Hello! I am Theresa - writer, retail and office elf, aspiring artist, over-sharer, Harry Potter nerd, humanist, mom. I've been helping out Mid Drift Movement as an intern for a few months now and it has been capital-A Amazing to have so much exposure to a community of positivity and acceptance. More thoughts on that another time. For now I'd like to share my own postpartum story ... So here we go!
I keep coming back to how complicated it all is. Pregnancy and birth and beyond. I marvel at it. It's so intricate that science can't explain it all, and - I think it's fair to say - it almost never goes as planned.
I've conceived three times. The first two pregnancies didn't last; I miscarried at 10 weeks the first time and eight the second. It was not at all what I had planned. I guess I knew how common that story is, but I didn't really know. So common it's almost ordinary, yet still extraordinarily heartbreaking.
When I learned I was pregnant for the third time I had a little trouble getting excited. I only knew the unbelievable heartache of loss - yet we made it to 12 weeks, then 18, then 24, then 32 ...
Along the way my wariness ebbed and the wonder returned. I made a placenta - a whole new organ! - and I housed someone infinitely more complicated than I will ever understand. Skin stretched, hair grew, feet kicked, hick-ups hicked. I learned what it feels like to be punched in the cervix. I felt amazing - vibrant and productive and somehow more emotionally stable than ever. I did have to nudge that little foot down from where it jammed up into my rib cage occasionally, but truly, I loved being pregnant. And I felt relatively prepared for this whole thing, having had three nephews and a niece and a fair amount of education on the subjects of birth and caring for a newborn.
August decided to be born 12 days early, to my total surprise.
Other things that were surprising:
1. Hormones are no joke - in a five minute period, I went from off-the-charts pain and screaming to eliciting a chuckle from my husband by telling the nurses to "give me back my belly fruit."
2. He was soft as a whisper. Like, so much softer than anything words could describe.
3. My hip bones had expanded!
I'll never forget looking in the hospital bathroom mirror and seeing a different body than I had known half a day before. Turns out I had been sort of naive when it came to the realities of how pregnancy and birth can change you physically for the long term. The conversations I had encountered about the fourth trimester were basically torn from the pages of a glossy mag: baby weight, sore boobs, no sex for six weeks. But now that the birth was over and I was facing the rest of my life as a parent, I began confronting some questions and concerns.
Hmmm, I knew breast-feeding might be difficult, but this ... is ... terrible ... Also, should my undercarriage be itching like this?
No. It should not have been, and it took a few weeks to figure that out, possibly because I was busy with the full-time job of feeding my baby, which was proving to be its own kind of extreme discomfort. I had wanted it to be easy and sweet, but it did not go that way. I saw a lactation specialist a couple of times and got some pretty generic advice, and now all I can remember of it was "just do it more." It hurts? Just do it more. He's not opening wide enough? Just keep taking him off and trying again. Not sure if there's enough milk? Nurse more AND pump. DO IT ALL MORE!! It seemed like torture and to this day I'm not sure how we persevered. Honestly, I'm not that strong of a person - but at some point I guess I decided I had already suffered so much for this that I was going to make it work, dammit.
Lo and behold at about three or so months in, a light bulb went on. Things had started to come together on the left side, but the right side just still wasn't having it. Every time he latched I felt this building, pressing, tightening, pain ... I realized my body was telling me this isn't right somehow. I excitedly rang up the nurses and told them I had a solution, and although they seemed strangely skeptical, I proceeded to wean from the right side and put the other to work for the duration. Woo! Life changer.
I had not expected to have to veer from the 20-minutes-on-each-side routine I had been trying so hard to make work, and I would never have foreseen purchasing a set of those bra insert/cutlet thingies and using just one of them to create the illusion of symmetry. But in fact, the one side became a gloriously round mecca of nourishment, while the other deflated to a wobbly blob, and I couldn't have been happier.
Between becoming a mom and seeing the inevitable changes in my body as the years add up (goodbye metabolism! hello gravity!), I'm realizing that body positivity is not a state so much as an evolution - like how you finally figure out your baby's sleeping routine and then they change it on you. It requires flexibility.
Being a one-sided nurser looked odd, but it worked. And when it was time to be done nursing, I saw my belly settle into a comfortable shape that spoke of convenience eating without the necessity of producing breast milk. Then life just moved on, complete with its barrage of messages about how womens'/moms' bodies should be - but I think I was very lucky. So many women I knew - and met - shared their experiences and it wasn't to compare or judge, it was to say, "yes! I totally get it!" or "wow, that story is amazing," or "hey, I still wear maternity clothes too!"
Setting all cultural messages aside, I looked at these women and noticed that the fourth trimester, in the real world, has no rules. No normal. And that hasn't changed just because I, and many of those who've made up my community of fellow parents, have moved beyond the infant stage. August is now five but the shapes, sizes, colors, and textures of these people are as diverse as always.
It's not the diversity that's surprising now - it's the fact that I'm still learning about my postpartum body. That many of us are. There's just so much focus on pregnancy and birth and even if, like me, you see plenty of body diversity in real life, media is so powerful and it's all pictures of women who "get their body back" and jokes about peeing your pants a little so just do your kegels! Kind of wish I had been more clued into the lasting effects of this insanely complex, often surprising event of producing offspring. I would have felt more ownership of my body, my health, my decisions - and it might've saved me the shame I felt in struggling to nurse and, even now, in having questions about what's changed anatomically and hormonally,
But I'm so grateful. Above all, that I'm healthy and have a healthy boy who loves to snuggle. And I'm grateful that, no matter how my body has changed or how I feel about this unpredictable journey, I know that all along something very powerful and very simple remains true ... none of the babies have cared. No matter if their mom birthed them, no matter what their mom's shape - to the kids, it is not complicated at all - these bodies are home.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!