Today’s my 28th birthday. And, as I kick off the day (and approach this year), I’m making a concerted effort not only to practice gratitude and positivity but also to practice a lot of self-love.
Honestly, I’ve always been that kind of person who puts other people and their needs first. You can ask my husband. Or my parents. I tend to give and give, without expecting anything in return.
Not that generosity is a bad thing. Or that I expect to become someone who gives only conditionally. But I do recognize that taking care of others is fruitless if you’re not taking care of yourself: you can’t love fully if you’re not full yourself (I’ve unpacked this a lot during therapy so I won’t go into it a lot here…).
Motherhood amplified my tendencies for extreme selflessness. Which makes sense, given that this little person’s well-being is entirely dependent on me. Of course, it’s a lot of responsibility, but it also provides a lot of opportunities to really stop thinking about myself, in even the most minute ways.
I not only survived my first week back at work post-maternity leave but I also somehow managed to get through the days without a single tear.
True, it was a short week: I purposely asked that my return date be a Thursday to ensure as easy of a transition as possible. And, while I was physically present, I honestly can’t say that my mind was operating the way that it should have been — speaking coherently in a business meeting is proving to be a lot more difficult than I anticipated…
But I’m cutting myself some slack. And I’m outwardly admitting: Yes, I’m human, and I’ve spent the past nearly six months of my life operating in a way that’s drastically different from working in an office environment, so this transition is probably going to be a bit challenging.
And, thankfully, I’m surrounded by so many work colleagues that not only hear what I’m saying but are also supportive.
So, on this Sunday evening, I’m not feeling as horrible as you think I would be — and that lack of dread has made me reflect on the first time I left Tadashi…
He was a few weeks old. It was a hot summer day in Dublin, Reggie and I were both on maternity leave, and I was deep in the throes of a particularly bad bout of baby blues. My older sister had recently moved to the apartment complex across the street, and she (and the rest of my family) knew that I was going through a tough time, mentally and emotionally. I had not left Tadashi’s side at all since coming home from the hospital.
After almost five and a half months of maternity leave, I’m finally returning to work. I knew that this day was going to be filled with a bunch of emotions — but, despite everyone’s warnings, I couldn’t have anticipated how intensely those emotions would hit me.
Honestly, there’s a part of me that’s eager and excited to return to work. That’s the part that suffered major cabin fever while on leave and yearned for some type of routine other than nursing my baby around the clock. The part that’s looking forward to conversing with other adults about things other than cradle cap care and feeding schedules. The part that can’t wait to see my work friends and be back in the city and work on something for me, for once.
Don’t get me wrong: I recognize how lucky I’ve been to stay with my baby for as long as I have. Nearly half a year of parental leave is a rarity in the U.S. And, bottom line, I would never exchange the opportunity I had to bond with Tadashi* for anything else in the world. It’s been a whirlwind of a journey, but I know that Reggie, Tadashi, Henri, and I are all a little happier because I spent this time at home.
But I also know me. And I know that I would’ve always wanted something for myself in addition to being the best mother possible for my boy. Which is why going back to work always felt like an inevitability to me.
With that in mind, I woke up yesterday morning feeling a little anxious but mostly determined. I resolved to use my last day of maternity leave to spend some quality time with my little family (Reggie’s back on paternity leave for a month as I transition back to work) and to prepare for my first full workday. We grabbed breakfast together at a little cafe in Pleasanton and ran some last-minute errands.
2017 was an intense year, both for the world and for me. All craziness aside, though, the year also brought me one of the greatest blessings of my life: Tadashi*.
Bringing my child into the world meant enduring countless emotional, mental, and physical changes. Emotionally, the first few months of Tadashi’s life were a rollercoaster. Mentally, assuming a new identity as “mother” led to some pretty profound shifts in my priorities: with a child, my intent this year and in all future years is to live my life in a way that makes not only me happy, safe, and fulfilled, but also my little family (especially my son).
Physically, 2017 proved to be an interesting journey.
Of course, pregnancy brought its physical highs and lows. While I didn’t experience any particularly stubborn symptoms (thankfully, no morning sickness or odd food aversions here!), I definitely felt uncomfortable, especially throughout the third trimester. Aching back. Shooting paints of sciatica up and down my thigh and left butt cheek. Swollen feet that wouldn’t fit in anything but Birkenstocks.
I know that I haven’t shared a blog post in over a month, which I both find unacceptable for my writing goals and refuse to apologize for (the lack of apology comes from my commitment to embrace when I can’t be perfect!). But, now that I’ve found a few minutes, I’d love to share a quick update with you all.
As you know, the whole point of my motherhood blog is to be extremely honest about my parenting reality. And the truth is: this has been a tough month! And while I wanted so badly to stay on top of my writing, I, unfortunately, had to let it slide through the cracks while I got into a bit of a routine with taking care of Tadashi* on my own: Reggie went back to work, and his wedding photography work has picked up a bit, which means more time dedicated to a rapidly growing infant and little time for anything else.
Thankfully, I feel like I’m settling into a routine with my son (and hopefully can start to write a little bit every day moving forward!). Also, I feel like I’ve developed a great deal of self-confidence. Not only in my ability as a mother, but also in my willingness to accept all my inabilities as a mother (and a human being going through a lot of physical, mental, and emotional changes).
I recognize that a lot of my first posts read as very Debbie Downer. And there’s some truth to the pessimistic tones: my experience with parenting so far (particularly these early days) has been extremely challenging.
But I assure you: there are a few bright spots too.
So that’s what this post is focused on: those little toothless smiles that my son Tadashi* gives me. Usually either first thing in the morning, when I’m so exhausted that my arms and legs feel heavy, or last thing at night, when he’s clean and in his pajamas and listening to music while we lie down on Reggie’s and my queen-sized bed.
But always, always at a time when I’m feeling a little down and when I need them the most.
Those little smiles serve as my fuel to keep trudging along on this seemingly thankless parenting journey. And I’m hoping to share more of these types of reflections with you all, the more frequently these little bright spots pop up.
Everyone warned me: the first few months of your child’s life are going to feel pretty thankless.
And that warning has rung true.
My weeks have become never-ending loops of sleepless nights and fussy days. And seemingly endless soiled diapers: poop explosions and the looming threat of Oh, please don’t pee on yourself this time…
My arms are tired from carrying him and rocking him for hours on end. My legs feel sore from constantly pacing to help him fall asleep. The smells of leaked breast milk and infant spit-up seem to have affixed themselves permanently to my clothes.
It’s all an exhausting cycle. And there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of this tunnel…
… Until, one tired and early morning, I’m chatting with my baby boy while I change his diaper. Nonsense stuff about our potential plans for the day. And his beautiful, round face cracks into a gummy smile. A smile that pushes his almond-shaped eyes into little crescent moons and makes my heart melt. For whatever reason, I can tell that little smile tells me: you are the most important person in my world, right now.
And, in that moment, all of those seemingly endless and frustrating nights fade away into oblivion. And I realize: Ah, yes, this is what makes it worth it.
The first time I had to watch my son Tadashi* by myself, he was four weeks old. And I was terrified.
My husband Reggie had a tattoo appointment in San Francisco’s Mission District. The appointment had been on our calendars for nearly a year, and we had agreed that I’d make the necessary arrangements so I’d have some childcare help while Reggie was gone. This was a plan we had agreed upon months ago.
But, of course, in the midst of all the newborn chaos, I forgot to ask for some help.
I realized the unfortunate oversight the night before Reggie’s appointment, and I started to have a panic attack at around 11 p.m. Sensing my anxiety, Reggie offered to cancel his appointment — but I felt bad for making him walk away from something that he was planning for so long. The morning of his appointment, he even offered to call my mom or my sister on my behalf to see if they could come to our apartment last-minute — but I felt guilty for asking them to venture so far into the East Bay to keep me company.
You may ask: why was I so reluctant to accept some help when I so obviously needed it? Well, for starters, I hated the thought of inconveniencing someone so last-minute. And I didn’t want Reggie to give up something that he obviously wanted.
And, to be honest, I despised the fact that I was panicking so much about watching my own child.
I recognize that, as a new mom, I’m bound to have some nerves, since this is uncharted territory. But my nerves seemed to be on an entirely different level.
My son Tadashi* is officially two months old today, but I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve left the house with him (not including doctor’s appointments and visits with lactation consultants).
I can blame my reluctance to venture into the outside world with him on a few tangible things:
His current lack of immunization. I tell myself that I’m keeping him safe from any airborne pathogens or potential sickness by keeping him indoors.
The fact that it is now flu season. See above.
Pure exhaustion. Getting Tadashi* and all his belongings ready for some time away from home is a huge production, and — more often than not — I simply lack the energy to do so.
But, when it comes down to it, all those excuses (while slightly valid) are still excuses. Sure, there’s a risk in taking Tadashi* out when he hasn’t had his first round of vaccines, but there are still places we can go and precautions we can take that limit his exposure to potential sickness. And, yes, I’m tired — but, as I tell everyone who asks how I’m doing: How can I not be tired when I’m taking care of a newborn? There’s really no reason why I shouldn’t be able to leave the apartment with him.
So, if I’m being 100% honest with myself, I’m not really scared about leaving because Tadashi* might get sick; I’m just scared about being responsible for a young human life on my own, out in public.
Sure, taking care of my son at home, on my own, has its own stresses (more on that later) — but at least home is familiar. I know we have diapers; I know his bassinet is handy; I know that I can breastfeed him with privacy, on a comfortable couch, with something entertaining and relaxing on the television. Outside, there are so many daunting unknowns. If he gets hungry, will there be a place where I can comfortably nurse? Will I have access to a changing table? Will he behave, or will today be another fussy day where it will take every trick in the book to console him? And, of course, the worst: will people judge me if he acts up?
While we prepared for our son’s arrival, Reggie and I would have long discussions about potential names, just like every other couple. But we had an added complication: what would his last name be?
You see, I have something to confess: in case my extensive social media presence didn’t tip you off, I never took my husband’s last name after we got married. Admittedly, I had every intention to change my name while we prepared for our wedding; I even wrote my supposed married name on our marriage license. But months passed, and my willingness to complete the paperwork waned… And I ultimately realized that I was putting off the name change because I didn’t want a name change.
I realized that the practice of a woman assuming her husband’s surname was unnecessary (people would tell me that the name change was needed for insurance or tax purposes, which is completely untrue) — and, frankly, undesirable. I equated changing my name with changing my identity: I had no desire to become an entirely different person, and marriage wasn’t going to change my passions, my goals, or my priorities. So I decided to drop the “B.” from “Sarina C.B.,” and I continued on as “Sarina C.” For good.
When Reggie and I married, we made a promise: while we both wanted kids, we would wait at least two or three years to get pregnant. At 24 years of age, we believed that we had ample time to enjoy marriage and one another before introducing a child into the picture.
Despite our desires, however, we constantly fielded the same question throughout our first two years of marriage: When are you two going to have kids?
At first, the question was simply annoying, although we knew that the frequent interrogation regarding pregnancy and parenthood was inevitable in a new marriage. Especially within a traditional Filipino family, where the formulaic College-Career-Marriage-Homeowning-Children timeline is not only an expectation but a mandate.
But, once Reggie and I approached our third year of marriage and began trying to get pregnant, the question about children elevated from annoying to hurtful.