They Don’t Even See Us

Girl in pool

Recently my family was at a get together where the children decided it was a grand idea to go swimming in the pool. In May in the Midwest the water inside in-ground swimming pools is not at all warm, not by any stretch of the imagination. I cautioned my nine-year-old daughter of this as she marched directly to the end of the diving board, did a few bounces, hesitated for the briefest of moments, gave me a wicked smile, and then hurled herself into the water below.

She surfaced with a great scream that began below the waves and erupted onto the pool deck as she raced for the ladder and out of the frigid pool in one smooth, giant movement. Her younger cousin and younger brother watched all of this with equal amounts glee and horror.

She screamed again and then jumped back in from the side of the pool. Repeat screaming and jumping.

My daughter stood triumphantly shivering on the deck as the younger two decided to take the safer route of inching their way in from the shallow end on steps that were still being warmed by the fading afternoon sunlight.  A short while later we were joined by more cousins, two older boys, who noticed the littles weren’t splashing about with abandon and recognized it was most likely due to sixty degree water.

These older boys were wisely hesitant to get in.

Until they were teased and emasculated into doing so, one jumping in to save face and the other forcibly thrown in despite his pleas not to be. They were called names for not jumping in that equated them to weak girls, sissies, and every other gendered, derogatory name just short of calling them “pussies”.

I think so many people do this without thinking about what they are really saying. It is a part of our culture and we grow up with and around that sexist vernacular. They don’t mean to be insulting to girls, they wouldn’t say demeaning things to a girl’s face. Yet they use phrases and words associated with the female gender and body as insults. As if being a girl is the worst thing you could be.

All the while, my daughter who is very proudly a girl, stood there dripping wet from having already jumped in numerous times. The first one in the pool.

Without having been pressured to do it. Without having been thrown in.

My six-year-old niece, who by now was standing in the chilly water up to her navel, is really a fascinating person. She is clever, beautiful, and has the voice of a puppet. She also has an incredible knack for calling people on their bullshit, is tenacious, and will not yield nor show mercy until you acknowledge what she has said to you. She is simultaneously darling and ferocious. And so it went when she found her voice to address all the adults on the pool deck to say, “The girls have already been swumming.”

Her words were met with “isn’t she cute” smiles and she was asked if the water was cold.

So she repeated herself. Louder this time, never breaking her gaze from the one adult responsible for the gendered teasing she said again, “You are teasing those boys for being ‘girls’ for not jumping in. The girls have already been swumming.”

The adult looked at me, not understanding the point of her comment nor the intensity with which it was said.

I tried to clarify to the individual my niece was addressing by saying, “I believe her point is you’ve looked right past the fact the two girls at the pool have already been in the pool. They were the first ones in the pool so the hesitation to jump in has nothing to do with being a girl. The six-year-old is calling you out right now.”

“The girls have already been swumming,” my niece said for a third time, her steadfastness demanding she be heard.

“Yeah, Amelia jumped in before any of us!” said one of the big boys who had been tossed in.

“Get used to it, Clara. Women like us usually do great things first and they don’t even see us,” my nine-year-old said in her trademark matter-of-fact style, in attempt to comfort her little cousin.

I said nothing more to the girls. I sensed their strength and resolve and knew they were just fine. Instead I found myself looking over at my son, who was beaming at his big sister and his cousin.

Not everybody was looking right past these intrepid girls.


Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009

Find her at You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 




Elbows to Ankles

I’ve been speaking with the mom of a high school girl who was told at school this morning that her dress to her knees, cardigan to her elbows, and leggings underneath was inappropriate for school. The only skin this girl was showing was her forearms and hands. A school official told her boys were being distracted by her leggings and she would need to change. The girl asked if she should just remove her legs. The girl’s mother responded to the school official saying the problem was not her daughter’s legs but the boys’ behavior.

This is why I am against mandated t-shirts at pool parties, sexist dress codes, and the backwards Puritan belief our abstinence-is-best culture in the United States has – especially in our high schools and middle schools – that by forcing girls to cover up and not teaching kids about sex they won’t become sexual beings until they magically arrive at college and know how to behave, dress, and respond to each other. Girls’ bodies are not the problem. Our response to them, is.

Yes, I am profoundly against the sexualization of children and the media’s objectification of women. That is not the same thing as being anti-sex, or obtuse to the fact that our children will become sexual beings with sexual urges. That part I’m cool with.

I live in and am raising a daughter in a culture where men are attracted to every part of a woman’s body because I live in a sexually repressed culture, propagated by attitudes that females should cover up to avoid inevitable sexual arousal. I live in a culture where men are sexually attracted to my mouth, my eyes, my hair, my shoulders, my breasts, my hips, my butt, my legs, my toes….which is their issue, not mine. I will not hide away any part of my being – not my body, not my voice, not my mind. I dress how I want in a way that makes me feel amazing and I walk through my world with confidence and self-respect. I walk through my world in a way that very clearly sends the message to men they will respect me, regardless of what body part they may or may not be looking at. I am making sure my daughter is learning to do the same. I don’t view sexuality as a shameful thing. Acting disrespectfully towards another being in a sexual way is shameful. I am making sure my daughter and my son know that men and boys are intelligent beings capable of empathy, kindness, and self-control.

Sexuality in general means various people will find various body parts arousing. The basis to the argument that body parts should be covered up to avoid arousal places the onus on the viewee as opposed to the viewer. That argument feeds directly into Rape Culture and overall shaming of the female body as a vessel of sin and corruption of men/boys that must remain covered so as to avoid any sexual attraction. This leads to the removal of agency from females and gives entitlement to men as female bodies have shifted from sexual beings to objects they can police. This argument also leads to the expectation that boys/men cannot control themselves at any hint of sexual arousal and females must do all they can to not wake the beast.

Sexual arousal happens when women are fully covered – in military uniforms, burkas, business attire, a winter coat. Are we to stay completely out of sight?

There is no shame in our daughters' bodies growing into a woman's form.

There is no shame in our daughters’ bodies growing into a woman’s form.

I cannot disagree more with that framework of thinking. I do not believe in asking females to cover their bodies and being responsible for avoiding any hint of sexuality or sexual arousal.

I believe males are capable of controlling themselves. I believe human sexuality is not a shameful thing and should not be repressed.

I believe strongly we teach those becoming sexually aroused to control themselves, teach them to better understand the nature of sex and how to respond appropriately and respectfully to it.

I would never make my son nor my daughter wear a t-shirt to cover their body. I will make every effort to teach them openly about sexuality in a sex positive way.

Yes, students should dress appropriately for school. Don’t wear Saturday on a Wednesday. Yes, we should teach our girls the difference between objectifying themselves sexually and feeling, experiencing their sexuality.

But when we live in a country where day after day girls all across our nation are being told by the media to be sexy all the time, being told by their hearts to find the person they are, being told by their schools their education is less valuable than a boy’s and to cover up/go home/sit in detention because their distracting body caused a boy to look at them even when they are covered from elbow to ankle……we’ve got problems.

Bigger than any baggy t-shirt can cover.


UPDATE: The following question was asked during our Facebook discussion and I thought it would be important to add it here. From Tristin, Okay I have a question. I 100% agree with everything you wrote above (and read your book and recommend it to everyone). I read in your book about talking to our daughters about establishing the personal brand they’d like to convey to the world, and I think this is a great tool. My question is, though, about what happens when our girls decide that a particular brand they wish to convey doesn’t fit with what we as parents deem age appropriate? Who is to say that 14 or 15 is too young to wear such and such outfit? It’s her body- shouldn’t she have the right to choose how much skin she shows? What happens when I as a parent disagree with her decisions about how she chooses to present her body? And also, who gets to decide what is age appropriate? Shouldn’t a school have some say in this? But where is the line between making these decisions and policing girls’ bodies and choices?

My answer:  When girls choose a brand that we know to be age inappropriate or overtly focused on sex appeal vs whole being it is our job to coach and consult with them until they get it. It may take blood, sweat, and tears on our part, but we have to strike a balance between allowing her to develop into her own sexuality and keeping her age appropriate and not buying into copying what the media is grooming her to do.
If she is dressing in a sexually provocative way that is age inappropriate she clearly isn’t choosing that for herself, she’s been groomed to do it and is parroting what she’s learned – probably from the media and other girls. Since this decision isn’t coming from a place of authenticity it is okay to say, “No, you won’t be wearing that and here’s why. Please go choose a more appropriate outfit for an 11yo girl. When you are 19 and come home from college, that outfit will be fine. Today you are 11yo and you will dress like it.”
Again, not shaming, just teaching her there is a time and place for sexy. 11yo is never it. 14/15yo isn’t it. 16, 17, 18….I think that is generally the age where girls are moving beyond having crushes on boys (or girls) to really understanding the want to have sexual encounters and figuring out how to facilitate that. I remember that age. I remember knowing exactly what I was doing.

All I can say to that: each family needs to approach that in a way that feels comfortable for them. That will be different for each family. I am very open with my kids about sexuality and the human body, but that doesn’t mean they watch sexualized media now and that doesn’t mean I’ll want them feeling free to have sex in high school. The hormones will certainly be there, the emotional maturity a sexual relationship requires will not be. In that sense, they can wait.

Allowing her to develop a personal brand doesn’t mean she gets to do whatever she wants. It means you let her show you who she wants to be in the world and then we act like parents and say “I think you’ve made great choices” or, “I think that outfit sends some strong messages that you may not be aware of, or are aware of and then I’d like to talk to you about why you seem to focus on that one small part of you instead of all of you.” So it isn’t about shaming her, rather teaching her she is more than the sum of her parts and that there is more to life and one’s self-esteem than getting sexually-motivated attention from guys (or girls).

And you have to allow her to make mistakes. Talk to her about them and help her learn from them. As well as, help her learn from the mistakes of others’ because in high school I was sexually objectified while wearing my normal clothes, my cheer uniform, my soccer uniform, my uniform at the grocery store I worked at……you get the picture.

As you can see – these are all private, delicate conversations with a trusted individual that for 98% of girls will not be their school. This isn’t one conversation, it is ongoing little convos that help a girl develop her brand and in that, allow her the space to come into her own and allow her sexuality to actualize. That is a beautiful part of life and being a woman.
And I don’t want my child’s school having any part of that, nor policing it.


Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009

Find her at You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

Raleigh’s Shoes and Pink Metallic Rhinestone Awesome

A guest post by Val McKee.

I used to love shopping for shoes. I’d trot up Broadway during my lunch hour, pop in every store along the way, slide a nylon over my manicured foot, try on a half dozen shoes, and pose in front of a half mirror: toe pointed forward, toe pointed out, pant leg pulled up, pant leg down—you get the picture. It was sort of my thing.

But now, I’m a mom.  I will put off shoe shopping until my boys’ toes are practically bursting through the seams. When my seven year old’s coach pulled me aside and told me in an uncomfortable stage whisper that I needed to buy Carson new sneakers, I collected my mother-of-the-year trophy, downed a stiff drink, and drove my three boys to the shoe store.

(I’m joking about two of those things. Or…one of those things.)

After a couple of foot races through the aisles and a brief struggle with a two year old whipping shoe boxes off the shelves like he was on an episode of Supermarket Sweep, we were ready to get to business.

Carson chose his new sneakers right away: a conservative gray running shoe with a fun streak of bright orange. Two year old Simon, nicknamed “Me Too,” chose a miniature version of the exact gray and orange shoe. Score! We’ve been here twenty minutes and two kids have shoes! Now for Raleigh.

Sparkle shoesThere he is. In the part of the aisle devoted to sparkle. The pink part. The girl part.

“Raleigh, have you chosen some shoes?”

He has. They are pink. They are metallic. They have rhinestone toes. They have bows. They light up. They are for girls.

I hesitate for a moment.

This is my boy who finds beauty in everything. He spent the better half of his first four  years in a Tinkerbell dress. His third birthday party had a fairy theme. He was a peacock for Halloween twice. He has impeccable taste. But now he is five and I am worried. Then I see his face. Oh my word, he loves those shoes.

As we are checking out, Carson quietly says to me: “Mom, I’m worried about Raleigh getting those shoes. I mean, I think it’s fine, but…”

Carson is in the second grade. He totally gets it. I share his concern.

All three boys happily wear their new shoes out of the store. We survived shoe shopping and reward ourselves with a celebratory dinner at a real life restaurant. I’m not kidding. I took my three boys shoe shopping. I earned a dinner out.

Raleigh barely ate a bite of his dinner because he was far too busy examining his shoes under the table for the entire meal. He was deeply, madly in love. He talked on and on about their many beautiful features and imagined what all his envious friends would say when they saw them the next day in school.

Unfortunately, so did I. That night, I repeated the following prayer:  Please, God, don’t let those little twerps take this joy away from my baby. Don’t let them take away his awesome.

 The next morning, Raleigh is up and dressed before anyone else. He’s dancing around excitedly in his new shoes, singing a song all about their gorgeousness. I give him a hug goodbye and hand him his lunchbox, “Raleigh, are you super psyched to show off your new shoes?”

“I don’t know,” he says quietly. “I think I should just wear these shoes at home. They can be my home shoes.”

“Why?” I ask. “Are you worried you’ll get them dirty?”

“No.” He hesitates, “I’m worried my friends will tease me and say I’m wearing girl shoes.”

Aaaaaaaaand…there it is. I can almost see his awesome disappearing before my very eyes—like the bodies in Marty McFly’s family photo in Back to the Future, Raleigh’s awesome is slowly fading into nothing.

Suddenly, my worry transforms as an invisible someone pokes my inner Mama Bear.

“Raleigh…did you choose those shoes?”


“Do you love them?”


“Do they fit your feet perfectly?”


“Then they are your shoes, Raleigh.”


A slightly less awesome Raleigh shuffles heavily away in his pink and silver sparkle shoes, but he’s wearing them. He isn’t lifting his feet enough to illuminate the rhinestones, but he’s wearing them.

Thirty minutes later, I receive a text from my husband: “Raleigh refused to wear his shoes into the building.”

My heart broke.

Later, when I picked Raleigh up from school, he came skipping out of his classroom in a flurry of pink lights and sparkle. The shoes!

I practically knocked him out with my squeal: “Raleigh! Your dad said you didn’t want to wear your shoes! Did you change your mind?”

“Yes! I decided I really wanted to wear them!”

“And did anyone tease you?”

“No,” he said proudly. “I told all my friends: Did you know there is no such thing as girl shoes and boy shoes? I’m a boy. If these are girl shoes, why would I like them? Shoes are for everyone and colors are for everyone! And you know what, Mom? They said I was right! They agree!”

It’s such a simple, logical explanation. Why didn’t I think of that?

Oh right—because some twerp stole my awesome a long time ago—just like every other grown-up on the planet. Which is why I’m not the first person on the dance floor at wedding receptions, why I worry about my singing voice, why I don’t always speak up, why I weigh myself…the list goes on. But my boy is so awesome. And so damn smart.

And who among us couldn’t use a bit more sparkle in our lives?


Val McKee


Val McKee is a writer, a musician, and a teacher of both, but her life’s greatest challenge is also her greatest reason to drink–I mean–greatest reward: Her three crazy boys. When she’s not being their jungle gym, she likes to do anything else. Seriously. Absolutely anything else.




I Cannot Keep That Secret


“Mom, I need to tell you something. If I tell you a secret can you promise to keep it a secret?” -9yo Amelia

“I can promise to keep it a secret if it is a safe secret to keep. If it is an unsafe secret then I will need to tell another adult. Do you remember the difference? A safe secret is a surprise that will eventually be found out without anyone being hurt. An unsafe secret is holding in a lie or a hurt. Can you share with me what’s on your mind?” -Me

“Will I get in trouble? The kids told me not to tell anybody.” -Amelia

“That sounds like the kind of secret you probably should tell me because that sounds like an unsafe secret. You will not get in trouble for being honest about something you’ve done or for telling me something you were told not to tell anyone.” -Me

Safe vs unsafe secrets

Safe vs unsafe secrets

My daughter then told me the secret that indeed was not a secret I could have kept. The secret was about another child, a rumor that Amelia had heard through the gossip mill at school.

She and I discussed why it was an unsafe secret and why adults needed to know about what was going on. We talked about how her tummy voice felt when she was keeping the secret and what her tummy voice was saying to her. We discussed what she would do in a similar situation, and why as a family we make different choices to avoid that possibility in the first place (in this case, not allowing children to use social media). We talked about why what happened wasn’t the girl’s fault. We talked about why the other child the secret was about very much needed for someone to tell her secret so that she could be safe.

We don’t know the child or her family, so I just as easily could have said “it is none of our business, I’m sure the school knows” and been done with it. But that doesn’t teach my daughter to be a Helper in a time of need, nor does it teach her about sisterhood and taking care of one another. Shrugging our shoulders and burying the secret does not teach my daughter to use her voice when she encounters injustice.

The secret contained information I would have to reach out to authorities with, which is exactly what I did once we finished talking to ensure the people who needed to be aware of the situation were aware. Amelia’s information was accurate but old, and thankfully the adults who needed to know about and handle the situation were doing just that.

The day before, her secret had been that two girls brought an inch worm in from the playground and hid it in a classroom plant. That is a safe secret. Unless maybe you are the inchworm.

Last night’s secret was nightmare fuel. It was an unsafe secret.

With bigger kids come bigger problems. I open this space for dialogue with Amelia every night before bed, when she is most apt to pour out the the day’s events, trials, and tribulations. I make sure she knows I always have time for her, that I’m always interested in what she has to tell me. This week’s stories from third grade will be tomorrow’s stories about someone who cheated in school, a classmate who is sexually harassing another, a date who mistreated her, a friend who pressures her to pop a pill, the beer she and her friends stole and drank, a secret pregnancy her friend doesn’t know what to do about.

I have no idea what is ahead for us come middle school and high school, and I have no idea what kind of teenager she’ll be. Her dad and I are laying the foundation now so that her adventures as a teen are little bits of innocent trouble instead of giant heaps of the irreversible kind. She will grow up knowing I will always make time to sit on her bed to talk with her, I will always keep her safe secrets, and we will always work through the unsafe ones together.

We aren’t supposed to know what the future holds. We can only best prepare for it.

All she can know is that I will be her constant, and there is no secret in this world that could diminish my love for her.


Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009

Find her at You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

The Expectations and the Authenticity Ten Hours After Birth

Looking at the photo of a royal ten hours after she had given birth made me curious about what other women’s stories were ten hours after giving birth. Those stories are below.

I have been exceptionally busy this week and therefore behind in the news. When I first saw the photo of the royal family my thoughts were “Oh, so sweet. A little princess.” (An actual princess, not the default female-child-equals-princess princess.) Welcome to the world, Baby Charlotte! The image of Kate, William, and Baby Charlotte on the steps of the hospital, introducing her to the waiting world is lovely. Kate looks radiant and proud. She and William are visibly glowing and clearly in love with tiny Charlotte. I smiled to myself knowing what a special moment they’d have as parents introducing George to his new sister.

When I learned the photo had been taken a mere ten hours after the birth I was a bit shocked and my thoughts were, “And here comes the shit show.” Kate, intentionally or not, just upped the ante upon which we will compare, contrast, and fight with each other as mothers and women. Ten hours. Not even a full half day.

Let’s remember this discussion isn’t about Kate the woman, but the image of Kate the celebrity. As an individual, Kate the woman is free to make her own choices and I invite you to respect them. She may have felt completely amazing after Charlotte’s birth and was looking forward to introducing her daughter to the throngs of people waiting to glance at the world’s tiniest princess. As you’ll see in a bit, different women feel differently after birth. Each birth is different, from mom to mom but even for the same mom from birth to birth. I’ll share those stories with you in just a moment.

ChildbirthTen hours after birth looks different for different women, though we’d never know it by what the media presents to us. We don’t honor individual stories of mothering. We are not honest about our bodies. We don’t insist on there being a rich and textured weave to that cloth. No, we accept one smooth narrative applied to all. Using the most recent photo of Kate as an example, ten hours after birth women are still expected to look pulled together, coiffed and manicured, having put on a pretty face and perfect outfit for the cameras attempting any trace of evidence of what our bodies actually just did.

If you are like me and find it unavoidable to encounter images of famous, rich women and their just-had-a-baby-can-you-believe-it-bodies splashed all over magazines and websites then you know that really we could insert any celebrity mom into the position the Duchess was in this week and have the same results.

Kate Middleton I want to examine the presentation by the media of a mother a mere ten hours after birth. I want to look at what societal expectations we have and how realistic those expectations are for most mothers.

Let’s also remember that in this photo, Kate isn’t just a “new mom”. She is a “working mom”. Kate’s job to look perfect in public. (That’s the rub when you’re a princess.) She is doing her job as a member of the Royal Family and she is dressed for her work, which in this scenario is to be put on display for her public. She is doing her job well.

But as a celebrity, Kate’s image didn’t happen in a vacuum and her carefully managed image only serves to add pressure on women for whom the Beauty Myth extends to their bodies even during pregnancy, birth, and post-partum.

You have seen the headlines and advertisements all week, yes? “Get Kate’s effortless post-baby look now!” “Yummy Mummy Kate looks perfect in yellow and you can too!” “Kate may have just given birth, but she looked as elegant and stylish…”  “Duchess Kate has perfect new mommy color pallet for this spring. Find your colors now!”

I have even seen birthing centers and midwives use Kate’s photo to market their style of birthing classes and services, saying “Yes Kate looks this good after birth and YOU can too if you only try ________ during childbirth!”

And still the focus remains on what we look like, not what we do. I simply cannot stand it. I want to scream. 

If it is not known or obvious to people, Kate had a team of stylists and professionals surrounding her and helping her to look this pulled together. She may have enjoyed every minute of it and that is fine, but what is important here is for women to understand her look was achieved with professional help that is not accessible for most moms. Kate had a public appearance with her newborn from which the photos would be shared around the world and become part of history. Of course she wanted to look her best, aside from the fact she was obligated to.

Read how Kate and her team of well-paid stylists achieved her perfect look.

None of this is Kate’s fault nor responsibility, naturally. She didn’t create this system. Society is using her. (Again, that’s the rub for a real princess.) In all honesty, we need to turn our attention off Kate and reflect inward at what narratives we choose to believe. And judge each other by. Worst of all, what narratives do we judge ourselves by?

“Wouldn’t it have been cool if this time around, she had injected another dose of reality into the whole myth of instantaneous post-partum perfection? [S]he could have used her platform to make a difference. And by doing so, IMHO, she would have done a great service to her most devoted subjects: other women.” – Audrey Brashich

Read Audrey’s full post here: “Why I’m Mad At Kate Middleton”

Ten hours after either labor and birth of my two children I did not look like Kate. I looked as beautiful as a woman exhausted from childbirth can look. I know I wasn’t concerned about looking beautiful. I was focused on caring for my body and figuring out what to do with this tiny person who was mine. I was wearing a nursing tank top and the awesome meshy hospital underwear, bleeding into those giant hospital pads and all over my bed. That is what my body was supposed to do after pushing a human being and placenta out of it. I was catheterized and sewn back together in places I didn’t know could tear open like they did. And since we’re all friends here, I’ll have you know that after my son’s birth I pooed the bed due to three hours of pushing and a stomach virus that had set in 24 hours before his first breath. I tried to clean it up but couldn’t and sat sobbing in my room until the nurse answered my call button. TMI? Nobody talks about that side of birth, do they? Time to get real, girls! Shit happens.

I was feeling angry and traumatized because childbirth didn’t go as easily as I had been promised by other moms who had used the same birthing technique I had tried, and failed at. I felt lied to and I felt like a failure. I was unshowered, exhausted, overwhelmed, and in pain. A lot of pain. I was mad at my husband for not bringing me flowers. Or food. I was hungry and waiting for my milk to come in. I hurt, everywhere. I wanted my mom. I needed to brush my teeth. I wanted everyone to get away from me and I wanted a circle of people around me to help me and care for me and the baby. I was madly in love with and awestruck over my newborns and after my son’s wretched birth I promised myself I’d never go through this again.

That is my story. I wish it was happier. It just is what it is. I love motherhood, I hated birthing.

We don’t hear our collective truths often enough. We don’t speak our truth often enough. Maybe we aren’t invited to, maybe we’ve been taught to keep it quiet. Maybe we think it doesn’t measure up to what should be. Maybe we have learned to not own our bodies and therefore discredit one of the most intense experiences we’ll ever have with it.

Maybe it is because we are not taught how to honor other women and in turn honor ourselves.

I am abundantly cautious of selling child birth to women like a travel brochure, with one desirable ending point. Childbirth is a journey, not a destination. A destination means a single, desirable end place. A journey means we take different paths and hold different stories of our travels.

When we discredit or silence the negative birth experiences we take away from the power of the event. We rob a woman of her voice and her story. We end her journey for her because she did not reach her destination. We tell a lie by omitting the full panorama of what birth truly is.

The most disrespectful thing we can ever do to a woman is to take away her voice and disempower the story of her journey. The media does this regularly and attempts to take away the authenticity of our births and our bodies.

The other day on the Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies Facebook page I asked for women to share their truths, to tell us what they looked like ten hours after birth. I linked a media literacy article for context and it was interesting that even when given the opportunity to tell their truth some women still took time to judge, berate, chastise, and snark at each other. To cut each other down. To tell each other what to do. Instead of telling their own story they told others what to do with theirs. It was an experiment within an experiment and one of the reasons it took me so long to write this post is because I did not want to have to wade through all that negativity again.

The majority of that thread was women using their voices to tell THEIR stories. To enrich this pattern we are weaving. To create a more authentic and truthful yarn that holds this cultural narrative of childbirth together. Some women shared photos, a beautiful and real portrait of what motherhood looked like when it began for them. 

Some of the stories were hilarious: 

“10 hours after giving birth I looked like I’d been rode hard and put away wet.” -Laurie M.

“Ten hours after birth, I looked like a soggy and bruised puff pastry.” -Holly W.

“The Stay-Puft Marshmallow man. But I had a big smile on my puffy face.” -Dawn B.

“Deflated bratwurst.” -Katie S.

Some stories were harrowing and made my breath catch: 

“Ten hours after my last birth I was still intubated and in an induced coma. I don’t know how I looked, there are no pictures of that time. I saw myself for the first time three days later.” -Cassandra A.

“A bedridden homeless person. I was still on IV magnesium to prevent post c-section seizures. Had not seen my twins, as I was on bedrest for 24 hours. I at least had a catheter so I was spared from using a bedpan.” -Jennie K.

“I looked like a scared mama, praying my micro preemie would survive the night.i have no idea what I looked like, I was only concerned for her life. So thankful most people don’t have to worry about that 10 hr after birth.” -Betsy T.

Some stories were empowering, ‘I am woman, hear me roar’ type truths:

“Ten hours after birth I looked pretty good. I could get up and take a shower right away and put on some clothes.” -Kathryn H.

“10 hours after giving birth I looked like the happiest mama in the world, I was glowing with joy and power at my accomplishment. I was sporting a heavily used hospital gown with front slits to facilitate ease of nursing, but I didn’t care I was over the moon with happiness.” -Deirdre O.

“Ten hours after giving birth, I looked proud, and happy.” -Jessica B.

Some were very real:

I could really use a shower” -Mia B. 

“Greasy and stringy.” -Elisabeth J.

“Like I needed to sleep long and soundly!” -Birgit N.

“A lump of panicky exhaustion!” -Rowenna A.

Some stories were more difficult, similar to what I shared of my truth above: 

“10 hours after giving birth, I looked like a deflated purple spotted ball of motherhood.” -Erin W.

“Train wreck – both times. Super long labors, one emergency C-Section.” -Kelly G.

I looked shell-shocked and terrified. I also looked nauseated because I hadn’t had a proper meal in about 3 days.
Also, I was wearing socks and my husband’s sandals because my feet had swollen too much to fit in my own shoes. And it was snowing.” -Wendy H.

Some stories showed the experience can vary from birth to birth for the same mom:

“I looked OK the first time around. I’d had a shower and blow-dried my hair and put some make up on. Why? Because I’d had a fairly straight forward delivery, a healthy baby and I knew there would be cameras out, taking pictures to send to far away family, and I wanted to look a certain way. The important thing is that *I* wanted to do that – I did it for me and no one expected it from me. It was my choice and I was lucky to have the mobility and energy to manage it. My second delivery was a different story! I looked like you’d expect someone who has just survived life threatening complications would look – hooked up to IVs, unable to move. I didn’t shower for days – I couldn’t walk for days – and that was OK, too. Every situation is different.” -Jill B

“10 hours after my first birth I looked like a train wreck, natural quick birth but my body tensed up & I was in rough shape for like a week. After second birth I looked great, I relaxed more the second time & had more time between contractions. But both births I looked completely in love & in awe of my handsome little boys I had carried around inside me!” -Jennifer P.

And all of the others that won’t be categorized but rather blended together because women and birth cannot be separated and categorized. They can only be truthful and we can only act as sisters to one another if we are to hold each other up and live authentically: 

“Ten hours after birth I looked like I would EAT THE FACE OFF anyone who suggested I should do anything other than nap, eat and tend to my kid.” -Alexandra G.

“10 hours after giving birth I was a wreck (both times).” -Ushan A.

“Okay but stoned, and I couldn’t move my legs because of my epidural. No walking anywhere for me!” -Leslie K

“I looked like me, but prone.” -Susie C.

10 hours is roughly the amount of time it took me to get really pissed off about the situation I was in, after each of my kids was born. About 10 hours after my first son was born the hospital staff took him, for a medical check up, right when I needed to feed him. I was promised he would be returned right away. He was grabbed from his check-up by the hospitals photographer and was missing from me for almost 2 hours. With my second son about 10 hours after he was born the hospital staff came to discuss with me that I was going to be discharged in the morning, but he was going to have to stay in the NICU. When my daughter was born I was told that because she was large they had to prick her foot, to test her blood sugar levels, before she ate, EVERY time she ate. At about the 10 hour mark my pain meds from the C-section I had were gone and I was exhausted. At that point I was not up for an entire night of waking up to a hungry baby, then waiting with a hungry baby for a nurse to come in and prick her foot, then trying to get her to latch on properly when she was screaming out in pain from being pricked.” -Nancy C.

“Ten hours after birth– the first time, I looked sick and scared as the birthing was traumatic and my son was very ill; …the second time I felt wonderful and looked like my typical self, pregnant or not pregnant, bathed and hair fixed and holding a safe and healthy baby.” -Mary P.

“A mommy in love with her new baby. ” -Barbara B.

“A fattie who hadn’t showered for a month…and exhausted.” -Becky J.

“Ten hours after birth, I looked amazed, content, tired and happy.” -Stephanie H.

“Like a boss.” -Nicole T.

“Glowing and proud! I felt invincible. Oh and most likely with a boob hanging out. Both girls nursed like champs!” -Angelica A.

“A very worn-out but elated mama trying to balance snuggling a new baby with wanting to strangle the nurse who kept coming in every five minutes asking if I wanted her to take him to the nursery. No, I don’t. We’re snuggling/nursing/bonding/sleeping. Go away.” -Becky C.

To me my wife looked like a bad ass. What she felt like she looked like I have no idea. I really liked the comment above about marathon. It was like she ran an ironman race. I was providing support but she ran it and yes, she looked like a bad ass both during and after.” -Jonas S.

“My stomach was lying on the bed next to me and my maternity ward roommate was on the phone complaining about how she had hoped she could keep on some of the baby weight but it was just all gone immediately. I didn’t throw anything at her, so I was proud of myself.” -Meg D.

“10 hours after a delivery that was a page out of my worst nightmares….I looked washed out and probably could have used someone to make me look pretty…..hehe.” -Shehla A.

“After my first two, I look tired and sad, but that was probably because the hospital didn’t treat me so well. After my third, who was born naturally at a birth center, no one believed I had just given birth. I was peppy and looked relaxed.” -Katie N.

The first two times (epidural births) I felt pretty icky. Third time, after a med-free birth, I felt awesome. I don’t know what I looked like because I was pretty assiduously avoiding cameras. But I do know that what I looked like should have been the last thing on my mind. There is a crazy amount of pressure on women to look a certain way all.the.time and feel bad about themselves when they don’t. So I have beautiful, beautiful pictures of my brand-new babies. Most of them have a slice of my arm or hand or shoulder in them. Few of them have my face. And I regret that so much now. The few pictures I do have, I’m glowing with joy. Why not more of those shots? Why did I feel like I didn’t want my picture taken?” -Gina P. 

“10 hours after giving birth I looked like 160 pounds of well-kneaded bread dough. My body felt like it had been hit by a truck. But my heart and pride were at their infinite limit.” -Christina H.

“10 hours after giving birth I looked like…I don’t know, and don’t care, because having a mirror around was the last thing on my mind.” -Jeanine T-B.

“I looked like I needed sleep while trying to help a newborn learn to “latch on” and trying not to throw up from all the pain meds they gave me for a c-section birth. My tummy also looked like there still could have been another baby in there.” -Susan L.

“I looked like a happy, tired mama beautifully glowing with love for her new baby.” -Robin W.

Baby #1, sleeping but with baby on my chest, so content, proud and in love. The pain of the c-section slowly kicking in. Baby #2, my 1st vbac 10 hours later was a very different pain, I had finally showered, had spent the day snuggling 2 kids and overwhelmed by it all. Baby #3, vbac #2, I was telling the nurse what to do, taking charge probably with exhaustion, but thrilled to have #3 daughter. Best Mother’s Day gift. How I looked I don’t know and I don’t care & neither did my kids or husband, but if I had to guess, it would be like a mom.” -Jennifer D. 

Ten hours after labor I still completely understood (and was affirmed in my belief) that images of [Kate Middleton and other] female celebrities represent false symbols of womanhood sold by the media and a patriarchal culture, and I was not at all concerned about conforming to those unachievable and unrealistic “standards.” 99.99% sure she had a team of hair & makeup people with her, a stylist told her what to wear, and she soldiered through the walk from the door to the car with a big smile plastered on her face so they could whisk her away to go back to bed. It’s too bad that women believe these images, where (male-dominated) media only values “pretty” images of motherhood over the realities of birth and motherhood, as the reality is too upsetting? uncomfortable? overwhelming? for most people to process. Mother’s Day is coming up, and if we really valued motherhood, we would fight for fully paid maternity (parental) leave, affordable daycare, living wages for day care providers in particular and all workers generally, flextime and paid sick leave for employees, guaranteed social security for stay at home parents and unpaid family caregivers, job security/training for parents who temporarily leave the workforce, (etc etc) and an end to the misogynistic culture that tries to teach girls they are only valuable as ornaments to boys, and teaches boys that they have to be “strong” and “tough” to conform to cultural expectations.” -Renee L. 

10 hours after giving birth I looked like an exhausted, nervous wreck with the faint remnants of paint on my tummy from being painted like a beach ball at my birthday party the night before. I wasn’t producing milk, and I couldn’t feed my daughter. I was teetering on my feet due to lack of sleep with a hungry,yowling beauty in my arms. I felt like I was a horrible Mom right off the bat, where was my milk? Eventually, I had to send her to the nursery where they fed her, and I had to learn to be kind to myself.” -Bunny D. 

“10 hours after my 2nd birth I was at home having a cup of tea and getting a cuddle from my new baby and her big brother! Both my gorgeous babies were born in the water on gas and air in Midwife led units which I think goes a long way to help how you feel after. May also be helped by having short labours and no tearing. I birthed both my babies safely! I felt I could do anything!” -Fiona B.

“The Michelin Tire Man wearing a diaper.” -Nicole S.

“Ten hours after birth I looked: bloated, tired, and sore. I actually refused to allow my husband to take any pictures of me because I just didn’t feel like myself.” -Kimberly G.

“A very happy deflated balloon.” -Aviva G.

“I looked like I was sleeping. Because I was. But I also was up, around and dressed within a couple hours of birth. Ready for the media? No. But ready for family and friends.” -Chris C.

I looked like I’d had a major abdominal surgery and was experiencing a several day chemical vacation post-surgery.” -Linda W. 

10 hours after the birth of baby #1, I was looking like my normal self and wanting nothing to do with the awful hospital gown. After baby #2, I looked like a zombie. I was up almost 24 hours before his birth, but not due to labor. He was taken from my room at the 6 hour mark due to lung issues so I launched into milk pumping with a goal of 8-10 sessions every 24 hours to make sure there would be milk when he was ready to come off of the iv. My life became a routine of pump, wash the pump parts, run the bottles to the nursery, visit my son, and repeat.” -Connie K. 

“Less than 20 minutes after my water birth, I felt on cloud nine! My vagina however would beg to differ! Despite not tearing, it felt as if I had passed a bowling ball, and my pee felt like acid! For the next 24hrs post birth, I walked like I’d been riding a horse for a week.  10 hrs after, I was snuggled up on the sofa with our new little lady.” -Donna W. 

“I ate Taco Bell 30 minutes after delivering my twins (vaginally) and showered right after that. I would have blown dry my hair but I had forgotten my hair dryer. I drive the nurses and my doctor nuts cause I was constantly on the go. I looked and felt great.” -Jennifer M.

The first time, I looked sleepy but elated, snuggling in bed with my still puffy belly and tired eyes, holding my tiny baby and uncaring of the pain in my incision site. No makeup, and the same messy braid I’d labored in for 36 hours. The second time–dazed, shattered, exhausted, and frustrated by the tiny squalling thing struggling to latch, born after a surprise c-section that gave me none of the birth euphoria I had expected.” -Stephanie H. 

“10 hours after my last birth which was an Emergency C-Section I was desperately try to fart and burp so that all the painful gas that had built up in my shoulder would leave!” -Danica C.

“10 hours after giving birth I was fine. In fact, we left the hospital early and travelled to see family for Thanksgiving dinner.” -Angie R.

“Hell, almost 3 YEARS after my son’s birth and I’m still a frumpy mess, lol. Happy as can be, though.” -Mandi S.

“Less than 12 hours after both of my babies (#1 an exhausting and horrible induction at a hospital and #2 a beautiful, calm home birth) I was eating and enjoying 10-12 family visitors passing around the baby and relishing in the love and community my kids were born into. I’m sure I looked like death warmed over both times, in my nursing tank and yoga pants, but it was quite honestly the two times in my life that what I looked like or what others thought of me was the furthest thing from my mind.” -Jen S.

“The happiest person who desperately needed a shower and a nap.” -Anne G.

“Ten hours after birth I looked like a sleeping person.” -Tonia J.

With all of my girls I was showered, dressed and coifed within the hour of having them because my body was so relieved to be rid of the baby elephants I house for eternity. But that’s just my “peasant stock” body. 100 years ago I would have been the lady dropping a baby in the field and going back to shucking wheat. Since shucking wheat isn’t on my to-do list present day, I enjoy feeling human again as soon as possible after giving birth.” -Erica M. 

I was up walking and talking showering and eating chick filA within a few hours of delivery. I was excited and ready to go home! With my first that is. By my 3rd. I was tired n exhausted and wanted to stay in the hospital for a week had they let me. I had a bit of PPD and wasn’t ready for the world, but that’s how life goes, I was delighted to be holding our 3rd baby with the man of my dreams next to me, it’s like a fairy tale sometimes, and Kate deserves the same feeling, she looks like she feels the same way.” -Nicki H.

“10 hours after birth I looked like I always do…a beautiful woman!! The only difference was now I was a beautiful momma!!” -Victoria W.

10 hours after birth I was sporting mesh underwear with an elephant sized maxi pad, staples across my belly after my emergency c-section and still in the hospital gown. I was exhausted after almost 24 hours of labor, including the last 2 hours of that being excruciating back labor. I needed help getting to and from the bathroom while I shuffled like the hunch back of Notre Dame. Then shock of shock, seeing my reflection and realizing I still looked 6 months pregnant, even after giving birth!! No one warned me about any of this, even all the books I had read. With my second, it was a scheduled c-section, I recovered much quicker. Within a few hours after the c-section, I was in my own nightgown, hair brushed, a bit of make-up and up to seeing visitors and having my picture taken. I was even able to walk on my own and get to and from the bathroom on my own. Night and day from the first to the second experience.” -Jessie W.

Neither of my births were all that easy – first was 24 hours of mostly natural labor and eventually a c-section (revealing a 8lb 14oz baby boy with a very bruised upper arm – clearly he was stuck on my pelvic bone!). So 10 hours after that I think I still had a catheter in, and was delirious from 3 days of no sleep, struggling to figure out how to nurse my child (boobs like bullets anyone?), and all the drugs and pain and “disappointment” of the c-section. 2nd was better as I had a planned c-sect. (revealing a 9 lb 7 oz baby girl!!!), but due to the surgery I was still pretty much bed ridden and very puffy from the IV fluids. At least this time I was much better rested and knew how to nurse!” -Jaime W. 

“I was up and about right away with all but the last one. With my last I separated my pelvis and couldn’t even stand up. But the other five, I was great! With two of them I was home before the 24 hour mark. The only reason I spent extra time at the hospitals was we were waiting for the doctors to let us leave! Keep in mind me longest labor was 6 hours…and the others averaged 3 hours with maybe 20 minutes of pushing and 15 minutes of pain.” -Micki S

“10 hrs after childbirth I looked blissed out. That’s a look that has nothing to do with hair, skin, or makeup. It’s gorgeous no matter who you are.” -Lisa C.

“Who looks in a mirror ten hours after birth? I mean seriously! 63 hours of labor people!” -Jennifer K.

I honestly can’t remember what I looked like after giving birth- looking in the mirror wasn’t even on my radar, ha ha. But I probably looked tired (I was up for at least 48 hours straight before giving birth with my first and 24 with my second, and then of course it’s not like I could just fall asleep right afterwards). I’m only in a couple of pictures from around the time I gave birth, and I haven’t looked at them in a while, but I think I just looked like me- not a fancied up version and not a decaying zombie version, just normal me.
Mostly what I remember feeling after birth was immense physical relief both from the end of labor and not having very active babies using my ribs as a jungle gym anymore. That and being so excited to eat since it was pretty much the first time in 9 months I could eat without getting sick or heartburn.” -Kristen W.

“After my third baby I looked like a glowing mommy! After my first I was a wreck with baby in the NICU.” -Karen C. 

“10 hrs after childbirth I looked like I had just competed in the most physical event of my life and relished every minute of my triumphant finish!” -Elizabeth M.

After almost 3 hours of pushing I ruptured most the blood vessels in my face and eyes. 10 hours after delivery I looked like I belonged on the walking dead without any of the fancy makeup tricks. I got so many stares from other parents in the mother/baby unit and I’m pretty sure I scared some nursing students! I do have a picture somewhere for proof and I’m planning to play that card repeatedly when my daughter becomes a snarky teenager!” -Lindsey R.

“I looked like I couldn’t care less what anyone else thought, because I live for myself and the sweet little love of my life in my arms.” -Lollisplotch M.

“A proud mother.” -Manuela R-F.

“Ten hours after birth I looked radiant and sweaty and happier than I’ve ever been… Also very naked and as voluptuous as ill ever be.” -Fernanda R

“My tummy looked and felt like a well used bean bag and I looked extremely thankful for my new sidekick latched onto me ….and for the catheter that meant I had an excuse not to get up and walk.” -Meghan L.

Ten hours after my son’s birth I was still shaking from the delivery. I was in labor for 27 hours and had an emergency c section. I had to have an extra incision, and that still wasn’t enough so they tore open my uterus with their hands. My son wasn’t getting oxygen and it had to be quick, so they couldn’t even wait for pain meds(I was doing it naturally). So I was strapped to the table while they cut me open(I could feel every cut)I looked horrible after having him. I lost twice as much blood as they thought I would, so I was pale and clammy and weak. And it was glorious because my son was alive.” -Jessicah W. 

“Ten hours after birth I was wishing that maybe I had slept a little, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the amazing little piglet I held on my chest. My body was exhausted, my mind alive. I felt and smelled like I had run a marathon.” -Ebby M.

“I looked amazing 10 hours after giving birth with my 4th. He was born before I normally woke up, I took a shower, had a nap, then got up and went about my day. My others were born later in the day so I was sleeping 10 hours after.” -Sarah L.

“Ten hours after giving birth I looked ecstatic, because those new mama hormones were goooood! 24 hours after giving birth I left the hospital and found I could not sit down, use the bathroom properly, fit into the clothes I wanted, or stop wearing Depends.” -Emily S.

“A happy and elated mum cuddling my newborn, both of us still naked on the sofa letting him find the breast.” -Diana S.

Ten hours after my first, intervention-filled birth I was pale, shakey and incredibly sore. Ten hours after my largely natural second birth, I was still very sore but recovered much more easily that my first, and definitely wasn’t the colour of the hospital walls, like my mum said I was with my first!! This isn’t a judgement on birth choices, just my truth!” -Christina C. 

“Like a Halloween version of the Goodyear blimp.” -Connie R.

“Ten hours after giving birth, I was still unconscious, planning a funeral and then unconscious again.” -Nicole T.

“Ten hours after giving birth I looked like a woman who had just spent the better part of 8 hours laboring then pushing an 8 pound baby out of myself. But also glowing and radiant!” -Christina R.

I have no clue what I looked like 10 hours after my first birth. Probably asleep. 10 hours after my second, my heart was melting as I watched my 6 year old hold his tiny baby sister for the first time.” -Emily S.

“10 afters after birth I looked VICTORIOUS! I had my daughter. She was alive, she was healthy, she was perfect, and I had my partner by my side. I was home. I was walking. I was also only ever peeing in water and wearing black leggings.” -Cee O’C

“10 hours after birth I looked like… Someone who didn’t care how she looked cuz I was on cloud 9 after having a baby!!! I was too focused on getting this new mom thing figured out to honestly care how I looked. Didn’t shower, no make up, tied my hair up to keep it out of the way, and happier than ever… Tired too but that goes without saying. Lol!” -Emily F.

“First kid-exhausted and worried, and frustrated at dealing with a bully pediatrician in the hospital. Second kid, happy and ready to go-I wanted to go out to dinner. What a difference a safe, healthy homebirth made.” -Erika G.

“Sleepy and hungry!” -Jennifer M

“It didn’t occur to me to check what I looked like. I was 38 years old, 2 weeks over due, had been induced 2 times and had an unscheduled C-section at 10 p.m. I so didn’t care. I hadn’t combed my hair in over a day, I hadn’t showered in over a day, I don’t think I’d brushed my teeth either.” -Elizabeth T

After an induction for preeclampsia, being bullied repeatedly by a doctor I never met, painful manual dilation without my permission, sunnyside up delivery, episiotomy without consent, a failed epidural and more crap that I’ve not even listed…the birth of my daughter was not the bliss I hoped for. Hours later I was still hooked up to medications that made me anxious and caused double vision. My hair was a hot mess, I couldn’t get out of bed and a parade of people kept pouring in to the room. I fake smiled, but I wasn’t happy…nor did I look like it. I don’t wish that type of experience on anyone.” -Becca S 

“Ten hours after birth I looked like: me…. a bit swollen in the belly area (of course) but glowing, radiant and in excellent health. The photo is me after the birth of my second child in hospital…about one hour after birth and we went home (I walked briskly out of there) within another 4 hours. sans makeup and hair done of course – it was 2 in the morning!” -Bree H

I looked completely deranged. They took my baby to SCU and I had no support, no phone and was hooked up to a drip in my spine. To an attachment parent it was tantamount to torture and it took about two years to recover.” -Carlie H.

Ten hours after the birth of my daughter was about 10:30pm. I looked tired, not exhausted, but I was energized. I *think* I was wearing a hospital gown. My baby bump was similar to my five month size. Ten hours after I gave birth to my twin sons was around 2:30am. This time I was wearing my own nightgown, with slits in the pleats for nursing! Otherwise, the same. With my daughter, I was in labor for six hours, ending with less than fifteen minutes of pushing. I got an epidural just before I started pushing. With my twins, active labor started when the fetal monitor was attached to Baby B. Two and a half hours later, I was done. I didn’t even have time for an epidural – I found out that it HAD worked somewhat with my daughter. Ouch. Once I took a shower each time, I felt and looked like my pre-pregnancy self, with a belly bump.” -Jean C.