Katie's Motherhood Session

Hello friends! I hope you have been enjoying this series on motherhood I've been working on. When I decided to work on a personal project, I immediately thought of working with some local moms because I have a dear place in my heart for mamas. I wanted to use this space to hear different perspectives on what it's like to be a mom.

I'm involved with a local group for moms, and one of their hashtags for this year is #thisismotherhood. I loved that line so much, and have been honored to be a part of a group of moms who embrace their differences, embrace each other, accept each other just as they are, and our group is really a non-judgmental place for moms to get together. I reached out in my group to see if anyone would be interested in sharing part of their motherhood journey, and I was blown away with the responses I got. I have been able to start meeting with the moms who I'll be working with, and I get to sit down with them for an hour, take some photos, and listen to them share. It's been so beautiful and such an honor for me.

Because I'm sharing parts of the stories of different women who have voluntarily sat down with me, I'd ask that you approach reading these posts with respect and an understanding that these stories are sacred. Please honor this space. The moms I'm interviewing all have a unique and different story of their journey to motherhood. No two will be alike, and that is so beautiful to me. Please honor these women and listen to their story free of judgement, assumptions, or negativity. We deal with enough of that already, right? 

Please accept these stories as parts of the bigger picture of being a mother and being human, and recognize how rich that makes this world. Thank you for taking the time to read and listen. 

With much love,

Leah

Katie

Katie lives in Fishers with her husband Brendan, her son Kevin, and their dog Luna. Katie and Brendan also recently became foster parents, and you'll get to read about that below, in her own words. When we recorded and shot our session, Katie hadn't gotten the news of their recent placement. I asked if she would add some edits about how life has changed now that their family has grown. 

Beyond caring for her family, Katie is a writer, a traveler, and has big dreams for loving and serving others. Her home is filled with lots of color, love, and warmth. It's easy to see how much she lives with passion and intention. 

I hope you enjoy reading part of her story - I felt so in awe and truly grateful to hear her share.

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Tell me a little bit about your journey to motherhood.

“Brendan and I got married the weekend after we graduated from college. Our first year of marriage was a whirlwind between moving to a new state, starting our first jobs, traveling around the world, and learning how to cohabitate. After about a year and a half, we adopted a rescue dog named Luna, thinking that maybe she would be a good segue into having a baby sooner rather than later. {insert eyeroll here because after having human babies, four legged babies feel like a walk in the park!} Our first conversations about growing our family went something like this, “‘Hey, let’s adopt first - we’ve always had a heart for adoption, and there’s no time like the present, so let’s go for it!’ We didn’t really have the money to adopt, so we decided to rent out our house and move into a one bedroom apartment to save money. At the time I was violently ill and ended up being diagnosed with giardia.  

So picture this -- we’re moving, trying to start the adoption process, and I’m throwing up every day. They’ve done a colonoscopy on me, run over 40 tests, and I was in and out of the doctor constantly - it was miserable. Only come to find out: I was 10 weeks pregnant. Shocked is the word I would use to describe my initial reaction. We hadn’t been actively preventing, but this was really just a one time thing. After the initial astonishment wore off, we decided that this baby was clearly meant to be.  This baby was our “blessing baby.”

In so many ways, he’s lived up to that nickname. Other than being diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum and being sick every single day of my pregnancy, Kevin has been a blessing baby. I had the privilege of having a short, natural, water birth, which is what I had always pictured, and I was able to go home only two hours after giving birth. The first few weeks of parenthood were blurry. One moment that sticks out to me was during week three when Brendan came out of our bedroom wearing swim trunks. I stared at him and asked why he was wearing his bathing suit in November. He said he was out of underwear, and this seemed like a better option than doing laundry. It was a perfect metaphor for the beginning of parenthood.

After 6 weeks of living in Charleston with Kevin, we just decided that, I don’t know, it didn’t feel like home anymore, and we missed our families. So we moved here to Indy without ever having seen our apartment and without either of us having jobs. It wasn’t overly responsible, but I’m sure glad we did it.

So I feel like typical to our life, we arrived to parenthood in a very messy, unexpected, exciting way. We kind of slid in versus arriving after a great, grand plan or something.”

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Can you tell me a little bit about your current journey since you’ve been so open about it?

“After Kevin, because I was so sick, we didn’t even have the conversation about biologically having more kids until he was two. I felt like my body underwent a lot of trauma being pregnant; plus, I breastfed him for a year, and I didn’t really like breastfeeding. I think if I’m being honest, in retrospect, I did it more out of guilt and duty or something, like this is what a mom is “supposed” to do. Breastfeeding was painful for me, and I’m not sure it’s something I would do again.

And in addition to physically recovering, we were adjusting to life with a baby, so waiting a couple of years felt like the best course of action for our family. After two years, we revisited the adoption conversation. At that point we’d been working diligently to get out of debt, so we were still not in a place where we could afford adoption. So we were like, ‘Ok, how can we do this in a way that is financially responsible, servant-minded, and help us grow our family?’ After a lot of research and conversation, we decided to pursue foster care.

I think the initial idea was actually pretty selfish on our part. We wanted to grow our family in a financially responsible way, and it was more of a second tier priority that it would help others. But as our conversation and research evolved, we drastically changed our mindset about foster care leading to adoption and took on more of the mentality of the goal being reunification. We realized that any other way of thinking would be a perspective of privilege, and we weren’t comfortable with that. Just because I’m not the parent who’s hurting doesn’t mean I’m a better parent. I may be able to temporarily offer a more stable living condition, but I am certainly not a better parent or person. At the end of the day, they’re a person, and I’m a person, and we both just want to love their child.

So our goal is just to provide a loving home and be loving people in the hopes that that child can reunite with his or her family. And should the opportunity ever present itself, we would always be willing to adopt that child, but that’s not our ultimate goal anymore.

Timeline wise, we started the process of becoming licensed foster parents in April of 2017. If I could use one word to describe the process, it would be “invasive.” We took classes, filled out many, many forms, sat for interviews, and even moved to accommodate new littles. We were finally approved in November of 2017, 2.5 months after our paperwork was completely submitted.

However, in the first week of October of 2017, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.  I had my first anxiety attack in October of 2016, but through doing things like reading, writing, seeing a counselor, taking daily walks, and continuing to eat well, it got better. So from February 2017 until October 2017, I felt normal. I felt like me, and it was good. And then in October of 2017, the week before Kevin’s third birthday, I had another anxiety attack. And this time, it didn’t go away. After an emergency meeting with my counselor and an appointment with my general practitioner, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. The diagnosis felt shocking. I’ve always considered myself to be a really happy person, and I didn’t understand how one day I felt on top of the world, and the next day I felt like the world was ending. So that denial was really, really tough. Plus, it was the week before Kevin’s birthday and two weeks before my brother’s wedding, so the timing was horrible. Additionally, my anxiety and depression manifest themselves by physically ravaging my body, so I throw up repeatedly, making the whole experience just super uncomfortable.

After a few weeks of feeling like I was in a living hell, I finally got to the point where I thought that maybe I should try medicine. I still hadn’t told anyone except for Brendan, and it felt like it was becoming too big of a burden for him to carry. So I told both of our immediate families and my four best friends, and that was a huge relief. And then I realized that once I told them, I was no longer in denial, and it was time to do something about it. So I started taking medicine. The first medicine I took I was on for two and a half weeks, and it took things from really bad to significantly worse. That first medicine was truly, truly terrible. One of the worst side effects was pacing, and for hours every day, my body would make me pace. I don’t even know how you explain that medicine makes you pace, but I could not sit down. It was like my brain was programmed to pace our house. I felt very off, and Brendan described me as robotic. He said he felt very lonely during that time. I started to have crazy thoughts that I knew were irrational - I knew that what I was thinking was crazy, but I couldn’t help it. My most persistent thought was ‘Why are we here; what’s the point of all of this?’ So many things were triggers for me. I couldn’t interact in normal life. Phrases like ‘You’re killing me’ would set me off, you know, like things people say in passing at the grocery store would set me off. So that medicine didn’t work well for me.

So I started a new one, and during my time on the first medicine, I took a genetic psych test. It’s where the doctor swabs your cheek and sends the swab away to a lab to determine which anxiety and depression medicines fall into green, yellow, and red categories for your genetic makeup. And the medicine I was on first fell into my yellow category, so it made sense that I was having an adverse reaction. The next medicine I tried was in my green category, and that alone made me feel cautiously optimistic, a feeling I desperately needed to experience at the time. It took me 4 weeks to build up to the full dose, and around week 2 on the full dose, I started feeling better, and it was a slow progression to feeling really great.

Unfortunately, we got the call for our first placement the day I started the new medicine. At that point, we weren’t ready for a placement, deciding to put my health first for the time being. We made the decision to have two full months of me “feeling like me” before we called and said we were ready to open ourselves up to a foster placement again.

We’ve gotten in a good rhythm where I exercise every night; we eat super healthy; and I’ve been doing a lot of reading and a lot of spending time with friends. I need the full balance of stuff. Everything needs to be in the right orbit for me. I need to feel in good relationship with my people; I need to feel balanced within myself, and I need to eat well and take care of my body. And when I do those things, everything feels like it comes together. And I think some people are able to go through life and things can kind of teeter - I’m just not someone who can teeter, like If I teeter, I fall. So I think it’s partly been learning myself, learning how I function. But it’s been hard.

With anxiety, there’s not this stigma about it. When you say you’re anxious everyone’s like, ‘oh yeah me too’ and it’s accepted. When you say you’re depressed everyone’s like ‘oh my gosh are you ok, like are you going to kill yourself?’ Depression is another beast. It’s an interesting combination to be anxious and depressed together. I don’t have the feeling of ‘Oh I need to lay in bed.’ A couple days I have felt like I can’t do anything and am lethargic, but for the most part I have feelings like ‘We’ve got to be helping the world, and saving people!’ And it’s jarring. So I think the medicine does something with the chemicals in my brain and allows everyone to breathe, like ‘Go back to your neutral corners, contestants!’

When I first had that first anxiety attack, I wanted to hide from Kevin, like I wanted him to not see mommy hurting. I remember thinking  ‘He’s only two years old, does he really need to deal with this? This seems early for real life struggles.’ And now I feel like, ‘Man what a gift I get to give my kid. He gets to learn empathy and compassion at such a young age and what a gift that in our home, no one wears a mask and everyone is free to be who they really are.’ I recognize in him some of the tendencies I had when as a kid, and depression is genetic in my family. So on my worst days, when I don’t feel like helping myself, I just think, ‘I’ve got to learn how to overcome this because Kevin may go through this someday, and I walk to be able to walk him through, so I need to help myself.’”

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What is one of the things you love the most about being a mother?

“I love that I feel like momming is my purpose. I think that I got really lucky. Being a mom is how I’m meant to change the world. It’s what I was made to do.”

What has been one of the hardest things about being a mother?

“Well, I pretty much had to reconstruct my entire identity. Up until when I had Kevin, I had always intended to have a big career and go into politics or run a non-profit, but then I decided I didn’t want to leave him. So being a mom has been all kinds of challenging because I had to rethink my priorities and rediscover my purpose. I’m also slowly realizing that who I am as a person is just going to constantly evolve my whole life, and that maybe a big career is still ahead of me, but for now, I like being here.”

 

How do you maintain a sense of who you were before you had kids?

“There are big parts of who I was before I had Kevin that I hold sacred. The first being my marriage. I very much believe in spending time away from Kevin in order to keep that flame alive and strong. We still really value traveling and having new experiences and going new places. The essentialness of reading and writing are also at the core of what I need to be myself, and that has little or nothing to do with being a mom. I think being a mom informs some of my writing now, but it’s still more about me.

And I think it’s hard, as a woman especially, to differentiate yourself from your relationships. I think the thing that’s truest about my identity as a human, and this is one of the things I’ve been working through with my anxiety and depression, is that a lot of things are rooted in fear. Like being fearful Brendan or Kevin or Luna are going to be taken away from me because they are what I’m wrapped up in and who I am. Just knowing that I’m more than my relationships  is important, and event though they are the most important things in my life, my identity is just that I’m here. All I ever have to give or offer is just me, right here, right now and there is nothing more or nothing less.

And I actually got this tattoo just a couple weeks ago as a reminder of that. It’s a constant thought for me, if this moment is hard or this moment sucks or this moment is great, just be here. I had initially thought maybe I would have a word, like I want to be kind or loving or I want to be whatever. But I’m not any of those things every moment of every day, and so all I ever am is here. I think it’s just evolved to be that my identity as a mother, as a human is rooted in the fact that I am here.”

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What is one of your biggest dreams that has yet to be realized?

“Oooh, I want to write a book. For sure. I think I’m going through what it’s going to be about. I’m not fully sure. I’ve been wanting to write a book for awhile; it’s been on my heart, and I kept thinking, ‘Damn it, I don’t have any really, really challenging life experiences to write about.’ And then God hit me with this and I was like ‘Was that what I was really asking for? Ok, great.’ So I think I’m right smack dab in the middle of it. And it’s funny, as much as I need to write as a writer, I haven’t been writing for a couple months just needing to not. I feel it starting to come back though, which feels good.”

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What would you say to your younger pre-motherhood self now if you could?

“Ok, you know how older moms always say ‘Relish every moment and be in the moment?’

*Katie gives the middle finger to the air.*

Ugghhh. I think I would say you can only truly enjoy those moments in retrospect. And sure, every now and again you get one of those beautiful gleaming moments where you look around and you think, ’This is it.’  But 99% of the time, it’s just in retrospect. So I would just say, ‘love your people.’”

In what ways has motherhood changed you?

“Everyone, including both Brendan and myself, thought I would be the more uptight parent because Brendan is super chill, and I’m obviously not. But as it turns out, he is the uptight parent. So it’s been good to realize that there are parts of my life where I am able to let go and be free. And can I just say - What a gift it is to look at another human and see the best parts of yourself. And I think it makes me appreciate myself more and some of the things I’m able to contribute to the world by seeing them in him.”

What’s something you wish all mothers would truly take to heart?

“I think every mom out there, no matter her experience, is doing the best she can in the situation she’s in. I recently read the book Tattoos on the Heart by Greg Boyle, and of the best lines in his book is something like, ‘God loves us, just as we are, right here.’ And I think that all of us are so often trying to strive for the next thing, the next breakthrough, the next improvement and hoping that we’ll soon ‘arrive’ so that we’ll be more loveable or better somehow. But I think the truth is, everything we are is everything God wants us to be right now, and if we could realize our own goodness, what a different world we would live in. Because I think the only time people act in a judgmental or hurtful way is when they are judging or hurting themselves.”

What is one thing you expected to be true about motherhood but turned out to be different?

“I’ll probably change this answer once we evolve our family, but I thought motherhood was going to be hard, but it just isn’t. I think a lot of times we use the word hard to describe something, and I don’t know if it’s a perspective change or not, but I just don’t usually think momming is hard. I think the hard part is figuring out me in the midst of momming. That’s the more complicated piece.”

**Edit**: My life looks vastly different than it did only weeks ago. Being inside someone else’s hurt is gut wrenching. Tonight I held a three-year-old as she desperately cried out, not understanding exactly the epicenter of her own pain but knowing that she missed her biological mom and clinging tightly to me, a pseudo-mom in the interim. It’s a strange feeling to mother another woman’s child. Someone else’s baby calls me “mom” 2,000 times a day. She sings silly songs and runs from room to room calling out for me, always using that beloved named, “mom.” As I soothe her in her sadness, play with her in her happiness, joke with her in her silliness, I think of the woman who should be doing this instead, of how hard her life must have gotten for her to give this up.

I’m caught between wanting to give my heart away and wanting to keep it guarded. On one hand, there’s a chance that these sweet babies could be ours forever, and I don’t want to miss out on even one more second of true bonding. But on the other hand, I’m praying so hard for their mama’s recovery and reunification with her babies. Babies belong with their mamas. Period. End of story. I’m happy to fill in while she does what she needs to do in order to take care of herself, but at the end of all of this, my real and true hope is that they are able to go back to the mama who birthed them, who carried them inside of herself and then brought them into this world. It hurts my heart that any woman isn’t able to have that privilege in this life -- the opportunity to raise her own children. It’s hard, and it’s exhausting, but it’s also one of life’s truest and greatest joys. I wish there wasn’t a need for adoption or foster care. I love that we have the opportunity to expand our family in this way, but I wish we couldn’t. I wish it weren’t necessary.

Mothering now has a completely different vantage point than it did two weeks ago. 15 days ago I had one three-year-old who listened most of the time and was more interested in giving me kisses and holding my hand than running away or talking back. Then I got a call.

“Hi, Katie. We think we have a match for you. We have two little girls. They’re two and three years old, and they need a placement immediately. After talking things over with my supervisor, we think they would be a perfect fit for your family.”

Thought one: We preferenced one child. Thought two: We preferenced one child under the age of one. Thought three: We were told that we couldn’t “twin” (we couldn’t have a child in our home the same age as our biological child. Thought four: We’ve been waiting for this call for 11.5 months. From the very beginning I prayed to have two little girls; in my wildest prayers, I asked for sisters of a different race who were potty trained and well-behaved. Thought five: My wildest prayers are coming true.

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What’s something about motherhood that you wish everyone would be honest about but maybe not many people talk about?

“I guess I wish that there was more space to share more of who we are as people instead of just moms. And I know I just said not too long ago that those identities are intermingled, and I mean that. It took me a long time to find those girlfriends who I enjoy talking about my kid with but I also enjoy talking about myself with. And that was quite an evolution for me, because before that, even though I had been in friendship, it felt more like a competition. And now it feels like there’s this honesty and this realness, and so I think the thing that needs to be more open in motherhood is the need for friends. And I think a lot of women would say they need friends but then they’re not willing to make the time - we all are given 24 hours no matter how many kids we have or what our obligations, or whatever. Mom friendship, female friendship, just has to be a priority, at least for me.

The other thing that’s really interesting is that, I was listening to a podcast the other day, and they were talking about how as people we need to learn how to be friends. Because when you’re in elementary school, jr. high, high school, and college you are friends with someone partly because scheduling is not a challenge; you just see the other person every day - the consistency is there. And then when you become an adult it’s like “Oh, I have to schedule with you, and I have to make it a priority and put in the effort.” And not just that, you have to show up as your real, authentic self. And that takes a lot of courage. And so, if you don’t have the consistency and you don’t see someone very often, it’s very hard to bring your authentic self. Then the friendships become surface level or they wither and die.

I think that so many moms and women tend to put ourselves last, and for whatever reason, we put those friendships last, too. We think that they should be at the same level as taking care of ourselves. I think people are meant to live in community and live with each other, and as much as I love my husband and rely on him and need him, I also need my girlfriends. I think I understood in some capacity that I wanted and needed girlfriends, but I didn’t know the depth those relationships could play in my life until I had them. I think a lot of women look for that but they aren’t quite sure why it’s not working or how to make it happen. I think the topic of female friendship is too surface-level and taboo.”

*Katie and I talked about a podcast she listened to with Jen Hatmaker that really touched on this topic. Check it out here!*

What is the best piece of advice you have ever gotten about being a mother?

“So I consider Glennon Doyle to be my spiritual mentor. I just love everything about her and what she has to say. She is just it in life. And one of the things she talks about is her response when she found out that her husband had been cheating on her their entire marriage. She was obviously devastated initially, and then her next thought was to worry about her kids. Ultimately, she said she viewed that as an opportunity to help her children walk through the fire, and how in life, they’re going to go through fire-like situations, and that will continue happening for the rest of their existence on this earth. She said that any time her children feel like they need to step out, she’s tells them to get their asses in the fire and that she’s going to step in there with them and help them get to the other side. She said that if we don’t teach our kids how to go through tough stuff, we’re going to help them grow up to be incomplete people.

Her words helped me to invite my child into the fire with me and to teach him that we don’t shy away from life’s problems. I’m trying to teach him that we hit problems head on, together.”

What is your favorite way to wind down after a long day with your kids?

“Every night after we put Kevin to bed, Brendan and I sit at the dining room table and play a card game called Monopoly Deal. It’s super fun. We don’t really like Monopoly but we really like card games, and we struggle to find card games that are good for two people. I don’t know why, it doesn’t matter how I feel, it’s like magic. When we play that game, I’m like ‘Amen. I feel good.’ And we eat cottage cheese and trail mix. I look forward to that point so much. We went on a date where we got back at midnight and I was like ‘Can we play Monopoly Deal now?’ I love doing that. We’ve been doing it for about two months now, every single night, and it’s my jam.”

Tell me one thing you love about yourself as a mother?

“I think I love how hard I love. I make every effort to love my family with everything I have. When I was going through some of the mental anguish of ‘why are here, what’s the point of all of this?’ there were thoughts of ‘Someone else could do this better. Brendan could marry someone else who isn’t so needy. Kevin could have a mom who doesn’t need to focus on herself so much.’ And then I came out on the other side being like, ‘No. The truth is, there is just no one else who can love this man and this kid like I can.’”

Tell me one thing that scares you about being a mother?

“Well, even though I’m trying very hard to do the whole be here in the moment thing, I can’t help sometimes but think about the future. And I get scared of a lot of things, especially of the what comes next part. At some point, I’ll look back and contendly say, “Oh that’s how that all turned out.” But right now, not so much. So it feels scary.”

What would you do if you had a whole day to yourself?

“I’d definitely want to spend the morning at the spa - I’d get my nails done, I’d get my toes done, I’d get a massage - the works. And then I would definitely go get some sushi from One World Market - my favorite place in Indy. I think I would spend some time reading, maybe watch something on Netflix. And then I’d go out for date night, and I’d like to go somewhere early enough that so I can be home by nine o'clock so I can put on my pajamas and play Monopoly Deal with my husband.”

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Who has been your biggest inspiration/mentor/go-to someone as you have journeyed through motherhood?

“I most look up to my own mama. I also largely admire Glennon Doyle and Jen Hatmaker.”

What are ways you find time for yourself?

“I have big ways I find time for myself. I have time in the morning that I sit and I eat breakfast. Brendan brings me breakfast every morning. I eat the same thing every day, and Kevin and I sit in bed and we watch I Love Lucy. But I have about 45 minutes to an hour every morning where it’s my time. And while he plays, sometimes I interact with him, but a lot of times I’ll sit and read and watch him. And while he naps, a lot of days I’ll have stuff to get done, but I might also read or write. I really like to cook, and Kevin will often cook with me, but that’s time for me. And then we exercise every night at the gym, and then we have Monopoly Deal. So it really is more like my family is woven into what I do for myself, is that it sounds like.”

**Edit: Life with three kids looks wildly different, especially because those three kids are all toddlers. Two weeks in, and we still haven’t really established a true schedule, but suffice it to say, it’s an entirely different world.

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How do you describe #thisismotherhood in your own words?

“I would say motherhood is freeing, and crazy. Overwhelming and calming. Beautiful and crazy. But most of all, it’s love.”

What makes motherhood beautiful to you?

“All the opportunities to show up for others, serve others, and love others.”

Thank you so much to Katie for sharing her incredible story. I hope it spoke to your heart as it did mine. Stay tuned for more in this series. You can check out the other posts here, and here.

xo