Leah Marcus (34) and Avery (4).
Leah is a previous project participant - you can view her previous photo and story here.
Ann Arbor, MI | Photographed in Detroit, MI
Leah shares -
"Historically, I haven't had to *do* much to maintain the figure I had (high metabolism, etc.), but gestating and birthing my son coincided with hitting my 30's and no longer being able to just "coast" (staying sedentary, eating whatever) I needed to really start taking care of my body actively, and pregnancy was a wonderful reason to start doing that. Then, once I was really able to see what my body could do and withstand and create and recover from, I was in awe of it.
Four years postpartum, some things about my body are "back" to where they were, some things are forever changed, but as cliché as it might sound, I wouldn't trade it. My son gets to see me exercising regularly now, and he joins in. I like being able to gain strength and integration while also modeling that for him. I also have worn my son lots of places for lots of reasons (around the house, hikes, naps, etc.), which has helped me both feel and become strong. Parenthood has also given me that perspective of, "I want to take care of this body I have so I can be around for my son as long as possible," which was not something that had sufficiently motivated me previously.
I had a healthy planned pregnancy, no fertility issues, and my son was born at home just as we had anticipated and hoped. However, my labor was 41 hours long and I ended up with a 2nd-3rd degree tear that was not repaired right away. My son spent his first few days in the NICU and Peds due to some retained lung fluid (unrelated to his home birth), and he had trouble latching right away. Breastfeeding difficulties had not even been on my list of potential worries related to birth/postpartum, so when that became an issue, I felt blindsided and cheated, a bit.
I had thought nursing was mostly a matter of support and willpower. So THAT was quite an adjustment and a humbling experience! I actually previously participated in the 4th Trimester Bodies Project back in March of 2014, when my son was just one month old. It's interesting, because at that point I felt like I'd overcome so much in terms of my birth injury and that we were finally on our way to being able to nurse. However, despite being treated for a lip tie and being assessed by multiple experts, Avery never got the hang of nursing, nor the inclination to try to latch. I spent months and months trying unsuccessfully to get him back to the breast, but ultimately it never happened.
Instead, I ventured into the world of Exclusive Pumping, and ended up pumping for my son (and some other babies) for 17 months, and he got my milk until he was over 2 years old! I remember scouring the 4th Trimester Bodies Project stories to find ones about other parents who pumped for their babies, so I wouldn't feel so alone. Even though I mourn not nursing, having to pump instead ended up being a blessing because I got to feed other babies, and I became a source of information and support to numerous friends and acquaintances who also were experiencing nursing issues and/or needing help pumping. I got to improve my boundaries, in the sense that I didn't want to feel like my son was refusing/rejecting me, or failing to nurse AT me; I didn't want to take any of my disappointment out on him and have it affect our attachment. I also didn't want to feel lingering resentment toward my body, or think that it had failed. On the contrary, it has been so resilient and reliable, and I am so grateful for the milk supply I ended up with.
Thankfully, my son and I adore each other and I now don't feel any lingering sense of grief about the ways I could or couldn't nourish him, although I know that that was a gradual process and that it is difficult for so many. Overall, my postpartum and parenting experience has been a series of exercises in embracing what *is* instead of what I'd imagined; the former has almost always been richer and more meaningful. All of the things that went "wrong" about my birthing/postpartum experience have been things that have increased my empathy, sense of nuance, and respect for the limits of one's sense of control over the environment. My also son challenges me every day to accept him as he is, to enjoy the heck out of him, to not push him or try to mold him into anyone he is not, and to stay grateful for all of the ways we can connect that haven't involved latching.
I am here today for my 1-month-postpartum self (the last time I did this project/shoot), to revisit her and to feel such pride and tenderness about who I was and who I've grown into. I am so close with my son now, and I remember being so scared that that wouldn't be the case because of our rocky start. I love this project's commitment to realness and its passion for celebrating the bittersweet and messy totality of welcoming/raising children (and of raising ourselves as parents).
You are doing a hard thing REALLY well. You know you, and you know your child. There is value in the rupture and the repair, more so than in just getting it "right" in the first place. You have more chances (for repair) than you think you do."