Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Motherhood: Staying in the Picture, and Feeling Beautiful

An article entitled, “Mom Stays in the Picture,” is touching nerves over at Huffington Post. In it, the author, mother to a five-year-old and an infant, talks about how, as a woman whose body has changed so much through motherhood — the months of pregnancy, giving birth, the sleepless nights, the exhausting days — she’s hesitant to document this time in her life with photographic evidence of herself looking less than her best. But then she thinks about how her children, years from now, will want — will need — to see pictures of their younger selves with their mama. They won’t see her unwashed hair or bags under the eyes — or, if they do, what they’ll hopefully notice more is the love, the happiness shining through even the deepest exhaustion.

My son, Jackson, turns one in just a few days (we had an early birthday celebration for him over the weekend). These last couple of weeks have been a time of reflection for me. Finally, after many months of finding my footing — and falling a lot, metaphorically speaking — I’m feeling like myself again. I think I’m starting to look like myself again, too. I’ll never look as young as I did even two years ago before I got pregnant, though. Motherhood has aged me and will continue to age me faster than, well, not being a mother. I’ve lost many hours of sleep in this last year (and in the final months of pregnancy preceding Jack’s birth). My body changed, most likely for good. I’ve lost all of the baby weight I gained, but I have a feeling I’ll never lose the “mother’s pooch” I now sport just below my belly button, a souvenir from those months I carried my baby inside my body while he grew big enough and strong enough to take on the outside world.

But if this is my mom look, I’m OK with it. I don’t love looking in the mirror and I HATE trying on new clothes — or old clothes, for that matter (there may or may not have been crying in the dressing room the last time I went shopping and tried to squeeze into dresses that I’m sure would have fit me just a couple years ago). But when I look at photos of myself with Jackson, with my husband, Drew, and with other people I care about, I see love and I see happiness shining through the exhaustion. I see a fuller face, too, and sometimes puffy eyes and bangs that need trimming. But those aren’t the things I notice the most.

The headshot I use in this site’s banner was taken just a few weeks after Jackson was born. It’s actually part of a bigger picture where I’m holding Jackson in my bedroom shortly after getting us both dressed to go out for a walk. I remember that I hadn’t meant to dress us in matching stripes, but there we were, all matchy-matchy. This was obviously still very early in my motherhood experience. I was still crying a lot as my hormones were settling into place — I’d later dip into a weeks-long depression that I’d find out was a result of my thyroid disease being out of whack after giving birth — and I was up several times a night to feed Jackson. This was also when I was trying so, so hard to breastfeed and finding it incredibly difficult and, frankly, demoralizing, not to do what my body was “supposed to do.” It was a hard time. But in this photo what I see is a moment of joy — a moment of looking ahead and feeling so incredibly excited about the future. I also see the way Jack’s looking at me. No one’s ever looked at me like that before.

When I’m objective, I see a fuller face than I’m used to (I’d only lost a few pounds of baby weight at that point) and more makeup than I typically wear (probably to cover up the exhaustion). But I don’t care. I love the photo so much, it’s found a home on the site banner where thousands of people see it every day. (Full disclosure: Through the miracle of Photoshop, I covered up my ear that was poking out, fluffed up my hair a tad, and ever-so-slightly chiseled just a bit of that fuller face). And every day, it serves as a little reminder that despite the toll it takes, physically and emotionally, motherhood is beautiful.

Loving Jackson and caring for him and making sacrifices for his happiness and well-being make me feel beautiful. Yes, even when, 12 months after giving birth and losing all the baby weight, my pre-pregnancy clothes STILL don’t fit right, and even with my mother’s pooch and tired eyes, I still feel beautiful. Ok, not all the time. Definitely not all the time. But when I see photos of myself with Jackson, I do. And I know — or, I certainly hope — that, when he looks at those photos years from now, he’ll think so too. He’ll think, “Damn, my mom used to be so young! And look how happy she was.” And I hope he’ll know where that happiness came from. I hope he’ll know — I hope that photographic evidence will help prove — how incredibly happy he made me, how deeply I loved him, and how very lucky I felt to be his mama.

54 comments… add one
  • avatar

    MissDre October 4, 2012, 1:11 pm

    Awww man I almost started crying at work. I can’t wait to be a Mom!

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    • avatar

      MissDre October 4, 2012, 1:12 pm

      Ps. I think you’re beautiful Wendy 🙂

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      • Dear Wendy

        Wendy October 4, 2012, 2:49 pm

        Thank you!

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    TECH October 4, 2012, 1:13 pm

    Beautifully written and very touching. Thank you for your honesty about the struggles and the joys of motherhood. If/when I have a baby, I am scared about the physical changes and exhaustion. It’s amazing to me that some mothers work full time on top of dealing with the physical exhaustion of a newborn.

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  • MaterialsGirl

    MaterialsGirl October 4, 2012, 1:26 pm

    Love it, Wendy.

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  • JK

    JK October 4, 2012, 1:26 pm

    Beautiful, Wendy!!!
    I HATE getting my photo taken, as a result of that most of the photos I have are just of the girls, this piece made me feel I have to put an effort to be in more photos with them. 🙂

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  • avatar

    Addie Pray October 4, 2012, 1:33 pm

    Lovely! I’m ready for a baby. When can I tell my 8-week-long boyfriend? God I’m kidding! Relax. Everyone keep their pants on.

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    • JK

      JK October 4, 2012, 1:34 pm

      I think you especially should keep your pants on, if you´re having those urges already. 😉

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray October 4, 2012, 1:38 pm

        Hahaha. It’s ok, we are very safe – I drink wine right before, and the wine fights off the sperm. It’s foolproof.

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        lemongrass October 4, 2012, 2:00 pm

        Oh that so worked for my friend with 4 month old twins!

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray October 4, 2012, 2:06 pm

        Do you want to hear the cutest thing in the wholewide world? The Charming Fucker said he wants 3 or 5 kids and I told him “well, I’ll likely pop the out in 2’s so you can have 2 or 4,” and said “ok 4.” I mean, seriously have you ever heard of anything cuter than that? I didn’t think so.

        Know what else is pretty cute? My Charming Fucker. Know why? Because his mother was a fuzzy bunny and his father an angel and he grew up on a rainbow where they fed him love dust for breakfast. That’s why.

        Sigh.

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray October 4, 2012, 2:09 pm

        ^ ^ Yikes, this *might* be the dumbest thing I have ever said. And I’ve said a lot of dumb things. ^ ^

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      • MaterialsGirl

        MaterialsGirl October 4, 2012, 2:47 pm

        facepalm

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      • avatar

        lemongrass October 4, 2012, 2:10 pm

        love dust = acid?

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      • Dear Wendy

        Wendy October 4, 2012, 2:50 pm

        Woah.

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      • avatar

        Trixy Minx October 4, 2012, 3:04 pm

        Omg Addie.

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray October 4, 2012, 3:17 pm

        I may have said too much, no?

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      • avatar

        painted_lady October 4, 2012, 3:20 pm

        Someone stop her.

        AP, that? Was terrifying.

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray October 4, 2012, 3:25 pm

        it’s not my fault he’s so cute. i’m just reporting the facts.

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      • avatar

        Trixy Minx October 4, 2012, 6:03 pm

        Just pop out his babies soon so we can all see the cuteness of you two combined.

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      • avatar

        Wendy's Dad October 5, 2012, 11:03 am

        Syrup. Pass the pancakes.

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  • avatar

    Sistine October 4, 2012, 1:34 pm

    Beautiful essay! I’m going to share with everyone I know.

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  • avatar

    Taylor October 4, 2012, 1:34 pm

    Beautiful article by a lovely lady. Thanks for the warmth =)

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  • avatar

    sarolabelle October 4, 2012, 1:36 pm

    what was the headshot you used before Jackson was born? I didn’t notice a change from Feb 2011 to now….guess I didn’t pay attention….

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    • becboo84

      BecBoo84 October 4, 2012, 1:43 pm

      If I’m remembering correctly, it was much more solemn looking.

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    • avatar

      Addie Pray October 4, 2012, 1:48 pm

      The more serious pose. Remember? It looked like this [i’m posing with no teeth showing right now.] I really liked it. Growing up my dad used to always make us strike very serious poses in pictures. So much so that I still have a hard time posing for pictures with a big ole smile on my face. And the end result is I tend to gravitate to more solemn poses I guess. I like the current head shot too but I miss the serious one a little.

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  • avatar

    Trixy Minx October 4, 2012, 2:01 pm

    Things looker this make me want to be a mom someday. You have such a beautiful family.

    Right now I am babysitting my niece. She’s darling, except she starts wailing when my sister leaves. Poor girl gas finally called down and is napping.

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  • avatar

    camorzilla October 4, 2012, 2:02 pm

    I can’t wait to have kids (even though the idea still scares me a little) but but reading your articles about Jackson and motherhood help me not be so freaked out. Your candidness and openness about your struggles as well as the awesome stuff are such a nice change from the usual articles about motherhood where everyone shits rainbows. Thanks for sharing your life with us!

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  • avatar

    bethany October 4, 2012, 2:08 pm

    Happy Birthday, Jackson!!

    Wendy, it’s been a pleasure reading about how pregnancy and motherhood have impacted your life. It’s really awesome getting to follow your family along this journey. Thank you for sharing with us!

    ps- he’s so stinking cute, I can’t even stand it.

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  • avatar

    lemongrass October 4, 2012, 2:08 pm

    This is beautiful. It’s hard enough giving up your body while being pregnant, I wonder how it will go when I have this person outside of me. I wonder how it will be when I decide to do it again, or again (again!) if we decide to. I so appreciate honest accounts of how it is. Especially if you have already had body issues before getting pregnant.

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  • avatar

    SweetPeaG October 4, 2012, 2:22 pm

    Wendy, I always think you look very pretty, very young and very stylish! I know there are times when we all hate looking in the mirror. I work so hard to try to stay slim(ish)… I know I’ll probably way too hard on myself when I (hopefully) get pregnant next year. But, we are all way harder on ourselves than anyone else is. So, I wanted to let you know, that when you are having one of those days, other people think you’re stunning!

    I have been trying to be a better worker, so I have commented on here much less lately. But, my personal philosophy is never hesitate to pay somebody a compliment. So, I wanted to let you know!

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    • Moneypenny

      Moneypenny October 4, 2012, 2:33 pm

      Definitely agree, Wendy always looks super pretty in her photos! (and I love her hair!)

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray October 4, 2012, 2:35 pm

        How can she believe you are sincere when you haven’t even purchased 2 DW mugs like me yet?!

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    • Dear Wendy

      Wendy October 4, 2012, 2:52 pm

      Aw. shucks. Thank you!

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  • the_optimist

    the_optimist October 4, 2012, 1:22 pm

    Yup, definitely trying not to bawl at work. This was absolutely beautiful, and you are too, Wendy. I wish your son a very Happy Birthday! Lots of love!

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  • Moneypenny

    Moneypenny October 4, 2012, 2:30 pm

    What a great essay! The happiness and love you have for Jackson and your family totally shows in your photos! I’d like to be a mom someday, and your writing about your experiences in motherhood give me a pretty clear picture of what it’s *really* like, which I really appreciate. My sister has a 4 month old, and she’s been sounding pretty desperate to lose the weight already (I think she gained like, 50 pounds), but I think she looks great regardless! (And I think she will lose it, even if slowly.) It sounds a little scary to me about how your body changes, but I think the end result is pretty worth it!

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  • Tracey

    Tracey October 4, 2012, 2:45 pm

    Beautiful post, Wendy. It recalls a line from a very good movie from way back in the day, “Mrs. Skeffington.” It was a Bette Davis film about a woman driven only by her looks, and lacking in the ability to love and be loved. At the end of the film, she finally learns the lesson that drives the whole movie: “A woman’s only beautiful when she is loved.” The look on your face, and the look on Jackson’s face illustrates that brilliantly. Thank you for sharing, and hugs to you and the family.

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  • AKchic_

    AKchic_ October 4, 2012, 1:48 pm

    I can totally relate. Being a “single” parent for so long, the only one to hold the camera was me, so I didn’t get into too many pictures. After my car accident, I went from a nice 120lbs (after 3 kids) and ballooned up. I was about 150lbs when I got pregnant with the 4th and I hover between 160-185 now. At 5’3″, I’m not really happy with my weight. Some pictures are better than others, but nobody in my house can take a flattering picture of me, and it sucks.

    Trying to lose weight is impossible for me. My whole family is large, but I am the smallest. My medications keep my weight up and my pain levels keep me from moving a whole helluva lot.

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  • Dear Wendy

    Wendy October 4, 2012, 2:52 pm

    Thanks, everyone, for the sweet comments.

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  • niki

    niki October 4, 2012, 2:57 pm

    Wendy, your essay is beautiful. I find it so inspiring and I’m going to strive to find the acceptance in myself that you have found.

    My daughter is 10 months old on Monday and I haven’t lost ANY of the baby weight. In fact, I have gained quite a bit of weight. I’ve suffered from post-partum depression and since starting the medication I’ve gained 25 pounds. My doctor just switched me to something different so I hope that helps. In the time since my daughter was born I graduated law school, took and passed the bar exam, lost my very dear grandmother, had my gall bladder removed and broke my foot. Combined with the PPD I’ve found it nearly impossible to take care of myself. It has taken every ounce of effort and willpower just to keep it together.

    I feel like I finally turned a corner a few weeks ago. My foot has finally healed to the point I can start working out a bit, I’ve switched meds and my boyfriend (the father of my daughter) has asked me to marry him. Hopefully in a matter of months I will feel like Wendy. I am going to make an effort to be part of the picture, not just taking the picture. I want my daughter to see her mother holding her and loving her. Thank you again for a beautiful essay.

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    • avatar

      Christy October 4, 2012, 3:12 pm

      Holy shit you’re a champion. And congrats on getting engaged!

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      painted_lady October 4, 2012, 3:29 pm

      Dear lord, woman. I dealt with *two* of the things on that laundry list (depression, weight gain) and I thought I would never recover. You deserve a medal for just living to tell the tale.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Wendy October 4, 2012, 3:39 pm

      Oh wow, you’ve been through a lot! Be kind to yourself. Your body is a powerful thing. It birthed your daughter! Take care of yourself as well as you can and try to focus more on how you feel and less on how you look.

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      • niki

        niki October 4, 2012, 4:00 pm

        Thanks everyone! I am making a concerted effort to take better care of myself. A happy, healthy mommy makes a happy baby. 🙂

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    • Tracey

      Tracey October 4, 2012, 4:20 pm

      Stay strong and here’s to continued healing and better days, niki. You deserve every moment of happiness coming to you. Be well.

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  • avatar

    Jenny October 4, 2012, 3:21 pm

    I loved this, Wendy. I’ve struggled a bit with being “out of the picture” myself…I’ve noticed there are many more pictures of my 6 month old with his Dad than with me. I’ve lost my baby weight but like you, my pre-pregnancy clothes don’t fit and I don’t feel comfortable in my body. I lost a lot of hair post-pregnancy and most of the time I think I just look…awful. But one night my husband took a picture of our son and I, and he just looked at it lovingly for a long time. I looked at it and saw all the flaws, but he just loved it, and told me he loved how happy I looked. I’m trying to see myself through his eyes. This post is a reminder to be kinder to myself and I appreciate it.

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    • avatar

      Kristen October 5, 2012, 9:58 am

      This made me tear up. That’s really, really sweet.

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  • katie

    katie October 4, 2012, 4:19 pm

    i love wendy’s series of stores about getting married and having a baby. i reference them a lot, and if i ever have kids, ill probably just print them out and read them everyday to keep myself sane. these are awesome.

    also, wendy, ill add to the chorus that says that i have always thought you looked great in all your pictures. great, and happy.

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    AliceInDairyland October 4, 2012, 6:21 pm

    Wendy, you are the master of putting your face at just the right angle for the camera! I always end up with too much forehead, or too much chin, or awkward eyes looking in another direction. I feel like I legitimately need to actually practice that. But also this was an absolutely beautiful essay, and even though children are still a ways off for me I will definitely be keeping all of your fantastic writing in mind when the time comes.

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  • avatar

    fornowandtomorrow October 4, 2012, 8:27 pm

    Amazing!

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  • mandalee

    mandalee October 4, 2012, 9:38 pm

    Wendy, you look beautiful in all of these pictures! Also, as always, your words are so eloquent and heartful. I love reading about your journey as a mom. I think you approach it with a perfect amount of dedication to your son and yourself. Watching and working with many mothers, I realized how rare that it is recently, so please know how awesome and unique it is!

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  • avatar

    Hannanas October 5, 2012, 5:22 am

    As a woman who doesn’t have kids (yet), you always explain motherhood in a way I can really understand and even relate to. How are you doing that? 🙂

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    Kristen October 5, 2012, 10:02 am

    Wendy, there’s something about your photos that just make it obvious how beautiful you are inside and out. Also, I got emotional when you said “no one’s ever looked at me like that before.” Life is such an rollercoaster. It’s amazing to look back and see how much you can grow in just a year — how much a person can learn, and how you can find the strength to get through the really dark days. I want to look back on myself in the same way.

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    jlyfsh October 5, 2012, 10:10 am

    Beautiful, Wendy! One of my friends was telling me she can look at pictures and she sees herself having aged 10 years since her little boy was born. But, to be honest whenever I see her I just see my same beautiful friend. She actually looks happier now than she ever has before which makes her even more beautiful.

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