Updated: Jan 21, 2022
It's New Year's Eve and the baby just went down for the night. I've poured myself a glass of wine and am sitting down to take a look back at this wild year. (I acknowledge that time has perhaps lost all meaning since March 2020, but humor me here.) 2021 was one of the most significant growth years of my life, an adventure full of tumult and emotion, and I wanted to take time to reflect on the two biggest changes that occurred.
2021 Was the Year I Became a Mom
On the evening of Thursday, January 7th, I was standing in the kitchen with Kev, cleaning up after dinner, when I said to him that I think the baby will be here soon. That night, I went into labor. After hours of tracking my contractions, I called my OB at 6am, checked into the hospital around 8:30am, and Jasper was born at 3:35pm on Friday, January 8th.
From that moment on, time began to be measured differently: first by 24 hour cycles from birth so that we could monitor his diapers and feeding, then by feedings, wake windows, and naps. Hundreds of 24 hour-cycles and many more wake windows have since passed and Jasper is about to turn one. Nearly a year later, time mostly makes sense again. I recognize old rhythms in our routines. When Jasper was born, everything in my life became fluid, cast adrift and forced to orient around a new North Star. I found myself so far out into the unknown for months, at times not sure exactly who I was anymore, or how much of the old me I could reclaim. Yet with time, the pieces of who I was before I was a mom have fallen back into orbit, albeit with shifts in alignment. This year has redrawn the map of my identity.
Becoming a mom brought with it an entire world, one that layered over the one I knew. These days, it's often about finding my place in relation to the two planes at once. I've grown so much this year, sometimes through discomfort, and felt a stretching of the limits of my physical, mental, and emotional experience. It was a year of discovery, and of amazement. Motherhood's companions are love that aches, a body that aches, exhaustion, worry, and mess. Its gifts are the purest joy, absolute awe, community (sometimes through commiseration), and a new realm of adjacent possibilities for my hopes and imagination. It has refocused my priorities and given me conviction about the value of my time. It's given to both Kev and me the gift of knitting our families even closer together. It's become the force that ushers me out of bed in the morning, the cause of occasional insomnia, and the reason I need to go to sleep at a reasonable hour.
It's beautiful. It has literally rewired my brain. It's made everything new again. It's relearning the world alongside him. It's marveling at leaves, the wind, and ducks on a pond. I love being a mom. But something so profound as this new title comes with complexities, and it's important to me to be plain about the hard parts as well.
The newborn days, those first three months or so, were by far the most difficult time in my life. The simple truth is that there is no way to prepare for the loss of sleep sustained over weeks and months. Kev called it sleep torture because the baby seemed to cry the very second you're about to fall asleep. The common advice to sleep when the baby sleeps was so hard to implement, as you could never tell how long the baby would sleep and therefore couldn't allow yourself to embrace a nap in case you needed to be awake in the next moment. Those windows were also the only time we had to do anything, and often, we chose to tackle household tasks, to shower, or to just sit on the couch for a minute.
At first, we tried to do it all together - every diaper change every night. Then, we tried alternating, but that still left us both with terribly interrupted sleep. Eventually, we fell into a schedule where I would sleep from 10pm-4am while Kev was on baby duty, and then I would get up for the day while he slept. We didn't get to be in bed together much, but at least we were getting more rest. During this time, I would often get a window of time around 6 or 7am while Jazzy was down for a nap and before Kev and the dogs got up where I could make myself some hot tea and sit in silence while the winter sun slowly lit up our home. Those moments of peace, and the gift of seeing the sun rise, are what I take with me. I'm aware that I now look back on that time with a fondness bestowed by distance. My body, however, remembers viscerally how taxed it was: I still avoid turning on the under-cabinet lights in my kitchen because those were the lights that stayed on all night in those first months. Even months later, they conjure a hint of post-traumatic stress.
Breastfeeding was a journey too, something that brought pangs of postpartum blues. It was excruciatingly painful at first, pain that physically pulled tears into my eyes. I tried to power through the tenderness and the cracking skin, and I felt deeply inadequate when I had to admit that I needed a break. I cried the first time we bottle fed him pumped milk. It took over a month and a mix of bottle fed breastmilk and formula for me to get comfortable breastfeeding. The leakage, the soreness, the anxiety over supply, the perpetual feeling that I should be pumping more often. None of it was tidy, and all of it combined to make me feel shackled to the feeding schedule. Then when I stopped altogether at nine months, by which time the postpartum hormones that amplified negative feelings had subsided, it again felt like a failure because I'd originally wanted to breastfeed for 10-12 months.
On the marriage front, we didn't really struggle with our bond during that time. However, I watched Kev struggle to adjust to what felt to him like a loss of his previous life. Where I had a 40 week head-start, it was hitting him all at once. For a while he had to take on my household responsibilities, especially in those early weeks while I was recovering. Feeding and walking the dogs, shoveling the January snow, cooking and cleaning, etc. On top of that he was always checking in on me, waking up alongside me or taking shifts, and dealing with starting a new job in the midst of it all. These things kept him busy, and he is one who finds comfort in solving by doing. But he was nonstop doing, and it burnt him out. All of these feelings were compounded by pandemic life; there were so many things we'd lost that we hadn't properly mourned.
But now that we're on the other side of it, I'm amazed at what we accomplished together. We figured it out with no help in those first months of isolation, before vaccines were available. It was so hard. I'm so proud of us for getting through it.
In 2021, I Quit My Job
I was part of the Great Resignation that the pandemic brought about; I quit my job this September. It was the first time that I’d done so without having something else lined up, and it brought me a great deal of anxiety even though it had been the plan since before I got pregnant.
You see, I was deeply unhappy in the role, and it was impacting my sense of self, my mental health, and my confidence in my professional skills. It was almost as if I was in a toxic relationship with my work.
The unhappiness manifested physically too. My body was telling me for a long time that it wasn’t okay. During a particularly low year I dealt with bouts of hives that erupted daily. My skin felt like simmering water. I tried medicating and going to doctors and the only thing that helped somewhat was acupuncture, something I tried out of desperation. I knew deep down, however, that the cause wasn’t physical and therefore treatment of the symptoms could only go so far. I would sometimes joke that I was allergic to work while privately dreading the crop of hives that I’d feel developing later that evening at home, like a buzzing in my body.
Despite knowing in my bones that I was in a bad situation that was making me unhappy, it was really difficult for me to decide to leave. I would find ways to tell myself that it wasn’t all that bad, that it was nothing that couldn’t be managed by changing my own mindset. Throughout my pregnancy and even during maternity leave, I wavered back and forth.
Finally, it was this thought that, once articulated in my mind, took root and grew into a deep conviction: I don’t want to make choices out of fear, and I especially don’t want to model that for Jasper. I’d let imposter syndrome tell me that maybe I didn’t have any REAL skills, that maybe all I do all day is make slides and spin bad news. I’d let that erode my self confidence, which resulted in never feeling qualified for any of the job listings I saw.
Bottom line, I was terrified. I knew I would be happier, and yet for so long I let myself be paralyzed by fear. The idea of being unemployed with no prospects brought up deeply uncomfortable feelings I’d learned in childhood, some of which were reinforced early on in my career, about financial insecurity, about maybe not finding a job ever again (silly, I know), about being financially dependent on someone, even someone whom I trust to take care of me in every other aspect of life.
It was these words from Elizabeth Gilbert, shared by a fellow small business owner and mom, that soothed my worried mind once I’d made the decision:
Everyone who ever
changed their life or
laid claim to their own destiny
began by surrendering to
It's okay if you don't know yet
what happens next.
You just have to be honest
about what your deepest
truth is telling you.
If that's what your
body, heart, and soul
are trying to tell you:
I did it, I left the job, and it turned out exactly as I knew it would: I'm so much happier. But I’m not going to entertain thoughts such as “why didn’t I leave sooner?” Instead, my story is about doing what needed to be done for my mental and emotional health, taking the time to build the courage, and growing through the many hours spent agonizing over anxieties, honoring them and sitting with them and asking them questions.
I’ve gained invaluable gifts through letting go of that job. Precious precious time. That time was spent with my baby, making the most pottery I’ve ever made in a year, and doing countless other things and not doing things. All with a feeling of lightness I'd almost forgotten, having at last let go of a weight that was held for so long.
If you've read to this point, thank you for allowing me to share these stories. I wish you and your loved ones a new year filled with hope, motivation, growth, laughs, hot coffee on cold mornings, new horizons, healthy plants, and restful nights.