Pregnancies and births: 1/1, my toddler is now 22 months old. I got pregnant a few weeks before my 28th birthday.
Pregnancy and birth have not changed my body that much on the outside. I have a hypertrophic-but-fading lower segment cesarean scar on my belly right above the pubic bone, a few stretch marks I got the day I
went into labour and don’t tend to notice anymore because they have faded, slightly more deflated small-ish breasts (mine were never particularly perky to begin with) and the skin on my belly is the tiniest bit more stretched than it used to be. Bar the cesarean scar that changes colours from silvery white to angry red when I’m on my period or ovulating (!) none of the changes are that noticeable. I gained 25 kg (55 lbs) or thereabouts during pregnancy and have lost most of that slowly during the last 22 months without dieting for
I lift weights and stay physically active for strength, for fun, for the sheer joy of it, and because I want to feel at one with my flesh instead of viewing myself through a distorted lens of body obsession; I don’t avoid pointless self criticism always, but I do try hard to do so. Mostly I’m fine. I enjoy cooking, eating, planning meals, dining out, eating mindfully and with great pleasure. This, to me, means I try to get in enough protein to sustain muscle growth, generally although not always opt for cooking my own food to know what’s in it,
and avoiding gluten whenever possible (it makes my reflux worse) — but I don’t generally worry much about what I put in my mouth, except in terms of whether the taste would benefit from adding more butter.
Life is enjoyable and I feel good being myself. The way I try to (and often do) view myself and my body, the way I talk about myself and other women, the way I enjoy my physicality, these are all gifts I want to give to my daughter, but I’m not doing them only because I want to be a good role model to her. I am doing them because they’re right and sane and wholesome. I can appreciate myself without needing to think it’s for the sake of my daughter; it is, but more importantly it’s for me.
My pregnancy, a completely different story. It was a crapshot — we weren’t supposed to be able to conceive the natural way but somehow did — and crappy besides: I had a psychotic episode in the first
trimester, then heartburn, reflux, sciatica, insomnia, and as the cherry on top of this cake a UTI/kidney infection and hydronephrosis (distended kidneys) of pregnancy for which I was hospitalised for four days by the end of the second trimester. I spent the last three months of my pregnancy on my left side or on all fours, drinking the vile swill prescribed by my urologist: unsweetened cranberry juice and water, at least three to four litres of this per day. I was told I should pee whenever I felt the slightest urge to for fear of urinary backflow, which meant I was running to the loo four times every hour, also in the nights. It took several months for my bladder sensation to return fully after delivery. I had no issues with incontinence before or after pregnancy, but I did suffer from not knowing whether my bladder was full or not, as the pee-as-often-as-possible-just-in-case regime removed my capacity to recognise when I actually need to go.
Then I had a baby, which meant three days of labour. I didn’t mind the pain, as I found it easy enough to relax between contractions once I hit real labour and as I was very dedicated to seeing things through
the natural way if at all possible. Turns out this wasn’t to be the case, and I had cesarean surgery… with insufficient anesthesia, as I could feel a little window of pain on the left side when they cut. Not my best moment. Afterwards, the dragon nurse at the maternity ward told me — screamed at me, really — that paracetamol (acetaminophen for North Americans) is perfectly sufficient as a pain killer for post-cesarean pain and that other women have also had cesareans, why do I complain and cry so? I was not happy with my cesarean but could eventually came to terms with it. Being denied appropriate pain relief afterwards however meant I had severe problems with PTSD for more than a year postpartum. I also felt let down by my partner who couldn’t grasp the severity of the situation until way after the fact, and still feel deep sadness and anger over what happened. At least I’m no longer reliving my horrible birth experience and over and over, unable to sleep or go out for fear of breaking down in public.
It also took me quite a long time to bond with my baby, but I did expect this and wasn’t actually too alarmed when I didn’t feel a huge surge of love for my newborn. Frankly I wasn’t particularly interested in her when they showed her to me in the operating theatre — in my defense, I had other more pressing problems at hand, like feeling really awfully sorry for myself and wanting to die — and my strongest emotions in the first weeks after her birth were mild interest and confusion. Love, that took a while to arrive. I started out breastfeeding as I had planned to do, as all the women in my family had done, and we had a few miserable months of it because of thrush on my nipples, which I likely got from the antibiotics given to me during
the cesarean birth of my daughter. Healthcare professionals were a joke when it came to nursing support and/or medical help with this, but I persevered and did my research online, sent my partner out for a
bottle of gentian violet and put myself and my baby on a kill-the-yeasties regime. It worked, and we’re still going strong with breastfeeding 22 months after her birth. I expected to be done by now — I nursed for 15 months myself and thought we’d go to a similar length — and I am starting to feel like I’m ready to wean in the not-too-far future, but I know my daughter is not and so I’m merely working on limiting the frequency of her nursing sessions to a few times per day to avoid maternal burn out. She’ll wean when she’s ready to; I can wait.
I did not feel a strong need to procreate before I had my daughter. We were undecided, thinking “maybe in a few years” when we found out my partner has Homer Simpson sperm and is unlikely to have a child the
natural way. We dropped contraceptives immediately after hearing about this, reasoning that a) life will be so much easier when we don’t have to bother with solutions that aren’t working that well for us (cervical cap + spermicides = raging yeast infections for the both of us, condoms were not particularly comfortable for him, and hormonal methods are too likely to make me batshit crazy, or crazier than I usually am in any case) and b) if we end up somehow making a child, wouldn’t that be the luckiest, rarest, weirdest, most wonderful thing
ever? I got pregnant before a year had passed. Now, after having that one child, I find I have a bad case of the baby rabies… only, the idea of pregnancy (and finding a qualified nurse-midwife who does homebirths in my area AND has a personality that doesn’t clash with mine) makes me reach for a paper bag to breathe into.
I don’t often think of life in terms of lucky vs unlucky, but I do when it comes to pregnancy and birth. There, I was dealt a bad hand. I’m not sure I have it in myself to go through it again, particularly when I know my kidney issues are very likely to also be an issue in a future pregnancy. I’m aware of and educated on great many issues surrounding birth, I am not easily cowed by anyone, I have the wisdom from experience, the support of my fantastic partner and a lot of different options with pre/postnatal and childbirth care thanks to
where I live … and I’m really scared, because while all these factors would and will contribute towards not having unnecessary medical interventions done before, during or after childbirth, they will do absolutely nothing if and when there IS a real medical need for such. I would know. And I’m not sure I’m mentally strong enough to deal with the anxiety and uncertainty, nevermind the medical issues present, on the next round.
Really, the best thing about my pregnancy is that it’s over.
The photos included: myself 22 months postpartum twice, my toddler nursing her teddy bear in the middle of Ikea, myself looking for braaaaains! at 37 weeks pregnant, myself at the age of 25 before pregnancy.