Katie Drury-Tanner (38), Keats (5), Wren (3), and Camden (6 months)
England | Photographed in Detroit, MI
Katie shares -
"I count myself among the fortunate, having never experienced a personal loss. I've felt the vibrations of grief through the experiences of four friends, however: a full term stillbirth, an undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy that almost took the mother's life, multiple miscarriages, and multiple rounds of unsuccessful IVF. Each friend's story stripped away the rose-tinted lenses through which I'd innocently and naively viewed pregnancy. Through my friends' losses and my own pregnancies, I gained a more balanced perspective of life. Their stories so easily could have been mine. There's no reason for why my friends suffered. There's no reason for why I didn't. There's no fair explanation for why my friends' babies live in their hearts and memories while mine live and grow alongside me. Life is both beautiful and uncertain, comprised of moments and feelings that constantly ebb and flow. Given the gift of motherhood, I strive to appreciate it on behalf of the women I know who have endured loss.
Never have I felt more a part of the circle of life nor more in tune with my body than during my three pregnancies. I loved being pregnant. I loved every moment. Each sensation, whether pleasant or unpleasant, was evidence of the new life my body was growing within. While I recognized the simple fact of biology at work, I was enthralled by the magic of the remarkable feat my body was performing. My rounded belly gave me a different sense of beauty, one that felt more honest and more authentic than the images against which I'd compared myself since childhood. The stretch marks don't bother me; they're the residual evidence of my body's efforts, a badge of honor that I wear with pride.
Now six months postpartum, I'm gradually returning to the shape I recognize, just as I did after my first two pregnancies. There are days when I wish the softness of my belly would redefine itself more quickly. I have to remind myself that if it took 37 weeks to grow Camden, then it's going to take a while to shed the skin of pregnancy. I appreciate the hips that can support my little one and the breasts that feed him. I strive to ultimately be healthy and strong, in mind, body, and spirit - not only for myself, but for the little boys who depend on me.
My postpartum journey has been, and continues to be, an adventure - a beautiful, messy, chaotic, enthralling adventure that I wouldn't trade for anything. In my twenties, I remember looking at women a decade my senior and thinking that they had everything together. Then I arrived in my thirties and discovered the truth: We're all still working it out.
My journey began when Keats unexpectedly arrived six weeks ahead of his due date. He weighed a healthy 6 lbs. 6 oz. that kept him out of the NICU and saw us heading home once his jaundice had cleared up. My husband, Dan, and I had envisioned a birth center delivery under the watchful care of two wonderful midwives. When my water broke at 34 weeks, we instead found ourselves in the labor and delivery suite of the local university-affiliated hospital. My midwives were fortunately able to stay with us, shifting into supportive role of doulas throughout the eight hours of labor. Immediately after Keats arrived, I felt mixed emotions. I loved him, and yet worried that I didn't feel the overwhelming, all-consuming sense of love I thought I was supposed to. Everything had happened too quickly, and I wasn't ready to cradle him outside my body instead of within. His due date had been a week after my teaching year would have finished for the summer, a week I'd anticipated with relish as a final opportunity to prepare for my transition to parenthood. Instead, I took a deep breath and gave Keats and myself the grace of those six weeks to settle in. It took us exactly that long to find our nursing stride, days that were busy with physical therapy visits for his torticollis and nights that were busy with Dan finger feeding Keats while I pumped. I knew the sleep deprivation would be one of the greatest challenges I'd face. In hindsight, I'm sure the 11 months of broken sleep contributed considerably to the postpartum depression I experienced within the first year. I did fall head over heels for my firstborn, and yet simultaneously felt a nagging sense of sadness that made it hard to speak honestly about my experience. Somehow, the cloud lifted, at least for the time being.
Two years after Keats' birth, our planned home delivery was exchanged once again for a hospital delivery. Wren decided to join us just ahead of 37 weeks, despite the weekly progesterone injections I'd had in an effort to prevent another preterm birth. Our midwives would have supported a home delivery on the cusp of 37 weeks, but I opted to err on the side of caution. Wren arrived after less than three hours of labor, and we were home later that afternoon. Taking care of a baby was easy this time around; learning how to share time between two children while remembering to take time for myself without guilt posed a challenge. Once again, postpartum depression found me. Once again, sleep deprivation was a reality, this time lasting until Wren finally began sleeping thought the night not long before his third birthday. Running and writing were the solace for my introverted spirit. I found that reflecting on my thoughts, both in nature and on paper, were essential ingredients in pushing through the heaviness. Dan and I ran the Detroit half-marathon four months after Wren's arrival. Around this time, Dan received an unexpected job offer in Michigan. We found ourselves contemplating a move that would bring us closer to my parents and give me the opportunity to stay at home for the remainder of the year before seeking a new teaching position for the following autumn. Leaving Seattle was difficult, and yet doing so brought us welcome opportunities.
Dan and I knew we wanted two children from the start. He quite happily would have deemed our family complete, but I had a sense that my childbearing years weren't yet over. Had we stayed in Seattle, the reality of the cost of living, coupled with our distance from family most likely would have made the decision for us. In some ways, living in Michigan opened the door for a bigger family. I loved the idea of a bigger family and the beautiful chaos that would continue over the years. Honestly, I greedily wanted a daughter - not for the purpose of decorating with pink or having tea parties, but for the shared experience I could have with a future daughter as I guided her through childhood into womanhood.
Unlike before, Dan and I learned the sex of baby number three: another boy. I felt so much guilt for the disappointment that gripped me, reflecting again on how lucky I was to see the image of a healthy baby on the ultrasound screen. Dan and I strive to raise our boys free from gender stereotypes. My desire for a girl contradicted our desire to raise people who will define their own identities, but the reality is that I'd had a vision for what my family would be. Now the vision needed to shift. And it did. Camden was born at home, in water, having made it beyond 37 weeks to give me the birth experience I'd wanted. I fell in love with him madly and deeply without hesitation, somehow finding a way to share the intense love I have among three children. They each add something unique and beautiful to our family: Keats' sensitivity, Wren's sense of humor, and Camden's joy. This time around, postpartum depression has stayed far away. Welcoming Camden into the world at home in the tranquility of water helped. Until his birth, I hadn't recognized how the unexpected circumstances of his brothers' births had impacted my journey. Sleeping through the night since month four has helped. Knowing from experience just how quickly time flies has helped. I look at my five year old and my three year old, amazed by the individuals they've grown into in such a short time. I look at my husband and all three of my children and know how much I need to appreciate the many moments that comprise our shared story as a family.
My first truth is that being perfect is so much less important than being authentic. I make plenty of mistakes as a parent, and I try not to dwell on the imperfections as much as I used to. I use them as teachable moments for myself and my children, modeling for them that it's okay to make a mistake, and it's important to acknowledge it, dust yourself off, and try again. My second truth is advice I received from a fellow teacher who was a year ahead of me in the parenting game: Keep your heart where your feet are. This was critical for me as I learned how to be present for other people's children during the school day, while being equally present for my own children when the end of each day brought me gladly home to them. My third truth: You've got this, mama. You really do.
Having moved every few years throughout adulthood, home is more than a place to me. My village stretches across multiple continents and consists of friends I've made in England, Michigan, and Washington - many of whom, like me, have ventured elsewhere since our paths first crossed. I lived in Seattle for over five years. These were pivotal years that saw me through engagement, marriage, and the births of my older two children. I moved back to Michigan with some trepidation, knowing I was returning to a familiar setting, while leaving behind a network of friends that had sprouted out of our shared experiences as we navigated the early years of marriage and parenthood together. I felt a certain loneliness in the first months back in Michigan as I came to understand that old friendships had shifted. I didn't necessarily belong to the same community I had left seven years before. I redefined community and recognized that mine existed across state and country borders. Through phone calls, email, and social media, I still had my village. I share my story because stories are what we have. Stories connect us.