by Jessica Martin-Weber
I have a tattoo on my upper right arm that starts at a three pointed scar on my inner arm and wraps up and around my shoulder. A twisty, viney type of tree with swirls, knots, and sharp looking points. The tree looks like it has grown around many obstacles and against the wind. It isn’t a tall, straight tree, it is a tree with gnarls and curves, marked by it’s struggle to survive. A beautiful tree that springs from a scar in the soil. Flapping their wings, 6 birds that may have just been resting on the curved and hunched branches of this tree are taking flight. Delicate but obviously powerful, these birds are majestic and strong. I dreamed of this tattoo for years, shared the vision with my tattoo artist Colin Kolker, sketched many variations with my husband Jeremy, and eventually Colin captured the essence in the design that is permanently etched into my arm. This tattoo means so much to me it is now woven into Tekhni fabric to carry babies.
This is why.
“You look terrible!” There was concern in her voice, not malice. I did look terrible, frightening even. I could have been auditioning to be an extra in Schindler’s List. I knew I looked bad. Not wanting to explain much, I tell her I’m ok, I’m just pregnant. She looks horrified and whispers “I thought pregnant women glowed.”
No, nope, nu-uh. Ok, well, some pregnant women glow. Maybe even most. I don’t glow. Unless you count the green tinged pallor I sport in pregnancy a glow.
In my head pregnancy is going to be this serene existence of light, one with the earth, I’ll feel like a goddess, my body humming with the growing life within and a sense of wisdom and peace filling me. It radiates from me as I float along my every day life where everything suddenly has more meaning. I had expectations.
Unfortunately, that isn’t what happens.
Instead of floating, I crash to the ground in a heap of extra saliva and a stomach that rejects all food and liquid all day, every day. This causes my skin to lose elasticity, my body fat to burn off quickly, my kidneys to release toxins, my eyes to sink deeper into my skull, the tiny blood vessels in my face and neck to burst, my complexion to take on a green yellow hue, my head to spin when I shift my weight, my other organs to work harder as they dehydrate, and my veins to go into hiding so that every IV attempt results in bruises the size of plums up and down my arms. I don’t even know how to tell you. Hyperemesis Gravidarum.
Decidedly not glowing.
Every pregnancy I hoped the results would be different. There were plans, you see. Plans for how I would eat, how I would prepare for my coming baby. Plans for a level of physical activity and creativity bursts. Plans for how my baby and I would grow together, healthy and strong. Plans for how my friends and family would share in my pregnancy, how we would celebrate and enjoy the journey. Plans for how everything would go the way it was supposed to go. Plans that never came to be.
Because no glowing.
I hate being pregnant.
Cue a new glow, those fuming at me for not fulfilling my role of goddess mother because I dare to admit I don’t love pregnancy. Even Kim Kardashian, who people love to hate and hate to love, can’t state that pregnancy isn’t an experience she enjoys without encountering more vitriol than normal.
Pregnant mothers are supposed to glow and love pregnancy.
You can fail being a mother before your kid is even outside of your body.
All because you didn’t. feel. the. glow.
We have a romanticized version of all aspects of motherhood upheld in our society. A version that is always glowing, radiating from some isolated pedestal of unattainable idealism. While sometimes we may feel like a goddess in our mothering, for many of us those luminescent images require metaphorical if not literal special lighting, makeup, shape wear, and most elusive of all, a nap. In other words, the river goddess nursing her baby in the stream may be beautiful and remind of us some inner peace we’ve made contact with a time or two but for many of us it is heavily staged.
Most of my moments in parenting haven’t been glowing. Some of them I was barely surviving.
It can be crushing to realize that your experience with conception, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding aren’t a breathtaking image of serenity, that your reality isn’t naturally incandescent. When all you want is to glow, to radiate, to enjoy the path that gets you to your baby but what you get is near destruction, it can be hard to separate the journey from your own personhood. Sometimes it can be hard to separate the journey from the gift. There were times when my baby felt like my enemy, my torturer, my reminder of my failure. Those times were dark and twisted. But they were nothing compared to the times when I felt my baby suffered because I just. couldn’t. glow. The agony that my babies paid the price was by far the most painful to endure.
- Pregnancy loss.
- Pregnancy complications.
- Birth trauma.
- Relationship problems.
- Financial stress.
- Disrupted bonding.
- Feeding difficulties.
- Postpartum depression.
Whatever it is, the grief is real, the suffering is profound. And the shaping is valuable.
Even if you aren’t glowing.
Specially if you aren’t glowing.
When there is no glow, particularly when there is no glow when pure radiance is what is expected, how do you go about being honest with yourself and others? And how do you start to heal while accepting what it is?
Here’s what has helped me.
Journal. Write it all down. The reality, the struggle, the loneliness, the fear that the fact that you feel this way or have experienced these things means you’re not enough. All of it, write it down.
Cry. Yep, cry. You’re going to anyway. Give yourself permission and cry. And don’t dismiss it as hormones or being a woman or overreacting or whatever. Cry because you’re human and humans cry when something hurts. It is not weakness to cry, it is a strength to stop pretending.
Art. Whether you enjoy expressing yourself through art or not, drawing, coloring, painting, sculpting, dancing, playing music, you name it, artistic expression can be incredibly cathartic because sometimes words alone just art enough to full get those feelings out. And taking in someone else’s artistic expression can be just as powerful.
Talk. You may be afraid that people may not like hearing your journey because it isn’t warm and fuzzy but more often than not sharing your story will actually help someone processing their own glowless experience. That sharing can help you and them. Be it in person or online, opening up about our struggles builds community that values authenticity and that can actually help save lives.
Commemorate. An event, big or small, to honor the journey (but please don’t do a balloon release, it’s littering and hard on animal friends); a special purchase that holds a lot of meaning for you; a ritualistic occasion that connects deeply with you; a meaningful plant/tree/shrub planted in your yard as a hopeful yet gentle reminder; compile mementos in a book; create something unique that captures the profound nature of your journey.
The tree on my arm represents me, the birds my daughters. My tattoo turned Tekhni woven wrap, named for the nymphs of Greek mythology who nurture nature, has helped me glow. From reclaiming my body to having a beautiful woven wrap that represents so much healing, hope, and promise in nurturing that surrounds other moms and their precious children, I have found a glow I can’t contain. May we all glow with honesty and hope.
Thank you for reading my story, I would love to hear yours as well. Comment here sharing your glowing or not-so-glowing experience with parenting, how you’ve found healing, and how you commemorate that experience.
If you’d like to share your story with a larger audience, submit your story with photos, your bio, and the subject #MyStoryMatters to content @ theleakyboob.com (no spaces).
Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com,co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, and co-creator of OurStableTable.com, supporter of A Girl With A View, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. She co-parents her 6 daughters with her husband of 19 years and is currently writing her first creative non-fiction book and a children’s book.