Shannon McMillan (31) Nora (2) and Wyatt (1)
Photographed in Tampa, FL
Shannon shares -
"Here it goes - The truth. Not many get to hear this but I hope that my experience can empower or console one other woman at the very least who has a similar story or might be in a similar situation at the time of reading. I know they are out there. There is no way I am alone. Thankfully, with this project amongst other beautiful movements, I believe that.
I had an abortion when I was 18 and just upon graduating high school. I was in a very abusive relationship with a high school boyfriend and had also just lost an extremely close family member to suicide. My cousin and I were four months apart, raised together and he was the closest I'd ever get to having a brother. Its not an excuse, its just the facts of what was pummeling me into this darkness, creating too much room for bad decisions. That year was such a blur. I truly don't remember much of it which I chalk up to being some kind of coping mechanism. I hate feeling the guilt that will never disappear but do feel I made the right decision. I was in no shape to have a baby nor was the father. Its still hard not to think about what life would be like had I not aborted that pregnancy knowing how life is now as a mother with my two beautiful children.
After becoming pregnant the first time since 18 and then birthing my daughter, something drastic shifted within my soul and it was certainly for the better. My teenage years were hard - continuously messy and it seemed to crawl right on into my 20's. I just couldn't get a grip after the wreckage and unclosed books that I was left with in those younger years but once I got pregnant at 28 with my daughter I felt like I finally had a purpose and a reason to go on and be better. I couldn't wait to love her, teach her and stand behind her which made me want to do all those things for MYSELF. I also couldn't wait to see her father become a father, which was something that I would not have ever wanted to see, risk or experience the first time.
Pregnancy and parenthood have both definitely left their marks. After nursing two babies back to back, I lost 2 cup sizes in my breasts, have severe varicose veins in one leg and herniated discs in my back from a rapid delivery. I constantly remind myself when down on my luck, how many women there are that would do anything to have these reminders of motherhood and regardless of how much I'd rather not have or even fix such "imperfections", I'd take them over NOT having my kids any day but that does not mean they don't still weigh in regularly. What I have promised myself though is that I will teach my children to love their own bodies. I can't do that if I am constantly critiquing my own over something I had very little control over. I may wear pants in the blazing summer sun to cover the veins, but I will not complain or share my insecurities about a not so firm tummy or the scars on my hips to either my son or daughter in hopes that I can change the expectations of the female body post pregnancy for a new generation.
Postpartum was a wild ride after both of my babies. So wild that I am unsure that I will ever have another. I battled postpartum depression after both pregnancies but drastically worse after my second child was born. After my son, I was a text book case. Days were passing and I truly was unsure whether I was coming or going. I cried from sun up to sun down for 3 months. I could not get a handle on my emotions. Less than 6 days after he was born I developed a 104.5 fever which was the result of mastitis. I was incredibly sick and something seemed to be very wrong with my back. Nursing was painful in so many ways. My nipples hurt for a full 2 months (shallow latch) which made me not want to nurse at all - however I lost my supply at 3 months with my daughter so I was determined to make the full 12 months this second go round. Eventually the mastitis subsided after antibiotics and the nipple pain did too. The back pain continuously got worse and so did the depression. I finally saw a doctor who was so incredibly kind and understanding. She must have been a mother. I cried so much in her office that day; I don't know how she even understood the words I was speaking. She referred me to a therapist for talk therapy and offered meds for the miserable back pain and heavy anxiety/depression that I had been feeling. Problem was, nursing mothers cannot take those meds. So I was right back to square one with the exception of therapy. I was not wiling to give up nursing my son because I was being a crazy basket case who couldn't get her shit together.
Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. I just kept waiting to snap out of it but the days and nights only seemed to get longer and harder after that point. There was so much pressure to get better. I felt helpless, hopeless and couldn't see an end in sight for the way I was feeling. Why wouldn't it just go away?! Was this really the road I was embarking on? No way did I really have postpartum depression! I thought I only felt this way the first time because I was a new mom and didn't know what I was doing. So many people have two kids that are even less than 18 months apart. Why was this so hard on me!? I was struggling big time.
My daughter was the colicky one and yes, I did struggle then too but no where near to this extent. Life was getting too hard. I did not know how we were ever going to get out from underneath it all. Was I bonding with my son like I should? How could he like me if I was so irritable all the time? My relationship was beginning to feel the weight of it all too. What were we doing? It was a miserable time. That does not mean I did not love my newborn son throughout it all. He was an angel baby in comparison to his sister who would cry for hours on end (nonstop) but that doesn't mean he didn't still wake up every two hours wanting to be fed and crying a fair amount just like babies do. I wish I could say there was this big moment when things just clicked and it all went away but it was a process. I had to talk about it and talk about it a lot to the ones I trusted most. I had to find a new normal - a new routine (which is really really hard with 2 under 2).
I had to accept that life is NOT as pretty as it looks on Instagram feeds and parenting is hard together. Showers are essential no matter how you have to get it done and doing things for myself was a MUST. Eventually the days just got a little lighter, little by little and of course as my son got older, he slept more and so did I - well sort of. The back pain never subsided and I learned I had herniated a disc sometime during labor which resulted in a recent surgery but things did get better slowly. I still struggle with remembering to take care of myself, "keeping up with Joneses" and feeling like I'm not doing enough with my babies while I'm home with them but my hormones are back to normal as for the postpartum depression goes. Now after a hard day or rough week...the moment I catch my footing is when I lay them down to sleep at night and they squeeze me so tight, I know I'm doing one thing right and its enough right now.
My truth is three years in and I still am unsure whether I am doing it right. Mom guilt is a real thing and can really get the best of you if you don't keep your chin up. What I do know is that I'm doing my best and I love my babies from the deepest parts of my soul. You hear women say "I didn't know I could ever love something this much" because its true! I truly believe the best thing you can give your children is love unconditional. Not toys, money, gifts or even grand experiences. Just love. And there's no sense in keeping up because you won't.
With all the bloggers and social media presence in motherhood, you are liable to feel as if you are falling short in every single avenue of parenting. Some mom, somewhere will always be making it look easier, prettier, and better with kids that are dressed like models, incredibly advanced, and in ALL the activities. Just follow your own journey and filter through the advice you're given. You are not required to take any of it. Educate yourself. It truly helps. Sift through the information or find it yourself. Present your kids with opportunities that will make them good people, and opportunities that get their wheels turning. Spend as much time as you can because when you heard it goes quickly, well thats an understatement.
All too often once we mothers find out were pregnant (sometimes even before) it becomes this game of who can collect the most coins, be awarded the most ribbons, and win the biggest trophy. Does it really make you a better mom if you exclusively breast fed for 18 months or formula fed, bought the fancy stroller or took a hand me down, had a natural birth at home or used a surrogate, baby led weaned or pureed, lost all your "baby weight" in 9 months or gained more, married or divorced, work or stay home!? No! Not to me anyway. We are all in this together and there is no one way to be a great mom. There is not a one size fits all nor is there one body type that makes motherhood look better on one person over another.
Motherhood is beautiful no matter how it is presented. C-sections to step moms - every mom is BEAUTIFUL and there should be NO SHAME in who you are because of being a mom. We all share the trophy cup of motherhood and each of our stories fill up that cup. Each woman should empower and learn from the next and I truly hope that I can do the same for someone as the previous women who have already shared their stories through 4TBP have done for me."