Welcome to our series: Perelel Lives. We live in a society that glamorizes and celebrates women‘s careers, the companies they’ve built, the movements they’ve created. But, what we’ve failed to highlight is a facet of their lives that is far more personal—a side that presents perhaps the hardest, but most rewarding job of all—a job with no PTO, no holiday breaks, no sick days, and no salary. Oh, and it also lasts a lifetime: motherhood.
Perelel Lives elevates stories on becoming and being a mother from our community of women we admire, women who do it in parallel to their personal and professional pursuits. Here, we have real conversations about motherhood.
Motherhood can be beautiful, joyous and fulfilling. It can also feel all-encompassing, isolating and downright hard. And finding that no judgment, come as you are support from others who have been there is one of the biggest assets a mom can have in navigating the shift into motherhood. That's where Cassie Shortsleeve comes in. The lifelong health, wellness and parenting writer and editor racked up bylines at big-name publications such as Parents, What to Expect, Women’s Health and Shape. But it was her own pregnancy and winding emotional road into motherhood that was the catalyst for her latest pursuit. Today, Shortsleeve is a perinatal health coach and founded Dear Sunday, an online platform that offers accessible support and helps women adjust to pregnancy and new motherhood. Here is her backstory—hold the highlight reel.
Did you always know you wanted to become a mother?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that I like to say that I always wanted to be a mother, but I think—like most women who enter into their motherhood journeys in this country—I didn’t know much about what motherhood or pregnancy would truly be like or entail. It’s kind of like before we have kids we have this false idea of what motherhood is and we tend to say we “want” it not knowing what “it” is.
Motherhood is wonderful. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me and it’s the hardest journey I’ve ever been on. It look me a long time to realize those two sentiments could co-exist. That’s part of the reason I became a perinatal health coach and started my company Dear Sunday: to help other women adjust to the monumental life change that is becoming a mother.
How did you know when you were ready? Did you wake up one day and just have a feeling? Share the story.
I never had that “aha” moment of wanting to have a baby. I’m almost inclined to think that’s a myth (though I suppose some people have it). At 30, I had been with my husband for more than five years, and I was established in my career. “Knowing” I wanted to have children, I started to think we should probably start trying.
I found out I was pregnant two weeks later and I cried. It’s honestly painful to admit that now because my daughters have brought me so much joy, but it’s important to be honest about the often shocking, challenging transition to pregnancy and motherhood. It’s a big change and even if you want something you don’t know how you’re going to feel until you feel it.
How did you feel about the idea of motherhood with regards to your career or personal passions? Were you fearful of having to make concessions?
I was terrified. I distinctly remember lying on my couch about a month postpartum with Sunday and calling my sister in tears: I was never going to be able to be a mother and a journalist, I told her. Of course, in time, I figured it out as we all do, but it’s hard! I’m the first to say that I am a better mom because of the help and support I have. Motherhood really was not intended to be something you do on your own and having help and support makes it possible to juggle all that motherhood brings with it.
Motherhood is wonderful, but also hard. Did you feel like you had honest support ahead of that stretch of your motherhood journey to really understand what you were getting into? Do you think there’s been a generational shift where women are more open these days?
Part of the reason I started Dear Sunday is because I didn’t feel like I had the support, information, or resources I needed in pregnancy about what the journey to motherhood is really like. Today, we run virtual educational mom groups and connect soon-to-be and new moms with each other and with renowned experts in the field of perinatal health so that they can learn about, prepare for, and find the support they need in pregnancy and new motherhood.
Although it might be more common to find honest talk about the hardships of motherhood I really do think it’s overly glamorized in society with the assumption being that the reigning emotion is joy. I like to say that there is joy and there are also so many other emotions of motherhood that get overlooked.
The next time you see someone post a pregnancy or birth announcement on Instagram, scroll through the comments to see what I mean. You’ll find mostly messages of well wishes and congratulations. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that but I always make a point of also asking how the new mother is doing and commending her hard work and her deserved rest.
With people living further and further away from family (and with the pandemic) I also think we’ve lost so much of the community and generational support in motherhood that our grandmothers and mothers had. I feel lucky to have my mother and mother-in-law nearby and helping me raise my girls every week but I know not everyone has that. I wish I still had grandmothers around to ask questions about their days of early motherhood and what they were really like.
Why do you think so many of us breeze over motherhood like it’s a cake walk in the media? Like we handle it so easily and play the whole “balance” card? We never get real about it publicly. Why do you think that is?
This could be a book (!) but a big part of this answer, I suppose, is perhaps fear. Women aren’t wrong to feel like they have to hide the hard parts of motherhood, be nervous to petition for a longer maternity leave, or act like having to be in two places at once is easy. “The Motherhood Penalty” in the workplace is real. Moms are routinely paid less than dads, I’ve heard moms I’ve connected with through Dear Sunday tell me they were laid off upon returning to work after having a baby, and the working world was built for and by men. Often, if you “show” your motherhood, you risk lower pay, discrimination, or worse, your job. But we have to “show” our motherhood. It’s through honesty, vulnerability, and confidence in our roles as a mother and a worker that we can work to make change and help people understand the realities of being a mom.
I interviewed a psychologist recently for a story I was writing and she told me that when we’re not open and honest about what motherhood is really like, your mind can make up stories. I think that’s so true. By being honest I think we can help more people choose motherhood in a time when it’s hard to choose motherhood and help more people understand the triumphs and challenges that come with it.
Looking back, what was the biggest lesson you learned in the immediate weeks following the birth or homecoming of your first child?
That raising children isn’t something that was meant to be done in isolation. That’s a big part of the reason why this past year has been so crushing for new parents. I remember when I brought Sunday home in June of 2019 (pre-pandemic) my mother had offered to stay for a few nights while he got settled. I had declined the offer, wanting to just be with my husband and our new baby. I think I called her the morning after our first night home and she came by within 30 minutes.
After my second daughter was born, my mom stayed with us for a few nights. There’s all of this pressure to feel like you have to do it all and you have to do it alone and you have to do it right all of the time and that’s just so far from the truth.
What’s one piece of advice you would share with another mom-to-be?
You’re not alone. That’s the number one thing I think I would have wanted to hear when I was pregnant and sick and confused and stressed. I would have wanted to hear that a lot of people felt the way I felt and that it was normal. No matter what you’re going through on your motherhood journey, there’s almost always someone else who is going through the same thing. It’s hard to reach out and ask for help or support but it’s so healing. In our virtual mom group sessions with Dear Sunday, often someone will say something like, “I don’t know if anyone’s experienced this, but…” and most everyone in the group will chime in with similar stories, advice, and support. I’m a big believer in few things being more healing than someone else saying: I’ve been there, too, and I get it.
Where do you go when you need advice? Do you have any “mom mentors?”
Honestly, the community I’ve built through Dear Sunday is full of mom mentors for me. I learn so much by connecting with other moms from all walks of life at all different places on their journey. I turn to them often and the other moms—my mom, my mother-in-law, and my mom friends—for everything.
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