Lydia Rhoads (31) Currently pregnant, Griffin (4) and Sabine (2).
New Hampshire. Photographed in Madison, WI.
"I feel so much more confident in my body now, especially after my successful VBAC with my daughter. Tall and far from coordinated I grew up feeling awkward and insecure. The coordination hasn't improved much, but I now feel much more in possession of my own body. It's as though I've come to fully inhabit myself rather than apologetically take up space.
My VBAC was an incredibly empowering experience. I switched my care from the hospital where I had my son to a birth center. This meant a 45 minute drive which certainly wasn't fun while in labor, but the team completely supported my desires for an unmedicated birth. I arrived at the center in what I thought was active labor, but was determined to be at 2 cm. The midwife thought I'd have to leave and come back but agreed to let me stay for an hour to see if I progressed. I trusted my body and at the next check was 4 cm. The team officially admitted me and let me get into the shower. Once under the warm water, with a rock star nurse who held the continual monitors in place so I could concentrate on my body and baby, I sprinted through the rest of my labor. My doula and husband took turns applying counter pressure and talking me through contractions. Four hours after arriving and about 20 minutes of pushing (during which time I vividly recall attempting to bite my loving and supportive husband's arm) my daughter was born.
My postpartum journey's were quite different between my son and my daughter. With my son I had to have a c-section as he stubbornly remained breech despite two version attempts, all the techniques from spinning babies, and moxibustion. He liked being tucked in all cozy under my ribs and wasn't about to move. For me the experience was too clinical; my arms were strapped down and the spinal block gave me an instantaneous migraine so intense I could barely see my son through my tears of pain. I felt robbed of giving birth; it was as though he were simply removed, shown to me briefly, and examined. So many bright lights and cold gloved hands. I wish gentle cesarean sections were practiced at the time of my son's birth where he was born. I think it would have made a world of difference. While I was lucky to bond with him quickly and deeply, my c-section and the resulting treatment from support staff resulted in breastfeeding struggles. The nurses spent 5 minutes in the OR trying to help my son latch, then decided my nipples were not the ideal shape and size and gave me a nipple shield. I was given very little support, and when I did seek it out was told that I had turned my breasts into bottles with the use of the shield so why fight the inevitable? Six weeks of struggling later, my son became upset with the shield and pulled it off never to be used again.
I did experience postpartum depression for which I was prescribed medication. I took exactly one dose, which had an enormous impact upon my son, and never took another one. I in no way look down upon those who do use medication to aid in their PPD or PPA, it just wasn't for myself or my son. Luckily, he was a spring baby so I was able to take many walks in the nice weather, which helped as did keeping an open line of communication with my husband. I did have PPD with my daughter but it was less severe and my husband was able to help me identify and address my emotions as they arose.
Society places so much on having healthy babies that the parents own well-being is often overlooked. Trust in parental instinct has been overthrown in favor of medical professionals and online search engines. My truth is that I and my husband are the experts on our children, we know them better than anyone else. If a new parent is worried about their baby they should not stop raising their voices until they have been heard, acknowledged, and further investigation has been instigated. Do not let someone who sees your child for a matter of minutes label you an "overly anxious new parent" and disregard your concern. Fight, you are your child's best advocate and the one who knows if something is wrong of simply "not right." To be the best advocate for your child you must first take care of yourself. So much pressure is placed upon mothers to be selfless and constantly giving. It can feel wrong to say "I need a break, I need time to focus on myself." Emotional and energy reserves are not endless. They need to be refilled with time spent doing non-parental activities. Remember what it is to take a leisurely bath while your partner watches the baby. Take a walk, go to an art class. What did you love before your baby was born? Revisit it. Try a new activity. Putting yourself first sometimes is not selfish, it is a necessity. If you constantly place yourself last you will be slowly ground down and may grow to resent your new life. Take a deep breath, arrange care for your baby, and take some time to find joy in your amazing self.
If I were to be cast in a movie I would not be the star. Most certainly I would be the side-kick best friend. I've struggled to speak up for myself and take anything approaching center stage. I'm the person who is spoken over at meetings and overlooked at parties. Some would call me a weak personality or a follower. Experiences in college pushed me to begin changing my own self-perception and from there hopefully how others viewed me. I started looking for ways to apply the same honed steel strength I used for my friends when they needed support on myself. Living in rural Japan for 18 months after college while engaging in a very long distance relationship with my now husband was my first step. I've searched out experiences that frighten me or challenge my self image. Where I used to live I trained and volunteered as an advocate for victims and survivors of abuse and stalking. In doing so I discovered a passion I never knew I had. One day I hope to work with those who have experienced sexual abuse, specifically the LGBTQIA+ population as I believe they are underserved and overlooked.
This photo session is another way for me to challenge how I see myself. Society has made it clear that I am far from beautiful when it comes to the currently admired set of physical characteristics. I've struggled with internalizing these messages and accepting my body for many years. My husband has helped me come to love who I am, my pregnancies and children have shown me my own power. Now I search to see for myself, with my own eyes, how my family sees me. They call me beautiful. I'm beginning to see it, I hope participating in this amazing project helps my vision to fully clear and wipe away the remaining shadows of doubt."