Liz Ryan (33) with her 4 living children - Sully, Mags, Veda, and Reddington.
It was a Tuesday morning, in the middle of winter, when the sun sleeps longer than it is awake. I was still sleeping, tucked away in my warm blankets, when I began to drift in and out of pain, alternating with my dreams; like when your alarm goes off and you are still in a deep sleep, but your brain keeps reminding you to wake up.
The pain in my abdomen was enough to wake me up. I remember so clearly, whispering in my head..."Go back to sleep Little One."
My subconscious knew that we were in danger, but my body had not fully responded to the alarms my body was sending me. The pain grew, my mind and body were on the same page, I NEEDED to get up.
I grabbed my phone, walked quietly, as to not wake up my husband, and made my way down the dark stairs. My heart was pounding; I knew what I had to do. The suspense was palpable. I got to the bottom of stairs, rounded the corner to the left, and walked into the bathroom. I closed my eyes, looked down, and opened them.
I immediately was gasping for air. Sobbing. The kind where you can't breathe, you can't come up for air, you are COMPLETELY SUFFOCATED BY GRIEF. It was 5:30 am.
I called my doula, barely forming words, between my deep heaves. I couldn't tell Steven. I mustered up just barely enough in me, to yell up the stairs for him, in a way to make it sound like I wasn't crying. He came. I handed the phone to him, and had my Doula tell him. I could not speak. I could not tell the man I loved, that I, Me, his wife, lost his baby. I had an overwhelming feeling of grief and embarrassment coupled with guilt. Somehow, I felt guilty, the one to blame, the one at fault.
When I whispered for my Little One to go to sleep, they already were. And when the pain grew in my abdomen, that pain would spread like wild fire and wind, to every aspect of my life. The days ahead were much darker than any winter I had ever seen. We had gone from not being pregnant, to finding out on vacation, to surprising both sides of our family for Christmas, to losing the baby 2 days after our biggest surprise ever.
We had a doctor with billowing chest hair coming out of his scrubs, tell us that it wasn’t my fault unless I smoked crack or stuck a rusty hanger up my vagina. Dead serious. I was so disconnected with my body. I didn’t even know which pads to buy, my husband had to call my doula and ask. I had no clue what my body was capable of, but everything told me it was only capable of destruction during that season of my life. I entered my first depression and stayed there for 6 months.
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
“After having a miscarriage with our first baby, I went from being completely broken, like it was further proof that my body was not right and never was. To then getting pregnant again, growing a real life baby for almost 42 weeks, and then using only my body to bring them earth side. The days and weeks following my birth, I was able to see myself through a different lens than I ever had before. Prior to babies, I had never felt “right” in my skin. There was always something to strive for and try to make “right”, except I never knew what that was exactly, but was completely convinced it wasn’t me.
When I had Sully, I met a new me. I met someone that despite all of my broken I had been before, was somehow now whole. I realized that the narrative I had been spoon fed from the time I was born, was way off base. It was like a veil had been lifted when I gave birth. I was able to see every part of my body for good, not as a burden. My love affair with myself only deepened as time went on. I was able to breastfeed, and now nourish this mini human with just myself again. Nothing else made me more capable than what was already inside of me. So, it truly was this awakening. I remember making a promise to myself to never talk bad about myself in general, and most importantly in front of him. It became so routine that it truly became me. I didn’t have to watch how I spoke about myself, because I only winked at myself in the mirror every time. I experienced new milestones in my life, just like my baby. I had so many firsts…wearing shorts, wearing a bikini, wearing skinny jeans, saying yes to all the things that the world had told me no for so long.
I realized I had wasted 25 years of my life hating myself, and decided I was done with that person who always had to adhere to social stipulations. I really cannot fully put into words how freeing it was. How freeing it was to give myself permission to love myself wholly, and know it wasn’t a façade. I didn’t feel like a fraud anymore, because I did have times where I felt beautiful in the moment; but it was fleeting. It was something that came in all the add-ons like clothes, hair, and makeup, but the absence of those things left me back at square 1. It has been 8 years now since I have been clean & sober from self-hate. Four kids in my body changed each pregnancy, but I have always come back to it with love. It is hands down the best decision I have ever made.
Feel free to share your postpartum journey.
Reddington is our last baby, and I feel like I just got the hang of honoring the postpartum period in my life. With my first two, I had figured out how to love my body, and the journey into motherhood. I put my whole being into being a mom. The right kind of mom, ha. Then as they grew, life got real, real. I began to see patterns from childhood, and triggers playing out in my life. So, it became this balance of trying to understand where my feelings were coming from, and matching them up with reality. It was like the universes joke, it had me thinking that I done. Complete. Finished.
Turns out, loving my adult self was only just the tip of the iceberg. I had to go back and love the child inside of me that had never healed. I realized that the only way I could effectively parent was to work on myself. It was something I had never allowed myself to or given myself the luxury of. I had put so much into rewriting my childhood experiences that I left myself out completely.
So, I began to go to counseling, and work on me. I was able to identify triggers in parenting and in marriage. I was able to see the whole picture of healing, knowing that unless I do the work no one else will. Postpartum began to feel like I was cracking a code. By my 3rd baby, I figured out that I needed to make a postpartum birth plan. I needed to set expectations; I needed to nourish my body, nourish my soul, and definitely plan on not liking my husband at 4 months postpartum. It never fails that my hair starts falling out, and our marriage starts falling apart at that mark. Every. Time. Hormones? No sleep? Another full blown human? I am sure it all plays a part, but I am able to acknowledge that now, and work on solutions. With my third baby, I put reminders in my phone calendar for the whole year. I sat one night, picked random dates, and put in notes. Some of them are as simple as “drink water”, “take a deep breath”, to “work on your marriage”. I also started to ask for help, which was something I was always too nervous to do. I was able to view postpartum as kind of a step by step process, of setting up what I needed to do for myself, what I needed from my husband, and what I needed from friends and family.
My postpartum journey is now mainly focused on giving myself grace, honoring where I am at, and continuing to work on myself. I find that a lot of what I need to work on personally is brought to the surface within the first 9 months postpartum. It is a constant state of checking in with me and deciding what to do with it, or else it manifests in anxiety; and the postpartum period magnifies it. There are so many resources now, that weren’t there with my first. One of them being support from other postpartum mom’s via Facebook. It is reassuring to know that we are all on this same journey together, and that most of what we feel in a day, is normal and ok.
What is your truth?
My truth is, there was never anything wrong with me. I was the right me the whole time, I was who I was supposed to be from the beginning.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
I have been watch 4th Tri bodies for so long, and seeing the pictures and inspiration circulate social media for years now. It was one of the first visuals I had of what it looked like to love yourself, and journey, and path as a mother. I knew I had felt a change in me, after my babies, but this project was the guide to being ok, with being ok. I want to be a part of something that can be a visual for my kids to also see the diversity in being ok, with being ok. I want them to see how much I love this body that they had a part in changing for me.”
Liz is also author and illustrator of the children’s book, “My Mommy Had a Miscarriage”, which you can buy here.