Learning To Love Myself

If you were given the opportunity to redo parts of your life, would you? Would you go back to your teens? Or would you go back to your 20’s? I’ve caught myself thinking about my life before I met my wonderful husband and before I had my girls. I would find myself asking, would I ever do it again?

The answer might seem like an easy one for so many. One of the biggest promises I made for myself was to always live my life without regrets. This was so important to me for so many reasons. I remember that first feeling of regret and how it made me feel, and that’s where I started to do some internal, emotional digging, and learned the tools I needed to cope and learn from each experience.

Growing up, I have had my fair share of being in the wrong places at the wrong time and making friends who made questionable decisions. Everyone around me saw me as crazy, reckless and wild. I was the “problem” child. I was labelled as defiant, and rebellious. These were the constant labels that I would often hear. But, was I actually rebellious, or was I seeking independence? No matter what outcome this had brought me, I learned from each mistake and learned things about myself that others around me wouldn’t have learned

Some of the best choices I have made and lessons I have learned were from pushing back, and making my own choices. Despite what others would think, I did choose my friends carefully. Despite what others thought, my friends were my village. I surrounded myself, and spent most of my time with my friends than I had with most of my family. I chose friends who allowed me to be who I wanted to be, without judgement. I surrounded myself with friends who not only chose their own decisions and their own path in life, but would never question my decisions or my paths. My friends, for the most part, were always there for me, when I needed someone the most. Early on, I knew how to look past questionable differences, because the choices that someone makes, doesn’t always translate to the choices I make. Everyday, we are making choices for ourself, consciously and subconsciously. Even though we can’t always control all circumstances, we always have the choice on how we act and react. This was something I remember that was not always trusted of me. From early on, it was easier for my parents to guard me instead of allowing me to experience and learn from them. When people hurt us, whether its from their choices, the choice is still ours even if we let it consume us, or if we choose to move on, and forgive. The choice to find something to numb the pain, run away from the pain, or choosing relationships with people who were wrong for you, are all choices we make.

I knew this all too well. Some of these choices I have experienced first hand, and others I have witnessed. I became very aware of my wrong doings and in so many cases I have allowed them to linger or have chosen not to correct them. I was not very good at navigating through challenging situations. I avoided shit outcomes of my poor choices.

Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Pexels.com

So, if I could redo parts of my life, would I? I would! But… The part that I would change would be to have learned how to love myself in its entirety. For most of my life, I have put others first before myself. I have learned early on, how to love others, but I was not very good at knowing how to love myself. From a young age, I was not very comfortable in my own skin. I struggled with appearance issues which led to unhealthy habits. I have found relationships in unhealthy ways. I grew up not feeling confident. Self-esteem was something that would drift in and out of my life. I never felt 100% comfortable in my own skin. I found ways to dodge pictures, even though I was outgoing and wanted to participate. I found excuses to not attend gatherings that involved swimming, where you had to wear a bathing suit. In the summer time I mostly wore pants and ignored the idea of wearing shorts, no matter how hot it was outside. There is no doubt that some of these issues stemmed from my upbringing. I would watch different family members express discomfort with wearing certain clothes and expressing vocally their discomfort with their own body. When they say that kids are like sponges, this is so true.

It wasn’t until I became a mother where I felt the most comfortable at being myself. I found comfort in my life with how my body is, now. I remember struggling with my weight a lot growing up, and what my weight was, consumed me. Now, that I am a mother, I have realized that weight should not consume your thoughts day in and day out. I have made a promise to myself that I would focus on “living in the moment.” Not just some, but all of it!

I am raising two young girls and the last thing I wan’t to display to them is how uncomfortable our body can be. By shifting the mindset from “I feel fat,” to the mindset of “I need to exercise more to keep my body healthy,” shifts the body image mindset. If I start to openly complain about how I dislike myself, my body and mind, this will translate to my young girls faster then I can predict. Part of my journey to loving myself begins with ACCEPTANCE. Accepting that I’m not like everyone else. Learning to love yourself begins with baby steps. Begins with ACCEPTING, RECOGNIZING, and GROWING with yourself. This will never be something that happens over night. I have to acknowledge and understand that this journey will be lifelong, and there will always be moments where there is doubt. So, one of my reminders is that my body carried and delivered 2 beautiful girls, and this is, and will be the new Me.

I have to remind myself that it’s OK to age, and that we all get older, despite what the media will show us. We are meant to age. It’s natural, and it’s ok for our weight to fluctuate. Staying healthy doesn’t always equal weight loss. There is no such thing as “perfect.” The word “PERFECT,” is so subjective, it should be removed from how we identify each other. What is perfect? What’s perfect to one person, is and will always be different to another person. We should look at people the same way we look at clothes. There are a million different styles, not one style is the same, and that’s ok.

I am here to set an example to my girls, that we need to embrace imperfections and remove the word “PERFECT.” I need to continue to love myself, and model that love to my girls. We only have 1 life to live, and we should be fulfilling our life with things that truly matter in life. I will never be like everyone else. There is only 1 of Me, in this world, and I am here to make the best of it. There is only 1 of YOU in the world, and that’s damn special!

Inner Strength

I am a failure. My body failed me. I’m not worthy to be a mother. I’m not strong enough. I gave up. I feel defeated. I suck at this. What have I done? Have any of these thoughts crossed your mind? I have let these thoughts come too close to my heart while I was in the delivery room, delivering my first baby girl, and I let them consume me afterwards. I have let myself continually replay these moments leading up to my surgery. 

I delivered my first baby girl via c-section. Was this my plan, Hell No! But, this plan was deemed necessary for a safe and healthy delivery. I was induced 10 days after my expected due date with no signs of active labour. I experienced prodromal labour for a couple of weeks with no delivery in sight. We had to round up our troops a.k.a my midwives to come up with a back up plan. After induction, and several hours waiting, It was GO time. My baby’s heart rate was dropping with each contraction. This decision was necessary, but it defeated me. I felt crushed. I wanted more than anything to deliver my baby the same way thousands of other women do, a vaginal delivery. 

Photo by Angela Best

Being a first time mom, 2nd time or 3rd time mom, doesn’t make this journey any less complicating or stressful. Being a mom is stressful. We all want to do what the other mom is doing. We are always comparing notes, talking and discussing the comparisons. We are simply judging the F out of each other. We can become each other’s worst enemy, and why? If we are all doing the same job, with the same end goal in mind: raising happy and healthy little humans, why are we constantly judging what the other one has, or doesn’t have? If all moms want the same the same thing, why aren’t we supporting each other?

If you shared with another mom that you had a c-section, you have a 50/50 chance that you will get a supportive response. If you shared with another mom your feeding regimen, formula or breastmilk, you will get either a 60/40 response. 60% support for breastfeeding, and only 40% support for formula. Why is that? Why can’t we just support each other no matter what? Once we become moms, we seem to know what’s best for not only for our self, but everyone else and their child. We instantly become the expert. We seem to have all of the greatest and latest sources of information about what’s better to raising our children and being a better mom. Well, let me tell you, you will never be the perfect mom, or have perfect children. I have learned very quickly that what works best for one mom and child, doesn’t work best for all moms. What works for one child in your family does not work for the other the child. I have also realized that what worked well in the 80’s or 90’s when our parents had us, becomes almost irrelevant, and outdated. So, why are we putting all of this pressure on ourselves?

Before I had my first daughter, I had enrolled myself and my husband to a prenatal class set up and hosted by our midwife clinic. There, I had met 4 other moms to be and their spouses. This was an 8 week program. From completion date, we all had remained friends. These girls quickly became great friends and positive supportive women I cherish each day. Our group is what helped me tremendously to get through my constant thoughts of failure and uncertainties of being a new mom. Even though they all had very different deliveries, they acknowledge that we are all strong mom warriors. When the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a family,” they are my village.  

I was holding my baby girl, when all I could think about was “how did I fail at this?” I had one job to do and so far I have failed. I reminded myself of my “mom” group. They were the ones who uplifted me, and reminded me that it’s not the delivery that defines who we are. The delivery is “just” the exit. Yes, some moms get to accomplish their dream birth plan. Yes, some moms walk out of the hospital as the stunningly hot milf that looks like she hasn’t carried a baby in her lifetime, but, if you’re the one who walks out looking like a garbage truck drove over you 3 times, and your belly still looks likes you’re still pregnant, that’s ok too. You know why? Because you just had a BABY! Looking the part of a mom, a mom who just delivered their baby deserves the Hi Fives and credit too. How you dress and what you look like does not define your strength. Your strength is the part where you screamed for a bloody epidural because you were managing hardcore contractions for so long, you needed a break. Or when you found yourself pushing for so long that you had to make the difficult choice to come up with a new plan of action. Your strength was when you gripped your husbands hand so tight you left prints for days because you had to sit still during the worst contraction while being prepped for surgery. Your strength was when you found the courage to walk into the hospital and say “I’m having my baby, today, or tomorrow.” No matter the “type” of delivery, you delivered, and that in itself is strength.

Photo by Angela Best

The delivery of our baby does not, and should never define who we are as a mother. Each delivery is unique, and not one delivery is the same, ever! If any moms experienced a c-section, remind yourself to be patient. Be patient with your healing, be patient with your mind, body and soul. Be patient with the process. You delivered a little human, and that’s the outcome you should be rewarding yourself with, not just the exit. The exit is such a small piece of the whole picture. Your delivery, is no less greater than someone who vaginally delivered their baby. You can never compare apples to oranges, so why the F should we be doing the same with deliveries? One c-section is not the same as the other. One vaginal delivery is not the same than the other. We need to normalize, appreciate and support ALL births. 

We need to be each other’s village and support system. We are women of strength, courage and a heck of alot of love. We all are warriors, fighting for the same outcome We are leaders leading the same journey. We are survivors, surviving the same chaos of mom life. Praise each other for the hard days we all experience. We have hard days, good days and days where we want to hide out in the bathroom from all of our frustrations. We all share the same goal. We are capable! We are strong! We are courageous! We are a mom! Let’s do this together!

I Can Do It

While I watch my 3 year old get ready for preschool, I’m watching her struggle putting on her boots. I offer to help her, when she interrupts me saying “no mommy, I can do it myself.” As I grit my teeth, anxiously waiting for her to get it right, I realize this is typical behaviour for any preschooler. Preschoolers are learning how to do so many new tasks, and as a parent I often forget that we should let them figure it out. As I watch my daughter figuring out how to do most tasks, and insisting on doing it herself, all of this has me thinking. I’ve come to the realization that I rely on doing so many tasks independently. All most, too independently.

For years, I have been overly independent. Dating back to when I was in my late teens, I made it a priority to move out on my own without help. I would work two jobs to make sure I was able to pay rent comfortably, and figuring out my post secondary school courses. When I was 19 years old, I spontaneously responded to a job ad in a local newspaper, to apply as an AuPair in the United States. Within a few months I was on a flight to New Jersey to move in with a family I had only met over the phone, coordinated by an organization I had only read about through a newspaper ad, ready to take on this year long adventure. When my time in New jersey was finished, I moved back home temporarily before moving again, working a few more jobs and relocating out of city to settle down and attend college.

It wasn’t until I was watching my daughter learn new tasks or go about her daily routine before I started realizing that not only does she have some very similar character traits as I do, it really had me thinking about myself, and why did I move around alot? Why was I so persistent to do things by myself? Why would I turn down help when circumstances would be so tough for me to manage by myself? Was it because I was too proud? Or was it because I didn’t want to burden a friend or loved one?

Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva on Pexels.com

To ask for help felt too gut wrenching. I had a hard time finding the courage or finding comfort asking. I remember when I was in college and my college money was delayed and I couldn’t pay my rent on time. Even under these circumstances I reached out to no one. I found myself skipping 3 days of college classes to work enough hours to cover my rent. When I had a college roommate who decided to move out while I wasn’t home and wrote me a faulty cheque for his last months rent, I reached out for no one. Whether it was money, help moving, or balancing various work and home life responsibilities, I find myself in various circumstances where I would tackle these tasks, and run myself so thin that I begin to feel like I’m a 10 year old laptop riddled with viruses trying to run windows. For some reason, I still find enough bandwidth to push through, no matter what it took to get there. Why was I doing this to myself? Why would I endure all of this pressure? It goes beyond a sense of pride. It was a way to hide that I was different from others. A way to hide that I carry a past.

What I was really doing was running myself too thin. I would refuse help, but internally stress myself out for taking on too much. I remember sitting down with an old therapist, when it was discussed that I suffered from Hyper-Independence. I know what you must be thinking, “is this a real thing?” It is. Hyper-Indepence is a real condition. It is a condition that develops when someone has experienced a form of severe trauma or chronic illness. For years, I have created this false notion that I had to prove I was capable, and to prove my value and self worth through all that I was capable of doing independently, instead of who I am as a person. This would caused me so much harm, than it was good for me. I would over do myself on many tasks, I refused to ask for help when times felt impossible, and when I would find the courage to ask for help, I would feel even worse about it. I would begin to feel worthless.

The road to recovery is slow, but constantly moving. My self worth is not measured by the amount of tasks I take on alone. I am learning to not fall into the mind trap that when I do eventually ask for help, it may not be accomplished in the same manner I have set out in my head, but rather it was done differently, and that’s ok! I was reminded to give others the opportunity to help me. I don’t have to do everything myself, and that it’s ok to rest. To be strong goes beyond how much you do. If you ask for help it doesn’t mean that you’re weak. In fact, this is far from the truth. Recognizing when I need help shows incredible strength. Strength and courage to ask. I would be lying if I said I followed these suggestions perfectly. What I can say, is that each day is a new day. The more I practise, and allow myself to accept help, with time I will be able to find a healthy balance of independence.

For anyone who is struggling whether its with Hyper-Independence, or various forms of anxiety, remember that you aren’t alone. Find someone you trust. Someone that you can lean on to ask for help. Let them know how they can help. Remind yourself that this journey is slow. It will take time for your trust, strength and courage to come. Give yourself patience. Once you get there, you will find that this will be the most mentally and emotional thing you have done.

The Working Mom

Becoming a mother is the most rewarding life change that I have experienced. It completely consumes my attention, and emotional well-being. Undoubtedly so, how could it not? I’ve planned for this time and carried my daughter for 9 months. I was home with her for 1 year, and I will now spend the next lifetime being there for her, being her mom. On the flip side, I find being a mom, and being a working mom in today’s society extraordinary hard. There is incredible peer & social pressure towards moms about what your next parenting step is. Have you started your baby on solid foods? Do you breastfeed, pump, formula feed? Will you be a stay-at-home mom? Will you go back to work and will it be full time or part time? All of these discussions are part of interacting with people, and some of it is advise seeking or advice giving. Whether these discussions can be primarily positive, there is still a level of “social acceptance” and “social norms” that we as mothers get sucked in.

When I decided to go back to work, my role as a mom changed. I can’t count how many comments and advice was given about going back to work full time. However, the worst feeling was the social pressure. The pressure from society that has evolved within the last few decades. It’s been deemed socially acceptable and almost demanding for moms to go back to work without considering all of the facts, and to place our children in a caregivers hand. While there is still a small percentage of mothers staying at home, this percentage has declined significantly. For example: 69% of Canadian families with at least one child under 16 were dual-earner families in 2014 (up from 36% in 1976) – Three-quarters had two parents working full time in 2014. Only 27% of Canadian families with children were single-earner families (down from 59% in 1976) – Among the 27% ONLY 16% had a stay-at-home mother. Lastly, ONLY 9% had a parent that was either unemployed, attending school or permanently unable to work.

For me, the decision of staying home was not financially feasible at the time. When I became a working mom, I was naive on the difficulties I would be faced with. As a lot of moms would know, you morph into that “everything mom:” the family administrator, the taxi driver, the maid, the cook, the nurse, and teacher. I wear a lot of hats being a mother. When I was back at work, I wore all of these hats, among the several I wore at my “daytime” job. Shuffling all of these hats came at the expense of my mental health. Stress is one of the leading causes of emotional and physical health decline in moms, today. The amount of stress working moms experience jumped 40% compared to full- time women who do not have children. As a working mom, we continue to move forward, because it’s expected of us. At some point, somewhere, it has been increasingly clear that once your maternity leave is over, we go back to work.

I remember, everyday driving to work, I would be mentally checking off my to-do list. I was setting reminders on my phone, appointments, playdates, family events, and not to mention all of the reminders at work for important follow-ups and deadlines. By the time your work day ends, I’m scrambling to get to daycare on time, all while remembering if I pulled out something for dinner. There is no doubt I was constantly looking at the clock, counting down the minutes to bedtime. Finally, bedtime comes, my daughter is peacefully sleeping, and I start feeling guilty. Guilty that I ran myself so thin, and that I lost sight of the meaningful moments with my daughter and my husband. My husband certainly receives the short end of the stick, most days. Not because I don’t value his love and appreciation, but because my time has run short.

As a working mom, once I have created a routine that works, you now have to factor in your sick child. The social demand of moms going back to work, now translates into your child going to daycare. While our children are attending daycare, it is to be expected that they are exposed to an unlimited amount of germs. The average amount of cold viruses your child might be exposed too are between 8-12 per year (as per Statistic Canada). The list of illnesses that they might be exposed too (not including colds) can vary, but they can happen at any time. The average cold virus can require stay-at home care between 2-4 days; longer duration depending on the daycare provider and illness. A working mom, like myself I am only entitled to 2-3 paid sick days per year. This hardly covers me for only 1 illness, if I’m lucky. If you require more days, or your child is sick often, you are often left using your vacation days, asking family, friends, or neighbours. For myself , I don’t get the luxury to have family come in and help us when our children are sick, we don’t have family who live locally. I would be using unpaid days off.

Additionally, what happens when we get sick. So using your 2-3 sick days for the year on your child, plus any additional time you have used, you now have to be off for even longer, when you fall ill. However, using unpaid days doesn’t always get you an understanding golden ticket with your employer. So many moms, you get the opposite treatment. Mandatory requests to make up each day you have been absent, working overtime, or attending countless meetings to review the reasons “WHY” you have been absent. Not to mention the ridicule you face among your colleagues and/or manager because they were likely accommodating absences. This is a vicious cycle that is never ending. Do you go to work sick, and get everyone else sick. Do you stay home and use what availability you have. In the end, your biggest uphill battle is your need of accommodation and support from your employer.

With several studies and conclusive research, it has been proven that working moms multitask exceeding more than 10 hours per week. While feeling the demand to go back to work, there is no escape from public scrutiny “How can you leave your child?” ” Don’t you feel guilty?” “Have you properly researched your caregiver?’ On the flip side, if you choose to be a stay-at home mom you also hear “How do you contribute to paying bills?” “How are you able to save for retirement?” “It must be so nice to not have to work.” No matter the decision you choose, you are constantly judged for your choices. None of these choices get you a “free pass” from judgement.

My husband is a full time advisor. His career commitment is something I have been the most supportive of. He will spend breakfast with my daughter and I, and then off to work he goes. Most days he is gone until dinner time, 6-6:30PM, and other times he is not home until after dinner time, 8:30PM. While he is working full time into most evenings, no one ever questions him about his time spent away from his family. No one questions his active parental role, and wonders if he feels guilty about being away. If a dad chooses to stay home with their child, do you think he will experience the same judgement and expectations as mothers? Will he be questioned by society’s standards about all of his parenting decisions, or will be praised with gratitude for “trying?” If your husband stays home consistently with your sick child, will be pulled into meetings regarding his several absences, or will he be given understanding during this difficult time through this adjustment period? Time has changed. Dad’s are not staying at home full time or even part time. They certainly are not expected to work full time and manage the household duties to the same extent as mothers. Women are expected to do it all. Women are expected to withhold their full time job, while managing the house, without question. If husbands are not expected to withhold the same level of expectations, why are we? Somewhere, and somehow the status quo is that mothers must do it all while facing criticism, while fathers go to work, come home and participate when they can, and receive no judgement.

Mothers are the most stressed. Mothers need the most support, understanding and patience today, than ever before. A study from University of Manchester and the University of Essex which was published by The Globe & Mail https://globalnews.ca/news/4896926/working-mothers-more-stressed-study/ discovered that accommodaions, such as, “working from home and flexible office hours did not improve stress levels” Mothers are, and will always be the primary caregivers in most family settings. This is not to say that fathers do not care, this is just a “natural” fact of life.

Pushing through all of these demands that were thrown at me has led me to develop PTSD taruma, anxiety as well as clinical depression in addition to additional emotional hardship. It has become so vividly clear that there is a very clear divide between what society & employers expect of you, as a working mom, and what is realistic. Realistic expectations do not exist in most employment settings. To be told that “we can’t find the means to accommodate you” , suggesting a “career change” or “maybe you should apply for STD” are not realistic approaches and will never solve this stigma that exist. These were all the approaches thrown at me while severely struggling mentally.

I was struggling the most while trying to return to work and factoring in my need to breastfeed/pump, I was clearly denied. Denied the space and denied the time. This not only forced me to abruptly stop, but mentally and emotionally this was a forced decision that not affected myself, but affected my daughter. To make matters worse, I was later told months after I had forcibly quit breastfeeding, that space would now be available. This is what escalated a mental breakdown. This is what triggered traumatic stress.

We have come along way with recognizing women’s equality, and equality in the workplace, but when I look at all of my efforts and how much I have given it all, it never seems to be enough or seldom recognized. We have still failed as a society. We have allowed working mothers to feel so much burden, and stress from the pressures of work at the expense of our mental health without any support from their employer and with a severe lack of empathy. We have ignored as a society that this is a fundamental women’s rights issue that isn’t talked about. It needs to be talked about. Mothers are the foundation in most families. Mothers play some of the most important roles in our child’s life, so why aren’t we embracing that as a society? As a society, if we can’t create an equal parental ground between fathers and mothers, then how can it be socially acceptable to judge and criticise a mother for needing to catch their breath, or take a break?

There are so many things a “working mom” relies on in order to make transitioning back to work a positive experience, and that comes with a certain level of understanding and support from their employer. Support of a feasible schedule. A schedule that isn’t given on a Friday so we know what we are expected to work for the Monday. We need proper notice. We have a family, and we rely on adequate timing of our schedule, not 2 days notice.

For all of my moms near and far, I am sending you love, and support!

XO