I still remember the day I brought my daughter home from the hospital. I was 22 years old, I had only just celebrated my first wedding anniversary, and I was attempting to balance life as a new wife with a husband in graduate school and my own home-based work. We had just moved down to Florida. It was hot—too hot for my liking—and I found myself hobbling along, swollen and uncomfortable at the end of my pregnancy.

I already struggled with what to wear when I became pregnant, as my body began to change so drastically that I didn’t feel like myself at all. Even though those first moments of feeling tiny kicks and a swollen belly felt cute and exciting, I found at the end of the day that I was one of those mothers that “carried all over,” and I had no idea how to dress for it. I eventually decided that leggings and tunics were it, and left it at that. For months . . . and months . . . and more.

After bringing that baby home, I found that my life had changed completely. I was up so much of the night nursing that I woke up exhausted. I felt overwhelmed and lonely. I remember looking into the mirror one day and feeling like I didn’t even recognize myself. I had always been the girl that dressed up. I’ve always loved dresses, a little bit of makeup, and a few curls in my hair for a fresh look. But now when I looked in the mirror I saw bags under my eyes, leggings and a worn out T-shirt, with my hair in what I like to call the “mom bun”—you know the bun I’m talking about.

I felt tired and unmotivated, looking back longingly on the days when I worked well-paid internships with suits to match, fresh lipstick, and lunch on the go. I was just sixteen years old when I started interning for the federal government in posts overseas. I spent the day in an office from nine to five, alongside other employees who made a career out of these experiences. The work I did was fulfilling, and by the end of the day I had a completed task list, projects finished, and presentations completed. This experience led me to complete an undergraduate degree in political science and to continue on with various government summer internships.

That was no longer my life, but I realized that I needed to put some structure into my day again—not just for the sake of getting dressed, but for the sake of recognizing and expressing the intrinsic value of my day. There was a young mother down the street who would take her children outside to play every day. She was not flashy or particularly into fashion, but she was always dressed so simply and beautifully; she was always put together. As I looked into the mirror, unable to recognize myself, I thought of her. I looked at my reflection and decided it was time to do something: I was going to get dressed again. I was going to embrace my new body, complete with the scars of a c-section and all the effects of my first pregnancy that went along with them. I was going to embrace my life at home as a dignified life, filled to the brim with good and valuable work. I was going to treat my new job as a homemaker, a wife, and a mother with reverence and respect—to love it, and dress like it!

It goes without saying, however, that getting dressed as a mother posed some challenges. For one thing, I had to be able to move easily, to get on the floor and play, to clean up messes, and to make dinner. I needed to be able to get my clothes dirty and just throw them in the laundry. I needed to be comfortable, and yet I also wanted to feel pretty and feminine in my clothing. I started to get really picky with how I shopped, looking for ethically and sustainably made pieces that were both feminine and durable and in which I felt beautiful. I started by making a Pinterest board of outfits I loved. As I shopped, I made sure the pieces I purchased would fit into the categories of cuts and colors that looked nice on me. I rediscovered my personal style and fell in love with fashion all over again, especially dresses (I will always love dresses!). Over time, this developed into a whole wardrobe of clothing that I felt confident wearing as a mother. Now, with four children and a more seasoned approach, I have found both a structure and a wardrobe to fit my day, a structure that typically involves a little lipstick, a comfy dress, and a low bun.

Of course at this point I realize that there are different seasons to one’s lifestyle. When I’m newly pregnant, when I’m tired, or when I’m postpartum, I will embrace and love those leggings and t-shirts again. But in a season like right now, when I’m on my feet and feeling good, I like to get dressed to express the dignity of my day. My job is worth getting dressed for. 

Editor’s Note: Making of a Mom is a Readers Write column. Share your own story here.