Lauren Swan (32), Coralie (4), Merrick (2), and Logan (7 weeks)
San Diego. Lauren also participated in Las Vegas in February 2015. You can view her original photo and story here.
Lauren shares -
"I have always been pretty chubby and have had a pretty negative view of my body during different points in my life, but I especially struggled after I had my daughter because my belly remained big after my daughter was born and it made me really self-conscious (especially when people would congratulate me on being pregnant and I wasn't!). Despite this, I was REALLY determined to not pass on the self-hatred to my daughter that I grew up with so for the first time in my life I worked really hard to love my body. It wasn't really until the homebirth of my first son (and around the time I participated in this project the first time!) that I really learned to love and appreciate my strong and capable body more than I ever have in my life, and how beautiful that makes me feel!
This postpartum period was insanely different than my last two! We found out around 32 weeks that our baby had IUGR and I spent the last month+ of my pregnancy constantly worried about my baby - terrified that he was going to be a stillborn, that he was going to have a genetic disorder or an infection that affected him after he was born, etc. Finally after numerous ultrasounds and 2x weekly NSTs it was decided that my son wasn't growing enough and needed to come out at exactly 36 weeks. I endured a marathon 30 hour induction with no pain meds, hands down the hardest physical feat of my life thus far, but was rewarded with a beautiful baby boy named Logan born vaginally and weighing in at 4lbs 11oz.
I had a few sweet moments of my screaming newborn laying on my chest before he was whisked away to the NICU for breathing trouble. He stayed for the next 16 days as he learned to breath well and gain weight without the use of oxygen and feeding tubes. Physically, I recovered quickly from this birth, but I have struggled a bit both mentally and emotionally since my son was born. When he was in the NICU it felt like we were leading a double life, spending days at the hospital with our newborn and nights at home with our other two kids; two separate lives that rarely intersected.
Physically, I recovered so quickly from birth that I told my husband (often while crying) that some days it felt like I was never actually pregnant at all: I had no lingering aches or pains from pushing out my tiny third child and no baby in my arms at home to prove that it wasn't all a scary dream, which felt really, really sad. On top of these huge emotions I struggled daily with the demands of feeding my baby. I am very passionate about the importance of breastfeeding and in the past was diagnosed with Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT) which means that sufficient milk supply has always been something hard-fought on my part in order to nurse my babies. While Logan was in the NICU I was able to pump more than enough for his bottles and nursed him a few times a day with the help of a nipple shield, but once he got home the amount of milk he needed increased and I found it harder and harder to pump, nurse, bottle feed and care for my newborn in addition to my other two kids.
My husband has been a *huge* help with the baby and big kids since we brought Logan home, but he is self-employed and needed to return to work after a few weeks and the stress of trying to "do it all" for my three kids made me tired and overly emotional pretty quickly. We started adding formula supplementation to my breastmilk to make up what I wasn't able to pump for Logan and I instantly felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders (we also tried donor milk from two different moms the first few weeks but they both irritated his sensitive stomach and made his reflux and frequent crying even worse, so unfortunately donor milk is off the table for the time being).
Finally now, after much deliberation and fighting some intense mom guilt, I have stopped pumping and we transitioned to only formula bottles with a few breastfeeding sessions a day. This was a really hard decision for us to make, but with the perspective of him being my third child (along with all the time demands that go along with that!) I have realized that a sane and happy mommy who is able to leave the house with the kids is way more important for the well-being of both myself and my entire family right now.
I think one of the most important thing I've learned is that, as a parent, you have to do what's right for YOU at this moment in your life. Your experience with one child will be very different than your experience with another and it is totally normal for you to make different choices based on this at different times in your life. For example, I pumped around the clock for months with my first child and multiple times a day for nearly a year with my second, but this time around I made it 6 weeks before I decided it was time to stop pumping and this is OKAY. I have learned to be okay with the fact that I am in a different situation now than I was with both my other two kids, and the things I need now to be a happy and healthy person in this postpartum period are different than they were with my last two children. Additionally, my threshold is different than anyone else's so things that other women in a similar situation may be able to do (or not do) are going to be different than what I'm able to do and THAT'S OKAY TOO.
My most recent pregnancy, birth, and postpartum have been incredibly difficult for me. I have found myself feeling frustrated that my body didn't "do what it was supposed to" and I wasn't able to carry a healthy baby to term (and then meet the feeding needs of that baby once he was here by making enough breastmilk for him). My husband and I agreed that this will be our last baby, and I feel like I got robbed of my entire third trimester because I spent the whole time afraid for my baby and then he was forced to come out early anyway because he was in danger.
I wanted to participate in this project in part because I want to start loving my body again, to look at it not as broken but as strong and capable like I once did. I also think it's really important to share my experience so that someone out there who is going through something similar can read this story and know that they are not alone. I want that person to draw strength from my story and to know that if I can make it through a terrifying pregnancy and emotional postpartum period where nothing has gone as expected then they can too.