my first mother's day: a letter to myself
by Gretchen Swedin
My first Mother’s Day is coming up and so is a lot of emotion and reflection about my journey thus far. Motherhood truly feels like the most important job I will ever have; and my daughter, who has been a beautiful blessing, has given me intense joy and taught me deep gratitude.
And still, daily, I feel flooded with negative thoughts. Society’s motherhood traps of self doubt, self judgment, guilt, criticism and comparison are everywhere and are incredibly hard to avoid. I had hoped I was confident enough to avoid falling victim to these ugly traps and to the negativity that comes with not living up to____. (Fill in the blank with what image or product you see portrayed by media, what your mother told you, how quickly your friend lost her baby weight, or some super-mom thing the lady down the block has been doing.)
The negativity is the real trap: easy to fall into, and hard to get out of. It can be dark in there. And that darkness is totally counterproductive to actual mama progress. I have gotten stuck…several times.
I’ve gotten caught up in the keeping up. That’s why this Mother’s Day I have decided to give myself a gift and swap out the negativity for some good old fashion self love. I have decided to write myself a Mother’s Day card. We all need a cheering section, and it turns out, I’m right here: the perfect candidate to be my own cheerleader.
I’m wishing you a peaceful and happy first Mother’s Day. You have made it through an epic journey to get to this first day of mamas. Nine months with a new babe, a rough 2 1/2 month NICU stay, a not-so-pretty or easy pregnancy and IVF before that. Self, I’m giving you a huge pat on the back, two thumbs way up, a gold star, and a free pass to spend the day in whatever frivolous, irresponsible, time wasting manner you choose. Oh, you want to sleep till noon, get up to eat a donut, and go right back to bed for a nap? Go for it! Feel like binge watching Outlander in a dark basement even though it's a beautiful sunny day outside? Yup! You choose to drive the long way home listening to playlists from college after a pedicure and a massage? You got it! Because Self, this journey has been hard and real, and at times dark and terrifying, and you have earned a day of love and praise from me.
It seems a hundred years since your journey started in that doctors office. Up until that point, IVF was the hardest and scariest thing you had taken on. It was stressful and scary, but you did it, Self. You dove in and took that scary leap of faith. Pregnancy was no cake walk either. It was tough and your body and soul took a hit. But, you persisted -- through the miscarriage scaresand bed rest -- and you did it with hope. You showed some real strength. Well done, Self!
I am particularly proud of how you came through your daughter’s unexpectedly early birth, trauma, and long NICU stay. You dug down really deep to see that reason to go on, and found the resolve to put one foot in front of the other for those 67 days. Sitting vigil in a dark room, summoning untapped will and determination to be the person your baby needed and to find a way to positively affect her outcomes. When the doctors told you that pumping, kangaroo care and developmentally appropriate therapy would increase her odds and outcomes, those things became your mission. You learned and engaged. You stayed present for her when every cell in your body burned with pain, fear and guilt. You showed up in a huge way -- that was truly remarkable!
You have made an incredible human. She is a resilient, happy, healthy baby who is meeting her milestones because of you. You did that! I am so grateful for your love, persistence and commitment. You are doing a pretty good job at this whole parenthood thing, too. You finally got the night-time routine down (8 months in) and you even give your kid baths. Sometimes you shower too! (Once a week, whether you need it or not.) You’re figuring out when to ask for help, when to trust your gut and when to pretend that the teething toy didn't just fall into the dog food. You are managing to juggle lots of things and having fun too!
Self, as a gift, I am giving you a break from all the mom-guilt, self-doubt, self-judgment, guilt, criticism, and comparison.
This has been an epic beginning to your journey through motherhood, unlike any other. Feel free to be unburdened by what you think this should look like. Instead enjoy the beautiful mess, the impressive scars, and the untidy truth of your story. You are here, at your first Mother’s Day, happy, healthy, loving and hopeful. And it’s just the beginning. I love you and I am so proud of you.
Gretchen is mama to 8 month old Agnes, a tough little former preemie, NICU grad, and all around amazing baby. Despite an unexpectedly early and challenging start to motherhood, Gretchen quickly set to work pumping and eventually breastfeeding. She found a sense of calm and connection in providing badly needed nourishment and immune support to Agnes.
These days, when Gretchen isn't playing with her daughter, she is supporting and connecting with mamas on the pumpspotting app and social media sites. She loves connecting with moms and sharing their stories that show that breastfeeding is powerful and really beautiful.