For most of my young adult life, I never saw myself as a mom or expected to become one. I remember the exact moment that changed for me. I was 26, engaged to be married and was visiting a couple we were close friends with who just had their first baby. I didn’t want to hold him, but my friend insisted and placed the sleeping little baby in my arms. As I looked at his tiny, sweet baby face, he suddenly squirmed in my arms and I held him closer, to make sure his movements wouldn’t cause me to drop him. Holding him and taking it all in, something inside me awoke and from that moment on, I couldn’t wait to be a mom.
But I did wait. I wanted to get married and graduate college before we tried to get pregnant, and of course when it was ‘time’ for us to try, it didn’t happen as quickly and easily as we expected. Eventually though, I was shocked to see my first positive pregnancy test (more like 5 positive tests because I just couldn’t believe it), and just like that my motherhood journey was officially beginning.
Or so I thought. I went to my first pregnancy appointment around the 9 week mark, feeling physically awful and nauseous, but over the moon excited to see my little baby on the screen, so it would finally feel real. Unfortunately, what I saw on the screen wasn’t a baby. It was a blighted ovum. My non-medical understanding of it is that the cells at some point just stop reproducing to create the baby, but my body didn’t know yet, which is why I still had all my pregnancy symptoms. We were blindsided by this loss, especially since until that point, I didn’t know of anyone who had a miscarriage before - though what I found out later is that I did know a couple women who did, but just never talked about it. That miscarriage ended in a D&C at the hospital, which if you’ve ever had one you know it typically doesn’t happen right away. So it’s a process of finding out about your loss, being upset, walking around feeling pregnant until the procedure, and then dealing with the loss all over again. At least that’s what happened for me.
When we found out I was pregnant, we had told close friends and family about it, so we had to tell them about the miscarriage. That was really hard because I was dealing with my own feelings about it, then had to tell others and deal with their feelings about it too - some of which were really intense. People don’t know what to say in these moments, and I get it. I’ve had 3 losses in total and I still don’t know what would be the ‘right’ thing to say. On top of dealing with all those emotions, there were the people in our life who didn’t know we had experienced a loss and were constantly asking us when we were going to have kids. The inner emotional turmoil that comes from the experience was unbearable at times. But I moved through it.
Six months after the D&C I got pregnant again. Every doctor’s appointment after a loss is so scary. I was so worried and anxious about going through that experience again. Thankfully, this pregnancy went to term, though I did get gestational diabetes, which required me to follow a diet, test my blood all day long, and give myself insulin shots every night for the last few months. Not to mention it gave me a fresh list of things to worry about that could go wrong during the pregnancy, the delivery, and beyond that, for both me and the baby.
When I had my first daughter, the joy I felt was quickly replaced with the overwhelm that is common with a newborn - especially your first. Nothing was working out the way I wanted. I desperately wanted to breastfeed and couldn’t. The baby cried so often, mostly when I was home alone with her, and never wanted to be put down (when we were out she seemed to be way better). I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and was inundated with so much advice and opinions that I didn’t know what was right and ultimately began to believe I was doing a horrible job at this mom thing. And to top it off, I realized I really didn’t have the level of support I wanted and needed to allow me to process and adjust and take care of myself while I was transitioning into motherhood.
After my maternity leave, I went back to work, and I tried so hard to get back to my old life - the one I felt I was good at. And when I wasn’t working, I started to find myself falling into old habits of drinking and smoking pot, trying to settle my nerves, look like I was having fun, and escape the pressures and responsibilities of parenting. There were no clear consequences from this behavior, thankfully, and I imagine that most people on the outside, even those who knew what I was doing, probably saw it and thought it was pretty acceptable mommy behavior overall. Cause you know - ‘mommy needs wine’.
But inside I was riddled with guilt and a feeling of dissatisfaction in my own behavior and my life. At one point I had wanted to become a mom so badly, and mourned the loss of that first baby, yet here I finally got what I wanted and I felt like I was throwing it away. It became clear to me that this was not the way I wanted to live life and wasn’t helping me be the mom I wanted to be.
After trying to make changes in my life over and over again with no real success, I realized I needed help if I was going to really become the person I wanted to be and to live the life I wanted. I somehow found out about a life coach - something I didn’t know existed until I found her - and signed up to work with her. At the same time, I also found a wonderful therapist to work with as well. Working with these 2 women helped me understand so much about what was happening with me under the surface and empowered me to really explore, and embrace, the life I really desired, which was nothing like the life I was currently living.
With this special combination of support, and a lot of time and dedication, I was able to slowly start changing my life. I stopped being scared of hard feelings and started learning how to deal with them, instead of trying to hide from them by drinking and smoking. I learned how to take care of myself, mentally and physically, which I had never done before, at any point in my life. I confronted the fact that so much in my life wasn’t what I truly wanted and started creating something new, from my home to my career to my friendships and beyond. And through all that, I’ve become the woman I truly want to be, which allows me to show up as the mom I want to be too, so I can fully enjoy this season of motherhood and life.
Over the last 5 years, as I’ve made all these changes, I’ve had two more miscarriages but also brought another two babies into the world. Though each loss was devastating in its own way, I was more prepared (and supported by my coach and therapist) as they happened, so I was able to manage them a lot differently than that first one. But I will never forget each one of those experiences, and am very aware how they shaped my pregnancy experiences, in both good and bad ways.
Now, thanks to all the work I’ve done to better myself and my life, the experience with my last two babies was completely opposite from that of my first. Though the newborn stage (and some subsequent stages) innately comes with some amount of craziness and overwhelm, I never felt the need to turn to any substances to ‘deal’ with the challenges. And as a mom of 3 awesome little girls, (a 7 year old, an almost 3 year old, and a 9 month old), I am super proud of how I show up for myself and them - even when life is crazy.
Thanks to the choices I made back then (and the ones I continue to make today), I am so clear on who I am and the mom I want to be, and I know how to act accordingly. I have more confidence, I understand how to care for them and me, and I have tools to handle the challenges, frustrations and just everyday mom life. Though it’s obviously hard sometimes, I no longer attribute that to being because of me, and because of that I can move through it with more ease and have more fun than I ever thought I could. I no longer expect perfection from life, them, or me, and that makes a big difference.
I’m proud of the woman I am and what I model for my girls, and I know that me and everyone around me benefits from the work I’ve done, and continue to do, along this journey of life. And along the way, I’ve become a life coach myself, so now I get to support other moms and use my experience and the changes I’ve made to help them, as they create the life they want for themselves.
Wherever you are on this journey, remember it won’t be this hard forever, you are more capable than you believe you are to take back your life, success is not a straight line, and it is possible to find the support you need to get where you want to be.
Sending you so much love mama!
-Life Coaching with Shandi Hanna
-The Hope & Recovery Support Line
If you are struggling with alcohol or drug use, help is waiting across Rhode Island. There are many treatment and recovery options to help you with a plan that will work for you.