This was my fourth pregnancy and birth, and both were extremely difficult. I suffered with moderate hyperemesis gravaridum throughout (helpHER.org), lost a significant amount of weight, muscle and nutrients and was on the edge of hospitalization and IV feeds throughout (even with extensive medicating). I also suffer with a spinal disease called ankylosing spondylitis which caused my vertebrae to fuse together from my coccyx up to my mid-back; it also causes very painful nerve damage in my hip joints and legs due to those bundles of nerves being trapped in the fusions.
The way my body changed over the course of this pregnancy felt very different than the other times: I was tired, and in a lot of pain and very sick. Toward the end I was mostly bedridden and had to push myself hard to get in a short walk a few times a week. I felt like I was falling apart, and was beginning to really hate my body: it was big and awkward, desperately sick and so, so painful. Through the last months of pregnancy I had to walk with a cane, which left me feeling very self-conscious and extremely unattractive. I felt like this pregnancy had stripped me of my femininity and sex appeal… and for the first time in my life, even with a disability diagnosis for years, I really felt disabled. On top of that, I’d had a relapse of an eating disorder shortly before becoming pregnant and was struggling hard with maintaining positive body image even before all that crap. As a result of that, I requested to not be weighed throughout my pregnancy, nor have weight used as a judgment of my health since it was such a fresh trigger. (Numbers alone are not a good, accurate diagnostic tool: your health is a big picture, and can’t be judged by a flawed BMI calculator or tiny range of “healthy pounds”. Big or small, your overall health is what is important to take care of and there is so much more to it than standing on a scale! Even with the diagnosis of hyperemesis, being weighed on a regular basis was not necessary to monitor my health and nutrition. You may have to argue with your care provider a little, but if scales and numbers are a trigger for you during pregnancy, you CAN avoid them so you can stay strong and supported).
Just three days ago now, 9 days past my due date, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. My hard and fast (two hour!) labour was very difficult with the spinal fusions, and very painful, but I made it through with the wonderful support of my midwife, doula and my husband. With their love and care I was able to achieve a second home VBAC, even with my disabilities. I have to say, waterbirth helps a TON for moms with chronic pain, or spinal disabilities!! I don’t now if I’d have been able to do it without the pool.
The night after giving birth I was laying in bed with my husband watching TV shows on my laptop with our new baby sleeping between us. I was laying there, mostly naked, and looked down over my new postpartum body all squishy and deflated and realized that… I felt really good. More than that, I felt sexy! This pregnancy that was so hard on my body and made me feel stripped bare, this birth that was so hard to get through and had me screaming at the top of my lungs, they’ve both been such huge challenges but by making it out the other side I feel strong and capable and SEXY! When I went out in public earlier I didn’t feel like sucking in my stomach and hiding my middle in loose-fitting clothes. I even went out wearing a form-fitting top, proudly showing off my squishy new postpartum body so I can proclaim to everyone, “THIS is beautiful!”. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to look at my body in such a truly positive way. Even with a disability, with a history of struggling with an eating disorder, with severe illness and a very hard year that left me with a very changed body… I can be sensual and feminine and amazing. Four babies have passed through this body and left their footprints on it with stretch marks, cesarean scars, milky breasts, love handles, cellulite and weight gain… but today, just three days postpartum after my fourth birth, I feel sexier than I ever have.
I’ve posted to this site before, several times, but I never thought I’d ever have the guts to submit any images of myself fully nude. Even while I took these images through pregnancy, hoping that I’d eventually find the courage to submit (anonymously, maybe with my head cut off and my tattoo obscured! PS. that’s why my head is cut off in a bunch of these!) I didn’t really believe I’d be able to, so it brings me a lot of joy to post these (albeit still a little nervous…) and say, “I FEEL GREAT!”. Now I feel like encouraging everyone to do the same thing. Take pictures of your body, and not just any old pictures – put aside some time and experiment with taking some really nice photos. Go get some boudoir photos done if you don’t want to or can’t take your own, but whatever you do don’t neglect capturing some of your beauty… even if you feel crappy about yourself.
Despite I felt like absolute hell and hating my body through most of my pregnancy, I’m really grateful to myself that I pushed through to document my changes. I think it’s in us all to learn how to appreciate how amazing our bodies are in all their power. Just look at the incredible things they can do! Thanks to this site I found the motivation to nurture that, and I’m really glad I stuck to it.
(As a note: I’m a professional photographer, so these were taken by me with professional gear. Even though you can’t see them very well there are stretch marks and scars there, though I don’t have the type of genes that get a lot. Good quality, even lighting makes a big difference in how your skin appears in pictures. For anyone curious to experiment with their own lighting, I included a “behind the scenes” photo to show how everything was set up to take these. I used a Nikon SB800 flash mounted on a stand with a home-made beauty dish made out of a planter and some spare parts for about $12 total (instructions here: http://davidtejada.blogspot.com/2008/04/beauty-dish-for-sb-800.html), and a desk lamp pointed at the corner of the wall behind me to reduce some of the shadows. From there just experiment with the settings until you find something that looks good! I triggered my light with a radio controlled device called a Pocket Wizard, but you can just use a sync cord or one of many other inexpensive options and get the exact same results. You also don’t have to use a big fancy flash either, any will work including the cheap Vivitar 285V which runs about $90. :)