Michele Ann Aguilar Kahrs (34), Caitlin Mae 29 months and Emerson Grace 5 months
Los Angeles, CA | Photographed in Seattle, WA
Michele shares -
"I will never forget the fear I had in the hospital after my c-section - after the birth of my first daughter. I was afraid my insides would come tumbling out of my incision. Staples? and Tape? I felt exactly like I had been cut open. I had to have my partner look at my incision site before I could look myself. A few days later, at home in my own bathroom, I took a photo of myself in the mirror after the shower. I was holding my baby girl and it was important for me to capture that moment. I was cut (and marked forever), I was disappointed in my birth, but I had survived and I had a beautiful baby in my arms. My scar reminds me of both days.
My weight swung back to my college weight close to the year mark postpartum which worried me. I saw a nutritionist, spent time focusing on myself. When I was pregnant with my second baby girl, I had more expectations for what my body would go through and I would like to say I was more graceful with myself. I was prepared for the swollen hands and ankles, the ravenous cereal binges at midnight and I had an idea of what a birth journey might entail. BUT my water broke unexpectedly the morning of my big girl's birthday party and I was reminded again - that my body has been given over to my girls - be it birth, nursing, muscle building toddler deadlifts up the stairs or as the midday comforting, snuggle spot for my 2 girls. With support of midwives and my partner, I was able to vaginally birth my second baby girl. I sometimes cringe when I hear the phrase "100% natural!" I have birthed 2 babies 2 different ways and there are still days I remind myself that the miracle of birth is amazing, no matter how it comes about.
I struggled after the birth of my first baby girl. There's a piece of me that will always wonder how my story would be different if my mom were here to join me as I became a mom myself - she died when I was about 4 months old. What advice would she have given? What help might she have provided as I recovered? What comfort? I'll never know. My partner was - and is - my person. He helped me with endless pillows and positioning for breastfeeding in those early weeks, he picked up cabbage from the store, laughed with me at my enormous engorged breasts, fed our baby girl expressed milk and encouraged me all along the way. He took a lengthy leave from work to bond with our baby and acclimate to our new family life.
We both returned to work and I experienced incredible anxiety and guilt leaving my baby at daycare. Our first location wasn't a good fit for our family and we ultimately found a warm, trusting place. I was diagnosed with PPA/PPD near my daughter's first birthday. It was tough and I fought with the shame of it; like I had failed in so many ways. Being new to Seattle, we were building a new support network with local friends and we have been blessed with some wonderful families along the way. With the birth of my second baby (who arrived 2 years +1 day after my first) I had a few days where I worried that I was betraying her somehow, that she would forever have to share me with another person she never asked for - and I worried even more about how I would navigate the possibility of having 2 girls (we hadn't known the sex for either pregnancy). Big sister C has loved baby Em since the day she met her in the hospital. I am still being treated for PPD/PPA and I think I'm doing a great job, but it's hard to recognize that. I have 2 strong, beautiful girls; what a gift, but yes, it's still tough.
I say it often - I'm doing the best I can. As a parent or mother, no matter what your circumstance is, you have to stop and just focus on that - you ARE doing the best you can. And if you think you're not, then you probably just need to refill your own self-love tank a bit. My 2nd truth is: you can't pour from an empty cup.
I am raising two girls to be women and I am a motherless daughter; now a motherless mother. That in itself is complex and can be isolating. I'm intentional with my parenting and I'm proud of my girls and my family. I want them to know that no matter what their path is, they can do it, and there isn't just one way to do it. We are all doing it our own way and that's ok. Right now, with the political climate?? I believe it's even more important to give voice to our stories as women and as mothers. There is no "normal" and no "best" and no one should be telling us that there is."