This year my birthday is a little bit different, mostly because I’ll be thinking about my mom a lot more than I ever have on my birthday and partly because I can’t help but think back over the last five years.
Five years ago I was approaching the end of my first year of university, and it had been a long road getting there. I was enjoying my classes and I had a job that I loved, and was good at, and every day I was surrounded by a great group of people that challenged me.
Five years ago Joe and I were just friends, becoming good friends and I still didn’t know if I ever wanted to be married and I certainly didn’t think I wanted any children and I really, really didn’t think I would be married with a child before I turned 30.
Five years ago I had no idea my life would take a drastic turn just a month after I turned 24. I had no idea that I would feel something special happening between Joe and I and I would have the courage to invite him over to watch movies and he would take the opportunity to kiss me that night.
Five years ago I didn’t know that I was moments away from starting the beautiful family I have today – that I would fall in love with this wonderful man and together we would raise our dear little puppy and have a beautiful daughter. I didn’t know that the classes that I loved, along with my past in journalism, would lead me to a job that was perfect for me which, in turn, would give me the first real inkling of what I want to spend my life doing.
I knew who I was, but I didn’t know what I wanted or how to get there. I didn’t know what was coming next. Now I know. I know what path I want to set out on and who I need there with me. I know what I want for my daughter and I know what kind of example I want to set for her. I am surrounded at work by smart people and strong women that I want to emulate, and I know that they respect me too.
I know that I thought once the baby came everything would change, and while things certainly have changed, I still need to be the person that I am because I want her to be as strong as me, and stronger.
I have been given the gift of a year. I am one of the very fortunate women in this country who has benefits that add up to a year off with most of my pay so that I can bond with my baby girl and teach her as much as she’ll take in. I know how lucky I am to have that time.
I have also been given the gift of a very good baby. She sleeps well, she doesn’t often fuss, she has no health issues, she’s bright eyed, beautiful and already engaging with the world. I look forward to guiding her into all the knowledge she’ll take in.
For some time now, Joe and I have been trying to get out life in order. Trying to improve our eating and spending habits, trying to get exercise, trying to create the life that we wanted to bring a child in to, trying to create the habits we want her to grow up with. We’ve been successful and then been derailed a few times, most recently because of the pregnancy when I didn’t know from one moment to another what I would actually eat and what would make me sick, when I was exhausted all the time and it took all my energy just to go to work and make it through the day.
But now, I have been given the gift of a year. A year to take my baby girl on walks and get plenty of fresh air for both of us; a year to try out new recipes and see what’s easy for us to get prepared once life returns to what will become normal; a year for me to analyze our life, our routines and our bad habits.
In this year, I plan to get my daily exercise. When I was getting ready for the wedding I was able to get between 30 and 45 minutes a day on our exercise bike, which Joe has now brought down to the living room for me. While the baby naps, I can turn on the PVR and get my exercise in – probably not realistic for every day, I know that every day will be different, but I’ve also learned in this first 6 weeks that the puppy is just fine on walks with the stroller and the baby likes looking around when we’re outside. If I set my mind to getting in that 30 minutes one way or another then I will do something. I was lucky in that I didn’t gain a lot of weight during my pregnancy (in fact, the influx of hormones combined with my PCOS actually brought my weight down in the first couple of months) but before I got pregnant I was overweight and I have certain goals that I would like to meet.
In this year I plan to get in the habit of eating breakfast. After the baby has her morning bottle and a clean diaper, she likes to lie in the playard and look around while she kicks and kicks (I swear this kid is going to be a swimmer). This gives me time to pour myself a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee, and I can have a banana – all quick and easy to clean up. Now the search is on for quick and healthy dinners that we can make extra servings of so both of us have lunch for the next day. I’ve got a few recipes that I like and I can turn into good leftovers, but if I can find a bit more variety and make sure we get our portion sizes right then we’ll be well set when I go back to work.
The majority of our spending issues come from eating out and buying lunches, so cooking more at home solves two problems. Eating out is still something we enjoy, but we used to have Friday night date nights, which made it something special.
My personal spending issue is clothes shopping – it’s genetic, my grandmother and my mother had the same problem – but right now my body is in flux, and I’m planning on losing between 30 and 50 lbs before I go back to work, so I need to stop myself from buying too many clothes. I think I’ll set up a plan that lets me put some money into my savings every month to create a larger budget for new work clothes next year. I’m always going to have a desire to look as good as I can, which may be my downfall, since for the next little while none of my clothes are going to fit exactly the way I want them to, but that’s also part of the process of losing weight.
If I’m going to say no to my daughter, if I’m going to teach her to delay gratification, if I’m going to teach her healthy habits and good body image, if she’s going to love exercise and fresh air, if she’s going to treat chocolate and pop and fast food as once-in-a-while foods, then I have one year to turn myself into the best example I can be.
Lesson for my daughter: No, all women don’t look like that, or act like that
When I was growing up, I never really believed that I would be affected by peer pressure or media imagery, but when I think back to all the issues I had with my body, there is one place I can lay blame (well, two): Magazines and television.
If I hadn’t been reading teen magazines I never would have thought I was too hairy or there was something wrong with my boobs, or that my glasses were maybe the reason I didn’t have a boyfriend.
Without teen dramas I never would have suspected that I was somehow abnormal for being 16 and never having kissed a guy, I never would have thought that I had missed some cut off point for losing my virginity.
Now that I’ve been around for a certain number of years, I understand that, where women are concerned, there are no universals. And I am very lucky to be surrounded by women of different colours, different skills, different body types, different beliefs – all fantastic people with great things they could teach my daughter. I know women who have made all sorts of different life choices and taken all sorts of different paths, and I will use them all as examples for her.
I’m already starting a collection of books that I remember as being good for me so they’ll be available when she gets old enough to read them – Paula Danziger was one of my favourites; Gordon Korman writes strong girls in his Macdonald Hall series; Judy Blume, of course. I have every season of Gilmore Girls on DVD and I fully expect to get through every season with her. I’ve been considering buying Golden Girls on DVD because I heard someone credit those ladies for her healthy attitudes and, having grown up watching them myself, I can’t say I disagree.
I’m not saying I’m going to forbid her from owning Barbie (though I’d like to avoid it) and I’m not going to ban the colour pink from the house (it looks great with my skin tone), but I am going to introduce her to the parody of it all. She can watch all the cheesy romance movies she wants, but she’s going to see the parodies too. She can listen to the likes of Taylor Swift if she also understands the beauty of k.d. lang.
I’m not going to pretend that there isn’t a boy band or princess phase in her future, but she’s going to be exposed to punk rock and roller derby girls too. When she asked me to start shaving her legs or wearing make-up – if she does – I’m going to make sure she knows those are choices and not something you have to start doing at any age.
When she asks me to sign off on her first tattoo, I’m going to tell her to think about it for a year and if she still wants the same thing, she can go ahead.
I’m going to entertain all her career goals and let her figure out when she’s settled on one. I’m going to tell her that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to land on one, as long as she has somewhere to live, she has food to eat and she’s happy I know she’ll get there eventually.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my lifetime, and it took me a long time to get there: Fate will take you where you need to be – you have to make the right choices, it’s going to be really hard sometimes, and you have to learn the lessons along the way and try not to make the same mistake twice, but it will happen.
In the end, you just need to be yourself because you’ll never forgive yourself if you’re not.
I have a maternity shirt that’s styled like a football jersey and says ‘Mom in training’ on the front. I still wear it to sleep in both because it’s comfortable and because the words still ring true.
In the past year my identity has changed dramatically and I’m still adjusting. I’m a mom now, I’m talking to different women about different issues, I’m spending my day worrying about different concerns, I’m finding myself in a whole new realm of understanding.
It’s a lot to get used to.
I’m not good at making new friends or keeping in touch with old friends. I still speak to one, yes one, person that I knew in high school (and she was my maid of honour), I’m only connected to my college friends on Facebook and of all the jobs I’ve had, I’ve maintained contact with a handful of people. I’m sometimes embarrassed by how small my circle seems to be, though I know that the friends I have those friends that I would do anything for.
But I want to grow new friendships based on this new life I’m starting, and I want her to grow up not so painfully shy.
I want to get out there and do things with other mothers and other babies. I want to get her into some sort of social world so that she gets used to meeting new people and trying new things. I want her to know how to make friends and interact with people. The problem is that I don’t.
Part of me wants to develop a circle of mom friends, and in some ways it should be easy – I’ve been talking to other moms on Twitter and there are two other women in my office who are on mat leave right now – but there is still a part of me that wants to protect myself and my identity. I’m straddling the line between old Amy and new Amy.
I want to jump into the conversation, but I’m afraid of being viewed as that woman who interrupts. I went through the same thing in college. I wanted to share my knowledge and be a part of things, but I came on too strong. I know I can’t wait to be invited, and that sometimes I have something valuable to add… But, but, but
I’m still me, which means I’m still scared. I’m that girl standing in the middle of the classroom who doesn’t know how to walk over to the other girls just to say ‘Can we be friends?’
I am formula feeding my baby.
I didn’t plan it and I’ve been afraid to say it out loud. In fact, the three health professionals that I have talked to about it have seen me get teary-eyed. It was a decision I came to after several very difficult days and I am terrified of being judged for not trying hard enough to breastfeed. I do believe I tried, and I will always ask myself if I could have done better or tried harder or started differently, but in the end I was too worn down and too emotional to continue trying to force myself on my baby.
In truth, things seemed to be going well early on. When she was born there were questions as to whether she was tongue-tied and the first time I tried to latch her I was suddenly surrounded with three women and their grabby hands who made things more uncomfortable and more difficult as far as I’m concerned. (I actually ended up with bruises from this help). On her third day of life we went back to the hospital because she was showing signs of jaundice. On her fourth day of life she was still jaundice, she was dehydrated and she was lethargic.
Everyone was asking if my milk had come in – it hadn’t – and the midwife and pediatrician agreed that she was too dehydrated and it was making the jaundice worse and we needed to start with formula. And I kept waiting for my milk to come in.
And suddenly it did and suddenly I was in a situation where I had to feed her from the breast and then supplement with the bottle and then pump to get my supply up and it was emotionally and physically draining. After a few days and some very difficult conversations I decided that it was worse for me to continue breastfeeding than it was to feed her formula. I knew, and my care providers knew, that I was at risk for postpartum depression and I’ve dealt with depression long enough to know my own symptoms and recognize the signs and the pressure, frustration and exhaustion were driving me right down that spiral. My mother put it best when she told me to let myself off the hook.
It is better for my baby to have a healthier mother that feeds her formula than it is for her to have a depressed, non-functioning mother that feeds her breastmilk.
But I’m still afraid. Every time I pull out a bottle in public I’m afraid that people are judging me. I’ve known too many people that judge others on their decisions without bothering to ask why those decisions were made. I know too many women now that fight for the rights of breastfeeding mothers to think that in the back of their mind, they won’t all be thinking that I should have tried harder, that I should have pushed through, that I should have realized it would get easier.
And I respect those women. I believe breastfeeding mothers should be proud. It takes work and dedication and bravery. And in all honesty, I wonder if I will be judged as weak for not being a breastfeeding mother. I feel weak. I feel as though breastfeeding activists will judge me for not loving my daughter enough to work through my own issues, but I have to love her enough to forgive myself and move on.