I sometimes get a little ache in my heart looking at my girls baby photos. I look at this tiny creature, that is my whole world. Every waking hour (and there’s a lot of waking hours in those first few months) belong to her. My thoughts, feelings, actions are all hers. But flicking through each snap I realise, I am not in one picture! A faceless Mama’s arm cradling her, a hand steadying her head, a Daddy smiling holding her up in a lion king pose…
There is not one photo of me.
In my pregnancy, I ballooned in weight. Putting on around 4 and a half stone in total. A lot of that was fluid, but mostly fat. My face was completely swollen to the point even a midwife asked me if I always look like that, wondering was it just pregnancy bloat or had I always had the figure of a beached whale?
I lost myself, but I had her. My baby.
I remember my hubs asking to take a photo of us together just after the labour. I said no. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. Please just take a photo of the baby, she’s so perfect. Her first ever photo is one of her lying on my chest. I had my spotty night shirt on, you can just see my curves, the headless prop in the background. You don’t get to see how incredibly proud I am of myself for completing a marathon labour. I should have held her up like a medal to show the world. Look at what I’ve just done! I delivered a human! I should have allowed myself to look wrecked and swollen.
So many photographed moments of the first year you see a shadow in the background, that shadow holding everything together. Keeping the clean cycle of bibs going, making up feeds, swaddling before bed and singing lullabies, soothing any sickness away. Helping every single baby transition run as smoothly as possible.
The photos look flawless because I wasn’t in any.
I was a mother! Exactly what I wanted to be my whole life, but I no longer looked like or felt like myself. The sleep deprivation would nudge me to tie my hair back in the morning, and because of all the weight, my hippy chic style didn’t suit me anymore. It was all leggings and hair bobbins. Is this what a typical mother looks like? Is this how it happens? That first year of motherhood is fecking hard. That baby is your whole life and maybe you have to lose yourself a little bit, you don’t have the time to ping back into the pre-baby jeans. You don’t have time to brush your hair.
Some days, I never looked in the mirror, I couldn’t face it.
Looking back now, I am tinged with regret. I should’ve smiled and stood proudly in those photos. If only to show that girl how much I love her. Look at your Mammy! She looks like shite, but look at you, my darling, look at you shining and glowing with health and happiness! A picture speaks a thousand words.
Fast Forward 3 and a half years and most of the weight is gone, not all mind you, but the love for myself has slowly returned. My girl will sometimes rub my face and say “My mammy, you are so bootiful” echoing the words I have said to her since she was born. My lesson being love should be unconditional no matter what, most importantly loving ourselves even when we can’t even look in the mirror. It’s the selfless acts of love and kindness we do every day, that is what makes us beautiful. The beauty will shine through the greasy hair.
“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
Roald Dahl, The Twits
This was first published on the M word here