Hollie Stokes Photography Tulsa, Oklahoma
Family Documentary Photographer
I look at my hands and I see my mother’s hands. My mom is very youthful, but her hands are a dead giveaway to her age. It's reflective of who we are. We are providers and working women. When I look at my hands I definitely see that nurturing, selfless quality that my mother, my aunts and grandmother’s hands have. I think it’s easy to think you’re not a selfless, nurturing person, but in the last few years it’s definitely something I’ve learned about myself. I will do things for other people until I have nothing left to give. My son, Rockne, has given me the opportunity to be more selfless. I have to practice everyday--putting his needs before my own. Being his mom has allowed me to grow and given me qualities that I respect of the women in my family.
When I was really young, I was diagnosed with endometriosis. I was told at eighteen to prepare myself for the possibility that I wouldn't be able to have kids. So, early on, I started thinking about things like adoption because I thought I wouldn't be able to get pregnant. Then we got pregnant with Rockne so easily. I was shocked. I just remember feeling very, very grateful.
I don’t remember ever not wanting to be a mom. I don’t remember a time where there was a decision. I just sort of always knew I would be a mom.
I am glad I didn’t rush into starting a family. Not that I’m happy with all the decisions I made in my twenties, but I’m really glad I wasn’t making those decisions while I was also responsible for another person. At twenty I knew everything. I thought I had life figured out. I’m happy that I became a mom when I wasn't in the mentality of I know it all. You’ve heard that saying: I was a perfect parent before I had kids. I got to grow into the knowledge that I wasn’t going to know what I was doing all the time, and nobody else did either. We are probably going to **** it up, and that's okay.
We had a really great first year. A REALLY great first year. I’ve heard so often how hard the first twelve months are--how hellacious it can be. That wasn't my experience. I just thoroughly enjoyed that first year. I mean, all of the things that were hard about it didn't bother me. I felt really grounded. I don’t feel like that first year flew by me in a way that was foggy, and that I just survived it. I genuinely loved it! Even when it was difficult. Watching others go through the first year not enjoying it, and knowing how truly lucky I was to be experiencing it with my own child, made me want something different for myself.
Nighttime was mine and Rockne’s time. Ryon, my husband, has a sleep disorder so he doesn’t wake easily. I was nursing, but even if we bottle fed there would be no waking Ryon in the middle of the night for anything. So that was our time together. Rockne didn’t like to be rocked; he liked to be bounced. We had one of those big exercise balls, so I’d sit and bounce, with Rockne in a baby carrier, and watch TV for hours. I remember him crying and not being able to calm him down. I remember the exhaustion. I remember hours on end of West Wing. And I remember being very deliberate about my reaction. Instead of getting frustrated all I would think was: God, thank you. Thank you that I have a baby who's crying in the middle of the night and keeping me up. I just felt so grateful. Even when it was really hard, I would just immediately turn that into something to be thankful for. Grateful that I had the opportunity to be kept awake by a baby at two in the morning.
I had more postpartum anxiety than postpartum depression. It wasn't super bad, and it could have been much worse. I made the choice to be proactive. I had been on medication before I was pregnant because I had already been diagnosed with a mood disorder. Within six hours of birth I started back on meds. I didn’t experience post postpartum depression where you think of not bonding or not wanting to be around him. The issue I had was severe anxiety. It took a while to really manifest and for me to realize what was happening. It was right around summer. Rockne was six months old and this fear just grew inside of me that he was going to drown. He wasn’t swimming; he wasn't even near the water. I would be driving and get a full on physical panic attack that he was going to drown--two blocks from home, with him in the backseat. We were not anywhere near water. It would be the kind of thing where I would have to shake myself out of it because at that moment all I could see was this vision. It was so intense. That would happen to me ten to twenty times a day. It would most often happen when he was right next to me. I didn’t recognize it at first, I just thought it was a normal new mom worry. I was talking to a friend, who actually did not have kids, she said, Asia, I think this is postpartum depression. I replied, Huh, I think you’re right. It was that simple for me. Once I recognized it, I was just sort of able to move past it. But it took somebody saying I think what you’re experiencing is postpartum depression, for me to recognize it.
I have a tendency to get out of sorts. A support system is certainly crucial--I have a host of amazing friends and an incredible husband. But, when I’m in the mess, when I’m in the trenches--I will use my mom as a plumbline. I’ll ask myself, What would my mom do? I had a really unstable childhood, all things considered. But my mom was a constant. She was a rock. Even when things were bad, or things were chaotic, she had this ability to keep me from getting wrapped up in everything that was going on. She was shelter. She could make me feel safe and feel good, even in the middle of instability. I’m sure she had her moments, but in general my memory of her was that she stayed calm. She didn't let things take her somewhere that she couldn't reel herself back in from. I lean on my mom a lot, and I think the best thing that I can do when I’m having a hard day is try to re-engage that grateful posture. Try to turn the current meltdown, mess or chaos into a reason to be thankful. And honestly, on the harder days, I just countdown until bedtime.
As a family, my favorite time is Saturdays. That's the only day of the week that Ryon and I both have off. I do my best not to commit myself to things on Saturdays. If we do commit, it’s something that we can do together. That’s a day Ryon and I can both connect and that's vitally important to us. We both know that if we’re not strong together and we’re not doing well, then we’re not serving Rockne well. We have to be together and strong to be good for our son. It's important to me that he sees Ryon and I in a healthy marriage. We both come from divorced families. I want Rockne to know that our marriage is a priority for us. We both love him more than anything in the whole world. While this is true, I don’t want that to mean we lose sight of our marriage in exchange for raising him. I want our marriage to be first and for Rockne to learn about relationships from our example.
I want Rockne to think about other people. I never want him to think he’s the most important thing in the world in the sense that he matters more than other people do--on the human level. I want him to know he matters the most to me. And that he is more important than other people when it comes to me and his dad, but not out in the world. I don't want him to put himself before others. Right now, he’s very generous. So when I see him do kind things and react generously, I think, this is what we have to lock onto. This is what we have to encourage in him. Because he has a kind heart and I don't want that to ever change. I want for Ryon and I to nurture that in him. It starts with little everyday things so there is a foundation for kindness. You can't teach him to open the door for other people if he doesn't first understand that we think about other people. We want to encourage the heart and purpose behind a behavior, not create a robot. So that's something we think about and talk about a lot. One way we focus on his heart is by praying for our family and friends. Every night we get in bed and pray together. We first taught him to do that by asking him, Who are you thankful for?, and he would list people. So now, at three, he gets in bed and says his prayers on his own. We continue to engage him by asking the same question, Who are you thankful for?
I’m proud of Rockne. Is proud the right word? I’m impressed with him. I’m impressed that he is so observant and bright. He puts things together and does a lot of problem solving for a three year old. We enjoy watching him experiment and figure things out. But proud? I’m proud when he’s kind. It’s impressive that he’s smart. My heart bursts when he’s kind.
I want Rockne to know that this is my favorite thing I’ve ever done, be his mom. I want him to know that I get butterflies to this day when I pick him up from school. I just can’t wait to see his little face. I will tickle him until he can’t breath because I love his laugh so much.
I want him to feel and know that I am an endless source of love and support for him. That I am safe. I am a place where he can fail; I am a place where he can succeed. I’m a place where he can cry and be happy. I’m a place where he can tell me good things. I’m a place where he can be honest, even when that doesn’t feel good. I want him to know, there is nothing else that would superseed being his mom. It really goes without saying, my love for him has no conditions.