Allyson Murphy, Mother to Callum (5.5 - pictured) and Sean (2.5)"
"I have such a soft spot in my heart for postpartum moms. It’s a time of incredible change, challenges, hormones, and uncertainty. There can be unbelievable joy and intense sorrow, sometimes in the same moment. Some days it’s isolating. On others there can be a new sense of community, belonging and purpose. And every story in unique."
Allyson never imagined that becoming a parent would inspire a career change but after getting amazing support while she struggled both times to breastfed, she knew she wanted to pay that kindness and wisdom forward. She's now on the journey to becoming an IBCLC. Allyson says that she has always wanted to be a mom but went into trying to conceive anxious and convincing herself that they'd have fertility issues and loss, because so many friends and family dealt with those challenges. She was shocked and grateful to get pregnant quickly and went on to have an easy pregnancy. "I loved watching my baby grow inside me as my body changed. I’ve always been thin and small-chested and loved the feeling of finally being curvy".
They were excited to learn they’d have a son and prepared with childbirth and breastfeeding classes. Still, she was terrified of the pain of labor, was hopeful to avoid a c-section and episiotomy, but knew she needed the epidural. Allyson went into labor the late afternoon Feb 23, 2011 after her OB did a membrane sweep at 39 weeks. She labored at home and had a 4 am drive through the Holland Tunnel from their home in Jersey City to Manhattan. Contractions were 5 minutes apart and she was not quite half way dilated. She was nervous, but reassured with her husband by her side. The sweet nurse was surprised when she asked for the epidural, saying “I didn’t want to suggest it, you seemed to be coping with the pain so well.” She insisted and was relieved to no longer feel the contractions.
The resident who checked Allyson at dawn said all they had do was wait for her to finish dilating and hopefully her water would break. They waited, and waited, and waited. She completely stopped dilating by evening and tried to rest but couldn't. The baby seemed fine but she worried she was doing something wrong. Near dawn they broke her water, turned down the epidural and let her start pushing. The baby’s heart rate immediately dropped, she was rolled onto her left side, and given oxygen. Everyone it the room was watching the fetal monitor intensely.
27 hours after labor had started, Callum Daniel entered the world with his head and arm emerging simultaneously. The only learned when the placenta was delivered that he had a short cord. "After what felt like ages and my insistence, Callum was placed in my arms, cleaned up, warmed, swaddled in receiving blankets. Knowing all that I know now… it was all the exact wrong things to do to encourage breastfeeding. But I am still thankful and grateful he was healthy and that I avoided surgery in the end. I felt proud and empowered that I’d managed the vaginal delivery".
Cal latched briefly in the delivery room but refused to later. She tried pumping and spoon feeding colostrum into Cal’s mouth like a baby bird. Breastfeeding had been more important to Allyson than a birth plan but they continued to struggle. "I’m forever grateful to a friend who’d had a baby the year earlier and told me nursing takes incredible patience". Allyson continued to pump, read The Nursing Mother's Companion with her husband several times, and cried - a lot. Every feeding they tried to latch. Every feeding she pumped. They tried and tried. Callum developed jaundice and she was encouraged to give him formula.
Allyson felt threatened that her baby would end up in the hospital and she called in another lactation consultant. She took one look at him and said “Torticollis. He can’t latch because it hurts his neck to move into position.” She got him to latch, showed Allyson how to wear him in a sling and nurse in bed lying down. She felt so much better. Hopeful. And while she was skeptical about craniosacral therapy, but three sessions really helped".
They weaned off the formula and avoided readmittance to the hospital for jaundice. "I knew I wanted to breastfeed but never anticipated loving it the way that I did. It was such a sweet time. I was forced to stop and sit down. The oxytocin would flood my body and it felt heavenly. Before kids, I admit I was the person who said things like “If you can walk and talk, you’re too old to breastfeed.” Obviously I had no idea what I was talking about. Weaning at Cal’s first birthday seemed crazy. He was still my teeny baby! We nursed happily for another year, and weaned easily at 25 months in anticipation of another pregnancy"
Again, Allyson convinced herself that they might have difficulty conceiving, but again it happened quickly. Every day she feels so incredibly fortunate to have had two healthy, easy pregnancies that resulted in two healthy babies. Pregnancy with Sean was harder while chasing around a two year-old. "I was more tired, more ready to deliver. It felt less magical and amazing the second time around, but I still loved connecting with the wiggling, growing being inside me". Still blaming herself for slowing things down with the epidural at her first delivery — and still feeling empowered at the physical strength it took for a vaginal delivery — she was determined to do things naturally this time. They were living in New Jersey then, and she switched to a wonderful midwifery group. Other than pregnancy-related hypothyroidism, which was controlled with medication, the pregnancy was uneventful. At around 32 weeks she learned her baby was breech. She tried acupuncture, laying upside down, moxibustion, but nothing seemed to help. The 36 week ultrasound revealed he was happily head down and she let out a huge sigh of relief.
After a membrane sweep at 39 weeks, she started to feel contractions late in the evening, but went to sleep. Thing picked up in the morning and she went to the hospital. She was 5-6 cm dilated and the bag of waters was bulging. The midwife said breaking the bag was an option, but would make things progress quickly. 45 minutes after arriving at the hospital she was fully dilated and ready to push. She pushed for 40 minutes, while watching in a mirror, which helped tremendously to feel like each push was making progress. Soon Sean was placed on her belly and he latched easily the first time. "That golden hour was truly magical. Oxytocin coursed through my veins as I declared my love for this baby and all the women in the room, my husband chuckling at my effusive affection. There were some very sweet moments from that hospital stay, like seeing our older son meet his little brother for the first time. Breastfeeding was feeling easy, with a baby who wanted to nurse constantly. And yet, in hindsight, postpartum anxiety was already setting in. The day we were set to leave, I kept wandering around the room, finding things to straighten or repack, to delay our leave. “What are we still doing here?” my husband asked, confused. I burst into tears, admitting that I didn’t want to go. I couldn’t wait to bring Sean into our home, but for some reason was terrified to leave the ease and safety of just one kid and that tiny hospital room".
Sean’s constant latching, paired with a very full second-time-mom milk supply resulted in cracked, sore, bleeding nipples and tears every time she had to nurse. The hospital support group became a safe haven. She had the courage to nurse through the pain but the postpartum anxiety felt paralyzing. Thankfully, she had a relationship with a therapist which helped immensely. “You just watched a new life come forth into the world. Birth, death, creation, destruction, they’re primal forces. It’s very natural to feel this.” Talking helped. Turning off the news helped. Stepping away from social media helped. Mostly time helped.
In the end, Allyson says she's so grateful for her nursing issues with Sean. Through it, she decided to “pay forward” the support she'd received and trained to be a breastfeeding counselor with Breastfeeding USA. She became friends with the amazing IBCLC at the hospital and said to her one day, “I kind of want to be an IBCLC. But I’m a graphic designer, not a nurse. It seems impossible.” I’ll never forget her reply: “It’s the best job in the world. And you’d be great at it. I’ll help you.” So nearly three years after Sean’s birth, I’ve held almost 50 local support group meetings, intern in two IBCLC offices, started a business with my mentor called Your Tribe, and am preparing to sit for the exam in October 2017. I get to spend my days with postpartum moms in their most vulnerable days. And be there to help, support and comfort. I am so grateful for my boys and my nursing struggles for bringing me to this present place".
"I’ve been following the 4th Trimester Bodies Project since beginning when I saw the gorgeous black and white images on Instagram. I read Ashlee’s story and her mission to change the dialogue on postpartum bodies and was in awe. I’ve always been “lucky” to be thin. I’ve been a vegetarian since college and usually eat a healthy, plant-based diet because that’s what feels best for my body. But many relatives on both sides of my family have struggled with weight and obesity. And as much as I try to not let it affect me, I can at times feel the tabloid obsession with “perfection” creeping into my mind when I stand in front of the mirror. I’ve always been “unlucky” to be small-breasted, Flat-chested. I definitely had guys make me feel “less than” in high school and college for not being well-endowed. One of the reasons I loved being pregnant so much, was feeling curvy, busty, and “womanly” for the first time. I had more confidence to strut down the beach in a bikini with a big belly bump than I did before. After extended nursing with two kids, I have never been prouder of my little boobs. Both times I had one of those chubby, rolly-polly four month olds, I’d look at their pudgy bellies and thighs and think, “my teeny little A-cups grew all this sweet baby!!” Every day is different and I struggle at times with accepting the body I’m in. Yes, I fit into (most) of my pre-pregnancy jeans, but my body looks and feels different. There is bulging and sagging in places there never was before. Some days I think, “If I got more serious about my running and yoga… and finally started doing those sit ups…” And then other days I think, “I want to sit on the floor and play trains today. That is most important.” Even though I have sons and not daughters — maybe even more important because I’m raising future men — I want to pass on body positivity, acceptance of others for who they are, and self-love to them. And I know the best way to do that is my setting the example myself. Even on days when it’s a challenge. My hope is that this photoshoot is one small way to do that. I have no problem finding beauty in the hundreds of different body shapes of women I see. Postpartum time should be a moment we all honor and respect the incredible growth and change that has taken place within us. The pressure on new moms is ridiculous and obscene. This is never more apparent to me than when I post encouraging breastfeeding images for our lactation business and get likes and follows from people selling shakes, wraps, and all sorts of snake oil designed to shame women for looking exactly like they’re supposed to. It makes my blood boil. Here’s where I’ve come to recently in my own head: I’ll be 38 this summer. I conceived and carried two beautiful 8 pound boys, birthed them, nourished them from my body for 2+ years each. I am so incredibly blessed and proud of that. Yet I look in the mirror and want to see the body I had at 28, before any of that happened. And often it’s not even that body I’m looking for, it’s the one I had at 18. But that makes NO SENSE. Twenty years have passed. I have lived, traveled, laughed, wept, changed and evolved. So of course my body has too. It would be crazy to expect my brain or heart to be the same as it was as a teenager, so why do want my body to remain the same? Why do we insist on the idea of erasing an evidence of our babies and the journey of pregnancy? I need to love myself for where I’ve been and celebrate who I am now. Saggy boobs, squishy belly and all."