For the majority of the last year, I've been seesawing between extreme joy and extreme sadness: feeling like a mess as I watch my young child move through all of his milestones in his first year of life, and coping with the unexpected loss of my own dad just a few short months after his birth.
When I was prepping for my second child's birth, I wanted to do my postpartum differently. I wanted to ask for more help. I planned to hire more help. I planned to rest more. Planned to have more honest conversations with my partner. I expected to look at my life after birth with experienced eyes and kinder expectations, all as a way to ease the grip postpartum depression may have on me if it came again.
I worked less. I took time to enjoy my baby. I helped my first born adjust to the changes in her life, and I thought things were going quite well. I had prepared, and I was ready to have a newborn in my life again.
Last December, I got several phone calls one night that didn't wake me up. And then I got one that did. My sister, who was living in Vietnam was the first person to get word that our dad had been rushed to the hospital after a fall. It was 2am. He had already undergone surgery.
By 6am my 4-month-old baby boy and I were flying to the West Coast to say goodbye to my father.
I have been saying goodbye to him since then. Milestones my son reaches are events he'll never see. Holidays and traditions are now heavy with the shadow of his missed contributions. His photos, belongings, and gifts are treasures and reminders of how he saw me, knew me, and loved me.
This year of firsts.
I have found a great deal of comfort from not being scared of my grief. What has been surprising is my grief has felt like a friend. I have imagined grief to be a horrible and wicked part of death, but for me, it isn't. And I don't know why. And it's not that I'm not sad. I am so sad. I say this feels like friendship because I'm not hiding. I'm not masking my life as it is now. I'm not afraid to explore how low it will take me.
My children have seen me cry huge sobs that come from amazing memories or waves of the enormity of his leaving. And they have seen me laugh and tell stories of him that are silly or adventurous. My grief really does feel like a seesaw, where the highs are surprising, and the lows are shattering, but both are never for very long. It is so odd to rebound between the two so often.
But in the way many moms do, I have been doing what I need to do, as things come along. My son has learned to crawl, walk, and now climb in the months since my dad died. He has kept me on my toes, kept me present with his small and significant discoveries, and been the daily reminder that my time with him is precious and finite. While I have not shielded my grief from children, I have also not irradicated any possibility of joy. It has been a year of harsh juxtapositions with death and new life overlapping for me to untangle.
This year of first steps, first eulogies, first words, and first deep goodbyes is not a story I would have picked if I were to choose. I do not wish it for anyone.
But it is my story.
I am trying to find ways to navigate life without one of my foundational pillars to offer support. I am trying to heal. I am trying to mourn. I am trying to honor.
As I was returning home after his funeral, I had a candid conversation with my dad on the flight. My son was sleeping in my lap, and we were somewhere over Iowa, I think.
And I shared with him all the things I was afraid of and all the things I was going to miss, and all the stuff I wished I could have said to him before he left. And he told me he loved me, and he was proud of me, and that I had hands and feet to do things I didn't even know were possible yet. That my brain and my heart were incredible, and that he wasn't actually gone. And I believed him.
This year of first has been the beginning of a new relationship with myself, and the people I choose to let into my life. I don't wish this story on anyone, but this year of firsts has given me an incredible amount of hope and purpose.
My dad would have turned 77 today.
He loved German chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce. He was capable and lived in service to others, and gave the most incredible hugs. His hands were like baseball mitts, and he enjoyed two-stepping and being a cowboy. And he loved me. And that love is still felt so well even now.
It is a love that has taught me a new part of the power that comes as a parent. We get to give our children an unconditional love for as long as they need it, even after we're gone.
It was time to be done. It was a good run while it lasted, but it was time. Time to retire the nursing bras.
It was embarassing, really, the number of hours it had been worn. The number of times it had been snapped open and closed was a slow metronome for daily life. But the snaps and clicking are done now. The fabric is tired - an accurate representation of the time I spent not sleeping myself.
These fabric bits were an extension of me. The straps knew where to settle. I had been able to un-clasp and re-clasp the front boob flaps for sometime now. So much that even when wearing clothes that isn't designed for chest-feeding-people I could get a boob in a crying baby's mouth remarkably fast.
My bras have absorbed so much milk, spit, and tears. They have witnessed milestones in my breastfeeding journey: Learning the ropes, latching with ease, and finally mastering the night feeds where I didn't need lights to see the path to putting my baby to breast, settling him down, and getting him back to sleep.
This wireless, kinda flimsy, tired workhorse of an undergarment is ready to go to the Intimates Store in the Sky.
Fairwell friend. You did well.
I'm ready for an underwire again.
Oh, but funny enough, I don't think my boobs were ready. I thought it was time, but my boobs...they are altered. Lol...
Did you know it's normal for one breast to produce more milk than the other? Yep. Things like anatomy, slow let down or fast let down, or baby's preference can mean that one breast develops more or less milk than the other.
So finding a bra that fits well - a very frustrating process for many bra-wearing people - is a new kind of frustrating.
I put on my non-lactating-friendly bra and was so excited. I didn't care that one cup was now too loose by a smidge. I didn't care that the I needed to re-remember how to put the stupid thing on, because...
It was so pretty! The nursing bras that ended up being a part of my regular life for 8 months were beige, or black with not much going on. The bra was there to do a job (and it did very well!) not to look fashionable while doing it.
Seeing some color on my décolletage felt like an awakening. A visual breath. A boost of energy. A lacy hug.
I bought my new armor and wore it out of the store, not wanting to put my dingy dishrag back on. And then I started to do my life.
And some of the shiny wore off.
Some feelings popped up. Some sadness about what I just ended.
The realization that I was really done using my body in a way that was fought for, well earned, and natural.
Some other feelings popped up too. Not good ones. Like the poking feelings from the stupid underwires. And sweaty feelings because this new bra didn't "breathe" as well. Before my boobs were wet because of milk. Now they were wet because of confinement and suffocation.
A know a well-fitting bra shouldn't hurt. But that is all noise to me in this moment. It felt like my new pretty bra that I was so excited about only few days prior was re-introducing me into the world of sexism and objectivity - which sounds extreme, but ug...it felt extreme.
It was pretty. But I loved taking it off for the day.
My nursing bras weren't pretty, but they had started to feel like a worn in pair of jeans: soft, reliable, like a good friend.
My new bra was like meeting Susan from HR. She was trying to be nice and helpful, but really she just wanted me to say in line.
All this was months ago.
Susan is still in rotation, but only for short periods of time. I love knowing she's there. I love looking at her. And I love not wearing my worn-down nursing bra...I really am done with that part of my life.
What I've found works well while wrangling two kids at various levels of mobility (and spontaneous dance-party-ness) is life requires a certain amount of flexibility - literally and mentally. My energy at the beginning of the day is drastically different than the middle and the end, and the amount of time I want to devote to getting ready is minimal. (duh.)
And I also now know why Athleasure is a huge thing. Because ain't nobody got time for that!
It isn't for everyone, but I am so thankful that yoga wear, sporting attire, and my mothering timeline have aligned in this moment of supportive garment history.
Susan, you're pretty, but I'm gonna be Sporty Spice over here for a bit.
Written by Ariel Swift
Ariel Swift does most of the writing around this blog, but we love having guest writers and visits!