Cristina Toff | Another Mother Her Way

Cristina Toff is a sincere breath of fresh air in a city that can feel like everyone's trying to move onward and upward.  She prides herself on really getting to know people which comes through in every interaction. Her true care translates to her work via a laundry list of roles caring for women - as a doula, lactation consultant, La Leche League leader, co-founder of The Milk Source and on a new project called The Motherhood Common. Before having her son, Noam, she worked full-time in tech, and her sharp skillset is still evident to anyone who follows along with her on social media. As a mother to a little boy and with another on the way, Cristina and I talked about what it's really like to commit this chapter of life to prioritizing motherhood over all else.  Read her genuine take on the shifts she made when expecting her first, what she might do differently this time around, and her view on diligently protecting boundaries and mental health during this precious time. 

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Q  HOW DID YOU CHANGE AFTER BECOMING A MOTHER?

My gut response to this question is that I haven't changed - I'm still the person I've always been - but rather I’ve evolved and continue to evolve into the best version of myself every day (of course, with some setbacks here and there). That doesn’t mean I’m perfect - I’d be the first to admit I’m far from it - but I do believe that on average - the trend is toward personal improvement.

To be specific, there are several things that I’m evolved to have since becoming a mom. I now have a much better understanding of my personal boundaries and the boundaries of those around me - I honor and protect them and make sure there is always space for those boundaries to shift. I have far less tolerance for toxicity of any kind - be it relationships, products or situations. Time is precious and unforgiving, and I really work to make sure that I don’t allow anything toxic to enter and use it up. And, because time is so precious, I’m acutely aware and fiercely protective of it. In my previous life (pre-babies), I would squander time or, at the least, be unsure of which direction I was moving. Now, with a toddler and one more on the way, I try to make good use of my time and always look toward the direction in which I want to move. That doesn’t mean I’m always ‘being productive,’ but what it does mean is that my use of time - what I do, where I go, who I surround myself with - is intentional.  And finally, I’ve learned to be much more gentle with myself and others. I learned, through becoming a mother, what I was meant to do - I was meant to mother (and not just my children, but those around me, those who need it in some capacity). I dream of a world in which we can all be gentle and kind with ourselves and others the way we may be with our babies.

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Q  WHAT CHOICES DID YOU MAKE TO ACCOMMODATE MOTHERHOOD?  WOULD YOU MAKE THEM AGAIN?

When my husband and I decided to have a baby, we simultaneously agreed that I would ‘stay home with him’ (I don’t like that phrase because that’s hardly what we do). So I chose to not continue working, we chose to leave our condo in the East Village of Manhattan and move to a home in Hoboken, and I chose to devote my life to a singular cause (initially).

I don’t view any of the sacrifices that I made - leaving work, moving out of the city, and focusing on my baby - as actual sacrifices. But I do realize that I, in many ways, broke up with my past identity in order to meet my future identity, and that was a huge, somewhat traumatic shift that didn’t necessarily need to happen. All of those changes presented challenges for me.

So, while I would make those choices again in a heartbeat in that specific circumstance (because I believe they were what was best for myself and our family at the time), I don’t know if I would necessarily make those choices (or similar choices) again for future children. What I would do is this: I would allow space for evolution and gradual change and be gentler and kinder on myself during those (literally) life-changing shifts.

Q  DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS A MOTHER IN 3 WORDS.  WHAT KIND OF MOTHER WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE?

Aware: It is so important to me to be aware and understanding of my family and its needs. I practice and preach empathy and compassion for others, and it all starts with awareness.

Respectful: My parenting style revealed itself early in my days as a new mom. I practice attachment parenting and value being respectful and responsive to my children. I let my son lead as much as possible and always make sure I’m speaking and acting respectfully toward him. He is my child, but he is also an intelligent, curious, independent (in many ways) human just like I am.

Honest: The world can be scary and messy and overwhelming - even for those of us who have spent decades in it already. While I don’t open the flood gates of it all to my nearly 3-year-old, I do respect his ability to be conscious, resilient and connected, and I honor that by being honest with him and making space for his personal development.

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Q  HOW DO YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF OUTSIDE OF MOTHERHOOD?

It took me a really long time to realize that there was this person outside of motherhood that needed to be taken care of. My postpartum period was incredibly difficult. I had depressive symptoms that I thought were within the realm of normal (they were not) and I experienced the somewhat sudden loss of my dad which sent me into a further downward spiral.

It took me hitting nearly rock bottom to realize that I needed help and that I couldn’t (and shouldn’t) do it myself. So, how do I take care of myself outside of motherhood now? I see a therapist weekly - something that I think every person (but especially every mom) would benefit from doing. I work out regularly, which took some time to adjust to but provides innumerable mental, emotional and physical benefits for me. I guard my personal time and allow myself space to do what I need to do - whether that’s see a friend, write a blog post or take a nap.

Q  EVERY MOTHER NEEDS HELP TO FIND BALANCE.  WHAT DOES YOUR VILLAGE LOOK LIKE?

My village is a motley crue of (mostly) women who empower, inspire and nurture me every day. It’s comprised of my husband and family, my fellow La Leche League leaders and members, my spin instructors, my therapist, my son’s teachers and the other moms in our beautiful Hoboken community. I also view my extended village as the authors of the books I read and the groups of like-minded parents I join. They all offer something unique - an outlet, support and love that keeps me grounded and keeps me growing.

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Q  WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON IMPROVING ABOUT YOURSELF AS A WOMAN & A MOTHER?

As is pretty normal among driven, ambitious women, I’ve always prided myself on being ‘productive.’ I get shit done, ya know? And it feels good. But I’ve recently realized - even more so than ever before - that productivity doesn’t look and feel the same all the time. Sometimes, downtime - a nap or reading for an hour or two - is what productivity looks like.

And that’s not just okay - it’s actually really good. Understanding that those moments when I’m feeling nauseous or exhausted (because of my pregnancy or just because life seems to be moving a mile a minute) or just need time to be can be used to take care of myself and that that - in itself - is productive - has made me a better mom, a better wife, a better friend and a better human being.