Happy Thursday, Mamas! This week's #MamaNextDoor is Sheena Selvey-Watterson. Sheena is a mama of two little boys, wife and a BRCA2+ previvor. A previvor is a survivor of predisposition or increased risk for a disease such a cancer—Angelina Jolie is a famous previvor. On her blog Diapers and Passports, Sheena shares her passion for breast and ovarian cancer research and support, as well as her family's adventures and lifestyle. I hope you'll love getting to know this incredibly brave and inspiring Chicago mama!
Tell me a bit about yourself before you became a mother, and how did you change after becoming a mother?
Before I became a mother, my "kids" were my students. I was a special education teacher and behavior coach in schools. A big part of my job was teaching students to advocate for themselves. While I no longer work directly in the classroom, I continue to work in special education. A big part of my journey to motherhood was finding out that I am BRCA2+ (fun fact: everyone has the BRCA 1/2 genes, but some of us are born with mutated genes that make it harder for our bodies to fight off cancer). Before my husband and I began the IVF process to conceive our first son, I underwent a preventative double mastectomy. I have been very outspoken about my experience in the hopes that other high-risk women will know they are not alone, and I volunteer as a mentor angel through Imerman's Angels. After becoming a mother, advocacy is still very important to me and a big part of who I am, but now it's not just advocating for others or teaching them to advocate for themselves, it's also about teaching those skills to my children.
I also grew up loving music, dance, and traveling. My mother is from South Korea, and we used to travel there to visit her family. In high school, I had an amazing opportunity to play in an orchestra that toured Germany and Austria, and I took every chance to travel, including studying abroad in college. I was lucky to marry someone who loves to travel as much as I do, and it was something we wanted to continue to do after we had kids. Our older son’s first trip was to Italy. The pandemic has put a bit of a wrench in our travel plans, but we’re looking forward to the time we can start seeing the world again.
What does your absolute dream version of motherhood look like?
A lot more sleep! Just kidding...kind of. My dream version of motherhood would be for my children to grow up happy and confident in who they are while also being kind, respectful, and accepting of others that may be different from them.
What societal or cultural messages about motherhood frustrate you and how would you like to see them changed?
While there has been a lot of movement with the #fedisbest movement, I wish that women didn’t have to explain their feeding journey. I think breastfeeding is a wonderful option, but it can be hard and isn't for everyone and some of us don't have the option. Many mastectomy patients grieve the inability to breastfeed our children. This was very much my reality during my first pregnancy. I was anxious about any questions or conversations related to breastfeeding versus bottle feeding, and that it would just be a daily reminder that this was not an experience I would get to have with my son. With the birth of my second son, I was more comfortable with the questions and had a beautiful sign made by a fellow mastectomy mom that I was able to proudly display in my hospital room. I am grateful to even have this opportunity to share my story with a breastfeeding company that clearly embraces all walks of motherhood.
What do you do well? What really works for you? Do you have a secret? Your mom super power?
What works well? Wine...and lots of it. Also, co-regulation! Co-regulation is a big part of motherhood...we soothe our babies when they cry, we hug our kids when they've had a bad dream, etc. It’s a supportive way to model emotional regulation for our kids often by regulating with them. While it can be hard to watch our kids struggle, emotions are part of our daily lives and I love being able to support my boys in navigating those emotions. My job for so many years was teaching kids emotional regulation and coping skills, and now I get to teach it to my own kids.
How do you take care of yourself? How do you deal with mom guilt?
My husband and I are very lucky to have our family and close friends nearby, and they are always willing to help out. I rely heavily on my village: texts, phone calls, nights out. There's a wonderful video by Brené Brown on empathy. Throughout the video she explains that when someone is going through a challenging experience or situation, it's not the words or response that make the situation better, but connection. There's the famous saying: "It takes a village to raise a child," but it also takes a village to uplift a mother. Connection with my village is my self-care.
What’s a topic related to motherhood, or life after becoming a mother, that you wish we talked about more?
Mental health and wellbeing. So much focus is placed on the care of the newborn, that sometimes we forget about the mother. Becoming a mother is such a wonderful blessing, but it doesn’t mean it’s always easy. So many women are afraid or embarrassed to talk about their emotional struggles or postpartum mood disorders. I'd love for the stigma around mental health to disappear, so women could reach out for support and know they're not alone.