Children’s ages: 2
City: Chicago, IL
Occupation: Pre-baby: CNM, WHNP-BC, IBCLC Post-baby: Entrepreneur, Gravida
Instagram handle: @postpartum_midwife
1) Exploring identity change in motherhood.
What was the transition to motherhood like for you?
By the time my baby arrived, I hoped my years of training and professional work as a Midwife and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner would be enough to get me through the 4th trimester in one piece … and all that training did help me with some of the basics. But I soon found myself buried under an avalanche of "no one ever told me" moments, overwhelmed by the realities of postpartum life. There was so much that my medical texts didn’t cover, and even more that midwifery training didn’t prepare me for. Parenthood was way different than I thought it would be. So was my baby.
Books can be great, but at best they're informative, and at worst they create unrealistic expectations. Each mother is an individual, so even the most expert of authors can’t predict what your baby is going to be like, how quickly your body will bounce back, or how to engineer the perfect timeline for developing your rhythm as a parent. I still had to find my identity in this new role, adjust to my new body, and figure out how to get back to work. I needed support, time, and a whole lot of grace.
How did your identity change?
Around eight weeks postpartum, I found myself Googling, “do moms feel weird?” Google was the Magic 8 ball I used to answer something that felt unknowable to me. I knew I didn’t have a perinatal mood disorder, but I didn’t feel like myself, and I didn’t know what that meant. I only knew that sharing my brain and body with my daughter made it hard to remember other aspects of my identity. Was this normal? I had never heard any of my clients, family members, or friends talk about this.
During my Google search, I came across the term “matrescence.”
The definition of matrescence is this: “The process of becoming a mother, coined by Dana Raphael, Ph.D. (1973), is a developmental passage where a woman transitions through pre-conception, pregnancy, and birth, surrogacy or adoption, to the postnatal period and beyond. The exact length of matrescence is individual, recurs with each child, and may arguably last a lifetime! The scope of the changes encompass multiple domains --bio-psycho-social-political-spiritual-- and can be likened to the developmental push of adolescence. Increased attention to mothers has spurred new findings, from neuroscience to economics, and supports the rationale for a new field of study known as matrescence. Such an arena would allow the roundtable of specialists to come together and advance our understanding of this life passage.”
- Aurélie Athan, Ph.D.
I learned that moms go through puberty part 2! I was shocked that there was no one talking about this transformation or shouting it from the rooftop.
If I had known that matrescence was something I’d go through, it would have changed my entire outlook of my first year as a mother, as well as my expectations for myself, family and work!
Knowing I was going through a developmental, psychological, and neurological transformation gave me an overwhelming sense of peace, relief, and hope. What I was experiencing was normal, necessary, and life-transforming. I am still me, post-baby, but there are new layers, drives, and values that I didn't have before my daughter was born. There’s no way of telling before you meet your baby what those values will be or how they will impact your transition into motherhood. It’s the ultimate surprise!
Did your career change?
Before I had my daughter, I thought I’d continue to work full-time as a Certified Nurse Midwife at a large medical institution in Chicago. I loved my job but was overwhelmed with the schedule. We worked up to 90 hours on call, covering the delivery of our patients, while also covering triage for L&D and managing a busy clinic schedule. The schedule was so intense that after 48 hours on call, I started experiencing preterm contractions. I was placed on modified bed rest until 37 weeks. I realized that I don’t know how I’m going to make this schedule work with a baby at home or if I even wanted to. After the birth of my daughter, I decided I’d try to make work, work. I needed a set schedule with a cap on-call hours so that I could feel somewhat sane. I reached out to my director to ask about having a predictable schedule for the first 6-9 months of my daughter’s life when breastfeeding and pumping were full-time jobs to coordinate childcare. I was told no. When I couldn’t figure out childcare, I followed up again. I proposed several options that would work for the nanny we were going to hire and our schedule. Again, I was told no. They wouldn’t adjust our schedule. I was frustrated, disappointed, and torn. I attempted to go back to work, with three nannies in place to cover my schedule but had lost trust in my team. It hit me: if midwives don’t understand the demands on time and energy that many new moms experience, who would? I decided I wanted to find a way to support new parents and companies during the postpartum and return to work period and launched my company, Gravida. I realized that while my daughter is part of the reason I left my job, she isn’t The Reason. She made leaving my job that much more urgent and necessary because I didn’t love midwifery the way I thought I did. I realized that if I were going to spend time away from her, it needed to align with a bigger vision and purpose for my life and community.
2) Understanding that you can’t completely prepare.
What do you wish you knew that you learned the hard way?
In retrospect, I wish someone would have talked to me about the challenges of maternity leave and urged me to start planning for my 4th and 5th trimesters early in my pregnancy. I wish someone had told me that the average maternity leave is not long enough to get your footing as a new parent. Up until this point—even after 10 years of working with pregnant and postpartum women—the only thing I’d heard on a regular basis was, “It’s hard, but you just have to push through it.” I know now there is more going on. For so long, women have been told to not let family get in the way of work.
Don’t let anyone see you stumble.
Keep pumping private.
Don’t talk about your family.
You might feel like a walking mom meme. I know I did.
The pressure to keep it all together is not helpful when you’re slogging through your 5th trimester and unsure when to persevere and when to ask for help! I didn’t know how to talk to my boss or coworkers about my needs. Would I look weak or uncommitted if I was struggling to navigate my new life?
All of that stress and uncertainty inspired the formation of Gravida, a postpartum and return to work program. I realized that women needed more resources describing what they could expect in the months after they’d given birth, and more input on how normal it is to struggle with returning to work.
3) What about mama?
We’ve found that with all of the focus around the baby moms tend to put themselves last. This can be as true for finding a minute to take a shower or bathroom break as it is for being able to eat or prepare meals. If your breastfeeding this becomes even more critical as your nutrition becomes your babies. Did you struggle to eat well in the first few months post birth?
After having a very healthy pregnancy I experienced a complete breakdown of healthy eating habits postpartum. I craved ice cream, sugar, and caffeine. I knew this was a sign of fatigue and a need to replenish key nutrients, but even with this knowledge, I had a very hard time changing my behaviour. From the lack of time, preparation, and desire to change, I basically ate like a stereotypical teenage boy. I was starving all the time and too tired to prepare good meals. Around 6 months postpartum, I decided something needed to change. I switched to a plant-based diet, started prioritizing meals and got a bit savier with cooking one-handed while carrying a baby in the other. Looking back, I realize I had a hard time asking for help. I felt bad for “still needing help” at 6 months postpartum. I felt like I should have found my rhythm. If we have another baby, I know asking for help is necessary to healing quicker and strategizing meals for several months is crucial to saving time and renewing energy.
4) Feeding Baby (0-6 months)
Nothing seems to have created more judgement than the way we choose to feed our children. Breastfeeding is filled with benefits, but not always possible for a myriad of reasons, and that’s OK too. What do you learn from the feeding journey that you wish you knew going in?
Chest/Breastfeeding can’t be done alone. I repeat, chest/breastfeeding can’t be done alone. While chest/breastfeeding parents carry the burden (and joy) of feeding their baby from their body, it’s too much to expect them to feed the baby and carry on with life like they’re not an on-demand meal source for another human. When breastfeeding doesn’t work, it’s not anyone’s fault but societies. We don’t support breastfeeding parents to make it possible and beneficial mentally and physically.
Any final words of wisdom you’d like to share?
There’s a lot of stigma and shame surrounding what it means to be pregnant (workplace discrimination), to have an “ideal” birth (“Vaginal! No medication!”), and how to transition postpartum (“Get your body back!’). When I take a step back and look at everything the female body does to bring life into this world, it makes me angry to see and experience the amount of pressure, discrimination, and stigma that goes into something as marvelous as bringing another human into the world. While I’d love for society to catch up (the sooner the better), I’m not going to wait around for approval to live loudly and boldly what it means to be a creator of life and a working parent.