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Mourning motherhood | What no one told me about becoming a new mama

Before having Ansel, my 12 week old son, Stephen and I were married for 5 years. We traveled all over the world, enjoyed lengthy conversations together whenever we wanted to. We cheered each other on in some significant personal growth journeys. We learned who we are, we bought and sold houses, we made and lost money. And at the end of each day, we'd snuggle up together and then fall asleep holding hands. There wasn't a day that went by that we didn't snuggle for a few minutes and fall asleep holding hands. 

We were best friends. We were lovers. And we were people we'll never be again. 

It wasn't too long after having Ansel that the realization hit me like a ton of bricks. Our life together would literally never be the same again. People often said that to me with a romanticized tone, "You're pregnant? awwwww, that just changes your whole life. You're life will never be the same!" Like it would open my eyes to so much love and goodness. 

But then I realized what they meant. My life. would NEVER. be the same. AGAIN. 

And in the early morning hours of another sleepless night, I mourned. 

I mourned the Stephanie that could exercise whenever she wanted to. I mourned the Stephanie that could hop over to a coffee shop to have a spontaneous date with her husband. I mourned the Stephanie that would spend time enjoying putting on her makeup. I mourned the Stephanie that had no one else to really think about but herself and her (completely autonomous) husband. I mourned the Stephanie that got to sleep when she wanted to and shower when she wanted to. The girl that got to go on a walk by herself anytime she cared to, could work whenever and however she wanted to. The girl completely unencumbered by nap times, childcare, and feeding schedules. And I mourned the loss of our nightly snuggle time and falling asleep holding hands. 

There's so much beauty in motherhood, there really is. But no one told me that I might mourn the loss of who I was before having a baby. That I'd never be that girl again. Never have the same marriage again. I just had no clue I'd feel that way and the weight of that loss made me feel so confused and guilty. 

"But...isn't motherhood what I've been yearning for?"

"I lost 2 babies. Shouldn't I just be grateful to have this perfect little baby in my arms finally?"

"shouldn't I feel happy?"
"isn't it bad that I feel this grief?"

"Is it wrong that I miss being able to work and wish I could do that more than be with my screaming newborn?"

The guilt of becoming a new mom can be incredibly overwhelming. I literally felt this paralyzing guilt for every move I made. As my business mentor once illustrated for me, it was like carrying around a handful of balloons. I had to shower with them, get in the car with them, go to Target with them, and go to bed holding onto them. 

Holding a handful of balloons is hard. It's awkward. It's cumbersome. I mean, have you tried to get into a car wrangling a bunch of balloons? That's what momguilt feels like. 

And honestly, the solution is so simple, I walked right over it a thousand times. 

Let the balloons go. Let them go. Release it. Watch it float away. 

And as I released the guilt, I decided a few things: 

I wasn't going to let anyone else's voices create questions or guilt in my mind. I felt loss. So I decided to first grieve.

I felt confused and hormonal. So I decided to give myself space to figure it out and not have the answers. I kept tissues close at all times and didn't wear mascara because there was a high liklihood that I'd be crying soon.

I felt disconnected. So I cried, I talked with Stephen, we shared, and we began finding new ways to reconnect in this new, completely tumultuous time. And I allowed myself to be okay with learning how to love a new human-despite what I thought, it wasn't this magical instant connection. It was intuitive, yeah. But wasn't instant. I had to learn how we relate to each other and learn how to fall in love with him too. And I did. 

I missed my work, so I grieved and journaled when I could, dreaming of a time when I was doing the sacred work that ignites my soul. I allowed myself to relax into the reality that there was enough time and would be enough time for me to do what I was called to do in my work.

I mean, I missed wearing clothes that didn't have spit up on them. So I bought new shirts, and did laundry a little more often.

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I mourned becoming a mother. No one told me I might feel that way. And if you do, know that it's okay. It's a massive life change. And you'll never be the same again. And as I said goodbye to that girl, terrified as to what life would look like moving forward, struggling with a sense of regret, and feeling so overwhelmed by all the life changes I was experiencing, I started seeing something beautiful. 

Because of this new identity, I was becoming someone more beautiful. I started seeing in myself a strength I never knew i had. I started believing in myself, caring for and loving this sacred body I have, trusting, and resting. I started letting go of resistance, trusting my intuition, and reveling in gratitude. 

And as I did, some incredible things started to happen. I started seeing clients and money flow into my life with ease. I started being present-looking my son in the eyes as I fed him instead of frantically creating a social media post. And I started seeing magic everywhere. 

Just like my son lays in his crib and cries, knowing that he'll be fed but doing nothing to bring that food to himself, I started to say what I wanted and let it come to me in childlike trust. And I started celebrating a life that felt good. 

If you're approaching motherhood, hear me when I say this: Motherhood is so different for everyone. But if you feel grief, it's okay. lean into it for a bit and ask for help. And look for the magic. You'll start seeing it everywhere. 

 

How to Spot a Fixed Mindset | My Story (Pt 2)

Growing up with a fixed mindset meant that, unless I lived a very specific set of circumstances, my life was going to unravel. And, little did I know it, but the unraveling was coming.

Pushing others, but backing myself into a corner

Shortly after Stephen and I got married, Stephen share more of his heart with his business. I grew excited to support his vision, and even pushed him wayyyyy outside of his comfort zone. Shortly after Stephen started feeling a bit more confident in his business, he bought me a camera and booked his first wedding with me as his second shooter.

All of a sudden all that encouragement and pushing I did was back on me and I was backed into a corner! I swallowed my pride and took on this ONE WEDDING, telling him that I felt better behind the scenes. I could answer his emails and keep track of his numbers. I set up a few spreadsheets, and kept up with his inbox pretty well, until he saw my emails and began weighing in on how they were worded. I immediately told him I couldn't keep up with his emails and sent them back to him.

This kept happening. I’d try something, it wouldn’t go as planned, and I’d write it off as a “never again” task. If Stephen brought up trying a new marketing idea, or testing out a new client response, I would get so defensive that I’d start crying within a minute of the conversation, leaving him completely bewildered.

Despite this difficulty, we began booking at a fast pace, raising our prices aggressively, and still finding ourselves at max capacity. I figured I didn't need to work on these glaring personal issues because I had bigger things to do. 

How my fixed mindset met its limits

A few years into this venture, I lost my main job, which became the first part of my unraveling. My education job had been safe, easy, and what everyone else thought I was “meant to do.” Losing that job as I sat with a friend in the Target Starbucks made my head spin. I was terrified to tell anyone I was no longer a teacher. It’s what I was “supposed” to do-I had a degree in it!

Due to the high number of bookings we already had for the following year, I decided to test out the concept of working for the business full time. I quickly realized that I’d have to do the tasks I feared most and assumed that I’d figure it out or make Stephen keep doing them. But figuring it out turned into procrastination, anxiety, sleeplessness, chronic headaches, jaw clenching and teeth grinding, and a constant stream of emotional highs and lows.

I was resting on the laurels of my husband’s hard work, marketing for us and planning our strategies, things which he passed off to me, not knowing that I was avoiding them out of intense fear. I didn’t realize it, but my fixed mindset was running on borrowed time and about a year into my full time business ownership, the debtors came calling.

The year that my mindset met it's limits, I had big plans. We had 20 beautiful weddings on the books, and I was going to land a ton of blog features to gain publicity as my main marketing plan. As we photographed beautiful weddings and neared 6 figures, the numbers looked good, but my one trick marketing pony wasn't working. 

It was our biggest year yet and I was positive I’d have a lot of press surrounding our work. As that year came to a close, I began to panic. My one-trick marketing plan hadn’t worked and we had zero weddings booked for the following year after our largest fiscal year ever. HOW HAD THIS HAPPENED???

I’d wake up daily feeling this deep sense of inadequacy, spend my days spinning in circles, and wake up in the middle of the night panicked about the year to come. I started looking up grocery store jobs and substitute teaching again.

What caused my fixed mindset to unravel

Here’s what happened: Stephen’s hard work had an expiration date. It wasn’t going to last forever, but I was coasting on his marketing groundwork, trying to ignore the fact that I needed to learn some important skills before time would run out. But I didn't. And time did indeed run out.  

I was ignoring marketing because I didn't understand it. If I didn't immediately understand it, it meant I was "bad at it" and would need to put forth effort. I was too scared to learn and try strategies in marketing and as I approached this expiration time frame, I grew paralyzed at the idea of failure. So I made it my practice to “sit really still and breathe.” No, it wasn’t a meditation practice, it was all I felt I could do without taking risks. With the pressures weighing down from all sides, I felt so trapped that the most I could do was just breathe and not move. If I so much as twitched, everything would come crashing down on me.

I finally confessed my panic to Stephen and told him about our booking issues and how they related to my avoidance of the things I couldn't understand. Now he knew what I had done and we were on the same page. As we were beginning to brainstorm solutions, my life turned upside down and that conversation had to wait. And here’s where the rest of the unravelling happened.

A season of loss and rebuilding

As we began the new year, I was ready to toast to the baby we expected to bring into the world in August. But instead, I was met with a miscarriage. During the process, my doctor and I found that I had likely had previous miscarriages and just didn’t know what they were. I was shocked and devastated. Shocked that this had actually happened, and devastated that my body had failed me.

Shortly thereafter, I lost a business deal and friendship that left me heartbroken. The business deal promised to provide a year’s worth of income and the friendship had been a deep and sweet one. My life had again unraveled and I was in the midst of a depression. Again, I felt like everything I touched was falling apart and, if I just sat still, nothing bad would happen anymore.

It was at this time that I was at my lowest. I was a failure in business, my body had failed me, and I couldn’t identify who I was and what my purpose was. I ate for comfort and gained 30 pounds during my season of heartbreak. I felt like I had nothing else. It’s honestly still so raw to talk about this dark time in my life. I feel so sad for that girl and still carry her pain.

But it was during this quiet season that God picked up the pieces and began rebuilding. I hired a business coach and began seeing a counselor. During the dark, quiet times, I began reading, journaling, listening to podcasts, and learning. And I began feeling sparks of interest again. I have what I call my “ugly purple notebook” that I have lugged all over my house for the better part of  a year, filled with prayers, anguish, heartbreak, to-do lists, panic, more to-do lists, but slowly, it started filling with hope, interest, excitement, ideas, and plans. As I learned and grew, I started seeing my depressive fog lift. I began learning how to identify and shift my mindset from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

Now, for the first time in my life, I’m bringing in money all by myself! I’m marketing not one, but two businesses on my own! I’m coaching other creatives, feel completely alive in what I do, and have something to say. I’ve learned to grow, assess old habits creeping in, and feel confident stating my value to potential clients. I am so deeply proud of myself and thankful for the journey God has given me. That I can say that I’m proud of myself is a sign of growth in and of itself! Now, I’m the one bringing up marketing strategy conversations with Stephen and, if he points out a weak area, I’m not dissolving into tears, I’m instead strategizing a plan to grow and learn from it.

My story is one many people share. In upcoming blog posts, I'm going to lay out the key identifiers of a fixed mindset and a growth mindset, my favorite resources for change, and steps you can take to shift your mindset. If you identify with anything I’ve shared so far, please shoot me an email-I’d love to hear your story. 

How to Spot a Fixed Mindset | My Story (pt 1)

Growing up, I was naturally successful. I always got 100% on my spelling tests, I never had to study, and, if I did, I’d never admit it to anyone. You see, I believed my intelligence was a fixed trait and needing to study was only for the kids who weren’t smart enough. (Before I get too far, Mom and Dad, if you're reading this, know that I have NO regrets about my childhood-it was pretty amazing and I grew up feeling very loved :) God knew I'd process failure in the unique way that I do and He used it to draw me to himself in a beautiful way.)

a fifth grader with a fixed mindset

Let's travel back in time and survey a fifth grade classroom in the 90's to see if you can spot me. You don't need to know what I look like. It's time to pass back the graded spelling tests and you'll see me soon. This happens to be the first and ONLY spelling test in all my formal education where I misspelled a word. Did you catch that? I got a word wrong on a spelling test once in all my education. It was a bad day. (an actual photo of a photo of me around 5th grade. That 90's hair ;)

I spelled Cinnamon as Cinammon. As soon as I saw the -1 on my test, I frantically scoured the paper for my mistake, devastated that my deskmates could see that I didn’t have that 100% at the top of the paper (the one where the teacher made a smiley face using the 0’s as googly eyes.) I remember thinking “wait, this isn’t me! I ALWAYS get 100’s! I’m the 100’s girl! Take this back, it can’t be mine!” My whole identity was shaken because of one misspelled word!

You can see me now, I'm the girl frantically air-clawing at the teacher, begging her to wait, explain how this happened, and asking her to prove that I'd actually misspelled the word. You see me now, don't you? I look frantic and desperate and I resolved to never let this happen again-my identity depended on it! Maybe you're like me-you probably feel kind of sad for that little girl that she's taking this so hard. It's just a word! I feel like giving her a little hug.

I started hearing words like “perfectionist,” and, though I didn’t understand what it meant, I was often classed as a perfectionist for acts like this. However, I was far from a perfectionist. I’ll get into that more later, but at this point, knowing my classification in a neat little compartment meant a lot to me, so, even though it secretly annoyed the heck out of me, I’d make sure my pencil was perfectly lined up on my desk, fix my stack of papers, and try to make my little fifth grade friends say “she’s such a perfectionist!” Because inside, I didn’t understand why I would care that much about a spelling test but have a messy desk and a stack of incompletes. Things about who I was were already not making sense to me, but I wouldn’t put all the pieces together for a few more years.

An eight grader with a fixed mindset tackles algebra 1

After a cross country move from the east coast to a remote portion of northern Minnesota, I jumped into all the advanced placement high school courses because I’m smart, joined volleyball, and made new friends.

I felt successful at all new things until I started that blasted math course. I struggled all year through algebra 1, staying afterward every day for extra help and running home to get more help from my patient mother. I was devastated that all my studying and hours of hard work only produced C+/B- grades. I was shaken and at that point, classified myself as permanently “bad at math.” (photo of me celebrating graduating from Calculus. I did it! But in Algebra 1 it seemed impossible!)

A fixed mindset and an epic voice crack

I developed a beautiful singing voice early in life and immediately found a reputation for being a natural talent. I began singing in public and always got perfect scores or left people with an emotional impact. Of course I did! It was who I was, right? I was a natural talent who just blew people away without even trying. And then there was the year my vocal coach forced me to sing the song “I wonder as I wander” for the holidays. I already loathed the song, but it was such a tough song to perform. On top of just adding it to my weekly repertoire, she required me to perform it in public.

So, I scheduled myself to sing it at my church. As a kind of awkward 11th grader, I got all dressed up, practiced secretly (no one could know that I needed to practice!!), and then got up in church to sing it. My crush was there-I HAD to nail it! But alas, on the final phrase of the song, as I belted “I wonder as I Waaaaaaahn-DERRRRRR…” my voice cracked approximately 3 octaves. In front of my crush.

My identity as a musical savant was crushed and that guy was probably laughing at me, right? Oh girl, I wish I could have given myself another little side hug and said “loosen up and laugh! That was legit funny!” But I wasn’t laughing because everything I believed about myself was again shaken. Isn’t that sad?

From that point on, I didn't understand how to view my musical skill and felt deeply conflicted about spending any more time on it because this one incident publicly betrayed who I thought I was.

Are you starting to sense a theme here? I'd glide on my natural skills until I reached their limits and needed effort. But effort was an admission of failure, so it was off limits. So I'd fail at something and be shaken, scrambling to re-identify myself. 

Little did I know that I’d already boxed myself into a mindset so riddled with limits that years later I’d wake up each day with anxiety, devastated yet again with the feeling that I was deeply unsuccessful and letting down everyone I loved most. It wasn't until I experienced a series of devastating personal losses that I recognized this mindset and began seeking change. And though it's going to be raw, I cannot wait to share that part of my story. Because now, I see beauty in it!

Tell me below-what does "mindset" mean to you? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Welcome to the Successful Creative!

Welcome to The Successful Creative, a place where we can walk the journey together of monetizing your creative passion, learning to strengthen our mindsets, and think and dream bigger.

My story learning to be a successful creative

Hi! My name is Stephanie and I'm so glad you're here! I am launching this blog as a result of five years of hard work, learning curves, and growth as a wedding photographer. I'm at a point in my journey where I recognize that my love of teaching coupled with my experience running a business could encourage and serve others on their journeys. Here's a bit about my story:

Matching my natural skills with a job description

I grew up with a penchant for teaching. I would collect all the kids in my neighborhood and lead them on wild expeditions, I would “play teacher” and I would “teach gymnastics classes.” (I can't even do a cartwheel...I don't know how I got my friends to attend gymnastics classes!!) Whatever I learned, I wanted to share with the kids in the neighborhood...even if I wasn't an expert. Becoming an elementary teacher seemed like a natural progression of my life’s narrative, right?

After college, I had two interesting jobs: I was a crisis and trauma counselor for college aged girls for several years and then I taught elementary school. Each job ignited my desire to connect with others, encourage them, and teach them.

Pretty soon, however my natural intuition for connecting with people, drawing out their best assets, and then teaching them, was crowded out by paperwork, school politics, test results, and scripted, unimaginative plans (hey, my ideal reading lessons involved building trees in my classroom. Worksheets? notsomuch) I felt suffocated and wondered if I’d ever actually do the thing I loved: teaching.

Jumping into small business ownership

During this time, I met my now husband, Stephen. By the time we got married, he had trained me well and added me to his photography business. So as a newlywed, I jumped headfirst into helping someone with their business. I was thrilled to encourage him, believe in him and troubleshoot HIS business for a few months until I realized he viewed it as OUR business. As soon as I had skin in the game, I began backpedaling REAL quick. I was filled with intense fear, self-doubt, hurts, and a scarcity driven mindset leaving me feeling desperate with each new business hurdle.

Over the next few years, I had to work through some major mindset issues, anxieties, and recalibrate my view of myself, my purpose, and my life’s calling. Along the way, I found that there were elements to running a business that I was naturally adept at. There were elements that tapped into my desire to connect with others as well as my penchant for being a bit of a pipe dreamer. But no matter how big I dreamed, my fears and mindset issues were like concrete blocks around my feet. I couldn't actually go anywhere!

But, God knew where I was and as I prayed for change, He sent me on a journey of change that I look forward to sharing with you soon.

Running a business through roadblocks

One of my first roadblocks was a really simple one-dealing with opposition. I think the first thing that appealed to me about wedding photography was the affirmation! I mean, I picked up a camera and people were praising me and throwing money at me. Wow, it felt kind of addicting! I think I may not be the only one who began her journey with the addiction to affirmation!

But reality quickly set in when we experienced our first bit of opposition-someone questioning our value instead of throwing money at us, someone stating that they weren’t happy with the experience we provided instead of just gleefully praising my skills. All of a sudden, things got really real and I had to determine if I was going to continue to live for affirmation or if I was going to build a business that rose above opposition to achieve greatness. 

What is a successful creative?

Chances are that you’re here because you like the idea of being a successful creative. You want to be successful and you yearn to create new things. But you may feel like you have one or the other right now. You may even be in the place of experiencing your first bit of opposition in a journey that’s been filled with affirmation. If that’s you, I want you to know that you’re not alone. What you’re going through is one of your biggest tests to determine how serious you are about being a successful creative. I believe you have what it takes. And where you feel weak, I have you covered. 

With each growing pain I experienced, I wrote about it, asked myself “what tools do I wish I had while going through this?” and then I created them for you! So you can expect this to be a place where you can find resources to help you on your journey to building a profitable business.

I plan to serve you really great, honest content on this blog and via email because I believe that the journey I’ve been on has taught me deep and powerful lessons about how to run a profitable creative business and I want to share that with you.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more of my story and I’d love to know about yours. Comment below and let us know what do you do and what are you proud of in your business? Brag on yourself and let us cheer you on!