Anne Fulenwider’s Parental Guidance
“I am kind of a Type A, competitive achiever, who really loves getting the A...and that doesn’t exist [in motherhood].”
Anne Fulenwider. Full time badass, mother, and wife. Oh, and did I mention Editor-in-Chief of Marie Claire? Yes, that Anne. She’s a mom of two. Has great friends. Edits one of our favorite mags.
What I’m getting at here, is that Anne is just really cool, and she’s kind of goals. And Anne, one of our personal superheroes, is also totally and completely, 100%, without-a-doubt “normal.” Just like you, just like me. So you may be surprised to hear that she suffered from PPD, but didn’t figure it out until much later. Or that despite her strong network of womenfolk, she felt like no one prepared her for what motherhood was really like. That’s a big reason why Anne wanted to share her story, her advice, and the moments she doesn’t always get a chance to articulate with the Is This Normal community of parents.
To set the stage: prior to settling into her current role at Marie Claire, Anne spent a year as Editor-in-Chief at Brides, and a decade at Vanity Fair as the senior articles editor. With a killer background in journalism, Anne made her way into the fashion world one piece at a time, and she has won numerous awards along the way. And at the same time as she was making waves in fashion, Anne was also discovering exactly how having a baby would fit into her New York lifestyle and goals professionally: “How are we going to do it? How are we going to fit this into our lives? I don’t understand, what would our morning look like?” says Anne. “How would we get our kid to daycare?”
The amazing career that she built for herself was one part of her life, and now she was going to fit children into the equation. And Anne didn’t have any personal experience to draw from. “I didn’t have the model, for what a working mom looked like, blueprinted in my brain,” says Anne, when speaking about her own childhood. “I thought, I simply don’t know how to do it.”
BECOMING A MOM: I HAD THIS OVERWHELMING FEELING NOBODY TELLS YOU ANYTHING
When we had a chance to sit down with Anne and talk candidly about everything from internet mommy forums to the realities of mom guilt, one of the first things we agreed on is that there is no real warning system for new moms. Although Anne had her own mother to lean on, as well as a great group of girlfriends, she admitted that she was still shocked by the truths of having a newborn. “I am so relieved that you’re doing this,” Anne says. “When I had my kids 10, 12 years ago, I just got this…overwhelming feeling that nobody tells you anything, even my best friends, my mom, please I trusted!”
A list of post-pregnancy surprises would stretch a mile long, but just consider a few of the big ones: weeks of bleeding, sore nipples, and even that c-section incision that will. not. stop. itching. “Once you’ve been to the other side of childbirth and you have the baby, I’d call those people and be like- Wait! Breastfeeding really hurts…you didn’t tell me…. I thought I had really good girlfriends and really good relationships with people who had been moms… but it’s almost like there is this secret cabal of people who have this information who don’t share it with you until you get to the other side.”
POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION, UNDIAGNOSED
“After my first child, I am pretty sure I had undiagnosed postpartum depression.”
Even with a strong community. Even with a supportive spouse. Even with the easiest baby. Postpartum depression does not differentiate. A solid nine months after giving birth, she started to connect that maybe what she had felt wasn’t just the typical postpartum hormonal shift. She recalls the moment where she heard PPD described by Brooke Shields, and it all just clicked. “She felt like there was a sheet of rain coming down,” Anne recalls. “And had I been able to talk to more people about that, I would have realized it sooner.”
Anne is the epitome of put together, so learning that she had gone through something so raw and real puts the lack of awareness and conversation around PPD into perspective for us. Anne sums it all up when she talks about how she originally mis-attributed something as serious as postpartum depression to just baby blues. Before her personal experience, she was taught that PPD had to be more intense for it to be something you seek help for. And at all of the OB-GYN visits women attend post birth, we are usually only asked if we are experiencing the extreme aspects of PPD. However, it can be the “softer edges,” explained Anne, that also have an effect. “It’s definitely like- oh this is just what having a baby is! This is hormonal…you don’t articulate to yourself. And you are just so busy, the minute you have any time to reflect, you’d rather just sleep.”
ON MOM GUILT AND ‘ACHIEVEMENT’ AS A PARENT
As if there isn’t already enough going on in the life of a new mom. Your entire world has just changed, and then, piece by piece, the doubt starts to creep in. Am I doing enough tummy time? Should I only be buying organic cotton? Why will this creature only sleep in my bed? Anne seemed to get it. She knows exactly how the pressure to be the very best can cause harm in the end. “There is a tremendous amount of pressure on…new moms and mothers in terms of the judgement that people have, however you are doing it,” Anne says. “And the pressure we put on ourselves.” And since everyone seems to have an opinion on how to raise other people’s kids, the pressure isn’t just in your head. We know first hand it can often feel like we are parenting with an audience. A social media audience… that isn’t very forgiving when it comes to missteps.
Anne’s advice? Remind yourself that, “you can’t do everything perfectly all the time.” And there’s more to it. Even though it can feel like it, parenting isn’t a sport. However, Anne’s naturally ambitious personality sometimes caused her to struggle – something a lot of us can relate to. “I am kind of a Type A, competitive achiever, who really loves getting the A, or the gold star, or the mark of approval, and that doesn’t exist [in motherhood],” says Anne. “I think that is the biggest shock.” Anne had to learn that lesson while in the throes of parenting, and it was a sentiment that took her some time to fully understand. But now, she explains, she is aware of how everything tends to balance out – and we can take a note from this approach: “Some days I have really good days at work and I do a so-so job at being a mom,” Anne explained, “and some days I really have great mom days, and I give less than my all at work…but overall I love my career and I love my family and I’m doing the best I can.”
In the end: “It’s just a process. It’s a new way of living your life…It took me years to get it…there is no end goal,” says Anne. “There is no touchdown.”
SHARING OUR STORIES
“I think what you are doing is great. Creating Community. Hearing other women’s stories…and the more we can tell different stories, the more people can recognize themselves and feel more comfortable about where they are,” says Anne.
Women lifting up women, in part through the telling of their own stories, can help alleviate the tribulations that come with being a new mom. The mission is to find that friend who will listen to you, share without judgement, and give advice (preferably when asked). Another mom who will understand your journey and weave her story into yours. And, according to Anne, there is one very specific type of friend that you should always look out for. When discussing her secrets to surviving the early years, Anne let us know about something that helped her get through potty training, colic, and the dreaded green diaper.
“My biggest advice to all new moms is just find the person who is a week ahead of you, because they are the ones who know exactly what you are going through,” Anne suggests.
MOM + EDITOR-IN-CHIEF SAYS ‘SWIM WITH THE CHAOS’
If you are anything like me, you probably struggled to imagine how life would really change after having a newborn. The tiny revolutions that could pop up, implausibly, to remind you that your world may never feel the same. Like, will I ever get to go out to brunch again? Am I going to lose my identity? How the heck do I balance being a mom and having a career? Not surprisingly, Anne felt the same kind of uncertainties. “I thought — I simply don’t know how to do it.”
“What I looked to was the professional women ahead of me in my career… they were really my role models. I thought, if she can do it, I can do it…It was really learn by example, and it was invaluable, some of them are still in my life,” says Anne. “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it, including being a working mom.”
But as you will know by this point in the post, Anne has figured it out and for her, having both work and family helps her reframe things when something doesn’t go quite right in either domain. If it’s a “failure” at work, she tells us, then when you walk into the door at home and see your kids that failure seems a lot less important: “For me, having both in my life, gives me perspective,” she shares. “And you don’t have to figure out all the really complex stuff until later, although to be honest, it’s all complex when you are starting out.”
She added that we need to all learn to “Swim with the chaos…You’re never going to get to the golden beautiful field where everything is normal and neat.”
In other words, let go of perfection and the concept of “achievement” when it comes to parenting. A messy apartment? A shirt with a stain? Yes #ThisIsNormal.