postpartum style

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. 

Creating a Postpartum Capsule Wardrobe: Restocking Dresses

Remember when I used to wear dresses all the time? Literally every day? The last time I put on a dress, I cried because it was the maxi maternity dress I'd worn multiple days in a row as my pregnancy neared its end. Yeah, dresses aren't exactly as easy topic for me anymore--especially because all my dresses are way, way too small in the chest these days. 

That means, I have 5 dresses (3 maternity, 2 throw aways ultimately) in my closet right now, none of which make me feel good, but all of which "fit". I'm between a rock and a hard place, but I know with the right dresses, I'll be feeling fine in now time... right? 

When it comes to creating a capsule, I want to follow the rule of simple pieces, with lots of opportunity to remix. Two years ago, I wore a black shirt dress nearly every day (until I washed it, the shirt shrank weird, and it became super unflattering); I loved how it fit, I loved how I could pair it with different scarves, sweaters, and shoes for totally different looks. My dress choices are based off my love for that dress (which I wish I had a good picture of). Here they are: 

Embroidered Back Chambray Shirtdress,  Maurices . Women's Classic Denim Shirtdress,  Le3no.  Women's Shirtdress,  Land's End .

Embroidered Back Chambray Shirtdress, Maurices. Women's Classic Denim Shirtdress, Le3no. Women's Shirtdress, Land's End.

1. A Chambray Dress

I like chambray. I like shirt dresses. Plus, denim or chambray is much less likely to misshape in the wash than, say, a polyester blend. Here are three options I found via Pinterest. I especially like the Land's End version (the styling, obviously, makes it super appealing, because the length is great, the fabric is probably higher quality than Maurices, and it has a real belt... rather than an elasticized waist. Besides being durable, chambray is also something you can mix and match with: wear skirts over it, pair with scarves and cardigans, layer with sweaters over or long-sleeved shirts under... the options are endless. 

Perfectly Posh Black Long Sleeve Dress,  Lulu's . Long Sleeve Button Front Shirt,  Nordstrom Rack .

Perfectly Posh Black Long Sleeve Dress, Lulu's. Long Sleeve Button Front Shirt, Nordstrom Rack.

2. A Long Sleeve Black Dress

Have you ever googled "black long sleeve workwear dress" before? Word to the wise: don't, it's very depressing. Why is it so hard to find age-appropriate black dresses? Who knew this was so needed? The most worn color in the world in the most desired style in the world... really? The options are so depressing. If you can believe it, these are the best of the best... and there are 2 of them. I for sure won't be buying either of these dresses, but these 2 shapes are classics that I like to wear. That being said, the Lulu's dress is obviously way too short, probably poorly made (it's Lulu's, c'mon), and probably wouldn't fit correctly to my postpartum body. The Nordstrom Rack dress is... shapeless. That being said, I'm ultimately looking for the simplicity of the Lulu's dress, the quality of the Nordstrom Rack dress, and long sleeves. What's a girl gotta do to find a long sleeve black dress? 

Meadows on My Mind Dress,  Modcloth . Folksy Focus Dress,  Modcloth . Folksy the Sights Dress,  Modcloth .

Meadows on My Mind Dress, Modcloth. Folksy Focus Dress, Modcloth. Folksy the Sights Dress, Modcloth.

3. A Fun Patterned Sundress 

You say "sundress" and Modcloth whispers, "I thought you'd never ask!" Sundresses are where Modcloth excels, because they seem to have an "in" on amazing, fun patterns. A uniquely patterned sundress might seem like the ultimately one-wear items, but I think you'd be wrong, actually: with the right pattern, you can wear it with a variety of cardigans, solid scarves (in the early Fall or late Spring), and fun Summer hats. Plus, it's nice to have one pretty, perhaps impractical thing... even in a capsule wardrobe. 

I'm still on the hunt for the perfect pieces for my capsule wardrobe, but as I narrow things down, I'm always up for suggestions, advice, or the perfect pieces you might find online. Share with me on Twitter!

Creating a Postpartum Capsule Wardrobe

Whenever I find myself talking about my postpartum body and style, I find myself getting (reasonably) dramatic. "I am a blimp," I have found myself saying to my husband. "I am a planet with a gravitational pull!" I cry to my mom group on Facebook. What is wrong with me? I think privately. Why can't I just diet

It's the question the world seems to pose to pregnant women. When you're pregnant, no matter how big or small you are, the world loves your body: you have another human you're taking care of! Eat the ice cream, the Oreos, the Taco Bell! However, it doesn't take long after birth to realize the cold, hard truth: you are now expected to just go back to normal, as if nothing spectacular happened to your body at all. 

I remember the empty feeling immediately after I had Forrest. And in the six days I spent in the hospital, I found myself feeling like a shell, merely a vehicle for this baby. I felt like the nurses treated me like I was nothing more than a delivery service, my needs and wants were secondary, and I was merely a food source, a fleshy cafeteria. 

This feeling is perpetuated at every turn: your baby is your number 1 priority, but it's also everyone else's. No one wanted to know about how foreign I felt in my own body, about how I ached, about how lonely and sad I felt. No one wants to hear about how I struggle to diet now (because, being an exclusive pumper, I know exactly what my supply is... and when I diet, I can see it shrink, the ounces diminishing); no one wants to hear about how tired I am, too tired to exercise. They just want me to do it and/or stop complaining about my body. 

I used to think that way. Really, I did! I thought new moms were lazy. How can you not have time to exercise? I thought, 22 and not a mom. How can you not focus on what you eatI was a bitch, that's for sure. I'm eating my words now. 

Over the weekend, I decided enough was enough: I was tired of making myself feel bad and I was tired of standing in front of a bulging closet and knowing that nothing fit. I took out every single item that no longer fit and put it in a bag. Part of it made me sad: I find it difficult to say goodbye to things I love, but can no longer wear. That being said, I've decided if it makes me feel bad, I'm not going to deal with it. 

I now have the saddest collection of items in my closet imaginable: four dresses (two maternity maxis); 2 pairs of jeans; 3 pairs of leggings; a smattering of topics (mostly maternity tunics); and sweaters, some of which are a touch too small, but fine for now. 

I decided the thing to do would be to create a capsule wardrobe. 

If I'm going to be starting from scratch, I should probably start from scratch the right way. I still have lots of stuff to clean out (I have drawers full of t-shirts I will never wear), but it's never too early to get started. 

My plan is to invest in pieces to make my body look great now--and rotate them out as I lose weight. As I'm working on my capsule wardrobe, I'll be sharing what I decide to keep and what I decide to buy here. If you'd like to see what I'm pinning along the way, you can follow my Capsule Wardrobe board on Pinterest

The Many Steps to Dressing a Postpartum Body

1. Avoid looking in full-length mirrors. Or the bathroom mirror. And definitely not when you get your rare shower. 

2. Diligently fold all your maternity clothes up and put them in a box. Two weeks later, find that box, unearth the maternity leggings in it, and sigh. 

3. Go shopping for a new pair of jeans. Cry. 

4. Wonder how new jeans can somehow emphasize the mound of jello that has mysteriously replaced your belly. 

5. Pull on jeans while saying things like, "That's it, no more pizza!" and "I'm gonna snack on carrots from now on!" 

6. Yell about your bra size. Just get in someone's face and yell about it. Yell about how none of your dresses fit on top, none of your shirts button, your formerly light and flowy tops have been reduced to ill-fitting boob drapes, your sweaters look funny. 

7. Wrap yourself in sweats and flannel shirts and whisper, "I will never wear real clothes again. I am the mom, one with the yoga pant, so forgiving." 

8. Vow to eat healthier. Immediately think about the jar of lactation cookies that you need, seriously

9. Make yourself cry by trying on your old jeans. 

10. Be comforted by the fact that your workout clothes still fit. 

11. Declare your lazy days of postpartum bliss over and start working on. Attempt a 21-day no junk food rule. 

12. Eat junk food after a mere 3 days. 

13. Google at least 3x: "how many calories does breastfeeding burn really?" 

14. Wonder how many moms actually lose tons of weight exclusively breastfeeding. Upon asking mom group, find out it's basically the unicorn of postpartum life. 

15. Thanks, doctors, for making us all believe in unicorns. 

16. Vow to do a big closet clean out and repurchase stuff to make you feel better. Vaguely wonder just where you'll find the money to do such a thing. Push those feelings aside. 

17. Put your trusty leggings back on. They look pretty ok, anyway, and the baby never judges you. 

The Fantasy of Postpartum Style

I came home from the hospital 22 pounds lighter than when I'd given birth, but that didn't mean my pre-pregnancy jeans buttoned.

It's important to know that this is not exactly typical in pregnancy. As of writing this, I'm a mere 2 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight. As it turned out, I'd been gaining water weight for a majority of my pregnancy (suggesting preeclampsia without ever actually showing any symptoms), meaning that the minute I wasn't pregnant anymore, all that water had to go somewhere.

The entire time I was pregnant, I fantasized about what I would wear post-pregnancy: chic striped shirts and jeans for walks in the park, cute sweaters and boots. I pinned outfits on Polyvore. I spent hours looking at boots, measuring my calves (which were bloated with fluid, little did I know), and excitedly looking forward everything I thought I would wear once I actually gave birth. Part of me knew that I wouldn't just automatically shrink back to how I looked before, but having no experience with a postpartum body, I couldn't imagine any other world. 

But one month postpartum and I'm still dressing, essentially, the same exact way I dressed during pregnancy. I have made little discernible change in my wardrobe, aside from the fact that 1) my shoes fit and 2) my clothes are a little (or in some cases, a lot) more comfy now. I also spend about half of my day pumping and feeding Forrest, which means that my clothes require me to be able to easily take my shirt off and that they are covered in milk at least part of the time. I only recently wore jeans for the first time since giving birth and that's only because I bought a new pair. But, typically, day-to-day I wear a tank top and sweatpants. 

It was very easy to imagine that, the minute I had Forrest, my life would transform back into the life I'd always known: I'd dress the same ways, do the same things, and have time for everything I'd ever done before. In these first few hectic days, I've found myself briefly wondering what, exactly, I've gotten myself into. Am I insane? Why did I ever think I could handle this?

The first few weeks of having a baby are, ultimately, about survival: you do what you have to to get through the day, whether that means not showering for four days, wearing the same tank top, or carrying your baby around near constantly because they won't sleep otherwise. Survival, strangely enough, doesn't really include dressing in all the things you fantasized about wearing. 

That doesn't mean there aren't opportunities for style in the early months. One of the best things new parents can do is take some time for themselves. At least once a week, my mom will watch Forrest while Danny and I go out to dinner or go grocery shopping. It gives us a chance to dress and act like humans again... as well as to eat a full meal with both hands. Often, days where Danny and I go out, even for an hour, on our own are the days that I shower, do my hair, and put on normal clothes. A month ago, I never would have walked out the door with primer, foundation, and mascara, but I frequently find myself heading to pediatrician appointments in yesterday's make up. 

Style is something that will always be incredibly important to me as a person. I love dressing up, creating outfits, and thinking of new ways to wear things. But as a new mom, it's just not a priority... and that's ok.