Before I became a mom, part of my job was to help other moms find and appreciate the value in themselves, even while they were in the midst of dealing with difficult scenarios. I practiced as a licensed marriage and family therapist and I worked with families who were dealing with risks ranging from being sent to a juvenile hall, to facing the possibility of being placed in the foster care system. I also worked directly with moms in these situations, and a lot of my day-to-day focused on teaching them the importance of taking care of themselves, no matter what was going on around them. With this kind of professional background and exposure to motherhood, I eventually came to consider myself an expert on the subject of self-care. But what I didn't realize until I had a kid of my own was that learning to put myself first as a mom was going to be easier said than done.
I was incredibly mindful going into motherhood that I'd need to work hard to maintain a connection with my personal identity. I'd seen firsthand the challenges that entire families can go through if moms don't make themselves and their needs a priority, and I prepared myself the best I could. Before getting pregnant, I worked on my marriage to make sure it was rock solid. I pushed myself in my career to build it into something I was proud to bring a baby into. I delayed having a kid until I was in my thirties to buy myself time to get my entire life in order, and with all of this preparation to make sure every aspect of my life was as strong as it could be, I finally felt ready to bring a baby into the equation.
Yet, as all moms know, having a baby has a tendency to make any and all plans go out the window. I remember bringing my daughter, Harper, home on the second day and instantly feeling totally disoriented, despite my efforts to prepare myself for this very moment. Before becoming a mom, I was used to being in control and living an independent life. Now, on the other side of labor and delivery, and as a mom who had decided to exclusively breastfeed, I found myself totally overwhelmed at the idea of my daughter's entire existence being completely dependent upon me.
During those first few months, I had nights where I cried because I felt that I was losing my sense of self. I'd totally lost track of the pre-baby Shannon who loved training for half-marathons, grabbing a glass of wine with friends, or indulging in a long solo trip to the mall. Now, just at the beginning of my experience with motherhood, I only saw myself as a mom whose life (which used to be her own) consisted of feeding a baby every two-and-a-half hours.
As strange as it is to admit, I was only becoming increasingly frustrated with my role as a mom during my daughter's first year. I knew I didn't want to raise my daughter as the stereotypical stressed-out mom, so when she was about 10 months old I took time to pinpoint my frustrations, and I realized that a majority of them were rooted in my troubles with breastfeeding and how exhausted the entire process left me. Once this dawned on me, the solution for feeling like a more complete person felt simple: all I had to do was begin getting Harper comfortable with the bottle and start the weaning process, and maybe I'd finally start feeling more like myself. So that's exactly what I did: after 10 months of breastfeeding, I made the conscious decision to stop.
But rather than serving as a solution for my constant state of exhaustion and providing more time for myself, I suddenly found myself racked with guilt that I was no longer nursing my daughter. Was I making the right decision? Am I being selfish for wanting my time back? Or for wanting to put myself first? It didn't take me too long to remember the advice I'd given so many moms throughout my career: If you’re not taking care of yourself and your needs, how can you possibly expect yourself to take the best care of your children?
Teaching other moms that it's OK to put their own needs first taught me even before I became a mom myself that every woman is valuable outside of her role as a mother. I'm lucky enough to have a mom who, from a very early age, instilled in me the importance of loving yourself as you are now, and even through motherhood's greatest challenges, I've always known that I wanted to instill the same level of confidence into my sweet little girl.
For me, I knew that the best way to get this point across was to teach her by example and let myself have a life that will leave me feeling happier for myself, my family, and Harper. Even though that sometimes means missing out on time with her (which still leaves me feeling guilty — hey, I'm not perfect) so I can take time to go on a run or meet up with friends, I'm certain it will only benefit my daughter in the long run since having a better grasp on myself helps me be the kind of mom she needs to grow into a strong woman herself.
This post is sponsored by Baby Dove.