Megan Callahan (37), Paxton (5), and Xander (2 - pictured)
Megan shares -
“I lost an unexpected pregnancy early on when I was in graduate school. It's not something I discuss very often, and never even processed with the person I was dating at the time. Just recently, with some other personal healing work I've been doing, it has resurfaced. I found myself even resistant to talk about it here. I then became pregnant unexpectedly a second time (with my now oldest son) and when I shared the news with the biological father, one of his first reactions was to share the fear he had that his father would have a stroke.
The connection we had deteriorated very badly over the course of that pregnancy, to the point that I needed therapy. It was as if I was feeling into my long line of ancestors, and a new story was unfurling, our culture shifting, as I in no way felt that this child I was having alone was a "bastard." While this was going on I was simultaneously elated to become a mother and read endless books, meditated, connected with the baby and prepared, as best I could, for life as a single mother. I could feel boundaries I had not felt before slowly taking root, and took great care with my emotional and physical energy, which is something I am cycling back to now in a much deeper way. I also began dating my ex again (not the biological father, but the father to my second child.)
My labor was extremely long and arduous. A home birth with several days of extreme back labor and with the baby in an asynclitic position. I remember that throughout the whole of this, with several doulas, my birth team, and my partner at the time, that I felt a wisdom I had not previously experienced deep within me. But the birth was more traumatic then I initially realized and took several years to process.
Until very recently, my experience with body image and labor/pregnancy and postpartum have been very positive. I was extremely healthy during both pregnancies, teaching a full load of yoga classes until close to my due date, and with my second walking miles upon miles when he was overdue, feeling strong and grounded in my body.
After my second child I noticed a pre-varicose vein, and stretch marks/extra skin on my belly, and have worked very hard to love these parts of me, as beautiful tattoos of the journey and symbolic personal birth that I underwent in becoming a parent. Years ago when I was in massage school, I remember that this was a powerful time for me in healing body image because I worked on all manner of bodies and found them to be quite beautiful each in their own right. There was no ideal body.
Similarly, I find myself healing when encountering rough edges regarding my body image when I see other mothers and real people. I find them to be so beautiful, and they become a mirror to remind me of my own inherent inner and outer beauty. There's a cognitive dissonance we have to work through because we are seeing so many false and digital images that make the raw unfiltered gorgeousness we encounter in the real people in our lives somehow seem less then- until we see it for the lie that it is. I am no longer a maiden. I am a mother, and I have changed, and even if I may sometimes struggle with these changes, I see them through the context of a body that has been nursing and growing children for six years. It feels rebellious and empowered for me this way, when I can cast off the dominant system's incessant efforts to associate value with how flat one's stomach is after birth. I am physically and emotionally strong and that is more valuable then anything.
I read many books during pregnancy- I didn't realize it at the time, but looking back I was beginning a headlong dive into birth activism. I was fascinated especially by anthropological accounts of the pre & post natal period and how different the postpartum period could be if prepared for, if one had genuine support. But even with all the reading, I of course, was not entirely prepared.
I tore pretty badly with my first birth, and was not stitched, so I was bedridden and trying to keep my legs together to encourage natural healing. This time in bed was wonderful for days of skin to skin with my newborn and I was extremely grateful I had read so much about breastfeeding because although he initially latched, he would not successfully latch again after that first time. I remember saying to him, and myself, gently, "We are both new at this. we'll figure it out." Hand expressing colostrum and feeding it to him on my pinky. Not wanting to use a nipple shield, but then so grateful they existed when my newborn was once again able to latch. But the stress of those first two months of trying to get him to latch without it (which he eventually did), left me constantly feeling like I was somehow failing him.
I had endless gratitude to my mother who financed a maternity leave for me and spent the first five weeks with me, as I was living alone at the time, getting up in the middle of the night to change him/soothe him so I could steal some extra moments of sleep. My sister the world's best postpartum nurse cooking me beet greens and preparing sits baths. I was and am extremely aware of the privilege I had during that postpartum period, and that my mental health was as strong as it was in direct proportion to my ability to flex my help muscle, to get over my fears of reaching out and really begin to create a network.
I began rehearsing a play when he was only 3 months old, and I remember the stress of pumping backstage (as I did not yet have a sufficient stash) and feeling this mixed bag of universal gratitude and anger and strife for all women in similar situations. Wishing I could just be with my baby all the time, and bringing him with me whenever possible, and not understanding the cold reception I would sometimes get from folks who expected me to leave him with others. I had not been warned that with my birth injury that I could suffer additional injury, and at 6 months postpartum, feeling strong and fit, I moved a couch, and felt a bulge afterwards in my vagina, only to discover that I had developed a rectocele. I was told there wasn't much to do for it apart from surgery, and that this was just part of my body now. Even within the midwifery model of care, I felt completely left and forgotten in postpartum.
With my second child, postpartum was in some ways easier (breastfeeding was a breeze and there were no first time mom jitters) but my husband at the time could not get up with him in the middle of the night due to medication, and I felt much more alone. With my first I had been religious about sits baths, rest and self care, but since I did not tear I took those first weeks for granted, and regretted it a few times. We traveled for a wedding when I was only five weeks postpartum (as my second was three weeks overdue) and I went through some extremely intense emotional stress on that trip, accompanied by bleeding hemorrhoids, a yeast infection and a urinary tract infection. Shortly after returning home from that trip, our dog suddenly died while on a family outing, and then a few weeks later my husband's brother died. A very heartbreaking period followed, that ultimately involved my husband asking for a divorce, and I moved out with a 7 month old baby and a 3.5 year old. Through it all, I continued nursing both (tandem nursed for 1.5 years total) and continued to grow more passionate about postpartum activism and awareness.
I bawled when I found out this project existed. To be included is a profound honor as we tell the whole raw and beautiful story about this journey that is central to human existence. I wanted to document visually this time in my life as a mother with young children, and since I work with postpartum women, to be vulnerable and share my own story.
We are so much wiser then we've been led to believe, some of us have in fact been gaslit into believing we do not know what we are doing as parents. The oppression of parents is something not often discussed, and I wish I knew what I am learning now about emotional health and first aid when I first became a mother, as it is vital to my ability to show up as a loving and conscious parent. I wish I had asked for help even sooner. I wish I had known more about boundaries, and I wish to encourage new parents to set up their postpartum period in a way that works for them and to be incredibly clear with those who will be around about what is helpful, and what is not and to not be afraid to stick to this. Here's to building strong communities of loving, supportive people, who ask before they dole out advice, and who are happy to honor your requests for length of visits, for dropping meals, listening as you process whatever you need to process.”