{I promptly died of cuteness overload after taking this photo.}

And suddenly everything feels like it’s going to be all right again.

So what’s it like to have a baby? It’s overwhelming and incredibly trying. And it’s also completely wonderful.

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It seems like there are roughly 8 billion versions of the article “What No One Tells You About Being Pregnant.” And, as in all areas of my life, the last thing I want to do is be cliche.

Which is why I resisted writing this article for so long.

But the fact is, there were several times throughout my pregnancy that I learned a little life pregnancy lesson that I thought to myself, “I should write that down to share with the masses because PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW and I have truly never read it anywhere.”

So that’s what this post is about. I can’t guarantee no one has ever told you these things, just that I hadn’t already read it in one of those 8 billion other articles.

Here we go.

#1 Buy a Tide Pen
Pregnancy comes with a whole host of new things, not the least of which is a new, at times giant belly stuck on your front. If you’ve never had a belly like this before, it takes a bit of getting used to. Especially during mealtime.

While having a new perch for bowls of ice cream or cereal is helpful, your new little shelf is also a breeding ground for spills and spots while you eat. Thus this tip.

A Tide Pen will undoubtedly be useful post-baby (kids are messy, yo), but I highly recommend investing in one to carry around while the little tot is still in vitro. Because you WILL try to wear a white dress one day and eat tacos at the same time, and you WILL walk away from lunch with a zillion little red splatters on your belly. Just embrace it.

#2 Let Love In
When you get pregnant, it will seem like suddenly everyone wants to help you with everything. Seriously — everything from loading something mildly heavy into your trunk to reaching for something on the top shelf will be off-limits according to someone.

My advice? Let them help.

At first, it may seem silly or even irksome, especially if you’ve spent most of your life priding yourself on your self-reliance. But, you know what? Pregnancy is going to tire you out sometimes, whether it’s emotionally or physically or both. Remember that you are still a super tough boss lady who is growing a baby — you just don’t need to carry all your groceries yourself to prove that anymore.

And, perhaps even more important, remember that when people offer to help, it is like they are giving you a gift. When you shut them down or refuse to let them help, you are essentially throwing their gift back in their face. (They won’t appreciate that this is some kind of independent stance on your part — because they just want to help.) So let ’em. When you’re passing out at 8:30 p.m. from exhaustion near the end of your first and third trimesters, you’ll be glad you did.

#3 At Some Point You WILL Say, “I am going to be pregnant forever.”

In my case, it was a text to my friend Darla that said, “I have been pregnant forever. I will always be pregnant. Pregnant is me.”

Clearly, I was near the end of the 40 weeks. But the fact as, it might happen early in your pregnancy and it might happen later, but at some point, you will be tired of nurturing a tiny life in your belly and be READY for the next stage of things. Because having to hold your breath to put on shoes is just not anyone’s idea of a good time.

Do not beat yourself up over this. This doesn’t mean you are going to be a terrible mom. It doesn’t even mean you are bad at being pregnant or that pregnancy is particularly awful. It just means that pregnancy last a long time. And if you’re a super type-A freak who tracks her cycles with the precision of a German general (assuming he has a German-made watch…I guess?), you might find out you’re pregnant right at the beginning and have what feels like the longest pregnancy ever.

You will get through it. If it makes you feel better, some species of shark carry their babies for 42 months. And there’s apparently a thing called the alpine salamander that can go 48 months. Forty. Eight. So…let’s all just take a moment of silence for those little guys, okay?

#4 Lower Your Expectations

I really and truly loved being pregnant about 90 percent of the time. But here’s the thing: Even though I was always vaguely optimistic that I would enjoy being pregnant, I went in with pretty low expectations.

I expected to be sick as a dog for at least three months (if not more…I have a sister-in-law who threw up every single day for two of her pregnancies)(RESPECT). I expected to not be able to exercise or even move like a normal person within a couple of months. I expected to get HUGELY pregnant because, who knows? I expected to freak out over said weight gain. And I expected that I would hate being pregnant over the summer.

None of those things actually happened. Except the summer thing. August? I hate your guts.

So many people build up the idea of having the perfect pregnancy in their heads, whether because they’re possibly a little delusional or just because they think it’s what they’re supposed to feel. You might not always feel moony toward that little wiggleworm in your belly. You might even HATE (gasp!) being pregnant at some points.

None of that matters. A lot of people feel that way. You are not a bad person for feeling that way, and it’s so not worth beating yourself up over.

Which is why I recommend embracing those worries or negative expectations. Because then, you know what? When you don’t throw up every single day, you will feel awesome. You will tell yourself you’re crushing this whole pregnancy thing every time you keep your lunch down. And if you do actually experience one of your fears? Well, you knew it was coming, remember? So no freak-out necessary.

#5 Do a Lot of Research…and Then Only Keep What You Like

Remember those 8 billion articles of things to know about being pregnant? You can drive yourself crazy with those. (And hopefully I’m not contributing to the crazy right now.)

My strategy when I got knocked up was to spend the first few months in information-gathering mode. I read everything. I even read things that I decided fairly early on I didn’t agree with. I read every crazy post on a handful of online forums. (You guys…if you ever want to fall down a rabbit hole of bonkers, get thee to an online pregnancy forum.) I listened to advice from everyone, whether they be trusted confidante or random stranger.

And do you know why? Because listening to everyone is the fastest way to realize that no one has every little thing all figured out. You realize that, no matter what you do, someone out there will think you are spot on and someone else will think you are borderline abusive. You realize that there is no pleasing everyone. And suddenly you stop caring about pleasing everyone. The only person who you really worry about making happy? The one you’re growing in your uterus.

If this is your first time going through this, you probably don’t really know what you even want in the beginning. I never would have guessed that I’d be in my last couple of weeks with a midwife planning to forgo an epidural. So you never know what will end up being the right choice for you. Plus, the more you know, the less scary the whole process starts to become. Yes, I’m a bit nervous about pain during labor, but all my research has also affirmed for me that this is one of the most natural things my body can do, and that’s a really empowering thing to believe.

So there you have it. I’ve been working on this post for the last couple of months, but I feel like I better get to publishing since I (hopefully) won’t be pregnant much longer. And if you read this and thought, “pshhhh what do you know, lady?”, I encourage that too. Don’t let anyone’s advice or tips or whatever overwhelm you. Just be the best pregnant lady you know how to be, ya know?

Momma readers, what did I miss? What’s the one thing you never read in a book or blog post that you wish you had?

{photo by Figment Art & Photo Co.)

Elegant! Sophisticated! And probably totally constipated.

Elegant! Sophisticated! And probably totally constipated.

I keep going to write a post for the blog, then realizing that all I ever talk about anymore is the baby and being pregnant, then NOT writing a post for the blog because I’m worried y’all are bored, and then just not writing anything ever, and then wash-rinse-repeating the whole cycle pretty much on the daily.

So, basically, what I’m saying is that I’m probably just going to be talking about pregnancy and the baby for a while. Maybe one day something will happen to me that is not related to either of these two things, but I think it’s safe to say that that thing will not happen in the next nine weeks.

Side bar: I only have LESS THAN TEN WEEKS left of my pregnancy? What the WHAT? Who decided that was a good idea?

That was a novel’s worth of preface, so let’s get down to brass tacks.

A sweet friend who also has a daughter recently offered me a bunch of baby stuff she and her girl had outgrown. It was your standard stuff: clothes, a baby carrier (actually, this is not standard, those thangs are pricey, and I’m so thrilled to get one as a hand-me-down!). Then she asked if I would be interested in her previously used breast pads, which she said were much more comfortable than the throwaway kind and would obviously be washed. Or, she asked, did I think that was weird?

You guys. It hadn’t even occurred to me to think it was weird. This is what happens when you become a parent: Nothing is sacred anymore.

And I think pregnancy is to blame.

Bowel movements? Discharge? Gas? Weight gain? When you’re pregnant, these things (and thinking about these things) are all part of your everyday life. You HAVE to talk about it with your doctor, and, to be honest, your girlfriends often want to know the sordid details, whether they are commiserating because they’ve been there or they are curious because one day they will be. By the time I pop this baby out, I will have completely lost sight of what is TMI.

The sad part is that I used to quietly judge parents who did this. Like, nobody wants to hear about your baby’s poop!

But you know what? If I’m telling a story, and part of the story involves the baby pooping, I already know I’m just going to say that and keep going with the story. No shame. (Though I promise not to take or make you look at photos of it. I’m not an animal.)

The fact is, pregnancy tends to wipe away a lot of insecurities (at least for me), which also removes a lot of your boundaries.

Don’t even get me started on the loss of modesty. I mean, you have to be mostly naked in front of another person several times during your pregnancy. (And, I don’t know if you know this, but someone is allll up in your junk when you actually have a baby.)

It’s gotten to the point where I pretty much start stripping down in my doctor appointments before anyone even asks me to.

No, Justine, you can keep your pants on this time.

WHOOPS.

I like to think at some point I’ll balance back out, but that’s probably wishful thinking. Besides, being able to discuss poop, gas, and weight gain now will just make it easier when I need to discuss poop, gas, and weight gain with Vivi’s doctor later. Moms can’t be grossed out by anything, you guys.

To all my baby mommas out there: Can you relate? Will I ever blush at bodily functions again?

{image source}

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Last week, a group of my girlfriends and I got together for our book club. Before we dug into the actual book (and the plethora of treats), we sat around a bit catching up on our lives.

Since my life is basically just baby these days, we talked about that when we got around to me. My friend Kristina asked if pregnancy had been what I expected it to be or if anything surprised me.

I didn’t have a very good answer at the time because I hadn’t really thought about it, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since then.

Honestly, I always kind of thought (hoped?) that I would enjoy being pregnant. I don’t know why. I mean, a lot of people don’t. And it certainly comes with a host of discomforts. But for whatever reason, I looked forward to the chance to carry a baby and felt optimistic about the process.

And, for the most part, I have really enjoyed it. Yes, it helps that I am incredibly fortunate that getting and staying pregnant went smoothly for me. Yes, it helps that I managed to dodge difficult morning sickness and a host of other unpleasantness a lot of women go through. Some of those things I could impact, others were just the way it turned out. Whatever the reason, I’m grateful.

But there was one aspect of pregnancy that I always assumed I would have a big problem with: gaining weight.

I mean, it’s kind of a head trip. As a woman, you’re nearly constantly bombarded with confusing messages about your body and what it should be, and, as a rule, those messages tell you that you need to be smaller and weigh less. Like a lot of women my age (like a lot of women any age?), I spent a large portion of my life trying to weigh less or trying to maintain my lowest weight.

And now you’re telling me I need to undo all that hard work and deliberately try to gain weight? Are you crazy?!

Part of me was deliciously enticed by the possibility (guilt-free weight gain!). Another part of me was totally terrified.

Because, you guys? I’ve gained weight before. Significant amounts of weight. (Though, of course, that’s subjective.) And the resulting shame spiral took me to dark, spiny mental places that I worked for years to get out of. It destroyed my relationship with my body and just generally screwed me up for a while. I clawed my way out of that place. And I work actively and aggressively to keep myself from going back there.

So…I was scared. Because I didn’t want to feel negative feelings about anything associated with creating my baby. I wanted the process to be filled with love and joy as much as possible. Maybe that sounds naive, but it was how I had always pictured and hoped the experience would be.

And then I got pregnant. And, yes, obviously, started to gain weight. And you know what?

It hasn’t bothered me even the teeniest, tiniest bit.

It probably helps that I NEVER weigh myself except at my doctor appointments. Not in pre-pregnancy life, and certainly not now. Like always, I let the way my clothes fit and the way I feel determine if my size is acceptable, instead of attaching too much meaning to a silly, downright objective number.

I’m not delusional — I know that I’ve gained 10-12 pounds (maybe more…I have an appointment next week) in the last seven months. It’s just that…I couldn’t care less. Yes, I know it’s weight for the baby (even though the little miss is only two-ish pounds, the rest is all fluid and uterus and that whole extra organ your body grows to feed your baby, the placenta), so maybe that contributes to my not freaking out about it.

But beyond not caring about the extra pounds, I feel so much more loving toward my body than I ever thought I would. It’s like I’ve found an old friend after years of (at times) abusive silence.

I’m so proud of my body for not only growing a human full-time, but also for sticking it out through the still-challenging workouts that I put it through to maintain my mental balance. I cherish the increasingly convex curve of my stomach way more than I ever did its flatter counterpart because this tummy lovingly cradles my baby all day and night. I want to high-five my swiftly changing reflection so I can congratulate my body on being a total rockstar and miraculously knowing exactly what to do to create and nurture another person.

The most surprising thing about this process, for me, is how much awe it has filled me with. For women and their amazing bodies. For God who created them in his incredible wisdom.

I’m proud of the mental journey I’ve made and my newfound ability to see myself as I really am for possibly the first time in my life — wonderfully made.

When I first got married, I’m going to be totally honest, I was a little bit sad to be giving up that feeling of potential that you could meet someone.

You know the one I mean: The one that makes you put a little bit more time into your hair before going out to dinner with a new group of people. The one that floods your body when you first walk into a party where you know you won’t know everyone. The one that says, “You could meet the one tonight.”

Of course, I saw the irony in this: I was sad to be losing something because…I had found it? Brains are weird.

But the point is, a very small part of me realized I was forever losing something that had been defined by excitement and hope, and that made me a little sad.

For the record, this is not the same as regret. I did not and do not regret getting married when I did. I’m just sayin’, it’s one of those funny life transitions that you don’t really consider until after the fact.

Now, though, I have such a different feeling about it.

The thing is, there is quite a bit of power in realizing that you don’t really care if you impress. In knowing that it doesn’t matter one tiny bit if that good-looking guy at the bar finds you attractive or annoying or what. I can be totally, 100 percent honest and myself because, when the conversation is over, I get to go back to the person I love who loves me more than anything.

Nowadays, if a guy tries to chat me up or flirt or whatever, I respond in exactly the way I always wanted to (but for whatever reason felt like I couldn’t because, well, “maybe” is a powerful thing). And that’s pretty cool. The idea of being exactly who I am without caveat is so freeing to me.

And the really funny part? I find I have much more meaningful conversations, even with total strangers, the quicker I can clear up that nothing beyond a friendly chat is going to happen here. I’ve actually had guys who at one point were hitting on me end up sincerely asking me for relationship advice just a few minutes after finding out I was unavailable. It might help that I’m just a friendly gal, but I like to think that removing the tension of “could something happen between us” allows people to just be themselves on both sides and make an actual connection with another human being. Neat, huh?

So, I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re still in that phase of somewhat lamenting what you’ve lost, take heart. You probably never really loved the unknown all that much anyway.