I will be celebrating my 7th Mother’s Day this year… and what a journey it has been. As I am sitting here in my bed, exhausted from another restless night with a sick 2-year old, waking up to a day that brings deadlines to be met, a gazillion toys scattered all over the floor, dishes in the sink, a shameful amount of laundry and the desperate need for a 5 minute shower… I can’t help but think about the girl who got pregnant way too young during her third year of college. The girl who spent her whole life being judged for the kind of parent she was (and wasn’t) and who eventually learned to not give a damn and to live judgement free. That girl was me.
My life as a fearless, careless and free-spirited 20-year old pretty much ended before it started – then again, I think I did more partying and free-spirited crap leading up to that to last me a lifetime. I had just entered my third year at college when I found out that I was pregnant with my daughter, Mikayla. It was a sunny morning in April, I was lying in bed and sipping on my coffee, thinking that it tasted funny. I was trying to figure out what was different when I suddenly paused. The realization hit me like a ton of bricks: I knew I was pregnant. I cannot explain how I knew, but I just did. I made Cole (who was my fiancé at the time, now my super awesome husband) drive me to the pharmacy and I bought three pregnancy tests. I still remember making my engagement ring prominently visible at the counter so that the old man at the till would stop looking at me with his judgey eyes. Turns out that was just his face, but anyway. I felt like I was being judged for buying pregnancy tests and I wanted the floor to swallow me whole. We went home and Cole decided that it was a perfect time to wash his car. I went to the bathroom, pee’d on a stick… and on another… and another. I washed my hands, made Cole some hotdogs and took them outside to where he was polishing his beloved BMW. “Hey babe, I made you lunch and I’m pregnant”. He looked at me with confusion, then realization hit and his face lit up, this ridiculous smile spreading across his face.
I didn’t really want a baby right then, nor did I experience overwhelming waves of joy about being a mom in the near future. But I didn’t not want a baby, either. Watching Cole’s pure joy at the thought of being a dad kind of warmed me up to the thought of it all. But still, I couldn’t help to feel a little sad, I was now that girl that got pregnant in college and we were so young…
I was so scared and I felt extremely isolated. We told our parents.. Cole’s mother burst into tears and mine was so angry at me she could barely speak. Our friends didn’t know how to react, so it was just the two… well, three of us. I was judged for getting pregnant while I was still in college and everyone expected me to drop out, but I refused. I knew that it was my only chance and that if I dropped out there was no coming back, we simply wouldn’t be able to afford it after the baby arrived. I refused to believe that having a baby meant that your whole world had to come to an end, that you are no longer allowed to dream and that life as you knew it had to stop. On the contrary, knowing that I had a little person on the way just drove me to dream harder, work harder and be better. While everyone expected me to fail, I had never wanted to succeed more in my life. I had another life to consider besides my own… I needed to be the best in order to give my little girl the life I envisioned for her. And guess what? I was judged for that too.
It was not easy, I had an absolutely awful pregnancy marred with complications. It doesn’t help that I suffer from severe chronic depression, insomnia and anxiety… it definitely did not make things easy. Our classes were from 8am to 3pm every single weekday. I was exhausted, I was nauseous all day, every day for 9 months. I was in pain and I was petrified. I was judged for not being the perfect, glowing specimen of health you see on the cover of all the pregnancy magazines. I struggled to keep up with all the work and demanding projects and a lot of my friends stopped talking to me. It hurt so much, but thanks to the love and support of the people who stuck around, I pushed through. I graduated just short of 9 months pregnant – and when it came to my final runway show, I was too pregnant to walk my final garment down the 80m long runway (I literally felt like my uterus was tearing apart). I met my model half way, tears of pain streaming down my face, but with the biggest smile. I did it, against all the odds and stereotypes I graduated with an overall distinction and as one of the top achievers in my class. I would never have been able to do it if it wasn’t for my husband, my family and the close friends who gave their unwavering support and love.
A month after my daughter was born, I started applying for jobs. I was judged particularly badly for that decision. I refused to take no for an answer and got the job for the very first interview I attended. I think they were amused by my naivety and stubbornness – who knows. All I knew was that I needed to fast track my five-year plan. It is extremely expensive to raise a child, and I had a certain standard of life that I wanted for my daughter. I worked so hard, and soon my name became known throughout the industry. I was head-hunted time after time, and managed to triple my salary within the first year of being employed. At the age of 23, I was one of the youngest senior fashion designers – working with some of the most well-known national and international brands. I worked long hours, up until the point of almost passing out from exhaustion – but I had to… I had a goal and a dream. I think this goal, and vision I had for my daughter and having to take care of her, carried me through my postnatal depression. Unfortunately, this drive to succeed also made it difficult to bond with my daughter. Struggling to have a bond with my daughter did not just subject me to judgement from others, but also judgement from myself.
Everyone talks about that moment when they first lay eyes on their babies, when they felt this huge rush of love, when they knew they would give their life for this child in an instant, when their life hits this pinnacle of pinnacles. My moment wasn’t exactly like that, and it took me a while to realize that it was fine (and normal) too. Today we have a bond so strong that I’m afraid it will crush me. She takes my breath away and I love her so much that it is absolutely crippling.
While working on my career and living in the white picket-fenced suburbs, we were constantly judged because we didn’t fit in. Back then it was quite a shock for our neighbors to see these young, heavily tattooed misfits walk around with a baby. It’s all fun and games when you are young and carefree – society is more likely to accept your differences and move on with their lives, but I have found that the rules change a little when you become parents. Everything changes. I often get asked about how I think my tattoos will affect our kids – I always wonder that myself. I hope they do. I hope they teach them to be accepting of different kinds of people and to never base their opinion on someone’s looks alone. If more kids had that lesson growing up – we’d have a lot less adults who are quick to judge solely based on appearance and stereotypes.
Fast forward a few years and I found out that I was pregnant with our son, Knox. It was planned, and this time around the pregnancy was relatively easy. Everything went pretty well – except for the fact that my boss at the time was forcefully trying to get me to resign. Why? Because in his opinion, “pregnant women are useless”. According to him I was slacking by not walking fast enough, by sitting down too much and for looking tired all the time. I was also constantly judged on how much weight I was gaining, and being subjected to daily rude comments and questions. It was one of the worst experiences of my life, and it completely ate away at my self-esteem. I largely blame the fact that my son was born prematurely on the stress I was put under at this awful company. I never went back after I had my son, and I fear for any pregnant woman who has to walk through those doors.
My son was born 5 weeks premature, and it was the most difficult thing I have ever gone through. It affected me so much that I highly doubt that I would ever be able to have another baby. No-one judged me for his premature birth, but I judged myself and my body every second of the day. I eventually realized that is was not my fault – that these things happen. It took me a little less than a year to shake the guilt, to not try go over my every single move leading up to the birth of my son, trying to figure out where I went wrong. I was so angry with myself, because I felt like my body had failed me. Failed him. But it was not me, and I wasn’t doing anyone any favours rehashing the past when I could be spending those precious moments with my newborn. My son’s birth was the scariest experience of my life, but our bond was instant and unbreakable.
Parenting comes with so much judgement… whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, having a natural birth or a c-section, choose to vaccinate or not – we are judged every single day by the decisions we make as parents. I truly think that modern parenting has lost its damn mind.
It took me a long time to learn to embrace motherhood and to live judgement free. We packed up our lives and moved to the countryside to get away from the noise, the materialism and crazy expectations. We are loving our slow life, and the open spaces really have put life into perspective. The cost of judging is quite high, particularly for emotionally sensitive people. Think how you would live your life if you weren’t afraid of being judged, either by yourself of others?
Not only is judging others unkind, and frankly a waste of time, but so is judging yourself, your choices, appearance, “mistakes” and/or your life. Judging yourself is just has harmful and unkind as judging others. “You are what you think. You become what you believe” – If you’re constantly judging yourself, how will you ever be able to move forward and become the person you want to be, and living the life you were meant to have? We need to embrace our chaotic lives, and love it for the simple fact that we are creating memories every step of the way.
I have achieved my version of success, and I have reached my goals. If I dropped out of college – who knows where I would have ended up and what I would be doing? It was incredibly difficult, and I feel very privileged for the opportunities I had been given in my life. Not everyone is that lucky. I am also happy that my life played out this way, because If I had not gotten pregnant in 2011, and if my pregnancy did not come with its various difficulties – this blog probably would not exist. I would not have this story to tell. If I listened to all those people who judged me and did not believe in me, who would I be today? I refused to listen to those voices, instead I listened to the positive voices of the people who supported me and believed in me – and today I have this award-winning blog that also helps pay for my kid’s school fees now and then.
I suppose what I am trying to say is… life is hard, and it is tough – but you have to stick it out. Work hard, never give up on your dreams and do what you must to achieve your goals. No-one can ever make you feel bad about your choices in life. Everything we do, we do out of love for our children. Who knows what you might contribute to this complex world of ours, who knows what your kids might achieve one day just by learning from you and following the example you set out for them? Be strong, reach out if you need a bit of support – there is no shame in admitting that you need some extra help. Motherhood is scary, isolating and really difficult. It is also extremely rewarding, soul crushingly amazing and probably the best thing that will ever happen to you. We all know how vulnerable we felt when we gave birth to our babies. Some of us were surrounded by friends and family, while some of us were recovering from surgery. It is an earth-shattering, mind altering experience… and not something you want to face alone.
If you had the opportunity to take away someone’s loneliness at the most vulnerable time of their lives – would you take it? If you could show a new mother the same support you had, or maybe didn’t have – would you do it? Would you change their lives?
Julie Mentor has founded an amazing organization aimed at re-establishing the sisterhood of mothers and this Mother’s Day, her organization, Cape Town Embrace, will be hosting an incredible event. Moms in Cape Town, Joburg and Durban are being asked to sit with a new mom and connect, share and welcome them to our very incredible sisterhood. I want you to open your heart, to LIKE and SIGN UP on the Facebook event page and get involved with #MothersDayConnect. Julie beautifully shares everything you need to know about this campaign and how you can get involved in the below video.
Gather your mothers, grandmothers, sisters and friends and spend one hour at your local maternity home celebrating new mothers. Together, we could ensure that every woman who gives birth on Mother’s Day is told that she is wonderful and strong, and that her baby is a gift to our world. This isn’t about grand gestures or education. There are no super-heroes. This is about acknowledgement. “I see you. I see your baby. Thanks for your sacrifice, Mama, and Happy Mother’s Day.” – Julie Mentor
Embrace your differences, embrace Motherhood… and live a life that is judgement free. Build each other up instead of tearing each other down. We are all doing our best, we are all trying to make this work.
“Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul. “