Dita’s Story: New Motherhood
Photographed by: HedvANDan Photography
“The notions that I developed about motherhood, came from being raised by my own mother. I was raised by a mom who did not work once she started having kids. When I was growing up, she was a full-time mom- the kind of mom who would be available to just drop off your lunch in the middle of the day, or let us stay home to have mental health days. The model of motherhood that I personally was working off of was incredibly immersive.
Our baby came into the world in an easy, happy way- when it was the right time for us. It was a natural progression in our lives- we had been married for three and half years when we started trying. I’m the kind of person who always considered myself to be very maternal, so I anticipated that motherhood would come naturally to me. In some ways it did, and some ways it didn’t.
In terms of wanting to be in the “mother role” – when Noam came I was able to be emotionally present for that experience. I was delighting in the whole experience of being his mom, walking around with him in the stroller, carrying him in the baby carrier when I took him to do our first load of laundry in the laundry room. Yet, I think there were so many things that were so hard for me to get used to, primarily the way that your time doesn’t belong to you anymore.
I remember coming home from the hospital, thinking how is it possible that I’ve gone through this traumatic physical transition and now I’m supposed to stay up all night? I’m supposed to feed this child with my body? I’m starving, in pain and dirty and when do I get to sleep? There was no rest at home, the transition was so jolting. He was here, and I had to learn to nurse while trying to heal. I had just spent 9 months thinking about this moment, processing, planning, and then there is no time to process the transition between, ‘I’m pregnant’ and “Now I’m a parent.’ It happens in a span of moments. That immediacy took me for a loop. The demands that it put on it my body, time and relationship with my husband, felt jarring to me.”
“Eitan and I have been together for 10 ½ years. It was a drastic change for us, to move from the theoretical place of wanting to have a baby and build a family together, to working together to take care of an infant, with different demands on each of us. All of a sudden, the rituals and patterns of our relationship stopped at a standstill. There were no more bedtime conversations because we no longer had a bedtime. There was no more sharing over dinner because our eating patterns changed as well. Time ceased to exist in those patterns, and it became hard to recreate the time to talk, reflect and process what was going on. While there can be something very unifying about being on a “joint project” with someone – in our case, being new parents – there were also moments where my experiences were so drastically different from Eitan’s that I felt a little lonely.
I had a relationship with Noam for months because I carried him inside of me. For Eitan, becoming a parent was more sudden, shocking; it meant having an infant placed in his arms and being told, “Here is your kid.” While we were in “this project” together, we had such drastically different physical and emotional experiences. It took time for the difference to normalize between us. Time would bring us into the same emotional space.
I was in a pain that he couldn’t fathom. He couldn’t imagine what it was like to be struggling to nurse the baby, or, at certain points, to not have the physical energy to even want to try. Eitan was so wonderfully supportive, offering to help get me any assistance we could to make it easier for me and assuring me that if nursing wasn’t working for me, Noam would be fine and it would all be ok. Nevertheless, he couldn’t relate to the experience of my pain or the rehabilitation that comes with new motherhood and the loss of my pre-motherhood body. He looks exactly the same after becoming a parent, and my body has gone through such a transition.”
“There are so many mixed messages I see and interpret from the world around me about postpartum bodies. I’ve seen many posts about loving your postpartum body, embracing your stretch marks and appreciating that your body brought a baby into the world.
At the same time, seeing all these posts about ‘the best way to lose the post-baby weight’ and ‘how to get your abs back after baby,’ I find myself asking: Is it ok to have a postpartum body? Or is it not ok? If it’s not ok, well then it’s going to have to be, because my body is never going to be the same again. I ask myself, ‘Am I ok with the fact that I’ve gained weight?’ Should I be ok with it? Right now, all I can think about is getting through the day. My first priority is to nourish my body, try to exercise and take care of myself.
There is a lot of pressure to lose weight. I don’t have the time right now to do that. If I did, I would frame the goal as a way to have the energy to keep up with my son. I can’t be ashamed of the way my body looks. I’m going to look like this, and I’m going to have these marks.
I feel envious of the people who seem to fully embrace their postpartum bodies. I don’t think I’ve embraced my body yet, I think I’ve just accepted it. There is a lack of warmth in the acceptance. It’s a resignation as opposed to an embrace.
Especially now, it is nice for me and my husband to share the experience of food. In the initial reconstructing of our relationship, we re-established meal times. I didn’t ever want to say, ‘No, I won’t share this bowl of noodles and cheese with you’- because A. that’s all there was in the house and B. I was so hungry for food and that sense of normalcy with him. I’d rather keep the weight and have the experience of being together in this way, at this time.”
“What I love about our current stage is that I’ve shed a couple of my initial neuroses, judgments and feelings of guilt. At this point, I’m transitioning out of pumping at work. I’m accepting now that if he has formula bottles, that’s fine. Six months ago, I would be beating myself over the head for giving him formula. Those feelings came from a place of guilt. The fact that he is in daycare has finally become a normal part of our lives. Seeing him happy there has allowed me to let go of some of the tremendous guilt about leaving him. I’ve accepted that this is how we are choosing to raise him. I’m no longer scared to take him out or upset when his pacifier drops on the floor. As he’s gotten older and stronger, I’ve gained confidence that maybe everything is going to be ok.
There is such delight in getting to a place where you can interact. He doesn’t say anything yet, but the fact that he smiles and waves and blabbers and claps brings so much joy to our lives. When I come home from a complicated day at work, Noam’s needs are so simple, so immediate — everything just stops. Between 5:30 and 7 pm there is a focused sense of calm. I’m not stressing about other things. I’m just with my son, and that is a blessing. He has become part of the fabric of our lives, a member of our family.”
“I am a full-time Judaic studies teacher at a Jewish high school, with extra responsibilities in the 11th-grade class. I leave the house around 8:15 in the morning, and get home between 5:30-5:45 pm. It’s a full day for all of us. Early on in my working/parenting career, I set many high expectations for myself. I expected to be as present for my son as my own mother had been for me. Because I was working full time, that wasn’t a reasonable expectation. It took a lot of time to really believe that, as a working mom, I could balance this.
Speaking to many other working moms has helped me accept this juggling act and realize I’m never going to strike a perfect balance. Some days I’m going to be a better professional, and some days I’ll be a better mother. I love what I do, and I don’t think I would be as happy as a stay-at-home-mom. My role at school allows me to connect with a different part of myself. Every choice, I realize, comes with a cost.
I hope that my son, and hopefully my future children, will see me one day as a role model. I hope they appreciate that I care deeply about what I do.
Having a working mom will be Noam’s reality. Still, he will feel as loved as I did growing up with a mom who made different choices.”
Shira Lankin Sheps grew up in New Jersey and went to Stern College for women. After graduating from Hunter College School of Social Work with her MSW in clinical social work, she worked in the clinical field, in marketing and photojournalism. She decided to start The Layers Project to help break down stigma and promote healing within our Jewish community. She feels strongly about presenting women, who are so often shown as shallow characters or fully removed from Jewish media spaces, as three-dimensional individuals whose lives are full and rich with resilience. Shira made aliyah with her family a year ago to Jerusalem.