The gorgeous Shauna G, Eliot (4.5) and Adeline (12 months).
Shauna grew up in a strict, religious household, rife with criticism. She was taught to fear and be ashamed of her body and topics like sexuality, menstruation, and hormonal changes were strictly off-limits. "I remember overhearing some girls talking at school about getting their periods and asking my mom about it, and she replied from behind a closed door, “well, it’s what comes at the end of a sentence, right?” So, she grew up with basically no knowledge of her body or what it meant to be a woman. As a teenager, she was persuaded to do some modeling as well as participate in regional beauty pageants and found the atmosphere toxic. Having always felt awkward about being tall and slender, the endless commentary on her face (too much acne!), her curves (there were none!), and her posture (no slumping!) viciously wrapped itself around her. After one show, a judge suggested she might “slim down” a bit and perhaps she would be more successful; at 5’9 and 110 pounds, she resolved to eat even less and be more active.
"I rarely slept and obsessed over every detail of my clothing, hair, and makeup throughout high school, in pursuit of that mirage of perfection I had always been pressured to reach. I looked to diuretic pills to slim down as much as I could, which I would continue to abuse throughout college. Only when I moved away from my hometown region (and from my parents) did I really start to understand what I had been missing. I met my husband, a kind, intelligent, hopeful man, and we started our lives together, each optimistically pursuing our paths to happiness. I studied teaching and literature in graduate school, eventually focusing on women’s literature, and decided I would like to teach college students. I read and wrote and drank coffee, inspired by strong female creators like Virginia Woolf, Anne Lamott, and Barbara Kingsolver. I worked alongside a group of diverse, intellectual women as I studied, learning and growing with them. I particularly observed that they did not seek to tear down other women, but instead lifted them up, and this was a new idea to me. I found yoga, and my practice became my place of solace. I wondered over what my body could do and enjoyed the challenge of pushing myself to achieve more strength and flexibility".
Yet, Shauna had grown to despise her body, hiding it under baggy shirts and long skirts; convinced that she was growing larger and larger, she began shopping in the plus-size section, though she never got above a size 8. Her husband was baffled but didn’t know how to help, and she did not share her feelings with her friends or family. Combined with the anxieties of graduate school, she knew she needed help and found a warm and caring counselor who helped her to understand that she was struggling with body dysmorphia. "What I saw in the mirror was not actually there".
Shauna and her husband were perfectly happy and weren't sure they wanted to have children. She had been told by numerous doctors over the years that she couldn’t conceive naturally since she had irregular periods and ovarian cysts. Every woman on either side of her family had had some sort of reproductive health issue, although no one ever talked about it, so she assumed she did too.
After moving up the east coast to take a full-time teaching job she began consulting with doctors on how to bring her body into stasis hormonally and eliminate migraines. Different kinds of birth control pills were suggested, none of which offered a solution, and eventually, her hair began to fall out. In desperation, she sought the help of an herbalist and acupuncturist, who took one look at her and declared she knew just what to do. One month later, they unexpectedly found themselves pregnant with Eliot. "We were in disbelief—at first terrified and, eventually, thrilled". The pregnancy went beautifully—no sickness, no health concerns, little discomfort. They hired a midwife and planned a homebirth. At work and among friends, she spent a lot of time talking to women about their pregnancies and birthing experiences, which left her both drained and afraid. "I didn’t hear a lot of positivity surrounding birth, especially, but I did hear a lot about dreadful tearing, post-baby incontinence, and hemorrhoids".
Shauna went into labor about a week before her due date, on the way home from an appointment with her midwife. She began having contractions and went home to soak in the tub, eat and listen to music. Shauna labored and eventually her midwife broke her water. She soon learned her son was presenting face up and with a nuchal arm. "It was all scary and confusing to me; the pain was so much more than I had anticipated based on the ecstatic natural birth stories I had spent so much time reading. At last, around 14 hours into my labor, I made up my mind that I could not wait any longer to meet my baby. My exhaustion was overwhelming, so I reached down and summoned the last of my energy, and thankfully, with that push, his little head (and hand!) came out, and I delivered the rest of him quickly with the very next push. Reaching down, I grabbed him from between my legs and brought him to my chest. I felt relieved and exhilarated".
Physically, Shauna recovered from the birth really well so she was immediately up and around and doing too much, which quickly became overwhelming. Breastfeeding was a struggle in the early days, due to an undiagnosed (at the time) lip tie, a serious postpartum infection that landed her in the hospital. She considered it a serious personal failure when she wasn’t able to nurse her son for as long as she had envisioned. She developed postpartum anxiety and struggled mightily with even the most basic of tasks. When she went back to work teaching when her son was 6-7 months old, her heart just wasn’t in it and after a semester of struggle, she ultimately decided to move to part-time teaching, online, which has been the best decision of her professional life to date.
They were content as a one-child family until just after their son’s third birthday when she learned she was pregnant with their daughter. Immediately, this pregnancy was different. she felt sick often, even vomited, and instead of gaining weight, she lost weight, and struggled with low blood pressure and fatigue. Around the 4th month of the pregnancy, her husband accepted a job offer 11 hours away, in a southern coastal town. Living there would be a dream, so they found a house, packed and moved, when she was 30 weeks pregnant. The stess was intense and since she was so far along, none of the local homebirth midwifes would take her. She began seeing a midwifery practice and hired a wonderful doula, who knew the ins and outs of the area and the medical system.
8 days before her due date she went into labor and continued to labor at home as long as possible. When she couldn't cope with the discomfort anymore they headed to the birthing center. Upon arrival, she was already 9 cm dilated. "My midwife, doula, husband and the nurses rallied around me through tears, howls, and puke, and several hours later, my daughter made her entrance into the world. I birthed her on my hands and knees. She was and is perfect". Shauna took it easier this time postpartum fearing another postpartum infection. She again, struggled with PPA, but with gentle reminders, remembered her coping mechanisms and utilized them. Having read many books and articles and even taken breastfeeding classes, and also having joined a few mama-support Facebook groups, during the time between her two births, she was prepared to face head-on any breastfeeding struggles she might have. With her husband’s support, she gritted her teeth through another (minor) lip tie, vasospasms, and extremely painful nursing sessions throughout those first 6 weeks. But, they made it through and are still going strong today, 12 months later.
"My issues with dysmorphia continue today. With both pregnancies, I found it easy to lose the weight I gained, especially with nursing, but I felt as though my body re-settled into a different (and increasingly undesirable) shape each time. My daily inner dialogue still involves negativity about what I look like, punishing myself when I eat junk or skip a workout. I find it hard to love what I see when I look in the mirror; I find it hard not to hate what I see and actively avoid looking at myself without clothing some days. I think I will always struggle with this, but I am better able to check myself as I learn to locate my value in places other than my physical appearance. It is a work-in-progress. I am proud of my experiences. Both pregnancies and births taught me a lot about myself, and my kids continue to show me new things every day."
"These photos are FAR outside of my comfort zone, as a woman who has been terrified of two-piece bathing suits most of her life. I wanted to participate in this project as another step in healing my own self-image concerns as well as to celebrate this incredible, unexpected season in my life. Most days, my gratefulness for being able to care for these two small humans, while working from home and juggling everything else in between, is astounding. I want to be able to model for them a healthy, positive relationship with my body so that they are later empowered to embrace just how perfect and beautiful their bodies are."