Ah, it starts slowly, doesn't it? You used to get up, shower, dress for work and then head out the door. A coworker would compliment your shoes, a man at lunch would glance over and then pretend he wasn't just checking you out, and in general you felt like you had it together.
And then one day, you saw those magic lines on the pregnancy test, which is where it all began. And then the baby was born. And then life became a bit more challenging. And then, one day you looked in the mirror and were a bit, um, surprised.
When did this happen?
It happens to the best of us. For me, that first trimester was enough to make me forget caring about makeup or looking nice at all. If I felt this bad, who cared what I looked like? Of course I only became worse when my daughter was born. When you aren't sleeping, and you are covered in spit up, how can you possibly care about looking cute? I just wanted to survive.
Four and a half years after it all began, I find myself recognizing the person in the mirror again. I may have had two kids, but I still feel pretty good about myself when I walk out the door. It's been a long road to get to this point though, and I've learned a lot along the way.
Here are 21 simple ways, from pregnancy on, that you can look and feel like you again - not just "a mom."
1. If you're having a rough first trimester, remember that taking care of yourself will help you feel better. Even if you are sick as a dog in the beginning, try to take a shower and put on some makeup. Yes, if you had the flu you would lay around in sweats and forget about washing your hair. But this is a flu that won't go away in a few days, so do what you can to hang in there. Even if you don't feel like yourself, looking like yourself (instead of the sick, worn out version of you) will help.
2. Don't be too cheap when it comes to maternity clothes. Don't get me wrong - I love a good deal. I also love borrowing clothes from girlfriends, and I'll lend my maternity collection to my friends gladly. What I mean is that you should not be cheap in the sense that you just stop caring. If you need to buy clothes, don't feel guilty about buying something nice instead of the funky stuff on the clearance rack. Yes, you'll wear it for a shorter time than your regular clothes, but it's important over the next few months that you still feel good about yourself. Enough is changing; don't let your style change drastically as well.
3. Pedicures are awesome. You can't reach your feet anyways, so go ahead and waddle on down to the salon. If you prefer to save a buck, I suggest Wal-Mart. The pedicures I've gotten there have been awesome, and they are a fraction of the price you'd pay at your haircutter.
4. Do not chop off your hair. Yes, pixie cuts are in style, but wait until after the baby is born if you really want one. Remember that pregnant women tend to be emotional, so avoid making drastic decisions like cutting your hair short while you are pregnant. Your body is changing every day, so keeping your hair the same may help you feel more in touch with your old self. Now is not the time for a big change - you have one coming on your due date.
5. Highlight the great parts of pregnancy. Along with pregnancy comes thicker hair, nails that grow faster, and the need for a bigger bra. Highlight your best features and focus on the things that are nice little side effects, rather than dwelling on your ever increasing belly or your swollen ankles.
6. Try to keep good posture. I don't mean to sound like your mother here, but it's worth the risk. You'll be tempted to lean over, slouch, etc. With a huge baby belly, it's only natural. Sitting up straight will do you a world of good and will not only make you look better, but it will help you feel more confident and attractive.
7. Stay active while you are pregnant. Don't exercise because you want to somehow slow your weight gain, but do it to feel good. Try prenatal yoga, prenatal Pilates, or walking. Some of you may be exercise buffs who still jog around the block when you're nine months pregnant, but I know that I struggled with staying fit when I was pregnant. I didn't want to do very much physically, but when I did manage to exercise I felt great. Even if I looked the same to the rest of the world, I felt much more like myself after a good brisk walk.
8. Take advantage of the fact that most people find pregnant women adorable. The cards are already stacked in your favor, believe it or not. Even if you feel like a planet, most people think you're cute as a button. Remember this, and feel encouraged.
9. Once the baby is born, invest in attractive nursing bras. Gone are the days when nursing bras were these huge, white, scary looking contraptions that made husbands run away screaming. Plenty of stores carry nursing bras in black or in various patterns (leopard, polka dots, etc.).
10. Just because you are still carrying baby weight doesn't mean you have to give up. Don't say to yourself, "I'll get some new clothes when I lose the weight... these sweats will do for now." I was tempted to do that, but I felt so down about my post-baby body that I wanted to do something to feel stylish again. Hit the clearance racks, or borrow clothes from a friend if nothing else fits. Dressing like "you" again will help encourage you to get back to your normal self, rather than getting stuck in a post-partum rut.
11. Don't feel bad if you still need to wear your maternity clothes. A lot of women I talk to feel embarrassed about wearing maternity clothes after their baby is born. Don't be. It's part of life, and everyone has been there. I was in maternity clothes for what felt like forever after my second daughter was born. If the choice is between maternity jeans and pajama bottoms when you're leaving the house, just put your jeans on. If your shirt is long enough, no one will even notice that they're maternity clothes.
12. Shower every day. Even if it's hard, find the time somewhere. It is way too easy to say, "I'll shower tomorrow," and then tomorrow stretches into an embarrassing amount of time. I know that being up all night with a baby makes the days blur into each other, but getting a shower each day will help you stay sane.
13. Enjoy wearing jewelry before your baby learns to grab it. Wearing earrings or a cute necklace is an easy way to look like you took some time getting ready, even if it only took an extra ten seconds to throw it on.
14. If you can swing it, get highlights in your hair. When my second daughter was about six weeks old, my husband took her for a couple of hours so I could go and get my hair highlighted. I didn't do anything drastic, but some warm brown tones in my hair made me feel like I had lost ten pounds.
15. Go for walks. I felt ridiculously frumpy after my second delivery. I still had a "baby belly" (minus the baby inside), my clothes weren't even close to fitting me, and I felt too exhausted to shower most days. Going for long walks with my neighbor several times a week was the absolute best thing I could have done. I was out of the house, getting fresh air and exercise, and forced to take a shower afterwards.
16. Make sure you have at least one friend who does not have kids. This may seem very random, but it's good for perspective. Going out for dessert or drinks with a girlfriend who is in a different stage of life than you will remind you of the wide world around you, and it helps to keep you balanced.
17. It's just as easy to slip on casual heels or cute flats as it is to wear flip-flops. I wore my favorite wedge heels to a pediatrician appointment the other day, and the nurse noted that I was "dressed up" for a stay-at-home-mom. Her compliment made my day, and it also surprised me a bit. Honestly, I was rushing out the door that morning, and slipping on my wedge heels was faster than having to tie sneakers!
18. Try wearing your hair a different way each day to vary it up a bit. I don't mean anything fancy or time consuming, either. My hairdresser fusses at me when I confess that I've been wearing my hair in a ponytail for a month, so I try to limit my ponytail days (although I have my hair in a ponytail as I'm writing this). The key is to feel like you have some sort of variety in your life. I tend to rotate between wearing my hair down, half back with a clip, or in a ponytail. All three are effortless, but doing something different each day makes me feel like I look more stylish for some reason.
19. Keep a travel-sized perfume in your purse or diaper bag. My favorite is "Amazing Grace" by Philosophy, and I keep a tiny little bottle of the eau de toilette in my purse. It's so easy to just spray it on before I head to a friend's house, dinner with my husband, or even a trip to Target. Why not smell nice if it's easy enough?
20. Dress your age. I see plenty of women out there who are either dressing too young for their age, or too old for their age. Remember that even though you're a mom, you (a) don't have to prove anything to anyone regarding "looking young," and (b) you don't need to throw in the towel and dress like "a mom" should dress. I'm 28, so I dress like I'm 28.
21. Find an exercise routine you enjoy, and stick with it. Even if you've lost the baby weight, it's still important to find something to do for yourself that keeps you feeling good. I'm a big fan of Pilates, and I always feel stronger, lighter, and more confident afterwards. When your days are spent taking care of other people, remember that it's important to find the time to take care of yourself as well.
Being a mom is awesome. I absolutely love it, and wouldn't trade it for the world. It can certainly be rough though, and one of the tough things about it is feeling like you've lost yourself. Just a few of these simple tips could make a world of difference between feeling like yourself again, and feeling like you're "just a mom." Trust me, it feels good to look at your reflection in the mirror and recognize yourself again.