Jannelle Sanchez

It was four months after my daughter was born when…

I started to feel like I was losing myself. When I looked in the mirror, I no longer saw a bubbly, chatty woman, who lived to wear cute outfits and had enough energy to bake a new recipe after a full workday and three-hour commute.

Instead, I saw frizzy hair peeking out of a baseball cap, a T-shirt soaked with milk, and a person who barely had enough stamina to make it through the day with her baby, let alone do anything else. Dishes piled up in the sink. Laundry was scattered all over the bedroom floor. And the thought of spending 30 minutes doing my hair and makeup or putting together an outfit no longer sounded fun. It just sounded wasteful. Why use that precious time to make myself look presentable when I could catch up on sleep?

During my pregnancy, I was lucky enough to know a handful of new and seasoned moms who gave me pep talks for all the monumental moments. The excitement and intensity of labor. How to manage any postpartum depression, and how to make it through those sleepless newborn nights. They were even kind enough to prepare me for that scary first post-baby poop (two words: beet juice).

So, after nine months of hearing these motherhood secrets, I felt confident and ready. And during my first few months with Ella, we fell into a really good rhythm. We somehow both quickly caught onto breastfeeding. I learned how to change dirty diapers in the dark. And, thankfully, our family managed to weather those dreaded newborn nights without any major meltdowns. When Ella woke up during the early hours, we’d just chill in bed and watch a Disney movie until she drifted off to sleep.

I loved those first few months. They were tender and sweet, filled with the intoxicating smell of Dreft, milky baby breath and gentle snuggles.

But, one day, the new parent tasks started to feel monotonous. Sitting down to fold a mound of tiny baby clothes seemed overwhelming instead of charming. And the uncertainty of Ella’s sleep schedule drained me; waking up at 2 a.m. to watch Disney now felt stressful, not fun.

While I loved my new identity as a mom and the perks that come with it — soft coos, first smiles — I found myself missing my pre-baby days. Thinking back, I remembered my mom friends mentioning that there would be days when motherhood felt like a lot. But no one warned me about the stage when I’d miss my old life, and then feel guilty about missing that life.

So, four months into motherhood, I was struggling. But one day, while on a treasured solo run, I was listening to a favorite podcast, and the co-host Gabby said something clarifying:

“Everyone’s capacity is different… one of the things motherhood really does for some people is it really crystallizes your capacity. You get acquainted with what you are capable of in a given day, week, month, year. And there’s no capacity that’s the right capacity. There’s just your capacity.”

Instantly, I felt a huge weight lift off my chest. I realized that I, Jannelle Sanchez, was born with a certain capacity. An emotional capacity. A physical capacity. And a baby duty capacity. And that’s okay.

There will be some days when I can only handle slipping on a T-shirt and leggings, breastfeeding and changing diapers. And there will be other days when I can do all the above, and also have the capacity to play eight rounds of peek-a-boo, put on a fresh face of makeup, and have a fun, adult conversation with my husband.

Seeing motherhood through the lens of capacity has brought peace and structure to my days. It has helped me stay grounded while I plan my weekly tasks. It has taught me how to be honest with myself — to check-in with my mind and body — and realize when I need to take a break or ask for help. And it has helped me be kinder to myself. When I see another mom on Instagram or in the store, who seems to be engaging with her children, thriving in her career and looking like a snack, I remind myself that 1) we all have different capacities at different times, and that’s okay, and 2) she might be struggling, too.

After one year of parenting, I still have some days when everything feels out of balance. But I’ve seen my capacity grow, and I now have space to do hobbies that help me feel like myself. Like dress Ella and myself in fun outfits. And take on projects that are close to my heart, like joining the Cup of Jo team. And even spontaneously bake fluffy cakes on weeknights. And that gives me hope.

Jannelle Sanchez

How about you? I’d love to hear what your capacity is for parenting or life right now, and how you’re doing handling it all.

P.S. A great book for new parents, and Joanna’s motherhood phrase.