Sara Sherlock: Motherhood in the Time of Quarantine

QC contributor Anna Marwin chats with Sara Sherlock, a new mother and established fitness figure in Syracuse, NY. The two discuss the journey from bikini competitor to new mom, being kind to our bodies, and the habit changes that occur when things beyond our power (looking at you, COVID-19) interrupt our daily routines.

Sara Sherlock with baby Rowan. Photo provided.

ANNA: Hi Sara! Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for Qween City!

And by extension, thank you to little Rowan, because I’m going to ask you about him as well. Firstly, congratulations on your new motherhood. I’ll start by asking you an impossible question: What’s it like? Everything you expected? Harder? Easier?

SARA: I want to be as honest as possible and the honest answers aren’t always the prettiest. Motherhood is so much harder than I expected. Mainly in part because the honest answers aren’t always talked about out of fear of judgment, perhaps. I thought I was prepared. I have always wanted to be a mother; I even called my younger brother my baby when I was little! I grew up babysitting, nannying, I worked in a school. If there was anyone that knew kids, it was me and yet I still felt blindsided by the intensity and the difficulties of motherhood.

But then there’s the love, which EVERYONE does talk about, but I could not have been prepared for the magnitude of it, either. You hear all about it — the greatest love you’ll ever feel and it’s not until the moment your baby is placed on your chest do you know what that means. I somehow fall more in love with my son every single day.

A: That sounds incredible. From what I’ve seen on social media, you’ve been really transparent about your journey, and it should be noted that I’ve been following you since long before Baby Rowan was even a thought on the horizon. So, from general fitness, to bodybuilding and bikini competitions, to pregnancy and engagement, you’ve let your followers in on a lot of your journey. How has that changed in, say, the last five years? I know this is a loaded question, but in terms of body image, priorities, what you choose to share, etc.?

S: I have been fortunate in the sense that the following I have built has made me feel comfortable enough to let them in, over the course of many years, in so many aspects of my life; everywhere from bikini competitions, finding where my heart belongs, loving myself, and navigating the uncharted waters of motherhood. It’s been messy and raw, but I have made genuine, lifelong friendships over social media.

I think that being transparent online (and in real life!) creates a safe place for real connections and honest conversation to be shared. But, being an oversharer has its downfalls. You willingly choose to subject yourself to a level of scrutiny. It is inevitable that you will be judged on social media. As I’ve gotten older, I have become a little more protective of the things that matter most. And it’s not because I don’t WANT to share them with everyone, it’s selfishly because I want to enjoy them myself and be present in moments that don’t require validation online. For me, the positives far outweigh the negatives when it comes to sharing my truth on social media. I will continue to be an open book in hopes that others will do the same.

A: As the person I know you to be — a gym goer, a Target shopper, and a woman who values her close friendships, how have you been balancing the gym and being a mom, errands and being a mom, friendships and being a mom? How does one manage a social life or self-care when you perpetually have a little on one your hip?

S: The short answer is — I don’t always! Motherhood has quickly taught me that my needs and wants sometimes have to take the back burner to being the best mama.

Between Rowan and I, we have worked through some of our earlier challenges with the car seat and outings and he’s slowly begun appreciating Target runs and lunch dates almost as much as I do. Luckily, my friends have been patient and understanding during this transition. They recognize that, although I may not have the same amount of energy and flexibility to give to our friendship in this season, it won’t always be so limited. They continue to support me in new ways and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.

My relationship with the gym has unfortunately taken the biggest hit. But thanks to my fiancé (who works full time and is an incredible father and partner) I am able to get to the gym on the weekends. Although I am grateful, it has been a major change going from six days a week to hopefully two. I know the gym will always be there, but my baby will not always be a baby so it’s a sacrifice that comes as a no-brainer to me.

A: Makes a lot of sense! Now to get topical, has the spread of viruses and strains of the flu changed your habits at all? I think a lot of new mamas are already super vigilant so it’s possible you were already keeping things very clean and hand-washing frequently, but it’s said that gyms especially are an at-risk environment, and I imagine having a baby without a fully developed immune system, you could understandably get pretty worried about it. How have you been managing?

S: My habits have absolutely changed. I’m not one to panic, but we have taken what we are considering appropriate measures to ensure that we maintain optimal health in our family. Especially for Rowan. We are practicing social distancing and taking this time to spend quality time as a family at home.

Regardless of the severity that this virus could have on us on a personal level, we have a responsibility to do our part in minimizing the spread of it to others whose impact could be much more detrimental.

A: I absolutely agree. Do you think starting a family has made you more conscious of public health and social responsibility? Suddenly it seems everyone has an opinion, a plan, or what they believe to be an inside source, whether credible or not. Have you experienced any unsolicited parenting advice regarding the virus, or otherwise? How do you handle it?

S: Starting a family has definitely made me more conscious in many ways. Mainly because it’s not just about me anymore. I have a child who is solely dependent on me to ensure his well-being and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do to protect him. If there’s one thing I have gathered since becoming a parent, it’s that everyone has an opinion, yet not many have the credibility to back up their claims, and even fewer can speak to the needs of YOUR baby. Those who give advice undoubtedly come from a good place. They can give you advice based on their experience, but there’s no guarantee that the same advice will work for two different kids!

Take any and all advice with a grain of salt. Don’t stress about the way you think things SHOULD be done. Your baby will tell you exactly what they need from you. While sharing experiences and laughing at some of the insanity is necessary for moms, the truth is, we are all just fumbling around day to day doing the best we can for our littles.

A: Can you speak a little to how your body image has changed? Of course, not to focus on how women look, but I know it’s something that you’ve addressed before as having totally changed for you.

S: Ironically enough, I may have the greatest outlook on my body right now than I have ever had. Not because my body is perfect and without flaws, but because of what I have witnessed this body accomplish. I have been all over the board when it comes to the way I feel about my body. I was young and uninformed when I lost almost 40 lbs because all I wanted was to be skinny. To learning to accept healthy weight gain to build muscle and self-confidence and stepping on multiple OCB [Organization of Competitive Bodybuilders] stages, to most recently gaining 25 lbs to grow a human being. My body has not only brought a life into this world but has also been Rowan’s sole food source for the four months he’s been here. I feel proud and empowered to be able to say that. Sure, my body is a little softer and there are a few extra stretch marks, but of all the forms this body has taken, I admire this one most.

Sara Sherlock is a Care Manager in Syracuse, NY. She lives with her fiancé JR, son Rowan, two dogs, and enjoys spending time with her family, working out, and cooking/eating new food. She is passionate about the importance of creating a safe environment for discussions about postpartum anxiety and overall emotional wellness. You can follow her journey/read more of her thoughts on parenting and fitness here.