What I Learned From a Postpartum Trip to Washington

December 11, 2017
Postpartum Trip

This is me in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2015, two months after having my son.

We were in Washington, D.C. for a weeklong conference my husband had for work.

I was excited for our trip, but I had no idea that it would temporarily launch me into levels of self-consciousness I never knew existed.

Perhaps I should have known.

There’s a recurring theme in television shows and movies of strong characters who go to Washington, are completely torn down, and then entirely re-made into better, stronger versions of themselves before leaving.

I mean, if Leslie Knope and Elle Woods could be chewed up and spit out in their first days there, why wouldn’t it happen to me too?

I had always wanted to visit Washington. Having gone through law school and been a generally civic-minded person, I was always fascinated by the goings on of our nation’s capital.

Postpartum Trip
We visited while I was still on maternity leave. Our son was just 8 or 9 weeks old, and I was just as far into my new life as a mom.

To say it was a time of transition would be an understatement. As typically happens when you have a baby, worlds were rocked, and at this point, I was still learning who I was in this new role of mine.

Since I was still on maternity leave, I felt completely removed from my life as a lawyer.

Even though a four month leave is just a blip on the radar in the grand scheme of things, at the time it felt like a yawning chasm.

I was happy to be on leave, to be sure. I just had no idea how to unite my worlds as mom and professional just yet.

I’d learn soon enough, and achieve great things as a direct result of being a working mom, but I didn’t know that yet.

That day, as we endlessly trod the National Mall and surrounding areas, I felt increasingly self-conscious.

Everywhere we went, we passed professionals young and old. Women in pressed skirts and heels with official badges hanging from their blouses.

Interns and employees of the White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

Postpartum Trip
It was clear that we were among Very Important People.

It wasn’t that long before that I too had been (or at least felt like) a Very Important Person.

Throughout law school and early in my career, I too had borne the visible markings of success – the nice clothes, the chic accessories, the swipe passes to high security buildings, and the company of others who enjoyed the same privileges.

I sat in coveted offices sharing in responsibilities that, at times, far exceeded my knowledge and experience.

Of course, I knew that jobs and clothes and titles weren’t the things that made people valuable. I understood then just as I understand now that we all have intrinsic value that can’t be defined by our worldly roles and possessions.

But all of that was on hold as we navigated the sites of the nation’s capital. I was a brand new mom, still carrying the weight of new motherhood, socially, mentally, and physically.

My walking sneakers and mom jeans outed me as a mom just as much as the stroller I pushed.

I remember wondering as we weaved in and out of the crowds on the busy streets of D.C. – could anyone tell that I was more than just a mom?

The divide between my past and present life had never been clearer.

I was completely in love with my son, of course, and I cherished taking him to the important museums and monuments I had always admired from afar.

I was aware that, in a way, these were my first attempts to unite my pre and post-baby self.

Still, I couldn’t shake the feelings of insecurity, the odd juxtaposition of memories from the past and the experiences of the present.

Near the end of the day, we finally made it to the Supreme Court. I was determined to see it, despite the fact that my husband and I had been walking for some 8 hours and were getting tired.

Postpartum Trip
We posed as a family and I took some photos of my husband and son, and then I asked my husband to take one of just me.

I knew I didn’t look or feel my best, but I wanted the memory. I wanted to remember the experience.

After all, new mom or not, I was still me.

After looking at the photos my husband took, I realized that I looked genuinely happy.

And I was. I was in a place I revered with a new little family I loved. I was finding ways to reunite my personal and professional identities.

In that moment, I was able to shake off much of the self-consciousness I had felt throughout the day.

I still had so much to learn about who I was as a mother and as a professional, but this was a start.

When I returned to work in July 2015, just two months after our trip, I remember walking downtown on my lunch break, wearing my nice shoes, and looking more or less put together, and wondering – can anyone tell that I’m a mom?

And I hoped so much that they could.

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