Shawna Davian den Otter (39) with Thijs (2) and Carys (8 months)
Ottawa, Canada / Minneapolis, MN | Photographed in Chicago
Shawna shares -
"Body image post parenthood has been awkward, getting used to an unfamiliar shape and taking up unfamiliar space. It's not bad just different but when I see parts of me that are different than others post baby I really have to stop and remind myself - still my body, still great, just different. You spend your life getting used and working (really hard in my case) on loving your body and then so much changes so quickly it can be hard to keep up.
I think of how I want my kids to feel about their bodies and try to apply that to how I think of mine. It's disingenuous to say it's all love all the time but working on loving yourself and finding the grace to be gentle with yourself for the occasional unkind thought. It takes practice but it's worth it because it's exhausting being unhappy with your form and you deserve to take up space. That's where I am right now 8 months after the second baby - I'm taking up different amounts of space and I deserve to be here and be loved and I hope my kids feel that.
Adjusting to life with baby was incredibly hard. And the question of which is harder going from 0 to 1 kid or 1 to 2? is a trick because its hard in different ways. We had a fairly traumatic first birth with a non-consensual cervical check and eventual forceps assist after 27 hours of labour. And then baby had colic for what felt like ever but was only about 4 months. Life isn't easy when nothing you do makes your baby stop crying.
The second birth I hesitate to describe as easy but we nearly had her at home because I wasn't positive I was really in labour and our care providers were so kind and incredible. Carys' arrival threw my relationship with Thijs out of kilter. The new baby was so easy in comparison to our first but I cried all the time because Thijs seemed so uncertain for the first time in his life and balancing being needed by two humans just made me feel like I was always failing someone. Additionally, Thijs had still been nursing and I had intended to let him self wean but when it came down to it I couldn't manage tandem nursing. What I had hoped to be a gentle experience for him was incredibly abrupt. You read all that stuff about how great tandem nursing is and it was actually so hard. That was disappointing. We really tried to make it work and it just didn't.
It always feels like they could use more of you and I struggle with prioritizing both of their needs and my own. You read all the things that say put your own oxygen mask on first but that feels really hard when everyone is screaming. I wish there was more honesty so your real life didn't feel so much like an abnormal failure. You can be a great parent and still struggle day to day. Having mum friends has been incredibly important because they have a frame of reference that others don't. And what can maybe sound to an outside listener as parents moaning about their kids is in fact incredibly cathartic because it's like I'm Not Alone!
My one piece of truth through all of this is that it's hard and that's okay. I've found that sharing my struggles with parenthood from a colic baby who cried for the first 4 months to adjusting to life with two kids to navigating supporting a disability, I'm validated at every turn. Everyone is struggling but somehow we think we are the only ones. So, I try to share the less glamorous parts of parenting, partly for myself and partly for the other mum who might be sure she's the only one who isn't enjoying every moment. I think we should stop saying that, babies are great but life with a new baby is incredibly hard and confusing and the idea that you are supposed to love it makes the reality feel like you are doing it wrong. You are allowed to not love every moment and still love the hell out of your kids.
Parenthood can be so lonely. Taking part in this feels like joining a community because as a new mum I was looking for stories that validated and mirrored my experience. Spaces where honesty and acceptance are being brought out just feels really special. The honesty makes me nervous that people are judging me as not loving my kids or being ungrateful for them but both truths exist - I love them deeply and I'm so so grateful for their presence in my life and some days are filled to the brim with laughter and some days are hard."