No Postpartum Diagnosis? You STILL Have a Voice!

No Postpartum Diagnosis? You STILL Have a Voice!

The circle of women surrounding me had some pretty heavy stories circulating about their postpartum experiences. I had been attending a breastfeeding support group where throughout the hour we could share any stories or ask any questions about breastfeeding, or anything else that we needed to let out as a new mom. The more visits I had, and the more comfortable I became, there were some questions I had inside of me. Not necessarily about breastfeeding, although that was sucking big time. More like how hard this adjustment to motherhood was for me.

I knew I had a hard time adjusting to change. Moving was hard and I felt myself always sad about letting go of a home, graduating college was very challenging for me and I was very depressed about letting go and fearful of the future, and leaving the city for the suburbs took me five years to get used to. So it didn’t surprise me that the biggest change in my life, becoming a mother, was extremely difficult. I look to the past a lot, which I believe was the main contributor to my postpartum depression.

Now let me say one thing first, I was never diagnosed with postpartum depression nor am I a doctor myself. But I’m finally honest with myself that I definitely had it. But it was different than other moms’ stories. I was functioning, eating, and I even went back to school with goals to be a health coach. I’d listen to other’s stories at my breastfeeding support group (breastfeeding was a main source of my depression) and there were some pretty heavy stories. Mine didn’t seem to compare to theirs. Who was I to complain about having a really hard time adjusting to my new role, letting go of my career, resentment towards my husband, loneliness, boredom, sadness, regret, and a slew of other emotions that may just be me adjusting to being a mom. I’ve never been good with change, so maybe this is just another situation that I have to deal with on my own and it will eventually get better?

I would keep my mouth shut and just talk about my boobs and ask questions about breastfeeding. I was passing the postpartum depression tests at my pediatrician’s office so I thought I was making a big deal out of something that really wasn’t. I didn’t have the “Postpartum Depression”, “Postpartum Anxiety”, “Postpartum OCD”, or “Postpartum Psychosis” stamps so I didn’t feel what I was going through was worth bringing up. But I was so wrong.

Even if you don’t have a formal diagnosis, or if a doctor brushes you off as “fine” because you don’t exhibit enough symptoms (note: just because you’re showing up for work doesn’t mean you’re functioning and mentally healthy while you’re there), you still have a REASON to talk about your feelings. Your feelings are valid, true, and need to be acknowledged. And even if you’re still not diagnosed after talking about your feelings, you’re still having a HARD time adjusting to motherhood and deserve to heal like anyone else. If you don’t acknowledge, talk, and work through what you’re going through… you could be like me where it took a good four years to enjoy being a mom. Don’t wait. Find the courage and know what you’re going through isn’t how motherhood has to be. Break through the bricks to find the help and solutions in order to find happiness and enjoy the mother you’re meant to be.

Love,

Michelle Mansfield Blog

Friendship Struggles with Motherhood

Friendship Struggles with Motherhood

As early as preschool, our first “tribe” surrounds us. The walls of the classroom create our first version of relationships, which usually include hitting, pinching, screaming, constant runny noses, pink eye, hand-foot-and-mouth and the rest of the daycare STDs. The next stage is Kindergarten where we pretty much start over and like preschool, the walls of the school keep you conveniently connected. Each year you take the chance of not being in the same classroom as your “best friend” but chances are if you’re not, a recess or play date can keep things going. On to middle school, friendships become stronger but so do the cliques and divisions. Friends you once cherished throughout elementary school may now be “nerds”, “the in crowd”, “weird”, “quiet”, and a handful of other labels kids create to alienate. In high school, it’s about the same but your circle widens and depends who your boyfriend hangs with, if you are on the volleyball team, cheerleading, or perhaps the theater. If you venture off to college, you leave some of the closest friends you’ll ever have. Hopefully the connection is strong enough to where you’ll all visit one another and spend plenty of time on breaks catching up. At college, your dorm surrounds you with potential friends right outside your door. If you’re lucky, you may even like your roommate and add a friend adjusting just like you are, even if only for that year. You decide to rush a sorority. There’s yet another opportunity to be surrounded by a mountain of girlfriends, parties, charity events, meals, formal events, study groups, sitcom or reality show dates, and simply having someone down the hall to talk to at all times. When those years of college are over, and you head out to that big bright world, that’s when friendships stand another test of survival. Marriage, moving and new journeys ignite a bit of distance but then the big dog hits.

Motherhood.

How have your friendships changed since you’ve become a mother? I’d love to hear from you. It’s been one of my biggest struggles as a mother and I love when we can all connect and give one another a big hug.

Hugs to you,

Michelle Mansfield Blog

Avoiding the Shame With Postpartum Medication

Avoiding the Shame With Postpartum Medication

When I was a new mom, I never knew that there was medication that could possibly help me with the feelings I was having as a new mom.  My feelings may not have qualified for a formal diagnosis, I’ll never know, but I will be honest in admitting that it would have been nice to take the edge off where I could be a bit more clear-headed to figure out what I truly needed to get stronger.  I found an interesting article that talks about a new medication which is directly infused into the body.  It takes 48-hours for the effects to settle in which is even more intriguing. The cost is high but it may just be the thing for more immediate relief and help that new moms may be desperate for.  Most medications take up to 2 weeks to settle in, and some may not want or be able to wait that long.

Here is the May 2019 article from the New York Times talking about this new drug and the FDA approval that prompted the writing: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/19/health/postpartum-depression-drug.html

The stigma with simply taking a medication is still one of shame. With mental health, we are made to feel that it is a weakness if our brains aren’t working to their capacity. I mean, I have felt this way for years.  I should be able to figure out my shit, or I’m weak if I haven’t found my happiness or strength to conquer the world.  The personal development books that I’ve read for years has had me in a place where I should have the road maps to what makes me the best person I can be and damn happy to be there.  The circle I was surrounding myself was a health-conscious one where it seemed you could figure out anything in life with an essential oil or natural supplement.  Eat nourishing foods, avoid toxins, exercise, manage your stress and you should be able to be in control of the amazing body you are in charge of.

Not to mention the world of Scientology and the ridiculous beliefs about psychiatry and medications. Fuck Tom Cruise and his ignorant religion that shames anyone for including medication as part of their mental well-being.  Again, that pressure that WE can control our wellness simply with diet, exercise and proper vitamins.  The stench of fear is all over this way of teaching and preaching.  It’s also not solely on the Church of Scientology’s shoulders either.

When I was more on the “crunchy” side and surrounding myself with all things natural, I definitely felt more control with my health.  As a Health Coach, I motivated women to cook more, eat more whole foods, avoid toxins in products and foods, exercise more, sleep better, manage their stress more, with the umbrella of them being in charge of their health & happiness.  Yes, much of this is a wonderful way to live but it’s not the only way to get to where you want to be.  When I was in the first year of motherhood, the heavy thick period, I was eating well, I started to exercise more, I took supplements, and was paying attention to what I was putting in and on my body.  Now sleep and stress, that was another ballgame. I just couldn’t get the sleep I needed, nor did I sleep when she slept, so that sleep deprivation was a MASSIVE factor in my mental state.  There was also a lot of stress, and I was holding it ALL in.  I also believe that some of my unwanted feelings were brought on by my susceptibility to depression.  My family has a history of it, I know even before motherhood I’ve had some spurts of it (especially when I was going through a BIG change), and there is a chemical challenge here that goes beyond food, drink, sleep and meditation.

We as mothers (or people in general) need to stop pretending we can handle it all and do it all.  To stop putting the pressure on ourselves to figure it out by ourselves or feel ashamed that we may not have the answer.  The mother I am today would have told the mother of my past to at least talk to someone professional and CONSIDER something to take the edge off while she figured out her path to getting help.  I would tell her to also be patient and open that she may have to take something even longer until things felt more manageable.  Why do we pride ourselves on nourishing ourselves with food, expensive supplements, and movement to get the endorphins flowing and we don’t pride ourselves in putting something inside our body that will possibly get our minds out of the dark hole it’s in?  Why not be excited and shout from the mountain tops that we were brave and found something that makes us feel BETTER and helps us enjoy motherhood while we get through all this crap?

What are your hidden feelings on medication to help you through not only motherhood, but other challenging times in your life?  I’d love to hear your story and thoughts.

Sincerely,

Michelle Mansfield Blog

So What DO You Do All Day?

So What DO You Do All Day?

From the ripe ol’ age of 15 I was slapped with a worker’s permit, along with a uniform and union wage at the end of a check out line at our local grocery store bagging groceries. The moment I could work, I was put to work. This actually started earlier than 15 with the chores and creative punishments that never involved grounding but instead, any type of housework or outdoor work my parents didn’t want to do. Like filling up an entire bucket full of crab apples or a garbage bag full of weeds. To this day I loathe pulling weeds.

My work ethic was the cream of the crop, which I’m sure most employers these days would pray to anything sacred to meet at least ONE applicant with the same values. You can’t find it nowadays and I am damn proud of it. Honestly I don’t know where I got it from but I’m sure my mom had something to do with it as her work ethic has always been above the norm. And as a serial people-pleaser, I have to honor that it’s also in my blood to not disappoint or fall through on a promise or performance. So a little bit of nature and a dash of nurture created the work horse inside me. I showed up, only called in sick if I was vomiting, worked hard while I was clocked in, and was proud to earn my own money and use it for what I wanted. My parents obviously financially supported me but starting at age 15 the luxuries of life were addressed with a, “If you want to buy that, you have to use your own money” mentality. Basically, food, shelter, and clothing were on them. “Going out” money or a concert that I wanted to attend was strictly on me.

This continued through my college years as I continued my job selling men’s shoes when I was home on break, and eventually getting a job cocktail waitressing on campus, then moving up to bartending. I also worked at a tanning salon on campus for even more money in the bank, along with some free tans, which went a long way. I remember my mom visiting me at school and as she entered my apartment, from the doorway to me standing in my living room she told me I looked “dirty” from the excess tanning I was doing. The overuse of Crest White Strips didn’t help my case. Do you remember 2 tanning and teeth whitening episodes of “Friends”, both involving Ross? One had Ross being spray tanned way too much and in all the wrong ways, and then the other episode had his overly bleached teeth glowing due to his date’s black light.

When I met my husband, he was doing very well financially and before we were even engaged, I remember sitting on his bed as he told me, “You’ll never have to worry about working again.” Immediately I became defensive and protective, as if I was being threatened in some way. First of all, who said working made me “worry”? Second, who said I needed to be taken care of or rescued from something that I actually enjoyed and felt great pride in? Don’t take that away from me as if it’s nothing. I don’t know exactly how I responded, but I know it was along the lines of,

“What do you mean ‘You’ll never have to worry about working again’? You don’t expect me to STAY HOME do you? What the hell would I do all day? What about the career I’ve built? I don’t need ANYONE taking care of me!”

I’m sure I barked at him and got out my guns and started blazing. There was a lot going on in my head when he said this and those feelings had me shrinking back down to the level of a helpless child. For one, his ex-wife was a stay-at-home-mom and for anyone early in a relationship with an ex-wife, the last thing you want to be is what his ex-wife is. You actually want to be the exact opposite. Why would he want to marry the same thing he just left and how could I allow myself to be anything like her? Wouldn’t he want something completely different?

I then had feelings of dependency come over, which terrified me. My mother was a stay-at-home mom up until my parents got divorced when I was a junior in high school. During that time, and in looking back, I am so proud of her for choosing what was right for her and her family. I never felt an energy that she wasn’t happy with being at home with us and leaving the work force. However, my father was an alcoholic (and an addict in many forms and since has passed away) and when I hit middle school, things became very unreliable with him and his career. He was a very successful attorney in Chicago with such an amazing background, education, and potential, but his addiction took over every single part of his life. Eventually including his job security. I only know some details now as an adult, but when I was in middle school and high school, most of the time I knew when he lost a job. I stress “most of the time” as my mother recently told me of a time span of a few YEARS where he didn’t have a job and took the train to the city every day with a suit on to “interview” or pretend he found work. These breaks from his firms were usually followed by grocery store trips to Aldi where we reminded ourselves to bring the quarter to insert into the grocery cart, felt ashamed of all the “non-brand” items we were about to buy, forced to pay in cash, and feeling so out of place with this simple errand to get food in our home. To this day, no matter how many moms tell me how amazing Aldi is (and I’m sure it is!), back then the stores had a different target market and there was a certain stigma attached to shopping there along with too many memories of shame for me to step back into.

When my parents split when I was in high school, my mom had to go back to work. My mom hadn’t finished college, and had been a paralegal when she met my dad. 2 years later, she became pregnant and then a stay-at-home-mom with me and then 2 ½ later with my twin brothers. Being out of the work force for 17 years, with 3 kids, and unpredictable financial support from my dad had to have been terrifying for her. She had no choice, my father was jobless and there was no money left due to the years of him “interviewing” and wiping out their savings and his IRA. I remember the jobs my mom had after the divorce, a couple were for a short time but she eventually ended up at a wonderful company for a very long time where she only left because of her battle with cancer. She recently told me how much she was making when she initially started working, then top it off with the stress she had with my father, plus raising 3 kids in high school entirely on her own. It makes my own fears of finances seem so minuscule compared to what she had to work with. During this time, I remember constantly walking on eggshells and not knowing what I was walking home to or what mood she’d be in. At the time, I clearly had zero clue what she was going through nor was she comfortable being 100% honest with how shitty her life was, what was really going on with my dad, and how every day was a gamble. As an adult and hearing her tell me some stories, I cannot imagine how I would act and react as a mother with all that stress and pressure.

My senior year of high school was a rough one for my mother and I. There is a school photo I still have of us where she came straight from work to meet me in my cheerleading uniform for parent photos. The smiles are not real and only I can tell as I remember the massive fight my mother and I had seconds before the photo. I don’t remember what the fight was about; it was never about anything super important and usually just induced by stress on both our ends. I knew that night that I wanted to get the hell out of my house, and my town and off to college. I will bet my life savings that she felt the same way along with the added pressures on her plate to raise 2 other boys and deal with my dad’s continued chaos. She needed a breather and some type of release that came in the form of me going away for college. I counted the days until I left and even though the good-bye was really hard, I also was thankful for space and breathing room that we both needed.

Walking onto campus, I knew I was 90% on my own both emotionally and financially. Many friends I had met in college didn’t have to work at all; their parents just wanted them to focus on studying. For me, not so much. I worked endless hours in the summer and on breaks to simply survive and have money in the bank until I returned home for the next break. My sophomore year I got an on-campus job at a bar and a tanning salon, which helped me on my track to pay my rent, other expenses and to actually have a social life. School loans loomed over me for when I graduated where I knew that would take me a couple decades to pay off on my own. I never seemed to complain though, it was so refreshing to be in control of my finances and not have to live in fear that I’d be living off ramen noodles for a month. Which, happened from time to time. I didn’t have to ask my parents for money unless I was completely desperate. Which of course happened from time to time. I learned the hard way that if I needed more money, I asked for more shifts. When everyone was going to Cancun for Spring Break and their parents paid for it, I was working extra shifts at the bar to save for the down payment and then for the trip itself. When I wanted to study abroad in Spain, it seemed like all I did was work and save for the time I was there. Did I bust open a credit card at times and get into debt? Sure, but I eventually paid it off with my own money. My deal, my game, my rules and most importantly: my control.

So back to my husband and the “You never have to work again” reassurance. In no way was I feeling like he was there to control me or hold anything over me. When he said that to me, the feelings I had worked hard to push under the rug felt comfortable to sneak out and take over. My mind went straight to my mother and how after 20 years of marriage, and 3 children, she was now alone and had to figure out how to survive. She didn’t have parents that said, “We’ll take you in honey, don’t worry” but more like “You stepped in this shit, figure out how to get it off your shoe and don’t expect to come crying home”. She couldn’t rely on child support or alimony; my father could barely hold a job. Insurance, car payments, food, mortgage, clothes, sports, bills and school expenses were all on her. She wasn’t making 6-figures, barely in the 5’s. It was all about survival. Being terrified and alone. Not being able to trust what the next day would bring. All of this terrifies me as well. I constantly think, “What if my husband has a heart attack at work and dies?” “What if he finds someone else and tells me he’s leaving me?” and I imagine what my life would be like with my daughter. Where I would live, what job I would go back to that I would hate, how much I would have to figure out and react to. I’m constantly trying to prepare myself for the “what ifs” if something happens where I’m alone and stranded just like my mother was.

So I have learned to be prepared as much as I can but all these feelings have led to the fears and insecurities I have as a stay-at-home-mother. From the day I found out I was pregnant, I realized I couldn’t go back to the career I had. I was up at 4:30am, off to the train by 5:50am, and back at home by 7:30pm unless I had a client dinner or event where I’d be home by 10 or 11pm. So, basically I’d never see my daughter other than weekends. Plus the job I was currently at didn’t have work-from-home opportunities or any flexible work schedule for moms. I couldn’t even access my email remotely and it was 2013, what planet were they on? So it was either go back and never see her until the weekend- or quit. I didn’t find any middle-ground nor wanted to start job searching and interviewing as my vagina was still on fire, I barely had the energy to wash my armpits with a baby wipe, and my boobs were on duty 24-7.

I decided to stay at home and go back to school to become a Health Coach. I started my education online while I commuted and finished after she was born. I became passionate about health after hiring my own Health Coach when I was trying to conceive, so why not make it a career and have the flexibility that everyone was talking about? Be your own boss! Set your own hours! Make 6-figures! Sounds fabulous and effortless to me! But you see, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it were that easy, then everyone would be doing it. Through these 6 ½ years of entrepreneurship, I now know that creating and running your own business is ANYTHING but easy, luxurious, or quick. If anything, it’s MORE time consuming and connected to your heart. You’re constantly ON and in order to be successful, it’s not a 9-2pm, Monday through Friday kind of job. I found myself exhausted mentally, frustrated I wasn’t this glamorous and successful Health Coach I’d see on social media, along with that fashionable mom on Instagram who makes her own hours and still finds time to be an amazing mother.

Why do we feel we need one side or the other? You’re either a stay-at-home-mom or working full-time? And both are exhausting both physically and mentally in their own unique ways. There is guilt attached to both and we can’t seem to “win” with our audience when it comes to our choice. You stay home, it’s “Oh but you went to school for X career, don’t you feel you should go back to it?” Then when you go back to work, it’s usually too soon by someone else’s standards and you receive comments like “Don’t you think you should be home more with the kids?” or under-the-breath comments wondering if you miss them and all they doing. Like we all don’t have enough guilt on our plate, we don’t need it smothered by outside commentary. We put enough pressure on ourselves with our OWN voices and pressures.

It’s crazy because I have desired the time I spend with my daughter, but also needed something special for myself. 6 ½ years later, I’m literally just starting to be honest about what I want for this perfect “career” I’m searching for. One huge problem I’ve overcome is I had never honored the season I was in with motherhood, and what fit with my life and what was already fueling it. There are so many “influencers” around me that I’ve unfortunately paid way too much attention to, versus creating my own story that works for my family and me. I may not be making 6-figures, climbing the corporate ladder, and I may regret leaving the industry I worked so hard to be successful in. Eh, it won’t be my only regret in life so what’s one more added to the list? I’m starting to truly pay attention to what fills me up and what ignites the passions inside of me, along with the time I spend with my family. I vow to always be prepared for the “what ifs” that hopefully will never happen and am thankful to the career and experiences I’ve had that will allow me to be secure and provide for myself and my daughter. I want to be real, true, and honest to what makes me happy and fuels the mother and woman I am meant to be. Not what I feel I should be.

What is your experience with going back to work, not, or the in-between you found?  I’d love to hear how you worked through it all and if there are still any challenges you may have on your plate.

Sincerely,

Michelle Mansfield Blog

The Identity Beyond Motherhood

The Identity Beyond Motherhood

Adjectives are thrown at us from the moment we arrive on this earth. Even as an infant, you may be labeled as “strong-willed”, “easy”, “challenging”, “happy”, or “man, she’s got a temper on her!” Many joke and find ways to make this baby appear to be as real of a person as possible in between the eating, pooping, sleeping and crying. 4 things that aren’t the best verbs to describe what this tiny little being really is during that time period. What’s interesting is now that Brooklyn is (insert her age) she’s at an age where her personality, interests and passions are starting to shine. However, I still struggle with labeling her anything right now, or ever. She’s a work in progress, just like her mother, and things change every time I turn my head. Today she likes to play the piano in the basement for 20 minutes, maybe a messy science project is being worked on at her “safe table”, or she wants to try the new theater class at the park district. Tomorrow she will probably ignore the piano, play “Baby Baby” with her Not an American Girl Doll (yes, I’m one of THOSE moms), or tell me “ACTUALLY Mama, I don’t want to do that theater class.” I’m a mom sitting in a Dunk Me Tank at a school fun fair with curveballs thrown at me every 5 seconds as I duck and pray the bull’s-eye doesn’t get hit by accident.

I hesitate to do anything that closes my daughter off from where she may land in the future as well as push her to do anything she may feel she is supposed to do. I never want her to question a new road, challenge, career, interest or passion to a point where fear takes over and she stops. My hope is she grows and adapts with confidence into the woman she’s truly destined to become. That change is met with excitement for the new challenges in front of her.

Growing up, I don’t remember being labeled anything by my parents and honestly felt supported in any path I took. I was involved in sports but was never referred to as “athletic”. I was a cheerleader but wasn’t stereotyped as one (if anything, the opposite). I tried out for plays but wasn’t in the theater crowd. I got involved in Spanish Club, dabbled in speech, had good grades and pretty much wanted a taste of everything. I would say the words that people identified me with were in a special section of my yearbook my senior year where the class would vote for certain categories like “Best Looking”, “Best Athlete”, and “Most Likely to Succeed.” Well, I wasn’t any of those but I did get categorized in the “Life of the Party” and “Best Sense of Humor” awards. The photo had me posing next to my friends holding a beer bong attached to an empty keg (I believe someone brought in a real bong as well), my signature tongue sticking out, and to top it off a “surf’s up” hand gesture that I assume was attempting to scream “PARTY!” I was proud of both “awards” and that I was fun to be around with a pretty rocking sense of humor.

Let’s just say I had ZERO problems living up to my high school awards in college, perhaps too much. I still love talking about the times I had and stories that make people’s eyes open as big as quarters. My father-in-law pokes fun at my partying ways as I gently nurse the one drink I’ll have that night. I think he secretly wants to hear some dirt on his daughter-in-law and loves to get in a few laughs. The stories also make me a real live human being. My humor is threaded throughout my years in college and to this day, even at my sorority reunion, we all laugh at stories as I continue to tell new ones in the unique way that I do. I remember my father telling me at graduation,

“Well, you may not have been magna cum laude,

but you did have an awesome time in college.”

At the time he said that I thought, “Gee, thanks Dad” as my brothers both graduated with honors in Engineering, along with Masters degrees and then some. Within time, though, I grew to really appreciate and be proud of what he told me. I wasn’t using my degree for anything but damn I had some amazing experiences, fabulous friends, and a damn good time in college. To this day, old college friends tell me how much fun it was and how I made them feel. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Along with my personality and drinking habits, I somehow managed to have a killer work ethic from the moment I started to work at 15 years old. Bagging groceries at the local grocery store wasn’t glamorous by any means, but the options for a 15 year old were naturally limited. I worked there throughout high school, was promoted to checker, and my senior year I eventually outgrew that job as I headed to a local shoe store where some of my friends worked. That job carried into college and filled up my checking account when I’d be home during the summer and breaks. I didn’t have the luxury of parents filling that account so I could focus on school. I had to do both. I strapped on an apron in college and began cocktail waitressing at a popular sports bar with the end result of bartending. Walking into the tanning salon I frequented at college, I asked if they needed help so I could earn extra money and free tans as a bonus. With all these jobs I showed up, worked my ass off, barely ever asked for days off, took other people’s shifts, and was never fired.

When I started working after college, the strong work ethic I had throughout high school and college traveled through into adulthood. With each job I had, annual reviews were stellar, goals were always met (and then some), and I always got a raise. I knew my value and where I wanted to go next. During my hospitality career, which was my true career and passion, I had to write quarterly goals and how I was going to measure their success. If anyone out there knows about SMART goals, you feel my pain. They were presented to my boss and we went through them together to create a plan for that quarter. The handshake and “I know you can do this” was given as I left my boss’s office.

I thought I was going to be in this career until the day I retired. It was never in the cards to be at home with my daughter. I had no idea what was truly in store with how my life would change once I had her. How much I craved the reviews, the goals, the accountability, the support and promotions. The job of “Mom” was null and void of any of these things and I didn’t realize at the time how badly I craved them to feel important and needed.

Another identity definer was where I lived. I know it sounds crazy, but living in the city was a huge part of my identity. I mean, I even blogged about it as therapy when I moved to the suburbs after getting engaged to my husband (“Downtown Julie Brown to Suburban Mom” was my blog!). Granted, I wasn’t kicking and screaming when I moved to live with my fiancé, now husband, but I definitely shed a lot of tears as I packed my apartment and closed the door to the chapter. I felt like I was in a final episode of a long-running television series where the last moments of the episode had the character gently placing the keys to her apartment on the fireplace mantel and then shutting the door as she said goodbye. Being a city gal was a BIG identity definer to me. For me, it meant a person was “hip”, “in the know”, “exciting”, “well-rounded”, “stylish”, “modern”, “cultured”, and if you were a mom, you were all those adjectives along with the word “mom” behind it. I was proud to tell people where I lived and that I was doing it all on my own with my career. It didn’t help that I had a slew of friends around me reinforcing the same ideas of what it meant to live in the city as a mom,

“Oh I’ll NEVER move to the suburbs, KILL ME if I ever do!”

“I’m definitely raising my kids in the city, I’m not sheltering them in suburbia.”

“The suburbs are so BORING, and look what happens to you when you move there!”

“There’s no culture in the suburbs.”

“There’s no diversity in the suburbs.”

The first night when I moved into my husband’s cookie-cutter, beige, suburban town-home was definitely a hard one. I stood in the kitchen surrounded by boxes when my childhood friend and her husband stopped by with a “Welcome to the Suburbs!” gift and a big hug. They knew a lot was changing for me. They were the ones that set me up with my husband, I had resisted because of where he lived, so I think they felt some sort of responsibility (I joke about this but I’m sure they felt they had to come check in on me and see if I was convulsing or itching). I was living in the exact place that I proclaimed I’d NEVER live in- and I stress the word EVER. I lived within rows of town-homes, each looked the same as the next, there was a cornfield close by, a water tower, some power lines, and a Home Depot within spitting distance. The icing on the cake was that everywhere I turned every female I encountered was a mom. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I was definitely not in the mom-zone yet. I was barely ripping off the Band-Aid to suburbia.

5 years after the move, I was finally adjusting to living in the suburbs. Yes, you read that correctly. FIVE YEARS. What happened? I had a baby. Until I had Brooklyn, I was in deep with my career, still commuting to the city, and really wasn’t interested in making new friends. Especially ones that weren’t in my world, and I wasn’t in theirs either. I had my college and high school friends that I was still hanging around with, so I was set. Within my career, I was jet setting around the country, making my goals, making good money, entertaining clients, and enjoying a lot of freedom I didn’t realize I had. Even though my stepchildren were in our lives a lot, they were at an age where they were playing with friends and didn’t really want to hang with Dad and their stepmom. To a certain degree, they were pretty easy and low-maintenance. Plus, both my husband and his ex had both been very active with their kids and have a great relationship. So I was more of a friend blazing through here and there than an active parent.

When I had Brooklyn that winter, it was an instant 180. No person, no doctor, no class and no book will prepare you for when that baby is in your arms. Especially when you walk out of that hospital, into your home, and you’re faced with reality. Alone. I thought I would be able to handle being a working mom, and had always planned on “making it work”. Within the first week of having Brooklyn home, I knew my life before entering that hospital was impossible for me to handle as a new mother. My career didn’t have a work-from-home option. I was commuting 2 hours each way (yes, 4 hours a day) where I was leaving my house at 5:45am and then arriving home by 7:30pm. If I had a client dinner, I was home at 10pm the earliest. Then on top of it, there was the travel. So basically I knew if I stayed with this job, that I would never see Brooklyn other than being up all night with her and weekends. And that broad was up ALLLLLLLLL fucking night. How much you ask? Every hour-and-a-half if I was lucky. I remember walking around my dark home with her screaming and as I looked out of one of our bedroom windows at the insane snowstorm blowing around thinking, “How the fuck am I going to make this all work?!” Other thoughts that crept in included, “What am I going to do?”, “What will I say to my boss?”, “What about my insurance?”, “Will we be OK financially?”, “What if I am not working for long enough where I can never return to this industry?” Those thoughts traveled through my brain in a matter of 30 seconds as I looked out the window, tears welled up in my eyes and the blizzard of snow in front of me got stronger.

I felt I had no choice

What I told myself that I would NEVER be was exactly what I was becoming. I was turning into a stay-at-home suburban mom out in the middle of a cornfield with a Home Depot on the other side. That sounds terrible to actually write out loud but for years I had assumptions and internal stereotypes of the SAHM in suburbia. If you ever get the chance to read my “Downtown Julie Brown to Suburban Mom” blog you will smell the fear from your computer screen. As I was facing huge change and reality, I remembered those talks with my friends over endless drinks and cigarettes exclaiming “I’ll NEVER move to the suburbs!” or “I can’t IMAGINE not working!” or “I’ll NEVER lose myself in motherhood!” We were a bunch of 20-30 something girls with ZERO children and all the answers. The pressures and restrictions we were already putting on ourselves, the suffocating identity that didn’t allow breath or movement. The exclamations that didn’t have to be our truths.

The word “NEVER” is a dangerous word for anyone, especially a mother. I’m learning to never say “never”… well, except in this sentence. The word “NEVER” led to my identity crisis I had, which definitely contributed to my unwanted feelings after having Brooklyn. This word, “NEVER”, created some pretty high expectations & plans that I had in my brain even before I met my husband. Brooklyn just happened to be the reality that put a wrench in all of those “NEVERS”, but it can happen in so many other ways in a mom’s life. It travels all the way into how you raise your kids- the word “NEVER” can create that unrealistic perfection and judgment where the majority of the time you will find yourself eating your words.

Learning how to be open to the possibilities of life, new experiences, new friends, passions, and creative outlets can make you realize your identity is far beyond your career, where you live, how you dress, how much you party, how often you travel, what you do for fun or the mother you are. There’s an actual person inside with other things that fuel your soul & personality. Maybe some pretty amazing things that have been hiding behind your career, the lifestyle you had, or the person you wish you could be, but something else is pulling you another direction. It’s OK to switch gears for a bit, I’ve learned that nothing is permanent. Maybe it’s just not the time to be working full-time, maybe it is. Perhaps you can’t go to Mexico for a week on a whim but someday you’ll be able to but may not want to. Or the freedom that you took for granted may be lessened during this time but someday you’ll be able to have it again, and hopefully appreciate it more.

All of the above can be overwhelming to think about at this exact moment while you’re in the mucky trenches of motherhood. Trust me, I wasn’t having any of those thoughts but I so wish someone had told me them. I wish someone had told me that I was beyond my job and that I could feel important by looking inside of myself, and not rely on reviews or promotions given by others. I wish that I wasn’t so judgmental and close-minded to geography, and that I could make any place happy and fulfilling with the family I had and the satisfaction I needed to build to make it my home. I wish that I could have seen that my humor and fun spirit was still in my heart and soul, it was just being muffled by the urgencies of motherhood that made me too fucking exhausted to be fun. I would have loved to know how important it was for me to dig deep for other passions and interests that hadn’t been unleashed yet. It would have been wonderful to have the books, podcasts, groups, friends and community to share all the ways they traveled beyond motherhood. I wish a friend had told me how it was OK to find what made ME happy versus always on call for my baby’s needs. To just tell the guilt to go away for once so I can connect to who I am beyond the “exhausted mom” that so many label me as.

Why do all of this on your own when there are so many that can help you with your new road & purpose that has thrown you up in the air with your skirt over your head? My brain wasn’t working in that mode that first year, even the second or third. That’s why I started to become drawn to others to help me and how they made me feel like I wasn’t a failure, lazy, weak, boring, worthless and one-dimensional. My life is a lot of work, the toughest career I’ve had to encounter. Roles have changed, location has changed, rules are different, shifts have occurred, new team members have come on board, and I have a partner in all this. Every day, week, month and year still brings changes and for the sake of my sanity and my soul, I needed to pull in the resources to figure out how to navigate this world. That I’m a woman beyond my career, where I live, where I go, how high I go, and how long I go. I’m a woman beyond motherhood and deserve to find things that bring me joy without feeling like everything is a definition of the mother I am. I’m not the “cool mom”, the “crunchy mom”, the “hot mess mom”, the “positive parenting mom”, the “organic food mom”, the “stay at home mom”, or the “working mom”. I’m a unique mom who has chosen to adapt to her ever-changing world and stay connected and true to what gives her joy. You are the same, you just have to go out and find her.

From one unique mom to another,

Michelle Mansfield Blog

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