Kim and I met about 10 years ago working for the American Cancer Society. One day, maybe my second week there, I made a very inappropriate joke in the break room and we became fast friends. While we have since continued to be wildly inappropriate (at times), we have also gotten married, had kids, and somewhat slowed down. She has been a huge support to me always telling me to "do what works" without an ounce of judgment.
Kim's story is special. She is a three-time cancer survivor and out of all my friends, was the most excited and eager be a mama. But, she had also been told that due to the treatments she had undergone for her cancer, gaining the title of mama might prove to be a challenge (and perhaps not an option). Yet, just like she had with cancer, she proved the doctors wrong and became pregnant rather quickly.
But, she had a very rough first year of motherhood and was the first of my friends to openly talk to me about postpartum depression and anxiety, allowing me to understand it from a vastly different perspective than how it is portrayed in the media.
Her words below are great for mamas, new and experienced, to be easy with ourselves and to not take it for granted.
I will admit that I cry reading each and every one of these surveys. BUT, having known the struggles, the honesty Kim speaks choked me up a little more than usual.
Love you much, friend! And to my readers- ENJOY!
1. When you were a younger did you dream about being a mother? What did you see for yourself?
Absolutely. I always wanted to be a mother, and thought I’d have 3 kids. I dreamt of being a stay at home mom, but never had a clue what that would look like in reality, and also didn’t think I’d have the option.
2. How did your own upbringing reflect on that dream?
I was raised LDS (Mormon), and while I don’t share those beliefs any more, the religion is very focused on family. The cliche of Mormons is having a GAGGLE of kids, so, while I didn’t want 9, I definitely always grew up wanting to be a mom.
3. What discussions did you have about starting a family? Do you remember telling your husband the first time you were pregnant? Was it a surprise or a long-planned event?
When I met my husband, he hadn’t really thought of having kids. When I first met his family for Christmas in North Carolina, and he saw me interact with his niblings (it’s a word- look it up), he asked me if I wanted kids. I said “I think so.” He said, “No- you either do or you don’t.” I was being a little ambivalent, and trying to act cool, in case this was a deal-breaker. I finally said “Yes. I know I want to be a mom.” And he responded that he wanted all of that with me.
My husband and I were in the bathroom together when I found out I was pregnant, though I didn’t believe it… maybe until I actually HAD my daughter. I had been told that I very likely couldn’t have children, due to the massive amounts of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation I received for THREE different bouts of cancer. I always assumed I would need to adopt, or endure fertility treatment. All of my doctors said it would take years, if I ever got pregnant. One even suggested that we “start trying” before the wedding. Well, I stopped the pill, and I got pregnant NINE days later, while on our honeymoon. We were both in complete shock that the pregnancy test showed positive. The only reason I even TOOK the test, was because I was going to a friend’s bachelorette party, filled with wine, unpasteurized cheese, and hot tubbing. Yea, I didn’t get to do much at that party.
4. What did you love about pregnancy? Hate?
Okay- don’t hate me ladies- but… I never really felt pregnant. No, not in the “I could be in a Lifetime show” way, but I really had NO symptoms. Not a minute of sickness. I didn’t have any body aches, and gained just 20 lbs. Mind you, I had some extra weight to start, so I didn’t NEED to gain any weight. At the end, I honestly was a bit sad that I didn’t look very pregnant. I was 39 weeks pregnant carrying cases of water out of the grocery store, and would’ve loved some of that “aww you’re pregnant” attention.
5. Did you enjoy giving birth?
My daughter’s birth was definitely not how I expected it to go (is it ever?). I was READY (ha!) to give birth. My body had been through so much, and I knew I was strong and could do this. At 41 weeks, I went in to be induced. My OB was leaving town, and they were a little concerned with me going to far past 40 weeks, due to fluids and my 1 kidney. I also really wanted my OB to deliver her, as we seemed to be very much on the same page. Well, I got induced, and no progress. I spent the night at the hospital- no progress. My routine morning labs came back, and my platelets were like- zilch. My OB came in to explain to me that it would be a huge risk if I kept trying to deliver vaginally. I would absolutely not have the option of an epidural if at any point I decided I wanted one, and at any moment, I could bleed out, and it was highly likely that I would go in for an emergency cesarean in the process. I cried, and ultimately trusted my OB, who was NOT one to jump to a c-section. So, I went in, and got my daughter via c section. With the pregnancy being such a shock, and so uneventful (in a good way), then not experiencing a bit of labor, I was still very much in denial that I actually HAD a child now. I definitely did not enjoy the post-birth- I was sick from whatever they had given me, they threw Charlotte on me to nurse immediately, and then had to press my stomach and squeeze me like a tube of toothpaste to get everything out of my body. So it went, painful latch, screaming baby, vomit, squish stomach, and over and over.
6. What was the transition like when you went from being someone’s child to someone’s parent? How long did it take you to really get used to the idea?
Is it odd that I still don’t feel like a parent? Okay, that isn’t true… I feel like Charlotte’s parent, but I don’t feel like a “parent”. Those are old people, right? That’s what OUR parents are. I’ve done everything that I thought was best for my daughter. I want her to be happy and safe. I love how she loves me. But I still feel sort of like I’m faking it. I look at other moms, and feel like I’m just acting or something. I feel much more like a parent as Charlotte gets older. When she can really show us that she is growing and learning, we can see exactly how what we do as parents impacts her and changes her. As a baby, it’s just give, give, give… with very little returns. Now, every day there are the most amazing, hilarious, exciting pieces of evidence that we are parents.
7. What has given you the most joy as a mother? Describe it.
Watching Charlotte develop her own interests. She LOVES books. If we would allow it, I honestly think she would have us read to her 10 hours a day. She is in love with our local librarian. She also loves music. She listens to scores and identifies each instrumental sound. “That’s an oboe! That’s a tuba. That’s a violin. There’s a cymbal.” And she will narrate what would be happening if you were watching the movie. Her favorite movie and soundtrack is The Nightmare Before Christmas. So when listening to it, she’ll say “Jack is flying high in the sky! There he goes, but oh no! Zero! He’s falling!” She also loves Tutu School. I had no intention of putting my 2 year old in ballet. It was so… girly… and come on- she was 2. But we did a free trial class, and then she kept talking about it. For SIX months. She is laser focused in dance class. She just follows the teacher like she is a goddess. She loves moving gracefully on her tip-toes. It makes me so happy to be able to see these interests and passions of hers, and build on them.
8. What advice do you have for:
a) A woman in her 1st trimester
b) 2nd trimester
c) 3rd trimester
I think I’ll combine these, because I’m just not a great person to answer these. I really didn’t have any symptoms or problems with pregnancy. But I will say- relax. I had 5 weeks off work prior to having Charlotte, and if I had known what was coming, I would have taken advantage. Gone to a movie. Had more dates with my husband. You don’t need to get the nursery ready. You don’t need ANYTHING ready. Your baby won’t even sleep in their room for months. Rest.
d) Just gave birth
Be selfish. Ask for help. Your body has been through trauma, and now you have another being, drawing nutrition, energy, and sleep from you. I didn’t ask for help. I also didn’t have any help, and I was desperately in need of it.
e) 3 months, 6 months and 1 year postpartum (if you remember)
Try to celebrate any small victories, and appreciate how your baby is growing. Like, we get so wrapped up in the contact hustle, and how little sleep we are getting… but think back- and appreciate that it is better than it was 3 months ago. If things are horrible- they will not stay that way. Everything can change in a week. Your baby WILL sleep on their own eventually. I promise. And your nipples won’t bleed forever. I promise it will get better. Sometimes in those tough moments, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was always in pure panic and despair- like I would NEVER sleep again, or EVER have a second to myself again. And as I said- celebrate. If you make it 1 month breastfeeding, celebrate. When you get out and run errands for the first time- celebrate.
9. What is the most important thing you wish someone would have told you about being a new mom?
I know this is easier said than done, but I swear- comparison is toxic. Other people don’t have your baby. They don’t have your body. They don’t have your life. AND- they post happy moments on Facebook. People don’t post pictures of fights with their husbands on Facebook. Or take a selfie when they have to go outside and leave their baby safely in their crib while the go outside and take a breath. Please know that you are doing exactly what you should be, and you are enough.
10. Have you changed since becoming a mom? How?
Definitely. I was very type-A, OCD, and controlling. Oh how I loved being in control. Ha! Guess who will do anything they can to go against any schedule you have? A baby. I also took pride in being a strong, independent woman. I survived cancer 3 times. I graduated from college and paid for it on my own. I had a great career. Well, a baby came along and knocked me on my butt. I’ve learned that I chose an amazing partner to have a child with, and I can let him take over when I’m on empty. I was also sort of known to be a “robot”. I had no emotions. While I wouldn’t say I’ve gone soft- I definitely feel so much more empathy for others.
11. Emotionally, was there anything you were unprepared for going into motherhood?
Oh gosh- everything?! Let’s just not even get into the fact that I loved being in control and that was shot to hell. But- and I’m being very open here, as I have never really publicly talked about this- I had horrible postpartum depression and anxiety. The year after I had my daughter was the hardest year of my life. And I’ve had cancer. THREE times. PPD/PPA is a whole different kind of pain. It is this horrible conflicting, overwhelming demon that as a new mom, you just don’t expect. I still feel horrible guilt, and get choked up just writing this, and admitting that I didn’t have that joy that mothers are supposed to experience. I grieve for the fact that I didn’t get that. I went through all the motions. I stared at my baby, and would just say, “I love you SOOO much. You are so amazing.” And yet, I couldn’t feel anything but terror and sadness. Do you know how awful that makes you feel? My daughter pretty much screamed 10 hours a day for the first year of her life. My heart was racing all day. It was like I was in “fight or flight” mode all the time. And I felt like I was supposed to be able to fix it, but I couldn’t. So we spent a lot of our first year crying together. Luckily, I had one friend who dealt with PPD. If I hadn’t met her, I would have been clueless. Everything I thought about PPD was from news stories, which were actually postpartum psychosis. I never had a thought about hurting my child. I wanted her to stop crying. I wanted her to be happy. I never wanted anything bad- I just wanted it to stop, and I wanted to escape. But having a friend talk to me about it, let me put a face to PPD, and I could look at her and know that she wasn’t crazy. She was a great mom, and very “normal”. So it was like, I had permission to get help, and I started seeing a therapist. It was actually at Lauren (the owner of this page)’s bachelorette party, where I was 6 weeks postpartum and a HUGE party pooper/pile of tears, that another friend told me I should get help.
12. Physically, has your body changed? If yes, how so?
Yes, but not a lot. As I said, I gained 20 lbs. and when I left the hospital, I was back at pre-pregnancy weight. Within the first few weeks, I was 10 lbs. LESS than I was when I got pregnant. But again, that is because I had weight to lose, and I was depressed, not-eating, and breast-feeding. NOT healthy. I’ve now maintained that same weight, of 10 lbs. less than when I got pregnant, but done so with very balanced, healthy eating habits. However- my body- while the same weight as my wedding day- is definitely different. I look in the mirror and there is flab that was not droopy like it is now. But I carried a human. I nourished a human. I have work to do on my body, and my self-image, but I’m not beating myself up. I’m healthy, and my family is healthy. And I’ll never wear a bikini. :)
13. If I was giving birth tomorrow, what would you say to me?
Don’t have any expectations. The most you should hope for from a delivery is that you both come out healthy. And again- I can’t emphasize this enough- take care of yourself, be selfish, and ask for help.
14. In what way do you think you are great as a mother?
I’m always saying I have no idea what “being a good mother” means. My mom, or my husband will tell me I’m a good mother, and I’m like… because she’s alive? It’s really hard to measure this whole “motherhood” gig. I’d really like a performance review with measurable to tell me if I’m meeting expectations or exceeding them. Actually a year or so ago, my husband got a bonus at work, and the next day, gave me a manila envelope with a formal letter in it, along with a “cash bonus”. I totally cried. He gets a bonus for working his butt off, and he felt I should too.
Getting back to the question- when I see Charlotte be polite to others, that is huge. I feel proud of what we do to encourage those behaviors. When Charlotte participates in story time at the library, and responds when they ask questions, and is engaged, I feel like I’m doing something right. But as trivial as it may seem, I mostly feel like a good mom when I’m doing very domestic things, and giving her healthy food. She is a great eater, and I feel so good when she is eating zucchini and sashimi. :) On a more general note, I don’t think I’m a “great” mother, but I think I’m a great mother to Charlotte. She was SUCH a difficult baby. Very sensitive. And I think, as hard as it was for me, that we were matched up as mother and daughter because I “get” her.
15. What do you feel most proud of in life?
Oddly, it might be finding such a wonderful partner. My husband, in my opinion, is the most amazing person I know. He has such a wonderful family. And by marrying him, and having such respect for him, I feel pride in myself. Like, if someone as brilliant and cool as him, could fall for ME, I must’ve done something right. For now, I’m a stay at home mom, so it’s been hard to find validation that I used to gain from work. But I look at him, and know that this Duke graduate who works for Apple would not be with someone who he didn’t find to be smart. I may not be using my degree right now, but my education is invaluable for our daughter and our family. And this man who owns a tiny record label that only puts on albums on vinyl, wouldn’t be with a woman who wasn’t at least somewhat hip. We have the same sense of humor and adventure and I’m so proud that he wanted “all of this” with me.
16. If I asked you what the most amazing thing about you was, what would you say?
Ahhh… this is so hard! I even dodged that last question by talking about my husband! Why must you make me talk about myself…. Hrm. Okay. I guess I would say that I’m resilient and real. I’ve been dealt a LOT in my 35 years of life, and I’ve made it through as best I could. I think because of that, I’m a very real person. I don’t b.s. I say it like it is, and think that is really how we can get closer to each other, and learn from one another.
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