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Beauty in a Mum Tum: Overcoming Fear (Jen)

April 17, 2014

Age: 29 years old
Current and pre-pregnancy weight: 138 lbs.
Total weight gained during pregnancy: 27 lbs.
Children: 1 child, 11 weeks old.

I had always feared pregnancy for two reasons: I would not be in control of my body and I might end up with dreaded stretch marks top to bottom. These fears seemed to froth up in every conversation with girlfriends about pregnancy. I would say how I already had numerous stretch marks from puberty, especially on my thighs.

Some friends shared my fears but most of them thought it was silly. I felt that no one understood how much my body would change and it eclipsed for me the joy of the journey I almost did not take. One of my friends, at 8 months pregnant herself, said: “Oh Jen, there is so much more to worry about.” But I didn’t get it. I spent hours reading stories on shapeofamother, watching videos and showing photos to my husband of women with striped and swirly bellies to instill in him my fears so that he might agree to not have children naturally. He shrugged. So what? He said.

After 7 months of praying about starting a family, we started trying to conceive. In the second month, we were pregnant. I could not believe it! I was deliriously happy – scared – but happy. There was no going back so I promptly ordered the best stretch mark creams and oils money could buy.

I applied four types of stretch mark creams and oils twice daily – sometimes, three times a day! I was going to do everything I could to keep my body in my own control.

At 22 weeks my baby stopped moving. By the afternoon and through hysterical tears, I asked my husband to drive me to emergency obstetrics. I was praying that my baby was fine. When the doctor confirmed he was healthy, just turned with his back to my belly, I realized that my friend was right: there were so many more important things to worry about. The safety of my child trumped my small and superficial thinking. I knew then that I was not in control; I had to trust God. Did I really believe Psalm 139′s pledge that He knows us intimately, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made? Did I trust God with my body and with my baby? I had been reading this psalm to my child everyday and now it was my turn to be tested.

When at 33 weeks I got my first stretch mark on my lower belly, I was a little bummed but I kept on applying my creams and oils in earnest. I was too busy feeling my little baby kicking and wiggling. I tried to focus on finding joy in every part of the pregnancy, seeing it as special and sacred. When I went into labor at 39 weeks 5 days, my lower belly was striped, my hips donned their own purple lines and around my popped belly button was a swirl of stretch marks.

That’s ok with me.

Those stretch marks, though they have shrunk and faded already at 11 weeks postpartum, mean something special: they show that there was a baby that once grew in my belly.

They say I am a mother.

Because of this, they are beautiful.

Because of this, I am beautiful.

Photo 1: 3 months pregnant
Photo 2: 7 months pregnant
Photo 3: 5 hours postpartum
Photo 4: 11 weeks postpartum

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It hurts to look at myself, but not at my son. (Steph)

April 14, 2014

I was 22 when I had my first and only child. I had a pretty textbook pregnancy besides measuring weeks ahead. Before pregnancy I was at my heaviest – 104kg. I had no hope that I would ever fall pregnant but it happened. My beautiful 10lb son Maximus was born by emergency Cesarean on the 1st of January 2013. Due to his large size I was unable to give birth naturally – My first feeling of failure. I breastfed for three months until it became too much to feed such a big eater. Following the cesarean I had found out that my stitches had ripped open and caused a nasty painful infection – My second feeling of failure. I fell into postnatal depression and the very cry of my son would drive me to the verge of suicide – My third feeling of failure. In the year following I have lost weight – down to 89kg (the lightest I have been since the age of 15) but still cannot bear looking at myself in the mirror let alone anyone else seeing my stomach. Does this feeling ever subside? I dont feel like I will ever be happy until I can afford a tummy tuck. I even work out at the gym and find that I never feel truly satisfied due to my over hang and stretch marks. Its taken a great deal of courage to submit this story but Im hoping this will be my first feeling of overcoming failure.

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Welcoming Our Twins (Anonymous)

March 31, 2014

Age: 34
Pregnancies/births: 1/2
Age of children: 8 months

I found out I was carrying twins when I had a scan at 6 weeks because of some pain and bleeding. Turns out it was my uterus stretching quickly because there were two of them in there! Even at that early stage they located two heartbeats, although the babies were like tiny kidney beans on screen. The ultrasound tech had been called in at short notice because it was a Sunday in the ER (my health anxiety got the better of me), and I’m not saying anything either way but he kind of smelled like whisky. Anyway it was a really fun session once I stopped laughing hysterically and shaking (“what do you mean there’s TWO EGG SACS?!!”), he took a load of pictures for me and explained what everything was and I was sent home to break the news to my husband. He actually laughed as well which was something of a relief.

One of the nicest things about being newly pregnant with twins was that I didn’t have to wait very long until I started to show. One of the other nicest things was that I first felt a tiny kick at 15 weeks; I was so excited! I found it difficult that I didn’t feel confident to exercise, as I’m usually pretty active. I didn’t want to ride my bike or rock climb; I know that some women continue to do both until quite late in pregnancy but I was too worried about having an accident. I love to hike and continued to do that until I got pretty big.

I ate a LOT in the first trimester as I’d read that gaining 25lb by 25weeks was a good way to ensure that your babies would get a great start on their weight gain. Subsequently I got a great start on my own weight gain! I started at 130lb which I felt was slightly overweight for me (but probably isn’t – I was constantly working on losing that “last five pounds”). By the time the twins arrived I was over 200lb, I stopped weighing myself about 10 days before they got here because it was mildly terrifying. So, I gained 70+ lb, partly because I was diagnosed with preeclampsia and hospitalized at 35 weeks. The preeclampsia made me retain a lot of fluid and added to my weight gain.

I wasn’t severely preeclamptic and my blood pressure never got too high (no medication), but I had a horrible case of PUPPS rash (aka Satan incarnate) and it was the hottest summer since about 1411 and the hospital didn’t have air con. I spent most of my days stark naked, standing in my bay on the prenatal ward with the curtain drawn round and my arms held out at my sides (I couldn’t bear any of my own skin to touch myself, that’s how itchy the PUPPS was), scaring the staff when they popped their heads around the curtain. Seriously most of them had never heard of PUPPS, I felt like some sort of teaching aid.

The hospital wanted to induce me which I was dead set against as I was scared it wouldn’t work properly and I’d end up with a c-section, or it’d work too well and the contractions would be too intense and I’d end up with an epidural and then with a c-section (did I mention the health anxiety?). As it turned out my waters broke at 2am when I was 36 weeks, and our girls were born naturally 17 hours later. My husband and my mum were amazing. Labour was more painful than I hoped but nowhere near as painful as I feared. I’d wanted a water birth at home with no pain relief and giving birth in theater while hooked up to a continuous fetal monitor wasn’t exactly the plan but considering the circumstances it was the safest and best outcome possible. No drugs apart from beta blockers to lower my blood pressure, and a vaginal delivery, which I had very much wanted.

I’ve struggled since the birth with my body image. I’m still 20lb overweight and the skin on my belly will never be the same. My breasts have dropped (they went up to a G cup so it’s not surprising!), but I remind myself how lucky I am to have been able to beast feed my girls. I never really liked my boobs that much but I did love my flat, smooth stomach and I do get sad when I look at it now. I’m 5’ 6” and I carried the girls straight out in front, and the skin was stretched beyond repair. It’s wrinkly and crepey and I have a diastasis so my belly sticks out and I still look pregnant. My stretch marks are very fine and pale and hardly noticeable, which I’m grateful for. I wasn’t prepared for the extent of the changes to my body and have found it hard to deal with – my husband tells me that he still finds me attractive but it’s difficult for me to see how he can.

The hardest thing for me to cope with has been the multiple prolapses I suffered since the birth. I have a cystocele and a rectocele (my bladder and rectum both bulge into my vagina); luckily I don’t have problems with incontinence but I do feel uncomfortable most days. It’s been difficult for me to return to exercise. I love to climb, hike, cycle and backpack, and I worry that I won’t be able to do those things in the future. The backpacking is especially hard to think of losing. My husband and I have done many long trips of two or three weeks duration during which we walked for 15-20 miles a day up mountains while wearing 25lb backpacks – right now I can’t imagine a time when my pelvic floor will be able to take that kind of strain, and it kills me. I cry about the prolapse often. I wish that people talked about this issue more because I wasn’t even really aware that it could happen to me until it did and it was a horrible shock. I know that I need to be patient for a while longer as a lot of healing happens in the first year after birth and I don’t yet know what the final outcome will be, but it’s hard and I get scared.

My girls are beautiful, healthy and I love seeing them change every day. I couldn’t have imagined how much I would love them (and I imagined that I would love them a lot!). As I said I wish that prolapse was more widely discussed as I feel that I would have done a few things differently if I’d known that it affects up to 50% of women. I would give anything for the changes to my body to be merely cosmetic and external. I am hoping against hope that if I continue to lose weight and do my kegels religiously then I might eventually be fairly symptom free, although I know that prolapse is lifelong. I am very much hoping to avoid surgery.

The first picture is my stomach at about 6 weeks pregnant, second is me at 8 months post partum. Third is a close up of my stomach post partum, and fourth is a side view. Fifth and sixth are our gorgeous girls :)

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