Mamaspeak is our weekly spotlight on an exceptional mama. We’ll meet her baby, get to know her favorite parts of motherhood, and perhaps hear some words of wisdom — or at least commiseration!
Don’t let Sydney Dew’s Southern ingénue exterior fool you for one minute. She’s a Crossfit fiend who jumped rope to get herself through the early hours of labor, and did squats while on an epidural. Beyond the blonde locks and sweet, slight drawl is a tough mama, although she modestly told me she’s “just your average mom trying to raise an extraordinary daughter.”
When I first met her, she was fresh out of college and subbing as my son Max’s art teacher while our family was touring through Greenville, South Carolina. Max was barely two and completely drawn to her, and I hired her to babysit on the spot. Now, she teaches high school art classes part-time and can be spotted toting her daughter Johnnie around at Greenville Drive minor league baseball games, where her husband Jeremiah is the stadium emcee.
Here, she explains the intensely nostalgic roots of her daughter’s name, how it feels to get remarks from strangers about Johnnie’s skin tone, and why being an art teacher has saved her from some embarrassing breastfeeding situations.
Occupation: High School Art Teacher
Your best mama moment so far:
Nothing beats the minute they put your baby on your chest for the first time. After a long, hard labor, and waiting for the doctors to finish cleaning off my sweet little chub, I cannot explain the love and sweet relief I felt when I got to hold my baby for the first time.
Just how long and hard was your labor and delivery?
Oh boy. My labor and delivery was an exciting two days. I went into labor at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, April 5 after having walked three miles, jumped rope, done lots of heavy squats, and more than my fair share of box step-ups the night before. I labored at home until 4 a.m. on Sunday morning, April 6 when I promptly asked for an epidural upon being admitted.
Everything looked good. Things progressed nicely. I pushed and pushed. After about an hour of pushing, it became clear that little girl’s head was quite firmly lodged and did not want to budge. I could see her hair but couldn’t get her past that point! I kept pushing, determined to get her earthside. I did everything we could think of to get her out: pushed on my side, stood and squatted (yes, totally numb with an epidural, I somehow got myself into a steady squat), and played a very firm game of tug of war with a nurse and then my doctor which involved both of us pulling hard on a towel as I pushed. After 3.5 hours of doing my best pushing, after 36 hours of labor, it was decided that it was time to get this girl out. I was the most exhausted and hungry I have ever been in my life and was not making any progress. I was wheeled down into the operating room and my sweet 9 lb. 9 oz. chub of love was born via c-section approximately 30 minutes later.
As a mother of biracial kids, I get strangers remarking all the time to me about how “exotic” my kids look. What sort of reactions do you get from people when you’re out with Johnnie?
One day when Johnnie was probably 3 months old, I was eating dinner at a restaurant when a woman approached me to ooh and ahh over my child. She stood for a good long while, asking questions and enjoying interacting with the baby. Then she asked, “Is she adopted?”
I exploded with laughter. My child is my twin. She looks just like me, but in a darker shade. I have a picture of the two of us side-by-side minutes after delivery, 25 years apart, and the only difference is in skin tone. Heck, my C-section incision still hurt at that point! There’s a side of me that wants to say, “I grew her myself. Want to see my C-section scar?” but I have refrained thus far from snark. I smiled at her and told her that she was most certainly mine and that my husband is black.
In the back of my mind I knew that it was a possibility for people to wonder whether or not she was biologically mine, but I was still caught off-guard. Since then, I have gotten this and similar questions quite a few more times. Each time I get asked, I smile. It means I look too young to be a mom. It means I don’t look haggard and worn from waking up every two hours the night before to feed my child. It means that whoever is asking such silly questions is basking in the cuteness of my child so much that all else has faded away into confusion. I hope!
Where did the name Johnnie come from?
Growing up, my husband was close to his father Johnny Lee Dew and looked up to him very much. Sadly, his father took his own life on April 6, 1994. That day for the past 20 years, as you can imagine, has been a very hard day for my sweet husband. When we realized that our baby girl was to be due on April 18, it began to cross our minds that there was a chance that she might be born April 6. We started hoping and praying. When I went into labor April 5 after the workout of a lifetime on April 4, that hope started to become stronger. Sure enough, our prayers were answered and on April 6, 2014, twenty years to the day after Johnny Lee Dew passed, Johnnie Leigh Dew came into the world and redeemed that day for our family.
What baby product can you not live without?
I love my Nosefrida Snotsucker. As disgusting as it is to literally suck the snot out of my child’s nose, it gets the job done very well, although naturally Johnnie doesn’t love it quite as much as I do.
I also love my Ergo Carrier. My little one has wanted to be held all day every day from day one of her life, and wearing her in the Ergo allows me to be hands-free and hold her at the same time. It’s especially helpful when I’m out and about shopping.
You and your husband Jeremiah both love Crossfit. Did you have to slow your workouts down during pregnancy?
Despite my 50 lb. pregnancy weight gain, I could still (safely and carefully) do pull-ups the day before I went into labor!
Your best piece of advice for mamas:
Go with your gut, mama! The whole world will try to tell you how to mother and that your baby should be doing this or that. Take all advice with a grain of salt. And know that whatever hard stage you’re going through at the time is truly just a stage. It will end. Enjoy the little moments!
The thing that surprised you most about motherhood:
The sheer amount of time I spend nursing! My little tiny thing burns through many calories being a busy bee, so I end up nursing her every two hours. Shew!
How was the transition back to work after your maternity leave?
I teach high school art in the mornings. One day I was up in front of the classroom pontificating about something life-altering, no doubt, when I felt my milk let down. This is a pretty normal occurrence for me, so I ignored it and kept teaching. Then, with a big flourish, I swooshed my arm up to prepare to write on the board and my heart sunk. I felt a wet spot! I always wear nursing pads, so I was very confused. I quickly made sure my back was facing the class as I glanced down. Sure enough, my breast pad had somehow shifted in transit and I was soaking my shirt with breastmilk. I kept talking as I slyly crept behind my desk to grab an apron, arm awkwardly covering my udders. Never was I so thankful to be an art teacher as I was in that moment as I threw that apron over my head and quickly tied it. Crisis averted! Moo.
Photo credits: Elliot Photography, Kismet Photography, Doug Manor, Jeremiah Dew