A New Mom's Guide to Beauty

It's worth repeating more than once: no one mom's journey is the same as any one else's. This is the only true fact I can give you about motherhood: maybe you (you know, you) are reading this and you're already a mom and you're like, Michelle, you take this way too seriously. It's not so bad. Or maybe you are reading this and you aren't a mom yet, and you're like, Oh my god, W H Y would I ever want to take this on? But the truth is: you might have had an easier time than me OR you might have an easier time OR you might have a worse time than me (scary thought). It's impossible to know. 

But what I can tell you is that beauty and fashion become incredibly unimportant, and yet, incredibly alluring, in one fell swoop. I don't know how else to describe it. Never have I had less time for beauty and fashion, and never has my skin and face and body been less apt for any of this, but I just can't keep away. I read more fashion blogs than ever; I read lifestyle blogs by the pound; and I watched beauty YouTubers everyday at work. I even forked over $52 for Nikkietutorial's Too Faced palette. Is that sad? No, it's awesome. 

When I say this is a new mom's guide to beauty, that new mom is me. I can only tell you what has worked for me and how I've helped myself to feel pretty when I feel I am slowly becoming a rock upon which a sea anemone (Forrest) lives. It's hard not to feel reduced to simply a life source (and that's it) as a new mom, but I'm here to tell you: you matter; you deserve to put on make up and shower and wash your hair and put on something other than leggings (unless you want to wear leggings, I can't blame you). 

Here's how I got my groove back, a little bit at a time. 

Step #1: I set small, realistic goals for myself. 

One of the very first goals for myself was that I would wear pants (real pants) to work every day. When I first went back to work, thanks to the casual nature of my office, I wore leggings and sweaters and sweatshirts. Not....super flattering and also not a great way to feel good about yourself every day. I set a goal to wear jeans, or maybe even a dress, every single day. And real shoes, not my Uggs. 

Once I successfully passed that hurdle, I set other goals: washing my hair every day, packing my lunch, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, taking Forrest for a walk. As I got more brave, I felt increasingly good about myself. 

Step #2: I treated myself to something I wanted. 

Listen: moms, as a rule, seem to put their kids first. It's natural. It's normal. It is what it is. But, here's the thing: you matter too. Sometimes, I will make lists of things I need (legitimately, actually need): I need work dresses and new jeans and professional tops and a new blazer. I have bought 0 of these things, but Forrest has western print jammies for every size in the foreseeable future. I'd rather buy Forrest a new book, a new toy, a new outfit than myself something. The more I did that, though, the more I realized I was sabotaging all my efforts to feel good about myself. 

I'm not saying you should go hogwild. There is a middle ground and I definitely believe in limiting spending on things that aren't necessary. But if you need new clothes because all you feel like you can wear are leggings and tank tops, it's ok to give yourself the gift of some new duds. Or if you've been scraping out your foundation container for two weeks, it's time to bite the bullet and just treat yo' self. 

Step #3: Screw it--I did whatever I wanted. 

At the end of the day, my job as a mom is this: to keep my son happy and healthy; to keep my house clean enough so it's at least safe for his survival; and to be happy myself. That's it. None of us are perfect. And certainly, I'm never going to be a perfect mom. I'm going to make mistakes. But I don't want one of those mistakes to be hating myself--and passing that kind of behavior onto Forrest. I want Forrest to see me for what I am: a woman who is his mom, who feels beautiful, who feels smart, who takes care of herself, who takes care of other people. He doesn't need a martyr or a perfect mom. He just needs me. And if I have to hand him off to Danny for a few hours each weekend to go work out, or run, or grocery shop, then so be it. He's not going to grow up and say, "Mom, you spend 30 minutes putting on make up that made you happy--and it ruined me." That's just not going to happen. 

Beauty is ultimately a way for us to repair our relationships with ourselves. And for some women, new clothes and learning to put make up on in a way that makes them feel beautiful is one way to do that--it won't work for every body, but it works for me and that's all I can tell you. 

After becoming a mom, it's easy to feel small, to feel a little downtrodden, especially in the early months. But you don't have to. It doesn't have to keep going. I've been in a relationship with myself for 27 years--it's okay for me to take time to work on that relationships, to feel good about myself, to take steps to repair the damage that's been done. And it's okay for you too--however you choose to. 

The New Normal

I've sat down to write a blog post at least seven times in the last week. I've gotten out my list of topics; I've sat with my planner open; I've started writing... and every single time, I get distracted (usually by Forrest). I've tried to write about postpartum bodies, about Forrest's first weeks, about fashion. About anything. When I'm sleep deprived and struggling to stay awake between feedings, diaper changes, and more, it's hard to focus on articulating thoughts correctly... even though I have a lot to say about my first few weeks as a mom. 

I have spent nearly everyday at home since Forrest and I were released from the hospital. Except for doctor's appointments, I don't really leave the house. Danny and I have gone out to dinner together, sans Forrest, once; we've taken him out to eat with Danny's family once. I went to the grocery store for the first time on my birthday. I have gone to my own doctor's appointment solo once. Every minute of my day is dedicated to Forrest and making sure he eats and stays clean. A typical span of two hours in my house looks like this: feed Forrest; put Forrest to sleep (can take 10 minutes or three hours); transfer Forrest to swing or rocker; pump for a minimum of 30 minutes; clean bottles and pumping supplies; do one part of one chore (put laundry in the washing machine; wipe down the counters; throw away the dead flowers in the vase on the kitchen counter); and repeat. It is, to be honest, exhausting... and then I get to spend all night doing it. Yay! 

In the wee morning hours of my birthday, I sat in my glider, rocking Forrest for about 45 minutes in the vain attempt to get him to sleep. It was 2:30am and, of course, the longer he refused to close his very sleepy eyes, the more I cried. I sang every lullaby I could think of until I sang "Happy Birthday to me" through tears. I wanted so badly for him to go to sleep, to have a good day with him, to go to sleep myself. Then, I looked down at his little face: he'd finally drifted to sleep, closing his dark blue eyes and opening his little mouth to snore. I loved him so intensely at that moment, more powerfully than I have ever loved anything in my life, that it made up for how tired I was, how sad I felt about my birthday.  

It is very easy to make life with a newborn sound all bad. To outsiders (those without kids or who don't want kids ever), it probably sounds like some version of hell. You squeeze a very small human out of the most narrow part of your body and then, immediately begin a year-long sprint of sleep deprivation. They can't lift their own head; they poop and pee all the time, sometimes on you; none of their clothes fit; they communicate through screaming and grunting at you. 

But the raw facts of life with a newborn ignore the really great parts. Yes, Forrest spent three hours scream-crying at me yesterday, but he then spent ten minutes on the floor with me, just looking at my face. Yes, I worry constantly about how much he's eating; I pump and measure and stress and chug water to make sure my body makes enough food, but when he falls asleep on my chest and I finally have time to take a nap, I sometimes choose holding him close to me for just another hour... just because. 

I try not to miss the things I used to do. I'd love to have time for scrapbooking, for journaling, for writing blog posts and hanging out on Twitter; I'd love to sleep for 8 hours straight, make a lazy breakfast, and drink coffee while I watch Food Network. I try not to beat myself up about my messy bedroom, about the breastmilk stains on all my shirts. Because while I am missing all those things (and it would be a lie to say that sometimes I just wish I could have one more day to myself to do all of them), I also love everything new in my life... I just have to get used to it and I'm not quite there yet. 

Am I Crazy to Attempt NaNoWriMo with a Newborn Baby?

A few weeks ago, I decided to take on a small research project. By that I mean, I decided to Google something. This is actually something I do several times a day. Usually, I search for something that, without context, seems bizarre, such as “28 weeks baby kicks seem fainter?” And then, of course, I read one link, begin to panic, and retreat into the cocoon of my bed until Forrest, undoubtedly, begins to assault my insides as retribution for worrying about him. 

However, this Google search was different. I searched, in this exact wording, “NaNoWriMo with newborn baby.” 

If I expected to get an in-depth blog post about taking on NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, a project that I’ve taken on every November for 5 years), I was mistaken. Three pages of results gave articles about “nurturing your newborn, baby novel” and lots of stuff that anthropomorphized novels into newborn babies. Basically, weird stuff and nothing related to actually trying to write a novel, in a month, about 1-2 weeks after giving birth. 

I was disappointed, so I gave up, got in bed, and took a nap. AKA the usual. 

I decided not to think about NaNoWriMo for a while. After all, November is a long ways away! Seriously, a long time! I laughed to myself as I thought about it. November is, basically, like 6 months away. Lightyears. It is lightyears away at this point. 

Then, I realized, with a shocking revelation, that my due date is in 12 weeks. Less than 12 weeks now. 11 weeks. 11 weeks. I remember being 11 weeks pregnant. How did I get to 28, 29 weeks?? How did this happen?? 

So, I hit Google again. This time, I thought of ways I could augment my search to cut out the weird, treat-your-writing-like-a-baby articles. (This, to be honest, is a pet peeve of mine. A novel is not a baby; it is a lump of words that you put on the page. It’s not living and breathing. If it’s driving you nuts, you need to take a few deep breaths and chill. Also, the use of “baby” alongside “novel” without actually talking about a baby makes it hard for people who are carrying around babies inside of them to find actual information for their actual situations.)

Anyway, I searched for: “NaNoWriMo with a baby”, “NaNoWriMo with kids”, and “NaNoWriMo post-baby.” I got, across the board, almost the exact same results as before (“Why your NaNoWriMo novel is like your least favorite kid” and “Getting your NaNoWriMo baby to behave” are two truly bizarre 5th+ page Google results). However, I did find a few baby-related (real baby, I mean) NaNoWriMo articles and one interesting blog post

But absolutely none of them talked about attempting NaNoWriMo with a newborn. With a 6-month-old, with a 1-year-old, with two toddlers, with twin toddlers, etc., yes. But newborns? No. 

This, of course, leads me to believe that most people think I’m absolutely nuts for even attempting NaNoWriMo with a newborn baby. 

If Forrest is born exactly on his due date (which is unlikely, although possible), he will be 8 days old on November 1, aka the start date of NaNoWriMo. If he is born early, he might be 2 weeks old by then. If he is born late, he might only be 4 days old or less or more. Or he could not even be born yet, if he really decides to make my life hard. There are a multitudes of possibilities when it comes to "what my life will be like in November" and I can't predict any of them. 

With all that being said though... I find myself still wanting to try NaNoWriMo. My mom keeps reassuring me that, despite what everyone says, I will have spare time once the baby comes. I will have time to eat and take a quick shower, get work done and cook. Not as much time as right now, mind you, but I won't be losing it immediately. That means in November, I will probably have at least some downtime to dedicate to myself, to staying creative. And who knows, maybe having a baby will inspire me in ways I never expected! 

I'm someone who, very often, relies on the experiences of others to calm my fears. In many ways, this is one of the benefits of the internet. Whenever I'm experiencing a particularly bizarre pregnancy symptoms (strange taste in mouth, pain in my right side, spotting, whatever), I can Google it and find 100 different accounts of what it could be, or how normal it its, or whatever. It's comforting, really. 

So, to have no accounts of a new mom taking on NaNoWriMo is terrifying because it means I'll be embarking on my journey with no past experiences to calm me down or tell me how it will go. It could go fine, like any other year that I've completed a novel. Or it could be awful, a stressful waste of time that makes me feel cranky and silly and dumb, a 1/4-finished novel on my computer and no pretty certificate to print.

I'm willing to take one for the team though. I'm willing to be the first... if only so I can write about it and tell the world, one way or another, if it really is crazy.