For our #WeAreWeCan campaign, we sat down with Syndey Burrington, age 27, to hear her story. Sydney says she always struggled with a sense of self-worth growing up. When she discovered she was unexpectedly pregnant with her son, she decided it was time to take control of her own destiny. Following the birth of her son, she struggled with postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, and breastfeeding. But thanks to help from a therapist, taking time to pursue her own passions, and learning to trust and believe in herself she emerged as a stronger and more confident woman and mother. Below, watch her emotional video below and read our conversation with Sydney to learn more about her story.
COULD YOU SHARE YOUR STORY WITH US AND TELL US ABOUT SOME OF YOUR STRUGGLES AS A WOMAN?
I had no idea it would take me getting pregnant out of wedlock (in a family with traditional Christian values) to realize I had no clue who I was. I grew up feeling second in almost everything. At the time, it seemed like I was just sort of brushing it off and I didn't really feel like it was taking a toll on me. I had just kind of accepted the title “not good enough.”
When I started to reach young adulthood, I began to feel totally lost. I had been cut from cheerleading just shy of my senior year in high school, cut from track after I bit it over my last hurdle at an away meet, and barely scraped by with a C- in pre-Calculus (I‘m serious, it was just enough to get me across the finish line). On top of this, I had exactly one friend. She will read this, and she will know I’m talking about her. We ate lunch in my mom’s office every day in high school.
When I got to college my troubles only worsened. I had expressed the desire to attend beauty school but it was quickly shut down. I remember exactly what my mom said to me: “Your feet will hurt every day and you won’t make any money.” So college it was. But I didn’t want to be there. I would enroll and drop out, and re-enroll and then drop out again. I continued to chase relationship after relationship (friendships and romantic), and they kept ending in shambles at my feet. I really believed that something was wrong with me. Sometimes I still do. I was trying to fit into the little box of who I thought I was supposed to be, but I kept falling out of it—each time leaving me with less and less of a sense of who I truly was. I began trying to outrun my own life, and keep up the mask of perfection just to bide my time.
In 2014, I moved from Austin, Texas to Fresno, California where I got a job at Costco and met my boyfriend, Paul. Our relationship moved quickly but I hadn’t felt like I was chasing him. We just got along. I would later go on to work at a private preschool, and in November of 2016 I found out I was pregnant. I wanted the test to be wrong, not because I didn’t think I would be a good mother—actually, I felt like I had failed so miserably at everything else in my life that the one thing I probably would do right was be a good mother—but because getting pregnant out of wedlock would force me to quit running. Most of my extended family hadn’t even heard we had moved in together, and now I was going to have to tell them I was pregnant. As terrifying as it was, it was also the most freeing time in my life. So I did what any normal 24-year-old scared newly-pregnant girl does and... I texted my mom the news! Then my dad. By morning our whole clan knew. And no one was ready to disown me. In fact, everyone rallied around me anticipating the arrival of our son.
It was new to me—showing up in the vulnerability of my imperfections. I was not married, not graduated from college, not even in college, not even sure what I would want to do if I did go back to college, but I was now going to be responsible for this new life, who would one day be faced with the same things I was facing. But I was determined to be perfect for him. Perfect. What did that even mean? I stocked up on MilkSnob nursing covers and had actual dreams of how blissful our breastfeeding journey would be. I imagined myself taking walks every morning at sunrise and taking him to the park just to lay in the grass and watch life happen around us.
My son’s birth hit me like a ton of bricks. I delivered him in a way that felt empowering to me. I had a mirror so I could see my progress, and I asked if I could pull him out. I was in Momma Bear Mode. As soon as he was on my chest something washed over me, though. I had a hard time getting him to latch onto my breast and there was so much going on around me that I immediately fell back into the “second place” mindset. “This can wait,” I remember telling myself. Forty-five minutes later, the nurse came over to me and scolded me because...yep, you guessed it, he wasn’t latched on. I was speechless. I had already screwed this up and it had been less than an hour. I couldn’t run from this one, though. So up went my mask again. I never asked another soul for help with breastfeeding and in the two days I was in the hospital I must have had 15 visitors. I look back at photos and I am not in a single one. From the second my son was brought into this world, I felt like I had something to prove.
I exclusively pumped for the first month and a half of his life. It was all I could muster, but it became lonely. I was pumping 10-15 ounces every two hours and my boyfriend and I were both exhausted. He would wake up in the night to feed, and I would pump. I could feel myself unraveling but didn’t really understand that I was unraveling. I thought it was just what happens when you become a mom. I would see these gorgeous photos of mothers out and about with their children, going on the daily walks I had dreamt of, intimately nursing with the same covers I had purchased—and it felt like work for me just to go take a shower. I will never forget the day I decided to stop pumping. I wrapped up my breasts in an ACE bandage and let them dry up the old fashioned way. As happy as I was to get my body back, I still wrestled with the internal guilt that I was failing at something that moms are supposed to be able to do. Why couldn’t I just get something right for once?
I began seeing a therapist shortly after my decision to formula feed. I was sitting on the couch one afternoon holding my precious baby, and a darkness came over me. I thought the exact words, “Maybe I’m not the best mom for him. Should I put him up for adoption?” I knew it was a lie, but the fact that my mind had the capacity to take me to such a scary place let me know this was more than baby blues or self-inflicted guilt over my decision to formula feed.
I expected my first day of therapy to go something like, “I’m so scared I’m going to be a bad mom!” And then my therapist would respond with, “Oh stop! You’re going to be a great mom!” It did not go like that. Going to therapy is the reason I am able to sit here and explain exactly what has shaped me into who I am. I had been relying on something for my entire life to give me a sense of identity. I didn’t even care if it made me happy, as long as it was just something I could be defined by. If it couldn’t be one thing, it would be another. When I became pregnant, I expected to fall into the “mother” identity. But I couldn’t even do that. And it wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough, or “second place” like I had convinced myself I was, but it was because I had no idea who I actually was as Sydney, the individual.
That's when I enrolled in beauty school. I would not quit this. My son deserved to have a mom who worked for what she wanted, and thrived in a career she loved—not a mom who let herself rot in her poor self-esteem and the weight of every mistake she’d ever made. This was the one thing I truly wanted all along. After completing 1,600 hours, I graduated. The first goal I set and achieved IN MY LIFE.
I took my state board exam a month later and in true Sydney fashion, the stand my doll head had to rest on, broke during the set-up. But while old second-place Sydney would have left crying and quit the exam, new first-place, knows-who-she-is Sydney finishes what she starts no matter what the outcome will be. I missed by 2 points and went back another month later. I passed. A California State Licensed Cosmetologist. Me.
I am currently working two jobs. I assist during the week for a highly-skilled stylist in my area where I am able to further my knowledge and skillset, and I rent a studio on the weekends where I take clients of my own. I move lighter, freer, and with more confidence knowing I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and working towards a career I am passionate about.
HOW DID YOU FIND STRENGTH AND SUPPORT THROUGH YOUR EXPERIENCE?
I found strength and support through finally asking for help. It's okay to not be okay, and no, your feelings are not something to put on hold and get to later.
DID YOU FIND SUPPORT OR ADVICE FROM OTHER WOMEN?
It has been huge for me to be surrounded by other working moms. It's so important to make connections because you will find that you are all more alike than you may think. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sitting down with a coworker or friend and we’re sharing about our journeys as moms and one of us blurts out “are we living the same life?!”
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER OTHER MOMS WHO MAY BE IN A SIMILAR SITUATION?
The advice I would offer other moms is to go after what you are passionate about. You are important, too, and it's important to take care of yourself. The last thing is that you cannot rely on anyone but yourself to know who you truly are and what you truly want. If you are living for other people it will trickle into every area of your life. Do what you want to do. When you are happy and thriving, your family will too.
WHO IS A WOMAN THAT INSPIRES YOU AND WHY?
My cousin, Hope, has always inspired me. She is a mom of two who does it all, and honestly just keeps it so real. There were many times I wanted to walk away from beauty school because it would have been easy to do in that moment, and she wouldn’t sugar coat anything. When I start to get emotional I just ask myself, “What would Hope do?”
WHY IS SHARING YOUR STORY IMPORTANT?
I am proud to share my story with other women because I feel like it's something that a lot of women will relate to. We are people-pleasers. On top of that, we hold ourselves to ridiculous standards of perfection—especially in the age of social media where things always look so “perfect.” It takes a lot of internal work to break free of that and to start doing things for ourselves, and to not only accept but love our imperfect, messy lives. So if I can share my story, and it speaks to just one person, then I've done my part.