Nine Birds in a Trench Coat

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How Design Keeps Me Sane as a New Mom

Every new mom has been there. You have a baby and now the most important role in your life is “mom.” It will continue to be the most important role for the rest of your life. But then that role starts to overshadow everything else. Everything that made you you. You no longer read because it’s hard to hold a baby and a book at the same time. And the baby is trying to grab the book, so you’re forced to put it down after reading only a few words (that you’re pretty sure you already read). You lose sleep because your dozing mind thinks your baby is in the bed with you and about to fall off the edge. Or they’re colicky and the crying is constant with no end in sight.

Every single thought is consumed by your child

I felt this way, for sure. I was terrified of falling asleep while holding him because I didn’t want to accidentally drop him. My waking and sleeping thoughts were completely taken over. He’d be sleeping in his bassinet next to the bed and I would wake up every 20 minutes just to make sure he was still breathing.

As an already anxiety-riddled individual, my pregnancy was wrought with the intrusive thoughts of “what if his heart just stops beating and you don’t notice?” So I got a handheld doppler. If he didn’t move for a whole day, I started panicking and thinking, “What’s wrong?” And out came the doppler. That thing set my mind at ease so often, I highly recommend one to anyone with anxiety in pregnancy.

I had expected that particular brand of anxiety to lessen once he was born, but it only got worse as my mind just dwelled on the possibility of SIDS.

Our birds are not aggressive (well, one is, but we had no plans to let Hawke near the baby anyway), but I was afraid to have the birds around me while I was holding my newborn. “What if I can’t react fast enough?” “What if they see him as an intruder?” Or on the other side of things as our baby got older, faster, and stronger… “What if he grabs them and hurts them? Or worse?”

The Mom Guilt is so real

Our birds were our children before our human child was even a thought. Long before. Yet for months after our son was born, I barely interacted with them. And it broke my heart to think of how bad of a birb mom I was being to them. It wasn’t fair to them. Luckily, my partner is a great birb dad and while I had a baby attached to me 24/7, he spent time with them.

Beyond the feeling of not being there for my feathered toddlers, I didn’t feel like I could show up for myself either. Or as a partner. I have always been an active and ambitious person, so being essentially locked to the couch or the bed for weeks on end after giving birth was really hard. I tried every day to remind myself that I did an incredible and traumatic thing and that I needed rest. But after the labor I had where I was hooked up to basically every drip the hospital had, I just wanted to move and be active.

And once I went back to work, I had a new kind of mom guilt

The kind that most people think of when they hear “mom guilt.” Am I doing enough for my child? Am I hindering their development by not sitting down and working with them during their entire wake period? Should I be sleep training them? Do I need to get them on a schedule right now?

The guilt, I’m expecting, is going to last for years. Even though I know that my son is happy and loved and developing perfectly. It took a while for me to stop feeling the immense guilt that came with putting him down and letting him cry for five minutes so that I could use the bathroom or take a shower.

I felt like I was losing myself

To the guilt. To this new role of “mom.” Even to my couch. I felt like I was losing myself in a different way than I had while I was pregnant. Pregnancy really messed with my brain – I did not feel like myself. And I didn’t enjoy being pregnant, either. I love my child more than anything and it was absolutely worth it. But it’s not an experience I’d like to repeat. And now with him here, I didn’t know who I was beyond the milk lady who was comfortable for him to sleep on.

I will note here, the newborn and baby snuggles are the best. The contact naps were my absolute favorite, even if I was afraid to fall asleep with him on me.

But because I was so completely consumed by learning these new responsibilities and keeping the fears and anxiety at bay, I wasn’t doing things that I enjoyed. It felt like a depressive episode except I was too busy and emotional to feel the emptiness, if that makes sense. When I did have the time and space to do things I enjoyed, I didn’t find that joy in it because I was worrying about my baby. Even when I didn’t have anything to worry about.

Going back to work was a wake up call

I wasn’t ready to go back to work. Not even close. But I had to. And suddenly, I was forced to have someone else watch my child while I was sat at a computer all day. So while it gave me the space to get back into my own head and focus on something else, it also made me realize… I didn’t really love what I was doing for work. I loved the people, but not the work itself.

And then my employer started to implement new policies that didn’t sit well with me. So in those quiet moments after I clocked out for the day and was feeding my baby, I’d think. What was it that I wanted to do? What kind of work environment would make me happy?

I don’t even remember what the project was that I picked up. But one day after that, my partner took the baby and I sat at my computer and just designed something. Opening Illustrator and just creating felt like waking up.

Something ignited in me

I realized almost immediately that I wanted to go back into graphic design. Now I just needed to figure out which type of design I wanted to focus on. So while I mulled over that, I updated my resume. I worked on updating my portfolio website. I started looking to see what kinds of roles were out there and available. When I saw roles that I thought sounded interesting, I applied.

When I’d get on social media, I’d start paying closer attention to the posts and groups geared toward designers. I started seeing more and more about freelancing. I guess I am technically a freelancer, aren’t I? But I don’t see it as that. I see what I am now as a business owner doing what I love and not having to adhere to anyone else’s ideas of what work needs to look like. And that is a mentality that is proving very difficult to break. I find myself still getting stressed out when I am not working constantly between 9am and 5pm. So… I’m working on it.

Anyway, I eventually decided to focus on brand design, as it’s the design focus that allows for the most visual storytelling. I started listening to The Unapologetic Designer Podcast by Kenzi Green of Kenzi Green Design. My free time started to be filled with listening to design and business podcasts, reading business and finance books, and learning how to do this whole damn thing so that I could be the kind of mom that I wanted to be, without sacrificing my career. And, maybe selfishly, I wanted my career to be what I wanted and on my terms. And I know I’m not alone in that mindset.

I started seeing posts everywhere from like-minded women

Any time I got on LinkedIn, my feed was filled with other women talking about how they either had to quit their jobs because it wasn’t flexible enough for them to also be a mom. Or they were forced to hand off their child to someone else to raise so that they could remain a cog in the machine. It felt like “Hey, you’ve had the experience of ejecting a watermelon from your body! Congrats! Don’t worry about the whole ‘raising a child’ thing, just get back online bright and early Monday morning!” Sitting at a desk stressing out over buggy software is healing, right?

The moment I decided that I was going to go full-tilt into my own design business, the nerves hit. I hadn’t given notice at my job yet, but the sheer terror of leaving my job and then failing hit like a truck. The job market is volatile and riddled with underpaying, overworking roles. In every industry. So when I talked with my partner about this decision and asked for his input, we discussed the potential risks. We also discussed the potential of what our lives could look like when I succeeded. He’s been so supportive every step of the way and I will always be grateful for that. I know I wouldn’t have been able to take this leap without him next to me.

My mentality started to change

All of these books and podcasts that I’d been consuming, along with the steps I was taking, began shifting my mindset into, “This is going to work. I can do this,” instead of “what if I don’t get clients? What if I quit my job and then we’re left on half the household income that we need?”

And that mindset shift that really bolstered my confidence, started to make me feel more like a whole person with my own ambitions and desires again, as well as the ever-important “mom”. I started feeling like myself again. While the baby slept, I would play video games. I started reading massive novels again. My mornings started with a skincare routine and some light makeup (I never wore much makeup to begin with, I find it exhausting on a daily basis). I found it so much easier to be present with my baby without stressing over literally everything else.

Slowly, aspects of my own personality started to return

My child is almost 11 months as of writing this and it has taken well over a year for me to feel like myself again, going back to the morning sickness stage of trimester one. As mentioned earlier, I’m also still trying to unlearn the whole “you need to be working 9-5 every single day” mentality. I decided to take this journey so that I could take my son to the playground in the late morning, if I want to. So that if he wants to play or needs me in the middle of the day, I can stop working and just be a mom. And then later, I can sit back down at my desk and work.

It’s a hard mentality to overcome, but I know that once I do, I’m going to be so much happier. And so will my son.

While writing out my experiences within this post, I have come to realize that I had postpartum anxiety. I did not seek help for it and maybe I should have. But I didn’t realize it until now. If you’re a new mom (or an experienced mom who had a different experience this time around), there are resources to help. I wish I had noticed sooner and taken steps to support myself. Your mental health is important – for you, your baby, and your entire family – and I know that not everyone has that experience of something that clicks what makes you you back into place. Talk with your doctor about getting help, especially if you’re having feelings and thoughts of self-harm. Or check out the Postpartum Support International website for additional resources.

Maybe you’ve also found the entrepreneurial spirit

Maybe you’re not a parent yet or have no intention of becoming one, but you’re finding that you want more from life than a daily 9-5 doing the same thing over and over, so that someone else can get rich. If you are a business owner trying to build something better and create a better, more inclusive workplace for yourself and your employees, I’d love to chat with you about how your branding and website could better serve you!

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