Marisa Veri (33), Theodore Xavier (3.5) and Gabriel Zane (15 months)
Marisa shares -
“My journey to motherhood began in the summer of 2013 when I learned I was pregnant for the first time. Diagnosed with a genetic hormonal disorder as a pre-teen, I was told from a young age that I would need medical assistance to get pregnant but was encouraged to try to conceive before pursuing interventions.
For this reason, we had started to lose hope after 6 months of trying. In the seventh month we were overjoyed to learn I was pregnant, but I also found myself in excruciating abdominal pain. Fearing there was something amiss I went to my family doctor and to the ER, but the blood tests and ultrasounds all came back normal and my doctor ascribed the pains to IBS brought on by the pregnancy. We had a holiday booked off that year around this same time, to go north to our family cottage. While we were there the pains meant that we stayed in most of the time basking in the idea of our first baby, but one morning I woke up with spotting. We went straight to the hospital. The staff took blood and after a lot of waiting around told me that everything would be “tickety-boo”. I will never forget that phrase. I remember thinking it wasn’t very reassuring. I wanted something quantifiable.
We carried on hoping but worrying that things wouldn’t work out this time. We nicknamed him Oë, because we would have named him Joey (Joseph) or Zoë. My husband would lay his hands on my abdomen and send good vibes to our little dude. In spite of all of our hopes, near the end of my second month carrying him there was no longer a heartbeat on our ultrasound and at 10 weeks I underwent a medically managed miscarriage using misoprostol. Being RH negative myself, I had to go to the hospital to receive a RhoGAM shot and pain management. Lay waiting for treatment, I heard the doctor and her colleague walking toward my exam room. “It’s just a miscarriage,” said one of them to the other. In that moment, those words rung in my ears amidst my grief and anger, the loss of my baby, of my innocence and of the trust in my body.
After my miscarriage, my body image was decimated in a way I was unaccustomed to. As a plus sized woman, I am no stranger to insecurity and bad body image but I was not simply unhappy with how I looked, I was dissatisfied with my body as a whole. It couldn’t even perform the functions it was designed for. Before getting pregnant that first time I was eating and exercising to get as healthy as possible for baby, but after the miscarriage I was so angry at my body for its betrayal that taking care of it in that way was an infuriating reminder that even when doing everything right, it could all go wrong.
When I learned I was pregnant for the second time, I began to take care of my body again and really embraced how my body looked pregnant, and I was so proud to be creating life. However, at 37 weeks and 2 days labour was induced after tests indicated I had developed HELLP Syndrome. 43 hours of induced labour and an unplanned cesarean later, Theodore arrived. I remember after my first shower I sobbed as I looked at myself in the mirror. The HELLP had caused so much edema that my body was unrecognizable to me, and my body image plummeted as I felt my body had failed me yet again by needing a cesarean.
Breastfeeding my children seemed like the last way my body could redeem itself, and yet my milk was delayed. Fighting frustration, my husband helped the baby to latch time and again as we all learned how to make breastfeeding work. As my cesarean incision healed and breastfeeding became easier, my body image slowly began to rebuild. I began to see my body for its strengths and accomplishments, not for its shortcomings.
When I got pregnant for the third time with my youngest, Gabriel, I felt really comfortable in my body. I exercised regularly and chased my toddler around but there was still a lot of self-doubt left from my previous experiences. I attended Birth Without Fear, unpacked a lot of emotions there and sought more body positivity. I took prophylactic measures against the development of HELLP and was able to go on to have a totally healthy pregnancy. My body naturally went into labour at 36 weeks and 5 days and I was fortunate to experience an unmedicated VBAC which helped me to regain both confidence and positive body image. Overall, it feels like motherhood has repaired my relationship with my body. I am fortunate to have been able to carry and feed my children with my own body and in doing so was able to recognize a strength within myself that I didn’t know I had. Also, having children around has forced me to make peace with my body image issues, so that my children have the role model of self-love I want them to have.
Breastfeeding was challenging at the beginning but I was lucky to have a relatively uneventful, positive and healing breastfeeding experience with Theodore. My milk was delayed in coming in after the surgery, but once it did, I nursed him exclusively for 6 months and continued to nurse him after that until 19 months when I gently encouraged him to wean. I was wholly unprepared for the hormonal crash involved in weaning but we made it through.
Breastfeeding with Gabriel had its challenges since his mouth was tinier, and his chin was recessed, but now at 15 months and breastfeeding is still going, in spite of his acrobatics and biting. There were some growing pains as we found our footing as a family of four, but my husband is an excellent co-parent and our families were very supportive.
Things were going well, except that I could tell right away that my anxiety was flaring up. About a week postpartum the public health nurse flagged me as having “possible postpartum depression.” There were a couple of times when I mentioned my depression and anxiety to someone outside my immediate family and they dismissed it as not being PPA or PPD because I have pre-existing mental illness. I would tell my mother the extent of my depression and anxiety and she encouraged me to go to my doctor, but I kept believing it would get easier because my typical depression and anxiety spells usually do not require medical intervention.
By November of last year, I had reached a pretty serious depression, complete with suicidal and self-harm ideation. It was one of the most difficult experiences I’ve ever had to work through. I finally reached out to my counsellor who confirmed that I had severe high-functioning postpartum depression, yet I was still not convinced to seek medical help from my doctor. Since my usual cycles of depression and anxiety abate within 6 weeks, I was sure my doctor could not help when many medications for this would take just as long to begin working. I felt so ashamed that I would require such help when my life was so perfect. I should be grateful, rather than depressed. Truthfully, I was also terrified of what consequences I would face by saying these things out loud to the doctor.
I wish I had known earlier on, when the level of mental illness was not quite so severe, that it was PPD at play and that can and should be managed a little differently to traditional anxiety and depression. I also wish I had listened to the people who encouraged me to get help. Instead, with great difficulty, I muddled along for about 6 weeks with a quite a lot of help from my husband, family and friends until the unwanted thoughts subsided and I was able to think more clearly again. Since then, I am so thankful that my mood and mental illness has been fairly stable with some manageable bad days. I know that it will not always be smooth sailing for me in that department but knowing what I have come through, I know I have the support to help me face anything.
Battling depression and anxiety for years, and especially in my most recent postpartum year, I try to hold onto the idea that “It’s going to be ok.” During a bad mental health spell, I had this tattooed on my wrist. Now whenever I am overwhelmed and my mental illness sets in, it is what I tell myself.
One thing I always tell new parents is that everything is a phase. Whatever it is, from refusing solid foods to refusing sleep, in time it will end just as abruptly as it began. It can be overwhelming as a new parent because the beauty of parenthood seems so very fleeting, while everything that is frustrating or difficult, in that fog of sleeplessness and hormones, really feels like it’s going to last forever. Reminding myself and others that it is not going to last forever seems simple but it does seem to help.
I am participating to show the more insecure versions of myself, past, present and future, that I can be brave. I’m participating for my children and for other people who may not have the opportunity to participate. I want them to see that women are strong, fearless, powerful, and all different shapes and sizes. I want them to learn that doing that thing you want to do that scares you a little, is in fact empowering. I hope exposing them to these sorts of experiences helps them to continue to grow into awesome humans.”