Tuesday, June 30, 2015


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One of the first things I remember thinking after Riel was born was that I wanted to live forever.

There was this beautifully terrifying moment where I held her against my skin, trying to soothe her as we both cried, and I remember hearing my inner monologue actually say: "I want to live forever..."  

It was in that second, in all of my joy, that I came to the sober realization of my own mortality.

My daughter's birth set into motion the circle of life. Her birth and life showed me that my universe would no longer end at me. It made me realize that one day, hopefully far, far away, I will die and she will live. It gave me faith that there has to be more than this life, because I never want to stop loving her, even after this life is over. And that has to be enough to believe there is something more. It scared me to think of her in a world without me in it to protect her. Others could try, but nobody else will ever be able to love and protect her like I can.

In all of my happiness the night she was born, there was a sadness knowing there would be parts of her that I would never know or see.

I think that's the part that really enlightened me, the intense mix of emotions that come along with having a baby. I didn't expect this, because It's not just love, or if it is, this was a new kind of love that I was never capable of feeling before. 

I can't really explain it except to say that meeting Riel opened up parts of me-- my mind,  my soul and my heart-- that I didn't know existed. It made me see this new symmetry of life-- this beautiful centre of the universe, where she was just entering and I am partway done. Our time together, though it was just beginning, wasn't ever going to be enough. It was profound and beautiful to love as much as I loved.

I knew I would love my baby with all my heart, but I didn't expect to feel all the other feelings.

Ten weeks in, I am still trying to articulate these feelings. They have become even more real in the fact that time seems to be racing by, and that both Riel and I (more so Riel) are changing and evolving so rapidly. It's hard to keep up and absorb every second. Combine that with the fact that these new emotions and thoughts are fierce and confusing. I can understand why having a baby can lead to postpartum depression and baby blues... I don't think I am afflicted with either of those conditions, but I have a new empathy for others who may suffer.

Having a baby is so many things. It's wonderful and terrifying and it sure makes you aware of time and how quickly is passes by.

I'm not trying to be morbid, any time with my girl is special. I just never ever want it to end.

That old Robert Munsch book kind of sums it up; I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living, my baby you'll be... I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living my mommy you'll be...

I love you Riel. I'm still trying to figure out forever.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

For better or for worse

After I had Riel the confidence and empowerment that I felt were like nothing I'd ever experienced before.

I remember getting out of the shower one morning and looking at my naked body in the mirror-- my saggy belly, my engorged breasts, my thick thighs -- and I remember thinking to myself how strong and powerful my body was after what it had been through.

It's weird and I can't explain it, but for a short time after giving birth to Riel I experienced complete and total happiness with my body. It was a temple; a tank; a beacon of life. For some reason I felt nearly perfect. The meaty reflection staring back at me in the mirror was one that had not only survived childbirth, but it was like a trophy that I had earned.

Perhaps it was the surge of hormones from just giving birth, or perhaps it was the fact that I was in my own little world where the focus was on my little girl, and not on myself or anyone else. Whatever it was, it was wonderful.

With time, however, those feelings started to fade. While they're not gone completely, my outlook is changing. I no longer look in the mirror at my naked body and feel empowered. Instead I can't help but see all the meaty flesh that seems more like an obstacle than a trophy. Wearing stretchy pants and loose-fitting tops is uncomfortable in a whole new way.

My body and my eating habits are so foreign after having a baby. I have never known hunger like I know now as a nursing mother. I am, for lack of a better term, like a bottomless pit. I am always hungry and never full.

I'm not going to fat shame myself or pledge to spend my days working out and eating a strict diet, because that's not going to work for me right now. The key words being 'right now.' Some people may call that an excuse, considering that other moms of nine week old babies can do this. But right now, I am still learning how to live my life as a dynamic duo with my ever-changing little girl.

In this new world it takes me hours to get ready to go anywhere, I rarely wear much more makeup than face powder, I willingly wear crocks, and you'd be hard pressed to find me without baby puke on my clothes at any given time. I'm exhausted, yet functional.

My whole lifestyle changed when Riel was born, I can't fit anymore big changes into my life until I figure out the big changes that have already happened.

That said, right now I can make little changes. I can lead a healthy lifestyle, even if it's not going to make me lose all of the weight I gained during my pregnancy. I can take Riel for more walks and heed my own advice when I kick the older kids outside to the yard to play rather than watch TV. I can choose better meals and snacks and be mindful about the foods I am shoving into my mouth at any given time. More important than that though, I can be easy on myself when my former "fat jeans" don't even go up past my butt, or when the two and a half year old tells me that I'm big now while patting belly.

I can enjoy mat leave with my baby without worrying too much about getting to the gym or achieving some sort of fitness goal, because after this year is over there will never be another time in our lives that Riel and I will have this much time together. And that's the most important thing to me.

I can learn to look at my body as the temple it is, the way I did after Riel was born, and trust that small changes will benefit me. I can go easy on myself when I feel fat and remind myself that out of my big, beautiful, healthy body came a beautiful, healthy baby girl.

I can love and appreciate my body, even though it's not what I want it to be like right now, and I can practice being a good role model for my daughter.

Knowing I have the ability to make small changes and a big impact is empowering. Loving my body for better or for worse is one of the best lifestyle changes I can make.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Looking back...

A week after Riel was born I took her to my friend Sunny for a newborn photo session, and to take part in a short video for the Sunny S-H Photography website.

Aside from leaving the hospital, this was the first time Riel had been out into the world. It was also my first time out in more than seven days. I was both excited and nervous as I got her ready and packed her into her car seat. The notion that this baby was mine was one that was still so surreal as I walked out of the house with my jam-packed diaper bag around my shoulder and my teeny-tiny sleeping baby safely fastened in her little bucket, I felt shiny and on top of the world. I walked with a little bit of swagger, the same way a kid does when they get a new bike or something.

I had just made this perfect, tiny little human.

I was ready to show my little girl off to anyone and everyone. Seriously, picture that scene from the Lion King where that monkey, Rafiki, holds newborn Simba up at the edge of a peak, presenting him to the entire pride while the Circle of Life plays in the background. At that moment, and even sometimes now, that's what I want to do with my baby cub.

Given these strong instincts getting out of the house -- to a photographer's studio no less -- was a whole new level of exciting.

I drove about ten kilometres under the speed limit the whole way because I was so paranoid about getting into an accident. I glared at other drivers who passed me and I cursed at the ones who got too close. While it was a typical Saturday morning drive down Portage Avenue, on that day everyone around me was a menace in my eyes. I felt like I was navigating through a highway of disregard.

I white-knuckled it the entire way.

It's funny when you have your newborn baby in the car for the first time; suddenly the world is a whole lot more threatening and every other driver on the road is reckless. You have to navigate through the danger zone (which is the entire road) because you're the only one not driving like a jerk. Or at least that's how it feels. In hindsight it was probably me who was being the jerk with my slow and overly cautious driving.

When I got to the studio I was excited to see what Sunny would do with Riel.

Sunny and I have been friends for years, I've known her even before she became a professional photographer. I've seen her work evolve from good to outstanding, so I knew that the pictures would be beautiful. However, I was a little nervous about how Riel would respond to being dressed up, positioned, and photographed all afternoon. I barely knew my daughter at the time, so I couldn't even predict how she would react.

Sunny told me not to worry, we would work for as long as Riel would let us, stopping to feed or rock her back to sleep if need be. The key to making this entire shoot work was patience.

I was amazed at how comfortable Sunny was with my newborn. She was nurturing and gentle and she was a lot more confident with my baby than even I was at that point. She didn't flinch when Riel peed on her, or when she projectile pooped all over the beautiful rose coloured sheet she had been positioned on. Sunny just laughed like a veteran and claimed she'd seen worse.

I watched as she gently sculpted my sleeping daughter into each position like a artist does with clay. If you've ever tried to take pictures of a newborn baby, you'll know that positioning them isn't an easy task. Yet when Sunny did it, it seemed so simple, my daughter's little body melted into her touch. It was magic.

This wasn't even the first time Sunny had met Riel. She was there the night Riel was born, camera in hand, capturing what was undoubtedly the most important night of my life.

"Text me when the baby's here," she messaged when I went into labour. "I want you to have something more than cell phone pictures."

At the time I didn't realize just how important those images -- her images -- of that night would be.

Chris and I both had our cell phones ready, and we got some really great pictures immediately after Riel was born. But Sunny's pictures offer a different glimpse of the night, her pictures are raw, and beautiful and they're artistic. Looking through them now, two months later, I get emotional when I see my tiny daughter in her first hours of life.

We were really lucky that Sunny offered to do that for us.

Sitting in Sunny's studio, seven days after their first meeting, Riel had already changed so much. Unlike the first shoot, this one was choreographed with outfits and props and backdrops. Our photos turned out beautifully, and have since been printed off and framed, sent to friends, used for invitations and thank you cards, pasted in her baby book, and looked at about a thousand times.

I didn't mean for this blog post to be an ad for my friend Sunny if it comes across that way. She is a helluva a good photographer and Riel and I had a couple of amazing experiences with her, we are so lucky to have a friend like her. I wanted to share that.

If you can afford newborn photography from Sunny, or another photographer that you'd like to work with, I'd highly recommend investing in pictures for yourself and for your little one from when he or she grows up. If you can't afford it, and let's face it many of us can't, don't let that stop you from taking your own staged or candid photos.

My greatest advice to you is to just keep taking pictures of your children. Never stop, because they grow and they grow and they grow so quickly.