Children’s ages: 2 and 4 (both girls)
City: Chicago, Illinois
Occupation: Pre-baby: Food & Beverage Publicist // Post-baby: Freelance Publicist/Stay-at-home Mom
Instagram handle: @mckenziemroman
1) Exploring identity change in motherhood.
What was the transition to motherhood like for you?
I became a mother amongst a lot of changes… At 7 months pregnant my husband accepted an incredible career opportunity in Chicago (we met, married and were living in NYC), and so everything changed from what I had imagined my last months of pregnancy and first year of motherhood would be. My husband commuted back and forth during my last month of pregnancy and then 6 weeks post-baby we moved to Chicago in the dead of winter (December 28, 2016 to be exact). I had attended college in Chicago so it wasn’t unfamiliar but with a newborn and no mom friends I felt very alone. I did, however, have amazing support in my family (who helped us move), a baby nurse (who came to help while I unpacked our whole life while my husband settled into his new time consuming job) and my husband (who supported me emotionally and encouraged me to find mom friends).
How did your identity change?
Pre-baby I worked and lived always on the go. I worked out 4-5x a week, went out to eat 3-4x a week, spent most weekends traveling and rarely just hung out in my house. Post-baby, I had no energy to even think about working out, ate whatever was easiest to make and always hung out in my house. It was as if I was driving on the highway at 75mph and suddenly the speed limit dropped to 5mph.
Did your career change?
I took maternity leave from my PR agency in NYC with the goal of returning part-time working from Chicago. When I returned, I immediately thrust myself into the work I had missed and had a hard time not being able to give 110% like I always had. Working from home also proved challenging as before, if I had a quick question, I could just pop by my colleagues office to get an answer, but now, I had to schedule a call or wait for an email to answer my question. On my first day back I was asked if I could travel to Miami 9 days later for the Food & Wine Fest and realized… this is not going to be easy. I really wanted to prove to myself that I could be everything and so ended up going for less than 24 hours. It was great to get facetime with my colleagues and our clients, but I felt very guilty for leaving my daughter at home (in the care of my husband and nanny). I worked part time from home for 9 months and then decided it was best to figure out what I really wanted for myself professionally and personally… and that was to freelance, which I have been doing ever since.
How would you describe yourself pre baby? How do you describe yourself now?
Pre-baby: Type A, but definitely more relaxed and carefree. I was WAY MORE selfish, in that I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and had no real schedule for myself out of work. I could wake up whenever I wanted, go wherever I wanted, and only had to worry about myself, something I definitely miss sometimes.
Post-baby: Still Type A, but I have become a lot better at multitasking and juggling things than I thought I could. Plus I am always so tired. Thank god for coffee and the times I can work out.
2) Understanding that you can’t completely prepare.
What do you wish you knew that you learned the hard way?
That it is ok to admit and ask for help, in any way. I was so self-sufficient and independent pre-baby and I couldn’t be that way all the time post-baby. It was hard for me to ask others to help (even in the smallest ways like to move the clothes from the washer to dryer) because I felt like I needed to be everything and do everything.
Knowing what you know now, what would you change?
I would be more vocal in what I need or want. Not doing so resulted in me having big anxiety and stress induced blow-ups at those I love that did not need to happen.
3) Cherishing the memories.
What is your happiest memory?
My happiest memory with both of my children is when my oldest daughter met my youngest daughter in the hospital for the first time. She was just about to turn 2 and from the moment she saw her youngest sister, she fell in love. Seeing their friendship develop over the past 2 years has been wonderful. While having 2 children so close in age (23 months apart) has definitely been challenging, I am so excited to see them grow up together and be best friends.
What was most difficult for you?
Those first 3 months of my second daughter's life were rough. Pumping and feeding a baby while also trying to take care of my 2 year old who was still virtually dependent on me seemed impossible at times. I kept telling myself that this was temporary, to breathe, ask for help when needed and everything would be ok, but sometimes I just wanted to break down and cry.
4) Getting all the gear.
What would you definitely purchase?
Not purchase per se, but ALWAYS have a change of clothes for yourself in your diaper bag. We always think of the kids and what they need, but think about what you need if all hell breaks loose and you get thrown up on, pooped on, etc. I found a plain white Hanes t-shirt always came in handy in the worst possible situations.
What was a total waste?
Bottle sanitizers, wipe warmers, bottle warmers, cart covers. A friend asked me what happens when you don’t have those things and need to clean, change or feed them? You figure it out and they are just fine :)
What do you actually need?
Above mentioned t-shirt, but also white noise machines, black-out curtains, and a comfortable place for you and baby to relax and unwind like a couch or a glider (whether that is for bedtime stories, breastfeeding, middle of night cries, etc).
5) 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?
I am an emotional eater and those first few months my emotions were all out of whack. I was struggling with my new body, hard on myself that I hadn’t bounced back like I thought I should, and had a hard time finding the drive or energy to cook for myself when I just wanted to eat whatever was easiest and fastest.
What would have been helpful?
I found that in order to not go off the deep end or spiral when I didn't feel good with what I are, I had to be very meticulous about what I kept in the house and made sure not to purchase items that I knew I would want (ice cream, unhealthy snacks) in my darkest or hungriest moments. It wasn't until my 2nd child was born that I realized I needed help. So I worked with a friend that was a nutritionist to get me on a plan. I would sit down at the beginning of every week and meal plan, then grocery shop and finally prep all of my groceries (chop and store produce, pre-marinate meats, portion control foods) to have at the ready. In fact, I still do that today, 2 years after my second daughter was born.
6) 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?
Both of my daughters struggled/refused breastfeeding from my breasts so I pumped for 3 months with both. On my first night in the hospital with my first child my milk had not come in and my daughter was struggling so we gave her some formula and I was so hard on myself and felt so guilty. I will never forget the nurse said, it’s ok…just because she is taking formula now, doesn’t mean she won’t take breastmilk. She was right, the next day my milk came in and she was fed breast milk until she was 4 months old. Choose what is best for you and your family and when you are ready for solid food… have them try everything!
7) Discussing the tough topics.
2020 has been fraught with pain and conflict. The coronavirus pandemic has also peeled the lens back on other human struggles. Most notably the black lives matter movement. As parents we have the unique opportunity to collectively build a healthier generation. This is as much about the minds that we help form as it is about the bodies that we help build. Creating an anti-racist society starts at home. What are you doing in your home to help build a healthier future?
I am focusing on ways to educate and inform my kids now and in the future as they grow. I’ve made conscious efforts to discover and purchase from BIPOC businesses (restaurants, bookstores, clothing stores, etc), diversified our bookcase and showcase children and families in a variety of lifestyles and situations, am seeking out children's classes and activities that are not just in our neighborhood for when the pandemic allows for these activities, and getting more involved in my local community. I serve on the guild board of The Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago and volunteer weekly with Share Our Spare, a local non-profit organization dedicated to providing essential items (diapers, wipes, clothing, hygiene items, etc) to Chicago families. Even though I live in a big city, my children have little exposure to the world outside of their neighborhood and my goal is to have them discover and experience more about the great city of Chicago and people who live in it with them.
8) Snuggling in.
What are some favorite books and activities to do with your baby (0-12 months) and toddler (12-24 months?).
My daughters LOVE to read so we make sure to keep their bookcase low and accessible to them. Many days I will find my youngest in her room flipping through her favorite books. Our current favorites are The Pout Pout Fish, Spoon and Giraffes Can’t Dance. We also love to walk around the neighborhood and explore saying hi to everyone we see, touching every rock we find, and smelling every flower we pass.
What traditions are you creating and celebrating?
My 4 year old has become very independent and it’s been fun teaching her how to do things on her own. We created a bedtime routine poster (go potty, wash hands, brush teeth, put on her diaper or underwear, read a book or sing a song, and go to bed) for her to reference each night. She loves to tell us what's next and show us how she can do it herself. We look forward to doing it with our youngest when she is ready.
9) Creating Routines.
Routines can be a lifesaver in the early days, even if just for your own sanity. What worked for you? Did you try to keep to a schedule?
As mentioned I am very type A which has come in handy with trying to keep the kids on a schedule. I am rigid with certain things (naptime, bedtime) but fluid with others. In the first year of both of my daughters' lives I kept a written record of their feeding, sleep and bowel movements so I could make sure they were getting enough or doing everything they needed. Everyone outside of our house probably thought I was nuts but it was very helpful to have as a reference.
10) Sleep glorious sleep.
Sleep deprivation is real! Because it’s not challenging enough to learn to look after a tiny human. How did you make it through with getting your baby to sleep as well as yourself?
I was very lucky to have night nurses with both of my daughters for the first 6 weeks of their lives so that was a big help in the beginning. Once they left, I continued their schedule and would nap or sleep when my first child did and then when the second child came, I would go to bed soon after both girls were down to sleep. I am still tired :)
Any final words of wisdom you’d like to share?
Go easy on yourself. Motherhood is a lot and it doesn’t have to be perfect. I had a LOT of opinions before baby and realized after baby that everyone is just doing what they can or need to keep their babies safe, happy and healthy. Also, find yourself mom friends. Your friendships change after you have a baby and that is ok. Your relationship with friends that don’t have children will be different and that is ok. Your relationships with friends that had children before you did will be different and that is ok. Find some friends that have a child the same age you do so you can work through and share in the experience together. I met my closest friends at a new moms group and at a baby music class. Our kids are best friends and have grown up together and we all had our second children around the same time so now we have another set of kids growing up together. I simply could not do this without them. Our friendships… filled with late night text chains, playdates at each other's houses, and walks around the neighborhood… were and continue to be so special to me.