Stephanie Garcia- Gomez (34) and Sophia (14 months). Stephanie has also experienced an early miscarriage.
California | Washington DC
Stephanie shares -
"I still feel like my body is not completely my own yet. I still struggle feeling like my mind and body are strong or enough. I remember worrying that Sophia would not be comfortable in my thin arms and wishing I had a bigger chest to cushion and breastfeed her. But since day 1 when she fell asleep peacefully in my arms and in those lovely, chubby thighs and dimpled elbows she’s grown into, she has taught me (among many other things) that none of my worries matter. She loved me and I loved her. Now I try my best to love myself as I am and to regain my strength because I want to set that example for her, but it’s hard. I want her to feel like she doesn’t need make up but I can’t leave the house without at least mascara and concealer for my sleep deprived eyes. I want to love myself the way I am because I want her to love herself the way she is because she is perfect.
I am one of the lucky ones. I had a natural birth with very little medical intervention. Sophia came a little early but she was healthy. Sometimes I feel like it’s hard to share my story because I know so many women have had much more difficult stories than Sophia and I did. Also because I generally look like I did before I got pregnant. The reality is that despite having gone through the hardest, most physical challenge of my life I don’t feel as strong now as I did before I got pregnant. I lost the baby weight after birth but with it went my musculature. Breastfeeding has also been taxing on my body. Until a few months ago I would still wake up every single morning feeling like I had been run over as my body tried to recover from the daily breastfeeding.
I tried my best throughout my pregnancy to prepare my body and mind for birth mostly because I was so scared. I didn’t grow up dreaming of having a family. Since I spent most of my life trying not to get pregnant it took a long time to adjust to the idea of having a baby. I was scared of the damage my body would undergo. I was scared of the pain. I was scared of not doing the right thing or that I might never be able to feel like my normal self again. I remember the first few showers I took after giving birth being very careful and telling myself over and over again that I was ok, that my body was ok. Despite having a relatively uncomplicated birth it was still a very intense experience. Although my body is almost back to normal (I didn’t think it would take this long), I still struggle with feeling like I have a strong body and mind. I didn’t have postpartum depression but I did have some crazy anxiety that I have only recently started to get control of.
The biggest thing I have learned through this whole experience is that even if I could, I wouldn’t want to do this all alone. This is a huge shift for someone who felt pride in their self sufficiency. But even when I was pregnant I always felt like Sophia and I were doing it together and that we would get through the birth together. My husband Gerson was also there every step of the way, cooking healthy meals that I could stomach, cleaning, hearing about all my aches and pains, coaching me during labor, changing most diapers, and caring for us. During the birth and in the months followed it was obvious that it took the 3 of us to make it all come together. Sophia’s job was to eat. My job was to breastfeed her. Gerson’s job was to feed me. Maybe in some ways it was better that I didn’t know what to expect at each pass because it made me re-learn how to trust myself and how to ask for help. I am still overwhelmed with gratitude for all the support and generosity of the people around me during this chapter of my life.
I feel like I joined a community when I became a mother. This journey has made get to know and challenge myself in ways I had never thought possible before. It has also made me question why the hardest job in the world is so hard even when it doesn’t always have to be. For too long mothers and families have had to struggle to make it all work out. It’s time this country enacted paid maternity leave so that mothers and families have the time and space to settle into their new roles. This not only benefits the families themselves but society as families have time to recover and bond with their children. Mothers should not have to wait 6 weeks for a postpartum doctors appointments. In fact all new parents would benefit from in home visits by trained professionals that can coach new parents and check on the well being of the family. Technology has advanced in so many sectors but the current breast pump technology needs to be updated. I was only able to breastfeed for this long because of a combination of different breast pumps and work flexibility. It is also time for us as a society to expect more participation from the men and partners in our lives in the caring and nurturing of our children. Paid paternity leave and changing tables in all men’s restrooms are two ways to start. I think new parents tend to feel judged largely because we feel we are left on our own to figure it all out. That’s a stressful situation to be in. With more support I think it’s possible to ease some of those feelings and create communities that support rather than judge one another.
I am enough. You are enough. Don’t let fear prevent you from enjoying the now. Take care of yourself because only when you are ok can you take care of those around you. Be your own advocate. Ask for help when you are ready and comfortable doing so and pay it forward when you can.