Melanie Dorn Kraut (30) and Margaret Elizabeth "Maggie" (8 months)
Ontario, California | Photographed in Las Vegas, NV
Melanie shares -
"Oddly enough, parenthood has made me a lot more confident in my body than I was before! I wasted so many years of my life scrutinizing myself and worrying about every perceived flaw my body has – acne, cellulite, thick thighs from years of gymnastics and ballet, small breasts, and on and on the list went. Even when I was at my most fit from a health standpoint I still had a laundry list of things I wanted to fix about my body: “If only I had _________ then I’d truly be happy when I look in the mirror.”
I’m embarrassed to admit that one of my biggest fears early in my pregnancy was what would happen to my body. When I saw the changes other moms’ bodies had undergone during pregnancy and postpartum, I secretly judged them for not working harder to get their bodies back. (What a horrible thing to see on paper. I’m still deeply ashamed of that.) But during my own first trimester I felt so sick and exhausted that I stopped going to the gym entirely and lived on the only food I could keep down: bagels with cream cheese and Wheat Thins. My doctors assured me that doing what I could just to survive was enough, but I still couldn't stop worrying about what my body would look like after my pregnancy thanks to those months of sedentary, carbo-loaded living.
At about that time some friends of mine from college opened up online about their struggles with infertility and miscarriage. Reading their vulnerable stories of loss and seemingly infinite waiting gave me a new appreciation for what my body was doing on its own: growing and sustaining a tiny, healthy human being. I resolved to stop letting fear control how I felt about my body and start celebrating. I started changing the way I talked to my reflection in the mirror. I purposefully curated more body-positive social media feeds. During the weigh-ins at my OB appointments I stood backward on the scale; I didn’t really need to know what numbers showed up. That way I could be free to focus on how I felt instead of making frantic calculations about how much weight I’d have to lose after baby came.
My second and third trimesters passed much more easily; the nausea subsided and I ended up loving seeing my body grow and feeling my baby move! Instead of fretting over my expanding waistline like I did in early months, I regularly stood naked in front of the mirror admiring how curvy I’d become. Those months were a constant celebration for me of my body’s incredible ability to sustain a human life.
My body made it through Maggie’s birth with very little external wear and tear; a cesarean scar, a couple stretch marks, and a few extra pounds on my hips and thighs are the only things I carry now that she’s out. And when I look in the mirror and see those things, I choose to offer up a prayer of thanks for an easy pregnancy and a healthy baby girl in my arms.
If I had to summarize my postpartum journey in a word, it would be “surprising.”
My daughter was measuring quite large in the last few weeks of my pregnancy so we decided to induce shortly after her due date. The induction actually went really well; my labor progressed until I was fully dilated and ready to push 22 hours after I was induced. Unfortunately, after three hours of pushing Maggie still wouldn’t descend. My husband and I opted for a cesarean and a half hour later, we met our daughter for the first time.
The amount of time it took me to recover physically caught me by surprise. My body felt totally wrecked in the days and even weeks after my daughter’s delivery because I endured both a full labor (complete with the work of pushing) and then a major surgery. I couldn’t get out of bed on my own for almost two weeks after Maggie was born. We also struggled with the first few weeks of breastfeeding; the pain from my nursing injuries was so intense that for a while there every time she cried, I cried in anticipation of the forty minutes of pain waiting for me.
The physical recovery was nothing compared to my emotional recovery, though. In addition to the hormones flooding my body and making me cry about everything (I’m in awe of my daughter! I’m terrified by how bad I feel! I don’t have the right kind of pickles in the house for the sandwich I’m making!) I also unexpectedly processed parts of my daughter’s birth as if they were a traumatic event. In the time between our decision to do the surgery and the time the doctors actually performed it, my epidural wore off. I was in agony with every contraction because I kept feeling like I had to push, but even when I did there was no relief since she was stuck. I was so scared that I actually had an anxiety attack on my way down to the operating room: I lay eyes closed, trembling, nauseated, and in a drug-induced haze on that table for what felt like forever while the doctors prepped until my husband finally came down. Even when my daughter was being born, I didn’t feel like I was really there; all I could think was, “Don’t throw up. Don’t throw up.” I felt so sick and afraid I could barely opened my eyes long enough to see her emerge over the curtain. I had to sleep with the lights on and the TV running for almost four weeks after my daughter was born because every time I was in the dark alone I sobbed. I didn’t look at any pictures of that day for months afterward for the same reason. Even now I have to be in the right state of mind to be able to think about the time I spent in the hospital.
But my postpartum experience was also surprising because it ended up being far more enjoyable than I imagined. Our pregnancy was a surprise, and throughout those nine months I worried motherhood would make me feel like I’d lost my sense of who I was. I worried I would have PPD (since I was at higher risk as someone who already suffers from depression). I worried I wouldn’t feel any emotional bond with my child. I worried I would hate my new role as a mother. But none of those things ended up happening: my mental state stayed healthy, I adore my daughter, and I feel no sense of loss or contempt having entered into motherhood. I’m surprised by how much I genuinely love being a mom.
Once I felt my attitude shift toward gratefulness during my pregnancy, I made a point of purposefully curating my social media feeds and news outlets toward birth-positive and body-positive channels. I had seen your work before with 4TBP and really loved it, but it took a reminder from a friend to get me to follow the pages online. Flooding my feeds and my mind with empowering, celebratory messages made a huge difference in how I viewed my changing body and upcoming birth/postpartum experience. This project was immensely important to me during that season and I want to be a part of it in the hopes that it will help someone else also feel a little more confident about herself and her own strength.
If I could pass along a word of encouragement to my former self, it would be to trust that I’ll be ready for whatever comes next when the time is right. I struggle mightily with not worrying about the changing seasons in my life but so far I have survived each one… and hopefully I’ve become a little wiser and more full of grace on the other side.