Nicole O'Neil Photography
Mamas out there, I want you to know, even though I’m not a mama, that I SEE you and I HEAR you. My sister was born when I was 12 so I was sort of like a second mom and experienced her growth. I spent years as a nanny, for some families, 12 hours a day, and was in the trenches of what it’s like to raise kids and the toll that can take on mothers (and dads). I also spent a lot of time helping family members care for their babies. Now, my sister has a baby and I have spent the last year back in it all. I was there for the labor and there for the first days home and every week, I’ve been there for 1-2 days. Let me say again, MAMAS, I HEAR YOU AND SEE YOU. Of course it’s not the SAME as being a mom. Your experience is multiplied by 50. Raising humans is HARD and BEAUTIFUL and EXHAUSTING and AMAZING. It’s a roller coaster of emotions and a constant struggle of “am I doing what’s right” and “am I good enough?”
Let me tell you, YOU ARE AMAZING.
Women ARE really amazing, aren’t we? We were made to grow tiny humans inside of us and then to nurture and help them become bigger humans. I mean, I’m not doing that but I’m a great auntie and think all of you who do it are F’n rockstars.
We have a strength that can’t be matched. By strength, I don’t mean “being okay all of the time” or “pushing through everything with ease”. I mean being in difficult moments and seeking help. I mean feeling low and recognizing it and finding ways to get out of it (or not). I mean sharing your struggle with others (or not). I mean RAISING HUMANS whether you do it full time or go to work and juggle both. I mean, in the face of an unfair system where you are still expected to work like you are not a mother raising kids but also expected to raise kids as if you have NOTHING else in your life. Whether it’s work or coffee with friends and a yoga class or a long run, you deserve to have your life in addition to being that mom. Your strength to do it whatever way you are doing it regardless of those expectations is remarkable. Take a minute and let that sink in. YOU ARE AMAZING.
I’m going to give big props to my sister here. (And her awesome supportive, loving husband. This post is mainly about the mamas but I also think there are some amazing dads out there!) Not everyone does it or can do it like she has, but I feel that I want to share her amazingness because she deserves it. My sister is that person who decides what she wants and how she wants it and honestly, 90% of the time, it works out that way. Hello, law of attraction. She believes she can get there and she does. It takes that energy of a full, deep belief and the actions she takes to reach her goals. I haven’t been that person. I never believed in myself or that I would “get there” and it took me until I was in my Thirties to really start figuring that out and working through it. She has always had a confidence and a drive that I admire. Remember, this is about my sister. It’s not about you and your story which may be different. It’s just my admiration for women and what they have the potential to do with support and love.
She told me when she was going to get pregnant and she did. She told me how she wanted to the labor to go and though, it didn’t fully work out that way, she handled it well. She was induced for DAYS. Her plan was no drugs, natural birth, to give the baby his best start. That’s just a reality that the best start is no drugs and to come through naturally to get all of that wonderful good bacteria. Is it for everyone? NOPE. It doesn’t mean your baby can’t be healthy through other ways. You can absolutely do it other ways should you need (Hell, she ended up with the drugs and watching the pain she was in as the baby was shifted to cause pain in her back, I didn’t blame her. I do think if she hadn’t been induced, she potentially could have handled the pain. But, she took the drugs and she slept a much needed sleep as the induction went on for another 24 hours.
The baby was doing well and everything looked good so even when it was going slower than they liked and the hint of a C section came up, she advocated for herself and asked to keep going. Because there was no threat, they said okay. She chose to try what SHE felt was best, knowing he was okay and they let her. 4.5 hours of pushing and she did it. 4.5 hours. I can’t say I think I’d last through that. She did. And she had this beautiful baby boy.
But, you know what else she had? She had support. She had a supportive husband and other people who supported what she wanted and encouraged her that she could do it but also let her know that she would do what was best for her in the end. When it came to that first day, she was tired but so in love and she tried to feed him and did. She wanted to breast feed to give him the ultimate nutrition. Yes, that’s a fact. It’s okay if you couldn’t do it. It’s okay if you had to go another route. Again, everyone needs to do what is best. But, it’s also what our bodies were made for and it’s the most natural thing in the world for not just humans, but so many other animals. I often wonder if the extreme pressure wasn’t put on women, that they would be able to do it easier. Some may not because they physically can’t do it and that’s ok. But, I wonder if it was all love and support and “You can do this” not “You HAVE to do this” if it would change the narrative, the energy of it. If it would take the pressure off. I can’t imagine that pressure, whether internal and systematic or external helps your body perform at it’s most natural state. But in the end, you need to do what is best for both you and your baby.
Anyway, she did well and when he had a rough day after being put under the lights, he struggled and she stressed about having to give him a bottle. I was there to reassure her, to support her. It is okay. He needs something. He already was taking to the breast and he will again. He is off today because of what he had done and you can still feed him. You can hold him against your chest while you give him a bottle. You can breast feed again when he has adjusted a bit. And you know what, he went back to it easily, even after a few rough . If I hadn’t been there supporting her, maybe it wouldn’t have been as easy. She may have been more stressed about it. If she was told over and over “you don’t have to breast feed” (She was told this a couple of times) maybe she wouldn’t have tried. With either situation, she may have been even more in her head about it. And that stress and energy would be felt by him so it could have been harder. Women (and really, just people) need support and love and assurance.
In those first months, it was HARD.
She was honest about it.
She struggled like any other new mom.
hey were exhausted and wondered if they
were doing it “right”.
But they trusted.
They did what they felt to be best for the baby
and for them. They also still had support-
from each other and others.
PEOPLE! If you have a new set of parents or new mom in your life (or any mom, new or seasoned or soon to be), HELP AND SUPPORT THEM. Let them vent. Don’t try to give advice unless they ask or do it gently and in a supportive way, giving them options to decide what’s best. Hold the baby while they lay down or clean up and do things they are feeling they can’t get to otherwise. I mean, a baby mostly sleeps and those tiny baby cuddles while they do so are so wonderful.
COOK some food. (or even plan a meal service) I food prepped every week for them. I made frittatas and refrigerated and froze them in individual portions. I did the same with meals. I found recipes for lactation cookies and smoothies. Cookies were put in containers and some frozen. Smoothie ingredients were put in individual portions in the freezer, the powder/dry ingredients in small bags in the cabinet and all she had to do in her tired state was put them in a blender with a little yogurt and milk. I helped make eating healthy and that daily chore manageable for them. They needed their strength and needed nourishing, healthy foods. Mama needed lots of great nutrients and good food to keep feeding that growing baby boy. It was the LEAST I could do.
She had a plan to pump when she went back to work and to also meal prep him fresh vegetables and fruits when he would start eating. I remember telling some people this early on and their response was, “Well, we’ll see if that happens” and “everyone thinks they’re going to do things like that but then realize it’s hard”. WOW. Instead of “great for her” or “how can I support her and assist her in some way”, it was defeatist. I supported her. I told her I’d help her meal prep if it ever got to be too much. I supported her plan to pump and luckily, her work makes it easy for her as well. And you know what??? She pumped every day at work and still does, planning on pulling back and giving herself the break from it when he turns a year (her choice) so he will have some of it for a bit longer but then be weaning. She has meal prepped and this baby has eaten fresh foods from the first food into his mouth. This isn't for everyone but with help, I bet many could do it IF they wanted. But, YOU do YOU. She didn’t want him having jars that sit on shelves and that was her choice and she found a way to make it easy for her. He loves spinach and broccoli and carrots and bananas and yogurt. He also loves meatballs and brownies (recent try). He loves real food and of course, a little fun treat once in a while.
My sister has to be gone to work for 12 hours a day with the commute time and actual work. They work in research in the city, away from their NH home. They leave at 5:30am before the baby is up for the day (most of the time). It is really F’n HARD. She has struggled with guilt and missing him and milestones and just TIME. But, it’s a reality. They have to work. They don’t have the fortune to do It any other way currently. Again, she is supported. When she’s felt that guilt, I reassure her. When I have the baby once or twice a week, we facetime, I send videos and pictures all day so she feels she is a part of it.
I have to say, that it has been amazing to me how people can criticize her and have comments or issue with decisions she’s made. Any decision a parent makes about how to raise their child is THEIR decision and as long as it doesn’t directly affect you, you should never give them a hard time about it. If you think it’s wrong, oh well. They will be fine or they will learn a lesson (or not).
The kicker is that the most criticism and reaction she has gotten isn't to things that could do any harm or super extreme. It has been to breast feeding, how she wants him to healthier whole foods as his main nutrition and how she doesn’t want him to have a ton of gifts and would rather the presence and experience and to not have a bunch of “stuff” especially not things that would hurt the environment, because she cares about that. Those all go directly to HER VALUES. I would have thought those were all things that would be supported. Not just because it’s HER choice of what she does and what she wants. But also because, WHAT IS WRONG with healthier choices and setting her kid up for success with his health/nutrition? And WHAT IS WRONG with caring about the environment and wanting him to value experiences and true connection with those he loves above THINGS?
I’m dumbfounded every single time I hear of or literally hear someone voice having issue with any of these things. I mean, if she were feeding him McDonalds every day and buying him every toy off the shelf every day, would that be better?
It’s easy for people to judge other's decisions. Maybe it’s easy for you. Maybe it’s hard. Maybe you feel you can’t handle much and others can. I believe YOU CAN. I believe with a little support and encouragement, everyone can do it. The answers are inside of you, not in the “noise: and it really does take a village. Find your village.
I'll be honest, even I have given my advice. I have experience and knowledge of what to do with babies and kids but I have regretted sometimes the way it comes out. Instead, I try to make a suggestion but not tell her what to do. Or to ask a question instead if I'm curious why she is doing something a certain way, because she has reasons for things she does and she usually has a great answer.
My sister has rocked this motherhood thing because of multiple reasons. It wasn’t because she’s perfect and does it all “right” and never doubts herself. It’s because she isn’t perfect, she does doubt herself and then figures out what is best.
She is driven, knows what she wants and doesn’t let others sway her.
She has had SUPPORT. Support is KEY. SUPPORT the mamas in your life!
She let herself have the hard moments. She is honest about them. She isn’t always “doing great”. Neither is any other mom (or anyone at all) out there.
She is constantly listening to herself and taking only what she needs from all of the noise coming at her to decide what is best for her and her baby.
SO, big props to my little sister for believing in herself, advocating for herself and making sure she has support around her. To the mamas who are rocking it or struggling to figure it out, you are awesome. Keep going. To those who know a mama (or dad), find ways to support them, ASK them what they need. Mamas (and dads) ACCEPT support. IT TAKES A DAMN VILLAGE. I am so happy I've been there with her on this journey and that I've been able to capture so many great memories for her and freeze them in time. What will the future and new babies bring? Who knows. But I'll be there to help and support her.
I would LOVE to capture more mamas and dads in their real journey. Whether it’s the happy, beautiful moments of your day, spending time together, breastfeeding, bottle feeding or spoon feeding your little, documenting those first days home when you are tired and also so in love with your new bundle, whether you let me capture the ups AND downs or just the ups or whether playing with your littles and enjoying your time, playing games, out at a favorite park. Whatever tells YOUR story, let’s sit and create that vision. Let's chat and see what amazingness we can create.
Here's just a small sample of the amazing moms I get to capture with their babies.