I looked across the delivery room at my two sisters and my mom as they paced back and forth like a coalition of protective cheetahs. This would be the first baby in the family, and as scared as I was, I knew I’d never be alone. We were like female animals in the wild, all stepping up to protect the young, like herds of elephants do. When I yelled out and cried in pain, they threw their trunks in the air yelling and crying too.
We tried to crack jokes as a distraction, and as our exaggerated laughter echoed in the air, we’d try to be reeeeaaaal serious during my more intense contractions (nearly impossible with a group like us). At times, we started sounding like a tribe of screaming chimps, a pack of hyenas, or a brood of chickens, all laughing and clucking over one other. In moments of awkward silence, my sister would imitate Cher’s synthesized voice, “Do you be-li-eve in life after love,” and laughter would erupt. She was SO good at it.
My other sister took photos and laughed hysterically at a photo of my catheter bag, like we really needed a photo of pee? (She deleted it.) Occasionally, I’d look over and see my mom taking a break, sitting down with a magazine, and I’d wonder how the hell she had all three of us. She was the Queen Bee. Beautiful, strong, and ready to become the world’s greatest Gramma. I remember watching her and thinking if she did it, so can I.
I stared off for a moment at that little table where they’d be cleaning my son off after he was born. I felt a thickness in air, the same way it felt when I was in that CVS bathroom holding the pregnancy test.
Voices started to fade in and out as I screamed in pain, and then came total silence as my son entered the world. We all waited for his first breath, and when he cried out, we all did too. The doctor quickly laid his little tan body with dark hair on my chest, and I stared into his big, chocolatey eyes. He stared back, and I felt every remaining crack in my heart fill with a glowing light.
Tears streamed down my face onto his little arms. He stared at me without blinking, and I noticed that his tight-fisted hands started to peel open, finger-by-finger like a blooming flower. I felt like that was his way of silently telling me he felt safe in my arms - he was ready for our life to begin together. I knew him so well already and he knew me even better…nothing else mattered anymore.
Of course, that feeling didn’t last long. The doctor flipped on the lights in my recovery room and bounced in like a Care Bear walking on a rainbow. My tired eyes narrowed at the sight of her, and I hissed like a feral cat as she opened the blinds to let sunlight in.
I couldn’t stand her cheery voice or smile either. Every question she asked pissed me off. I wanted total darkness, as bad as Gollum wanted “the ring,” and I knew that wasn’t right. As I signed paperwork and nodded yes or no to nurses with their millions of questions and wristband scans, I felt like I was underwater. I could feel myself slipping away into darkness. I just wanted to be left alone to lick my wounds, but when they finally released us, I was terrified to leave.
“I have a blue house with a blue window…”
I sat on the bed in my old room at my mom’s house, staring at the paintings on the walls. My Mom had made these for my son to come home to, but I felt sad seeing Tootle the Train and Curious George gleefully staring back at me. The Pokey Little Puppy was painted with a little ear flap, and there was a dish running away with a spoon near Dumbo. Such cute paintings for such a wonderful life transition, yet I began to cry as I stared at them.
I continued crying while breastfeeding him too. As a new mother, it’s pounded into every cell in our body that, “Breast is Best!” (mocking whiney voice). The hospital even had pictures of bottles with a big “X” over them. Well, I struggled, and I mean really struggled. I tried nipple shields, I swilled non-alcoholic beer and special teas, I did breastfeeding classes, I even prayed about it, “Dear God, please turn me into a cow…”
You name it, I tried it. I just had very low milk supply, and latching issues, and my son was so hungry. I’d pathetically try to pump and only get a half an ounce at a time. Meanwhile, other women were spinning hay into gold, pumping vats of milk and filling up their freezers.
I so wished mothers bragged about anything else but that. It’s not really a skill to be able to produce so much milk, is it? Maybe it is, and I’m totally missing something. I just honestly would have rather heard over and over and over again how they lost all their baby weight in two weeks, how they delivered with no pain killers, or even how they didn’t have to destroy their vaginas because they got a C-section. You know, the standard new mom bragging we all do, when we all pretend to not feel like shattered glass inside.
To top things off, my son was colicky. My poor mom would try to bring a bottle into the room at 2 or 3a.m. after hearing hours of crying (from both me and my son), but I’d throw a pillow or scream, “Get out!” in my best exorcist voice. It got to the point where she’d push food into my room with a broom handle and run off. I was absolutely crazy over the whole breastfeeding thing and felt like a total failure as a mother and as a human being.
So, my son and I cried daily, every hour on the hour, and I knew I’d have to give into formula eventually. I remember staring at the bottle with bitter tears rolling down my fat cheeks, teeth clenched and my brows furrowed. According to the online mom blogs, formula was poison and I was a “lazy, selfish” mom if I fed him that.
What kind of mother had I become? The bottle sat there filled to the brim with warm formula ready to feed MY baby, and I was at my wits end. So I gave in.
As my son drank the formula, my face crumpled into failure and defeat. I cried tears of disappointment all over that bottle as he drank like he’d never been fed before. He smiled for the first time after he finished, and I cried even harder because I realized my stubbornness to breastfeed was actually starving him. I continued my crying in every shower and every night before I went to bed, every…single…day like clockwork.
As my “milk supply” began to dry up, so did my tears. It wasn’t relief that I was feeling though, it was just that those tears could no longer find their way out. It was as if I were a robot with rusted eyes, just standing there, lifeless with a “does not compute” look on my face. I started catching myself staring off for long moments at a time, without blinking. I was totally and utterly defeated.
It was about 80 days in when I realized I had postpartum depression.
I called my sister one day and in an ugly crying voice and said, “Can you come over?” Of course she rushed over and I was crying on the couch with my son next to me; bottles strewn about like bullet casings after a shoot-out. Laundry was all over the place like canary row, and that time in my life was definitely my Great Depression.
Trying to juggle a screaming baby, make bottles, feed, burp, change – it’s like you’re in a battle, and if you can’t re-load your bottle fast enough, bang, you’re dead. Plus I was financially broke, emotionally destroyed, tired (more like exhausted), a fatty boom batty, and I had hit rock bottom. Sure, I was grateful to have my son, and I did love him so much, but when negative thoughts just play over and over in your mind like a broken record, it feels like there’s no way to escape.
My sister scooped him up and then I cried more, because she was smiling at him and I envied that. Why couldn’t I smile like that? Why was I so damn sad? I watched her rocking my son, and a little neuron in my brain must have fired a signal to wake the f-word up, because I suddenly felt my eyes widen, my heart race, and my hands clench into fists.
My entire body boiled like lava, as if it was on fire. I suddenly decided right then are there, that I needed to eat right and exercise again, too. No more excuses. I was done settling for less. Enough was enough! I was tired of being sad. It had been 6 months, and I had hardly lost 1 lb. Suddenly, it was go time. I began envisioning flashes of my former body in my mind. I saw myself dancing at a bar, laughing and whipping my hair around like a maniac. I guess every woman has “her moment” when she suddenly wakes up from her slumber and wants change. It’s different for us all, but one thing’s for sure: our fire never burns out. I knew that in order for me to return to my hair whipping days, (minus the bar), I needed that fire to stay burning. I needed oxygen, fuel and more heat. I knew I couldn’t starve my way out this, and I knew I had to exercise. I took a deep breath. I was suddenly ready to spread my fire.
That night, I sat on the couch eating my last bowl(s) of ice-cream before I started my new diet (I was motivated but wanted to treat myself one last time). The movie “Death Becomes Her” was on T.V. which is one of the all-time favorite movies that my sisters and I quote constantly (especially the “You pushed me down the staaairs” line). From the scene when Helen (I love you Goldie Hawn), was standing in her trashed kitchen with cats in the cabinets, eating frosting with her bare hands, to Madeline (I love you too Meryl Streep), saying “bottoms up,” and drinking that glowing pink potion, I began to realize this movie was definitely made for new moms. I wanted that potion! A quick fix would have been so nice, but I knew damn well I had to work for it. I also knew it was going to much harder than ever before.
As I continued to shovel ice-cream in my mouth, I watched Madeline drink the potion. She stood in front of the mirror, and stared at herself. As her body transformed by magic back to a small waist, lifted boobs, and tight skin, she then says in a breathy voice, “I’m a girl.” I remember laughing out loud at this, because at that exact time in my life I’d look in the mirror every day, and staring back at me was a straight-up dude. Not a lick of make-up on, hair pulled back with what looked like tres flores (Mexican hair grease) in it, hairy-ass legs and pits, and baggy clothes on. To each their own, but this was not my style. Personally, I liked getting my hair and nails done. I enjoyed different lip colors and mascara too. There’s nothing wrong with that. Quite frankly, I just love color and shine. Other people would say: “motherhood is the most feminine time in your life”, and I’d be thinking, (as I’d adjust my granny panties from my crotch), “Oh hell to the naw naw it isn’t!”
As I sat there, the flicker of the television reflected in my eyes like dial-up AOL. I was (slowly) loading. I felt my fat ass coming back to life even more. I threw my ice-cream bowl aside and turned off the TV. My fire was already spreading and I hadn’t even worked out yet. The woman I had become, buried under blubbery fat and sweat, was now digging her way out to take revenge. I dug upward from my grave, realizing that no matter how “dead” I had been feeling inside, I could still pretend to be alive and see where that might take me.
So, the next day I woke up, steamed some God-awful broccoli, worked out with my son next to me, and put on some make-up afterwards. I hadn’t worn a lot of make-up prior to a baby, but after having him, natural beauty was gone with the wind honey. I needed a boost. The make-up was pushed all the way to back of a drawer covered in broken eyeshadow dust, and it was technically expired. But Sephora was too rich for my blood - I stuck to the cheap crap I had on hand. I also had gone so far as running a comb through my rat’s nest hair, and I swear I saw something jump out of it. To this day I still wonder what that was.
As I walked my son to the grocery store to buy more protein and broccoli, no one would know I’d been puked on, peed on, crapped on, and slept only 30 minutes the night before. I had on mascara to identify the two tired slits I called eyes, some bronzer to pretend I had cheekbones and to appear as though I’d seen the light of day (I hadn’t), and some plumping lip gloss I had from college.
That lip gloss burned so badly it felt like I had set my lips on fire. I didn’t wipe it off though - I was too determined to try to be “pretty” and what society would call “normal” again. As I walked, I put a little pep in my step, adjusting an old thong I managed to squeeze on. It was so uncomfortable. I had even shaved my legs down to my cankles, which were all cut up from rushing my shower while my son was crying.
Even though I did it all half-assed, I still did it. I noticed myself smiling at strangers in the grocery store. I even walked passed the sheet cakes, allowing only my peripheral vision to peek. I noticed bright blue frosting as I passed, and my mouth watered like one of Pavlov’s dogs, but I kept it moving, head strong, and with my eyes on the prize. I know it sounds terrible that I had to apply a mask of make-up to feel better, but superheroes do it all the time. Technically, I was a sheet-cake super hero that day.
Throughout the week, I did have moments of tears eating my broccoli, asparagus, bok choy and spinach. That’s technically how I salted it all, but also, I had breakdowns almost daily from sleep deprivation. The days went on, and I kept going consistently with my workouts no matter what happened. I made no excuses - giving into my old self was like jumping back into that coffin. I refused to be buried again.
Even though I was hiding the fact that I was miserable, and heartbroken, I couldn’t help but feel a little better after I exercised. I never once regretted a workout. Everyone needs a coping mechanism after having a baby, and I found the things that worked for me. I so badly wanted hair whipping Sophia back, that I just stayed on track and let nothing derail me.
Even though I was like an actress, fakin’ it for my own sanity, I was still moving forward. I felt really ugly on the inside sometimes, sad, and lost, so I had to do what I had to do until I figured out how to help my heart heal. Each workout made me physically stronger, which helped me talk to myself in a more positive way. I began to notice that I stopped grabbing my stomach fat when I was feeling sad, and I stopped cracking jokes about my size to others. I felt myself become more grounded as each day passed. I was less confused, and more powerful mentally and physically.
Not all women are created equal. Some of us just need laughter, or a strong support system to get us to our goals. I had my family there by my side, but I was still a single mom. I didn’t have a partner hugging me, or telling me I’m beautiful no matter what. I wasn’t laughing much either because I had a lot on my plate. I had to figure out for myself what worked for me, and what I needed to do in order to love myself more. Someone had to love me, and that someone was me. Every moment of every day was crucial, and each day I had to gather enough strength to keep pushing forward. It wasn’t easy. Some days I needed superficial help, other days I needed Britney Spears songs, and sometimes, I just needed a good cry. Whatever you need to do to motivate yourself, do it. Don’t ever apologize for it.
One day I was feeling frumpy and bloated, so I pulled open my dresser drawer, and decided it was time to actually put on something other than a threadbare sports bra. I threw aside balled up assortments of Costco Granny panties and pulled out an old lace push-up bra that was buried deep. I stared at it for a moment, trying to find excuses to put it back. I held it’s perfectly formed cups in the hands, and looked down at my XXL shirt covered in stains. I felt unworthy of the beautiful black and purple lace in my hands, but then I remembered what made me dig for the bra in the first place. I wanted to feel different, and so with that, I forced myself to put it on.
As I walked through the grocery store I felt myself hunching over, almost afraid to draw any attention to myself. I jumped the gun on the whole push-up bra idea, I hadn’t thought it through, but at that point it was too late. When I got to the checkout line, to my surprise, a man let me cut in front of him. He even stuttered and became flustered when he offered. Sure, he was staring at my chest as I smiled and thanked him, and he was pushin’ 90 with cataract in his left eye and a patch over the other, but I realized I actually needed that little bit of validation. In those new mom/newborn days, even a