1. Tell us about your background and a little bit about who you are?
I grew up in the Connecticut suburbs, not far from Manhattan, where I was born. I attended public schools and had a pretty conventional blue-collar upbringing. From a pretty young age, I dreamt of launching my own clothing line. And, I have the teeny homemade business card to prove it, which reads: “Nicole’s Fashions Inc.” Magazines were a big part of my inspiration, and I made collages on my bedroom floor every weekend. I had a binder of my favorite advertisements, and moved on to study copywriting, media, and communications in college.
My mom left her career in the garment district when I was born, even though she was up for a big promotion. After I became a mother, I came to understand how difficult that choice must have been for her, and though we lived more simply than my peers, it meant so much to me that she chose to be home with us. I knew it was something I wanted for my own children, and I was lucky enough to find a man who believed in me and supported my choice, even at a financial cost to our family.
We got married the month before I turned 21, right smack in the middle of the recession, when talented college grads couldn’t find work. Luckily, my husband could take active duty assignments in the Air Force, instead of unemployment stipends because he is a Reservist. We moved around a lot because traditional jobs were pretty scarce. So, we bounced from one short-term assignment to another, starting in Massachusetts, then Texas, to Washington DC, and back to my home state of Connecticut. I dropped out of college right before we left for duty, with one year left, because I couldn’t imagine living apart from my husband to finish my degree. During that time, I started a fashion blog on tumblr called “The City Girl in Me,” freelanced as a makeup artist, and worked in retail— ranging from Gap to Saks Fifth Avenue.
After returning to the New York metro area, I transitioned my career to the fashion industry. And, soon after that, I became the Beauty Editor of Verily Magazine, when it was just starting out. It was very exciting to work on those first print issues, and then see them for sale on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. After my daughter was born in 2014, I left the magazine and became a stay-at-home mom.
2. What do you find most fulfilling about motherhood? the most challenging?
I am fulfilled by my job as a mother in many ways. After struggling with fertility early in our marriage, I feel privileged to have children of my own. From the early moments of my pregnancy with my daughter, I learned the power women have in creating and nurturing new life. It fascinated me. I became heavily interested in how my lifestyle affected my pregnancy after battling gestational diabetes and gaining 60 pounds of weight. Learning about health and nutrition propelled my purpose as a mother because my job is to not only care for the material and spiritual needs of my children, but also their physical and emotional needs as well.
My fulfillment comes from raising these children in the best way I currently know how. I read a lot of books. I listen to a lot of podcasts about wellness, faith, and raising children. We have really beautiful moments paired next to extremely difficult ones. That was hard to get used to, especially for someone like me who enjoys an even keel. To be honest, I’m not completely used to it, yet! I see how motherhood had stretched me far beyond my comfort zone, and because of that, I have been able to love my family more deeply. You don’t realize how self-centered you are until you have to give yourself physically and emotionally to an infant. When you can love your child, and love yourself even though your flaws become much more apparent (hello sleep deprivation!), you see the salvation that comes through motherhood. It has purified my intentions, shown me true unconditional love that no adult can express, and shown me how strong I am.
3. What does motherhood look like for your right now? what do you love about where you are? what would you change?
Right now, motherhood is raising and homeschooling a bright 4.5 year old girl, while taking care of a 10 month old baby boy, who has some health challenges. We used to live in the suburbs of Northern Virginia the past few years. But, with my husband’s commute taking two hours each way, and frequent doctor visits for my son in Washington DC, we chose to move into The District. We downsized our living space by half and, as a result, spend a lot more time together as a family.
Being in a city has gleaned so many benefits for us, aside from a short commute. We love being part of a city neighborhood, which truly is a wonderful community. We love spending weekends wandering around museums, parks, and coffee shops. Most of all, we love knowing Daddy is only 20 minutes away. With a smaller space, we’ve had to be much more organized and intentional with what we keep in our home, but it has granted us a freedom from attachment, and you can’t put a price on that.
It has been difficult on rainy days to get out. But, buying some good rain gear has really helped. I don’t think most people realize that when you live in a city, you spend a ton of time outdoors, so heavy duty boots and coats are extremely important. We also had the learning curve, after multiple scraped knees, that a first aid kit has to always be in my bag.
The term “shlepping” is no joke. When you have kids, you end up bringing a lot of stuff when you go out, and our stroller is basically our car. I’ve had to get comfortable changing my son’s diaper in public bathrooms (I wipe down the entire thing with Clorox wipes before laying down his changing pad), and come to terms with the fact that my germaphobe tendencies cannot prevent us from getting sick.
When you love where you live, and you have fulfillment in your vocation, whatever that looks like for your family— working away from home, in the home, etc.— you can roll with the punches. The hard days still propel your heart toward growth when you know you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.
4. How have you incorporated motherhood into your identity without losing your own individuality?
I’m a pretty independent person in most ways, and that quality has helped me to retain who I am, while also becoming a mother. My interest in personal style, beauty, and writing has been my outlet for creativity. Getting dressed or doing my makeup is how I express myself. When you create something, it is an action in and ofitself that expresses your individuality. It’s important for our children to see us creating, because it teaches them how to do that for themselves. Our hobbies, and the desire to challenge ourselves, helps us grow as we navigate failures and achievements.
Now that I am a mother, I had to figure out how to make time for myself, and how that looks different, compared with before, when I had 4-6 hours after my workday to do anything I pleased. Truth be told, young children don’t care what we look like, so long as we care for their needs. But over time, they observe how we treat ourselves, and they will hold onto that as they uncover their identity. I never want my kids to neglect what is important to them in the name of checking off a to-do list. So, for me, it’s important that I get dressed in an outfit that gives me confidence, even if it takes 10 minutes away from something else I could be doing. There is always something that we “could” be doing, right? Our work never ends! Children observe everything we do, and consistency is what they look for to learn balanced structure and healthy boundaries. So, if I want to teach my son and daughter to hold on to who they are, no matter where they are, I have to model that. Some days, it’s much easier to stay in and not have to carry bags and use public bathrooms. Some days, it’s a lot easier to wear my pajamas for the whole day and neglect the chores. But, 90% of the time, I push myself to get dressed and to get out, because with even small sacrifices, we receive grace.
5. What advice would you give women who are considering/desiring motherhood?
I know there are many women who desire to be a mother, and it has not yet happened for them. That is a tough burden, and I know it well. I used to well up with tears if a passing baby smiled at me. I desired children from a very young age, and have always been maternal with my friends and family.
To those women, I say, no not lose hope. Hope is what carries us through. I did not know if I would ever have children, especially because our first baby was a miscarriage. That was a very difficult time for me and for my marriage. For a time, I resigned myself to the idea that we might never have kids and that caused bitterness. I had to learn how to trust God after feeling like he punished me. With spiritual direction, and a lot of love and support from friends and family, I was able to hope again, without attachment to the result. I found peace just living in the present moment, and trying to be my best self in that moment. That journey caused me to develop myself in mind, body, and soul. Unknowingly, I unlocked knowledge that healed my fertility, and I was able to have my daughter, then 3 years later, my son. Both of their pregnancies were difficult. And I have to say, you start that Mom-Worry as soon as you think you missed your period. Then you keep worrying: about their birth, if they will breastfeed, if they will sleep through the night, if they will make friends, if they will succeed.
My advice for women who desire motherhood is to pursue your dreams. Travel. Work hard. Take every opportunity you can to learn, find your purpose, and don’t beat yourself up for failures. Use your failures as a step ladder. Learn how to love yourself and your flaws. Learn how to be a good friend. My only regret is that I spent many nights idle. I didn’t know what I know now, and I accept that, but I do wish I spent a few of those nights doing the things I dreamed about. Those dreams are still inside me, only now I have much less free time during the day to accomplish what I hope to share with the world. Despite my lack of free time, I am grateful for every dish I clean and load of laundry I wash, because that means my home has mouths to feed and bodies that play. And one day I will long for these years of holding a heavy, sleeping baby on my chest, or playing I Spy on a walk home. I choke up just thinking of it. I have to remind myself not to get caught up in the dirty diapers of it all, and embrace the ebb and flow of joyful and challenging days. Being a mother is a privilege, and I never want to take it for granted.
Nicole M. Caruso has a lifestyle blog, nicolemcaruso.com, with expert style and beauty advice, tips on healthy living, and reflections on marriage and motherhood.