Sustainable Closet

Getting Dressed for Motherhood

Since I never pictured myself as a mother until I was actually pregnant the first time, I also never took notice prior to that moment of some of the daily tricks of motherhood.  Getting dressed is one of those tricks, which might sound a little silly.  But think of it this way: you're you, and then you're you feeling like crap every day for several months (at least), and then you're you with an extra forty extra pounds (give or take), but all the while still taking care of things at home and going to work and maybe exercising and probably experiencing change of seasons.  During this part, you are probably still at least occasionally (or for some, often) physically uncomfortable.  Also your breasts have changed size, maybe more than once, and even your feet have maybe changed size, either permanently, or just temporarily.  Every day you're trying to get dressed for all of that, probably without an unlimited budget and almost certainly without a lot of extra free time to figure it out.

Then, lo and behold, suddenly you're you home, often alone, with a tiny creature who needs to eat hourly and rarely sleeps longer than another hour at a time (every hour??? who knew???).  So now you're you, hoping to wear your regular clothes again soon, but with barely a minute to take a shower or to make a healthy dinner, let alone go for a run or head to the yoga studio.  Also, even though you gained forty pounds, your round trip to the hospital probably only shaved off twenty of them, which is obviously unfair, but totally how it is.

Those things are not too surprising,  but then here's another kicker: you are planning to breastfeed, but no one told you that the only way you get to breastfeed and still leave the house ever is if your entire wardrobe offers breast access to your new tiny hungry nugget.  Look in your closet.  How many shirts, sweaters and bras do you have that make it easy for you to feed your newborn in a public setting, or even comfortably in a semi-private setting?  That's what I thought.  And then uh-oh, here comes winter, now it's time to find clothes that allow breast access, but are also warm.  

It doesn't stop there.  How many outfits do you have that allow you to squat down on the floor for diaper changes or playing rattle with your seated baby? Because that's what's next.  And what about chasing your toddler and lifting him up out of harm's way?  And what about squatting down with him while he's on the potty, while also being ready to dodge his misfire?  Hard to do that stuff in a pencil skirt and stilettos on your way to work.

When I was still blissfully running around as a thirty-year-old who did not plan to procreate, I had not considered any of this, even though I was wild enough about clothing to be taking sewing classes at my local community college. During that time, I had the chance to meet an old friend at the airport.  She was passing through town on her way home from a baby shower with her new little girl.  The truth is that at that time, I was so disconnected from the idea of babies that I do not remember hers, aside from noticing how deftly she changed the infant's diaper at the table where we were having coffee.  But I do remember discussing motherhood a little bit with her.  She knew me well and understood my reservations about going down that path.  As she was describing the aspects of parenthood that weren't so bad, she made one comment that stuck to my brain: "It's a good excuse to wear stretchy clothes,".

It sounds like a dumb thing for me to remember but it stuck with me because at the time, it seemed like cheating.  In my mind, stretchy clothes were either for exercise, or for when you had given up on taking care of yourself. (I know, I know.  Harsh. But it wasn't a judgement on my friend, whom I admire, and who is also quite healthy anyway, and had in no way "given up".  It was more a thought about clothing itself and what I believed about the daily act of getting dressed.  Also it was six years ago, and stretchy clothes were much less blended into daily life than they are lately.) 

As it turned out, it was lucky that she said that to me, because at a certain point after the birth of my first son, I remembered her wise words, and I invested in some stretchy clothes that I could also wear out of the house.  Clothes that it turned out I could not only wear while comfortably feeding him, but would also wear in the future while playing with him, continue to wear when I was basically back to my normal size, and then clothes that would even take me through my next pregnancy, the one that I couldn't even wrap my brain around at that point.  I developed a new respect for stretchy clothes.

Obviously, on one hand, these are Western problems, and we need to keep them in perspective.  But on the other hand, yes they are Western problems, which is where I live.  In my reality, getting dressed in a way that allows me to keep feeling like me is a good way to put me in the right frame of mind to be the best mom and provider for my family.  Having clothes that I'm comfortable breastfeeding in will be a good way for me to continue trying to breastfeed, even when it is starting to feel less convenient.

So, I have spent a good portion of energy in during recent weeks assessing what I have and what I need in order to weather Minnesota winter while breastfeeding a newborn, while parenting a toddler who is potty training, and maybe even while leaving the house once and a while.  My solutions involve stretchy clothes (thank you, Becky!), snuggly but not-too-fragile knit ponchos and wraps, surplice shirts, and button-down shirts and dresses that are not too stiff or precious.  None of these supplies, with the exception of nursing bras, are sold by maternity stores.  In an effort to not waste money, I have been working to gather a selection that will fit me through most of the transition, and also still be interesting to me after I get through this stage.  Two or three of these items will have been made by me, and since I started looking ahead of time, I have been able to take advantage of sales and other discounts for much of the rest of it.  Much of it is also workplace appropriate, just in case I start working while all of these transitions are still happening.  

The nursing shirt below that I made is a prototype that I developed after I went through this nursing-shirt debacle the first time.  I made a version for a friend, but by the time it was completed, did not have a chance to test-drive it myself.  So, in a few weeks or so, I will wear it and check the fit and do any necessary tweaks to the pattern, hopefully while my new son is sleeping.  I'm sure that I will continue thinking of ways that I could have been better-prepared, but at the same time, it feels good this time to have an arsenal in my closet to get me started.