August 24, 2020

Motherhood at a Glance: Redefining Beauty and Strengthening Self-Identity

Welcome to week fourteen in the Motherhood at a Glance feature segment! I'm so happy to introduce you to today's writer, Stephanie Barillas Mortensen!

Stephanie was born and raised in Southern California and is the daughter of Guatemalan Immigrants. She currently lives in Salt Lake City, UT with her husband, Kyle, and their sweet baby boy, Oliver! Stephanie works for a nonprofit that provides services to refugees, immigrants and survivors of persons in trafficking. She enjoys spending her free time outdoors with her family, traveling with her husband, trying new restaurants and going to brunch with girlfriends!

Stephanie is truly an amazing woman and I'm so grateful to know her and learn from her! I know what she has written today is going to resonate with so many of you and I hope you find the power in her words, as I did. Enjoy!

Self-Identity is something I have been working through for quite some time. This journey of self-searching started a few years ago. Beginning this process was important for me before I became a mama. I knew I had work to do, from accepting my culture and traditions, to loving my body and skin color. Growing up as the daughter of immigrants, I felt like I was living two different lives. At school I spoke English and at home we strictly spoke Spanish. We celebrated holiday traditions in a different way than most of my friends. We celebrated Christmas on December 24th at midnight, while my friends woke up early in the morning of the 25th to open gifts. Throughout my teenage years I always wanted to fit in. I had friends that were different from me. They were thin and white and seemed to have a desirable look, as far I could see.  

I watched these girls get asked to dance at school or church dances. I remember wishing that I looked more like them. I would often watch how much time I spent in the sun because I didn’t want to look too tan. Now, as an adult, I am learning to unlearn the meaning of beauty that society taught me.

While I was pregnant and anxiously awaited the arrival of my son Oliver, I dug deep in podcasts, books, blogs, parenting classes, and really anything I could research on parenting and motherhood. I came across BrenĂ© Brown’s “The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto”. As I read the words, “Above all else, I want you to know that you are loved and lovable. You will learn this from my words and actions - the lessons on love are in how I treat you and how I TREAT MYSELF.” These words hit me like a ton of bricks. 

As a mother, I hope and dream for my son a beautiful and authentic life where he feels free to love and be loved. Free to feel pain. Free to make mistakes. Free to succeed. Free to be unapologetically himself. If I have learned anything from parenting it is that Oliver needs to see my vulnerability. He needs to see me embrace myself and not hold back. I can no longer be ashamed of the skin that I am in. I can no longer suppress my thoughts and feelings. He will learn to live an authentic life by watching me live mine.  

I remember being pregnant and some of the advice I got was to go on as many dates with Kyle as I could and to cherish our time together. To watch all the movies or shows we wanted now because once the baby came, things would be different. It was as if I was going to lose all of my freedom to this little human. In reality, Oliver has set me free in a way I never Imagined. I feel encouraged to be more loving of myself, to feel more, to stand up for myself, to be quicker to apologize and to recognize my mistakes. I can allow myself to love at a whole new level. I am free to be me and, in turn, I truly believe that he is getting the best version of his mama that anyone has ever seen! What is that one thing that is a part of you that you have always wanted to dig deeper but are afraid to discover? For me it was learning more about my Guatemalan heritage. I had held back for many years fully embracing that side of myself for lots of reasons. 

One day, I decided that I felt beautiful in my brown skin and that I no longer wanted to be ignorant, but to be full of wisdom of the traditions of my ancestors. I wanted to know and love the land my mother and grandmother grew up in. In October of 2017, my husband and I made the big move to Guatemala and decided to live there for six months. It was a beautiful and healing experience to live my truth. I now understand more about my mother, and more about myself. We made sacred memories and I am excited to share them with my children.

Another major thing that has helped me cultivate these strengths is loving my body. I’m sure some of you can relate with this but I have been so harsh on my postpartum body. I caught myself mourning my old body, feeling frustrated with not being able to jump back into my old jeans and being super embarrassed of the extra weight and stretch marks. This was hard for me. I felt insecure not only about the way that I looked but also about my relationship with my husband. I would think to myself what if he no longer finds me attractive? He probably doesn’t think I’m beautiful. He probably misses my old body. I am now practicing using kind words when referring to my body and have addressed these insecurities by having open and honest conversations with my loving and supportive husband. I have also come up with three positive truths about my body. When I start to feel or have negative thoughts, I go back to these three truths:

1. My body helped me grow a beautiful and healthy baby boy for 39 whole weeks! 

2. My body shown me that I am capable of doing hard things. ( morning sickness/ labor) 

3. My body has helped me nourish this boy for the last seven months, and that’s so magical!

Lastly, I truly believe that empowered women empower women. Seek those who will allow you to create your own definition of what a good mother is and will support you through it. I feel absolutely lucky to have found women who love me and support me in this way. On the hard days, they keep me going. 

Also, I make it a point to not only receive, but also to give. I love giving a compliment whenever I can to my fellow mamas. Sometimes I have even messaged complete strangers on Instagram because I read how they had “one of those days”. I have been there, and I understand what that’s like and sometimes it’s just nice to hear that you are doing a great job! Also, I encourage you to be vulnerable and as organic as you can as you engage in these relationships. I know it’s scary - I was scared when Lauren reached out to me about this. Self-doubt quickly rolled in but here I am practicing vulnerability and sharing my truth with you all. I dare you to try it. It’s truly liberating.

Going back to my roots, loving and embracing my new postpartum body, and women empowerment has helped me in my journey to living a more authentic and unapologetic life. This might look different for you and that’s okay. I’m here for it. I’m here for our differences because those are things that make us who we are. I hope that through your journey of Motherhood you are able to be your true self. That one day your children will know that they are worthy of love and being loved because they watched you fiercely do so. 

“I will not teach or love or show you anything perfectly, but I will let you see me, and I will always hold sacred the gift of seeing you. Truly deeply seeing you.” -BrenĂ© Brown (The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto).

Thank you so much to Stephanie for sharing a truly insightful look into how to redefine beauty and strengthening your self-identity. These takeaways will help to build that foundation of motherhood that helps us to thrive, not just survive. As a recap, these are Stephanie's three steps:

Immerse yourself in your culture and allow it to strengthen your identity

Love and accept your body by recognizing it's blessings and strengths

Build an empowering community of women to give and receive love and support

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