June 29, 2020

Motherhood at a Glance: Thriving Through Self-Advocacy

Happy Monday friends! I am so grateful for today's topic, learning to thrive through self-advocacy. This is something that our feature writer, Sarah Welch, is passionate about, as am I! 

Sarah grew up in Edmond, Oklahoma, studied at Oklahoma University and works as a dental hygienist. She lives with her husband, Stephen, and their beautiful, one-year-old daughter, Rosie, who shares a birthday with our youngest - so fun! Sarah enjoys baking, dance parties, reading (especially Harry Potter) and spending time with her favorite people. Learning about and cultivating self improvement is also something that Sarah is passionate about, which shines through in this piece. 

m excited for you to receive some encouragement from today's feature and hope that you find things that you can apply into your life as well. 

I got married at age 26 after three and a half years of dating my partner. One month into our marriage, I became pregnant. While we were open to the possibility, we thought that it would take longer to conceive, but we were blessed quickly. During our courtship, we talked at length about what our marriage and family could look like and what we wanted to cultivate in our family culture. Even though our conversations acknowledged potential pitfalls or imperfections that could/would probably crop up in our plans, my thoughts would often be filled with daydreams of idyllic scenes of motherhood and family life. As the fifth child in a family of six kids and an aunt to sixteen nieces and nephews, I had several examples of seemingly perfect pregnancies and motherhood, so I expected the same for myself. I was excited to have an easy, healthy pregnancy where I did everything right, continued to work out, ate impeccably, and limited stress. I expected the transition to motherhood to come easily. Sound naive? That’s because it was (for me anyway).

I ended up being very sick for the first half of my pregnancy. I threw up at least once a day (sometimes multiple times) and was nauseated for most of my waking hours. Even after being put on a medication to help with nausea, I still threw up frequently. I had no energy, no appetite and very little motivation. I worked full time and that took any energy I could manage to muster. Gone were my dreams of working out, staying fit, and eating impeccably. After 20 weeks, my nausea subsided, but it was replaced quickly by persistent heartburn even with medication. I had a little more energy, but not much. And all I wanted to eat was sweets. Dr. Pepper was a life line. I tried my best to eat nutritiously, but I often succumbed to treats. Finally I reached my due date feeling stretched, exhausted, and swollen to the max. I was ready to deliver my baby girl, but she wasn’t ready yet. It would take another five days past her due date before she would make her appearance after 18 hours of labor. That was when my lessons in self-advocacy began. 

My labor and delivery went fairly smoothly, but postpartum was a deep dive into anxiety, depressive states, and feelings of complete and utter inadequacy. My idyllic dreams of motherhood were shattered. I struggled with Rosie’s jaundice, extreme nursing difficulties, and the worst exhaustion I’d ever felt. My husband was amazingly supportive, but I still felt such isolation and loneliness. I had family members and friends tell me that I just needed to be patient, nursing would work out, my body knew what to do. I just needed some sleep and to relax. But all I could think was “but what if my body doesn’t know what to do? What if it isn’t cut out for this? And how in the heck do I ‘get sleep and relax’ with a newborn?” 

There were so many late nights/early mornings where I was sobbing, my daughter was sobbing, and I literally felt like nothing was working right. I searched everywhere for answers, for solutions to the problems I was facing, but found little help. I felt like a failure. As I struggled with both external and internal pressures, I realized that I possessed the key to solving the confusion I faced: self-advocacy. And that’s when motherhood really started changing for me. As I’ve gone on this journey of being an advocate for myself in motherhood, two steps have proven pivotal for my growth and my health. Let’s dive in to what those are.

When I was deep in postpartum anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, it was really easy to seek direction from other people. I wanted my friends, my family, my lactation consultants, my daughter’s pediatrician, anyone at all to tell me what I should do. I was drowning, and I needed a life preserver so I could breathe again. And yet, while some suggestions were helpful, it was ultimately my mama’s intuition that proved to know what was best for me and my child. My gut knew that I had given nursing and pumping everything I had, but it wasn’t going to work. My daughter needed formula. I needed that too. Once I let go of my preconceived notions of idyllic motherhood, shook off external pressures, and embraced my reality, I started to breathe again. 

I felt less of a burden weighing on me. I was listening to my mama’s intuition, and it wasn’t failing me. I wasn’t a failure. I could figure this whole motherhood thing out after all. Feeding my baby her bottle became a time for us to be close and cuddle instead of a time of exasperation and dread. Listening to my mama’s intuition gave me a unique voice in the realm of motherhood. It allowed me to take ownership of my choices for myself and my child. Instead of listening to other’s opinions (which were often contradictory), I could advocate for what I knew was best.

After I had Rosie, my body was so foreign to me. I had gained 50 lbs in pregnancy, battled constant swelling, and had carried her for over 40 weeks so it took a toll on me. I lost initial weight from having her, but started gaining weight slowly after I stopped nursing her at 6 weeks. Now, I’ll be up front that my diet still wasn’t perfect, but I also hadn’t drastically changed anything from what I was normally doing, so I thought it was odd that I was gaining weight. At first I thought “well, you’re stressed, sleep deprived, and you just had a baby. Give yourself a break and some time.” And I did. But something continued to be off. 

My periods were all over the place. Some months I would have two periods, other months I would bleed for weeks at a time.  I was getting acne in weird areas (neck, under my armpits, etc). And even after months of Rosie sleeping through the night (which means mom and dad did too), I was still continually exhausted. I blamed it on being back at work, but at the same time, I knew that wasn’t right. I messaged my doctor back and forth for a few months detailing my symptoms and seeking help. He initially prescribed me some medication. When that didn’t quite work as expected, he prescribed two more. I didn’t want to be on three medications to mask my symptoms, so I sought a second opinion with my nurse practitioner. 

After blood tests and an ultrasound, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, really bad insulin resistance, under functioning thyroid, and very low vitamin D. Luckily, my NP knew a lot about PCOS and quickly worked to help me learn how to manage my condition. There are very practical steps I have been able to take to feel better, and it’s amazing how much change I already feel even after just 2 months. By not settling with initial opinions that didn’t sit well with me, I got the help my body really needed. 

If I had chosen to listen to others (“that’s just how you feel when you’re a mom!”) instead of advocating for myself, then I wouldn’t be experiencing the empowerment and greater sense of control I’m now feeling. Before, it was so easy to feel overwhelmed and like I had no control over anything. Now I know that’s a lie. By listening to my body, I have learned how to better advocate for its needs and care for it even with its limitations. That knowledge has helped me to view my body in a kinder light, and I’m learning how to love it for all it can and does do. I’m hopeful that I can teach my daughter to do the same.

Through learning to listen to my “mama’s intuition” and listening to my body, I have started to experience more confidence in myself and my abilities. I know that I’m the best mama for my baby. And I know that I can’t continually put my needs last in the name of sacrifice. I will not thrive and my family will not thrive if I don’t take care of and work on developing myself. I do and will make mistakes, but I am not a failure. As I advocate for myself within motherhood and as a wife, I am creating a happier, healthier self and, by extension, and happier, healthier family. Everyone benefits from us mamas stepping up and advocating for ourselves and our families.

I want to leave y’all with a quote from a new favorite of mine, Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife. She says “Seldom are we broken. We just haven’t yet learned what we need to be free.” As we are advocates for ourselves, for our desires, and for the life we want to create, we can experience that freedom. We can not only be healed; we can soar.

Thank you so much to Sarah, for this vulnerable and incredibly relatable insight. I love the message to learn how to better advocate for yourself in order to better thrive in your motherhood! As a recap, some ways you can cultivate this strength are:

Listen to your "mama's intuition" and do what works for you

Listen to your body and recognize your needs

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