The fabulous Janel Funk, mother to Zachary (3.5), Lydia and Josephine (11 months, identical twins).
Janel says that she dreamt of having a family of her own her whole life and always envisioned herself having three kids. When the time came, she conceived without complication but was immediately considered "high risk" since she had a history of a blood clot. She had to give herself painful, daily shots in the stomach to prevent further clotting during pregnancy and was monitored very closely. While her pregnancy was uncomfortable, it was a relatively uneventful up until about 36 weeks when she suddenly had intense itching and liver pain.
Janel was diagnosed with cholestasis of pregnancy, which affected her liver but fortunately not the baby's immediate health. Cholestasis does carry a risk of stillbirth, however, so they recommended she be induced by 37 weeks. At 37 weeks they began the induction, and after the third night with no progress, the doctor sent them home. "I felt defeated and discouraged, since every day the doctors and nurses would tell us "today is the day!" we'd be leaving with our baby." They spent the weekend at home and were readmitted Monday morning to begin the induction process again. Janel's water broke that evening, and she labored for the next 21 hours. After wanting to experience natural childbirth, the induction process was exhausting and after laboring for over ten hours, she chose to get an epidural.
As soon as Zachary was born, they whisked him away to be examined, leaving Janel without the immediate skin-to-skin bonding she'd envisioned. Breast feeding in the beginning caused toe-curling pain, even though everyone said it shouldn't hurt. Her doula eventually noticed her son had a tongue-tie, and when they got it clipped a week later, nursing improved immediately and she was able to breastfeed him for 22 months.
Janel knew any subsequent pregnancies would be high risk, as well, given her history. She says that she joked with her husband that she wanted "two pregnancies, three babies" and that the first would be a singleton, and the second twins. "Now, looking back, I see that they really are a wish come true". They found out she was carrying twins at the 8 week ultrasound, and while shocked, surprised, and scared, she felt so lucky that she'd get to have the three kids she always imagined.
Janel again gave herself daily injections to prevent blood clots, and saw her doctor almost weekly due to the increased risks that come with carrying identical twins. Things were going well until 18 weeks when the doctor told her, "Everything has been perfect. Until now." She learned her daughters had the early stages of Twin to Twin Transfusion (TTTS). They knew very little about TTTS except that it can progress quickly and agreed to do anything needed to help keep their babies safe. Janel transferred care to the top high risk OB in Boston who specialized in multiples and were followed closely. "Each week I felt like I was holding my breath until I got to see my girls growing and progressing on the ultrasound screen". Cholestasis set in again at 24 weeks and the medication made Janel feel a constant state of sickness. She says that she was consumed by the pregnancy and her fears but each week that passed felt like a milestone - getting past the point of "viability," and then to 30 weeks, 32 weeks, and ultimately to 36 weeks when she was induced. Thankfully, her daughter's TTTS never progressed past stage two.
Baby A was head down so her doctor had discussed her ability to birth vaginally and Janel was excited to try. She says that her induction felt very similar to her son's with slow responses to a foley catheter, pitocin, and rupturing her waters. After two days in hospital things picked up and she dilated to 9cms but as she prepared to push baby A's heart rate spiked dangerously high and she was prepped for an emergency cesarean.
"My girls were born perfectly healthy and we were able to nurse soon after they were born, but I again missed out on the instant skin-to-skin contact and connection I hoped for. When I found out we were having twins, I worried I wouldn't have the same breast feeding bond I got to have with my son, but I've been tandem nursing my girls for 11 months and don't plan on stopping anytime soon!"
Janel's recovery has been difficult and she is still dealing with pain and discomfort 11 months postpartum. "I'm grateful every day that my three babies were born healthy, but I have a lot of resentment over both of my pregnancies and the birth experience of my twins. I never got to experience a "normal" pregnancy or delivery. It's hard for me to hear about others' totally uneventful, joyful childbirth and pregnancy experiences and not know what that's like."
Soon after her daughters were born, Janel developed significant stomach and digestive issues, as well as, hypothyroidism and had two bouts of mastitis. As someone who prides herself on taking care of her health, she says that these were a blow to her ego, and she's still working on healing her body.
Janel found comfort in the stories and experiences shared in this movement and was eager to share her own. "I am working towards accepting my body for the amazing work it did growing three humans, instead of resenting it for all of the complications I've experienced over the past four years related to pregnancy. I also look forward to sharing this image and my story with my daughters as they get older as a way to instill body confidence in them. I want them to grow up being proud of their bodies and all they are capable of, and know that starts with me."