From red lips to pacifiers

Mommy Issues

I am a 23-year-old senior majoring in media studies. I transferred to Berkeley last year from a community college in Los Angeles. And though I may seem like a regular transfer student, I am far from it.

When I was 19, I got pregnant. At 20, I gave birth to my baby boy. 3 months after giving birth, I returned to my community college, and one year later, I received the acceptance letter from UC Berkeley. No one thought I would be able to study while raising a kid, especially because neither my parents nor my in-laws live in America, but I did it. And when I did, it felt like nothing could get in my way of happiness — I had a beautiful son and had gained admission to one of the most prestigious public colleges in the U.S.

Motherhood is so amazingly beautiful that sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve it. But I’m not going to lie — there are drawbacks.

People ask me: “Isn’t it hard to raise a kid while going to school?” I usually reply with the textbook answer: “It’s tiring but manageable,” because it’s just too tedious to list all the “hard” moments of being a student-parent, such as waking up at 6:30 a.m. every day (including weekends) to a slap in the face by a toddler.

Or not being able to take a nap (just imagine!) after a long day at campus, having to cook two meals every single damn day no matter how much homework you have — and the list goes on.

So, instead of listing my mommy “issues” today, I want to present one issue that this mommy had — one that she was too embarrassed and ashamed to admit before. But here goes.

Somewhere along the path of becoming a mom, I completely and utterly gave up on my appearance.

When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize the person that I had become.  

I thought I looked hideously unattractive with my signature stretched-out T-shirt, sweatpants and bland face.

Like so many of my peers on campus, I, too, wanted to wear a cute miniskirt or a tight tank top, put on some makeup and just generally look nice.

But though I tried to dress up, it was incredibly difficult to do so.

For starters, my clothes didn’t fit, and I couldn’t seem to shed the last 10 pounds of weight I gained during pregnancy. I did not have the time or leisure to apply makeup; at any point of the day I either had school on my mind or a toddler clinging to my leg.

Finally, I decided not to waste money on buying my commodities, as it seemed like a waste if I wouldn’t be using them. Though this was my choice, I felt as if my circumstances had left me with no real options. I inadvertently blamed myself for not being financially secure and for not having time for my appearance.

I admit that I spent some time depressed and cranky about my current situation and that I couldn’t invest the time or money to pamper myself. There were even days when I blamed my innocent, sweet son for my all my personal and financial insecurities.

I was foolish enough to think that if I looked nice, I would feel nice as well.

All of this changed when I unexpectedly came across a picture that my husband had taken of my child and me.

I had probably just woken up when he took it — I had serious bed hair and puffy eyes. But I looked blissfully happy, smiling at my son while he grinned back at me.

In that moment, my heart filled with so many different emotions.

By society’s standards, I might have been more physically presentable before I’d had a baby. But internally, deep down, I was so much more joyous, confident, stable and pretty as a mom.

After this realization, how I looked did not lower my self-confidence. It didn’t matter, as I already had a strong sense of self-worth and values. Yes, I gained weight after giving birth, but I have much more energy now than before. Not having the time to apply makeup allows me to value my natural glow. And as for money problems, spending wisely will develop my ability to save up.

Before I became a mom, I did not leave the house without makeup on — and I’m not exaggerating. My makeup portrayed who I was to the world; it was part of what made me who I am. Eyebrows and eyeliner were on point, contact lenses were a must and, of course, red lips. I had a simple but sure sense of style: usually black jeans with a thin, see-through, overpriced T-shirt from Urban Outfitters or Free People.

Today, I usually roam around campus with my tied-up messy bun, makeup-free face, glasses and oversized, shabby clothes — and I love it. What defines me now is my proud title as a student-parent and my passions, not my physical attributes.

May Choi writes the Monday column on being a transfer student-parent. Contact her at [email protected] .