As a woman, it's easy to lose sight of just how strong I am. While I realize the messages most women are bombarded by on a regular basis are fictitious and nothing short of dangerous, it's hard to push against them every single day. When legislators tell women they can't make decisions about their own bodies, women's collective strength is called into question. When sexual assault survivors are called liars, women's collective strength is doubted. In those instances, however, I hold onto the mom moments that prove I'm stronger than I think I am. When I look at the infuriating gender inequalities that basically say, in no uncertain terms, "Men are strong, women are weak," I look back at my time as a pregnant woman, postpartum woman, and now mother to a 2-year-old son, and say, "Yeah, that's bullsh*t."
To be clear, there were more than a few pre-baby moments that reminded me of my inner strength, too. As a sexual assault survivor — who not only endured an assault, but endured the painful process of reporting that assault only to be told there was "nothing the police department could do" — I realized I was strong. As a woman who spends a significant amount of time on the internet, constantly bombarded with rape threats and death threats and sexual harassment, sometimes just logging on is an exercise in personal fortitude. Still, time can put a distance between my current reality and what I've already endured. My son and motherhood, however, are a constant in my life. Every day I'm reminded that I am strong because, well, every day there is a new obstacle to traverse.
So, when our culture whispers in my ear, "You can't," and "You're not enough," and "You're weak," I take a look at all I've gone though — and currently going through — as a mom, and shout back, "You're wrong." As a mother, I am forced to acknowledge my inner strength. As a mom, I am stronger that I realize. As a mom and a woman and a human being, you are, too.
When You Experience A Pregnancy Complication
Chances are, your pregnancy will go smoothly and all 40 (more or less) weeks will go off without a hitch and while you'll be uncomfortable, constipated, nauseous, swollen, you'll be fine. However, 29 out of every 10,000 pregnant women will experience a severe pregnancy complication, and they'll be tested before they even (technically) become mothers.
I suffered a severe pregnancy complication 16 or so weeks into my pregnancy. A blood infection threatened the life of my unborn twin sons, and I was hospitalized for over a week. It felt like a cruel, "Are you sure you're ready to be a mom?" test, and I honestly can't say whether or not I passed. At 19 weeks into my pregnancy, one of my twin sons died, and I was, again, tested. It was in that moment, and the months that followed, when I realized just how strong and resilient I truly was. I could mourn the life of the twin son I lost, while simultaneously continuing to live for the twin son who relied on my body to survive. I could carry both life, and death, inside of me. I could birth a baby that was going to be alive, and a baby that never was. That's a level of strength I didn't know existed, let alone one I had inside me.
When You Make It Through Labor And Delivery
It doesn't matter how you choose (or end up) bringing another human life into this world. It doesn't matter if you had an unmedicated birth, a scheduled c-section, an epidural, or if you gave birth in a tub. The fact that any human being can go through the process of painful contractions, usually nausea, body shakes, someone either cutting them open to bring forth another human being, or pushing another human from your body, is nothing short of incredible.
I was an athlete before a horrific knee injury ended my basketball career. I knew my body was strong, and could do some pretty incredible things. However, when I labored for 23 hours and pushed my son into the world (while simultaneously feeling sad and scared and excited and nervous and a million other overwhelming emotions overtook my entire body) I realized that I was f*cking powerful as sh*t.
When You're Alone With Your Baby For The First Time
The moment you're alone — sleep deprived, sore, anxious, scared, unsure, and filled with self-doubt — holding a newborn and acutely aware that you, and only you, are responsible for that newborn's continued existence, your definition of "responsibility" kind of shifts. It becomes an entirely new, all-the-more incredible word. When your reaction to that moment is to go inside yourself and say, "Yeah, I'm scared, but I freakin' got this," you realize that you can do anything. You can take care of another human being. You.
When You Overcome Breastfeeding Complications...
In a way, I was lucky in that I didn't experience too many physical problems with breastfeeding. My son latched a few minutes after he was born, and we didn't have any issues with milk supply. However, I did have some mental issues when it came to breastfeeding; as a sexual assault survivor the act of feeding my son with my body was triggering, and it made my postpartum depression and PTSD worse. It was difficult to continue to do what I knew was helpful and beneficial for my son, when it was simultaneously detrimental to me.
I don't think being "strong" means putting yourself at risk, especially when there's formula available to mothers for this very reason. However, I did breastfeed my son for as long as I knew I could while maintaining my mental health (which turned out to be seven months, a stretch of time I'm very proud of) and I realized that I am stronger than my past. I am stronger than the things that were done to me. And, with help (like a mental health professional and a wonderful support system) I could do something that seemed, on more than one occasion, to be impossible.
...Or Choose To Bottle Feed, Knowing You'll Be Judged
When I realized that I couldn't handle breastfeeding and the triggers any longer, I switched to formula. It was a very, very difficult decision for me, for a number of reasons. For one, I had a goal of breastfeeding my son for at least a year, and I'm a very goal-oriented person. Not hitting that "goal" felt like a failure. Two, I knew that I was going to be judged for switching to formula. I just, well, knew it.
I was judged, too. So many mothers were quick to remind that I didn't "love my kid enough to sacrifice for him" and that I was "lazy" and whatever else they've fictitiously and arbitrarily assumed about my parenting based on a bottle and some formula. However, I just didn't care. It was almost surprising to me, because I figured it would hurt me, but I couldn't give two you-know-whats about what someone else thought. I knew what I was doing was best for my son, and myself, and that's all that mattered to me.
When You Make Your First Parenting Mistake
Recovering from that first parenting mistake really puts that over-played adage, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," into perspective. I honestly believed the worst parenting mistake I ever made — which resulted in my son being checked out in a hospital after a fall that absolutely terrified me to my core — was going to be the death of me. I left that hospital shaking, unsure if I was really capable of taking care of my son the way he deserved. I was a shell of myself for a few days following that mistake, too, terrified to leave my son's side.
However, that day passed, and time did it's dirty work. I wasn't a "horrible" mother and I didn't "ruin" my kid. I just learned, and that mistake made me stronger as a person, a partner, and a parent. When the thing you feared the most becomes the thing you've overcome, you realize you're strong as hell.
When Your Kid Is Hurt And You Remain Calm, For Them
Seeing my son in tears because of a physical pain cuts me deep, my friends. It's unbearable, and something I honestly can't stomach. However, I seem to handle it really well when I'm with him, and he needs to be comforted or cared for. It's like I put a "pause" on my feeling and emotions, and become completely focused on him. I remain calm, I go through the motions with precision while simultaneously being thoughtful, and I do what needs to be done so that he feels better. Then, when he's out of sight and safe, I break down.
I didn't know I had that in me, but that natural reaction — that triage of feelings — is another reminder that I can handle what, in my mind, seems to be unmanageable.
When You Realize "Winning" An Argument With Your Partner No Longer Matters...
I used to love "winning" an argument and being "right" and having all the answers. In fact, it's still one of my favorite things. However, it's definitely not the "only" thing anymore, and I've learned to just grow up (for lack of a better word) in more ways than one.
I don't care if I have to concede a point if it helps my parenting partner and I see the bigger picture. I don't mind "meeting in the middle" because being right isn't as important as creating a warm, nurturing, inclusive, and understanding environment for my son and my entire family. I'm stronger than the need to be "validated." I'm stronger than a bully who has to be "right" all the time.
...And You're Happy To Gracefully Admit You're Wrong
I think I've said, "I'm sorry, you're right and I was wrong," more times in the two years my son has been alive, than the 27 years I spent on this earth before he showed up. Motherhood is nothing if not humbling, and it takes a good bit of strength to eat crow and admit you're wrong or you messed up or if you had just listened to someone else, you'd be in a better situation.
When You Stand Up For Your Baby
I consider myself a relatively laid back person. I'll voice my opinions, sure, and I'm quick to fight for my friends, but for the most part it takes a lot to really "get to me" or upset me in some monumental way. I mean, I'm a writer. If you can withstand the comment section of any major publication (and I can), I'd say you're a pretty solid, laid back individual.
However, mess with my baby, and you get a version of me I'm not entirely sure I like. I am ruthless and unapologetic in my protection of my baby, and that has reminded me that while I am understanding, it is only to a point. When push comes to shove and my son's safety and wellbeing are on the line, I will not be understanding. Not at all.
When You Stand Up For Yourself
As previously stated, I can handle a lot of negativity when it's directed towards me, and only me. I'm not saying this to be some sort of martyr because, honestly, it's not a good thing. However, when you grow up in an abusive household and your father told you you were a, "worthless slut," or an "unloveable bitch," there's really little anyone else could possibly say that can (or will) upset you.
However, I have learned to stand up for myself in ways I never really knew I could since becoming a mom. I want to set a positive example for my son, so the constant judgment and shaming just doesn't fly the way it used to. I will defend my beliefs, take a stance, and even if it offends other people, stake claim to my worthiness as a mom, a woman, and a human being.
When You Cut People Out Of Your Life That Are No Longer Supportive
It's difficult for me to let go of people, even when I know they're toxic. However, once I found out I was pregnant and knew I wanted (and could be) a mom, I realized that it just wasn't going to be about me anymore. I knew that I had to be strong enough to demand that I only surround myself with positive, supportive people, so that my son could be surrounded by positive, supportive people, too. It takes a lot of inner fortitude to be able to tell someone, "You're just not someone I need or want in my life right now," but more often than not that difficult conversation is one worth having.
When You Function On Zero Sleep
You don't know strength until you keep a tiny human alive, go to work, clean your home, and manage to make dinner, all the while having only secured three hours of sleep in the last two days. That, my friends, is superhuman level.
When You Realize You're Lifting Other Moms Up
The "mommy wars" get a lot of black and white (and virtual) ink space these days, and for good reason. Go to any parenting site or online forum or mommy group, and it won't take long before you witness one mother bashing another mother for her personal parenting choices.
However, judging or shaming someone is easy. In fact, it's arguably the laziest thing a person can do. It takes little effort to make someone feel bad about themselves. What's substantially more difficult, and substantially more worthwhile, it to lift someone up. However, when you do, you realize how strong you truly are. When you put another woman on your shoulders and push her to a height she didn't think she could reach — whether it's supporting her through a difficult time, reminding her she's not alone, or just sharing your own story so she can find the courage to share her own — you realize you're unbelievably powerful. You have the ability to affect positive change. That's incredible. That's worth fighting for. That's undeniable strength.
When You're Brave Enough To Ask For Help
It's one thing to "do it all by yourself." It's another thin to dig deep and find the inner courage and the overwhelming strength to reach out and ask for help.
I thought I was being strong when, just a few days postpartum, I demanded the space to "do it all by myself." I wanted to be the one taking care of my son and feeding him and changing every diaper, all the while cooking and cleaning and trying to recover from labor and delivery and meeting work deadlines and answering emails and calling into meetings. However, it was really just me refusing to do the work it takes to trust someone else to help you. When I finally found the strength to let someone else be my true partner in parenting, is when I realized I'm strong enough to be vulnerable. Strong enough to say, "This is too much for me right now, so please help me." Strong enough to be a fallible human being.
Strong enough to be a good mother.