Phyllis Brasenell (32) and Beatrice (5 months)
McLean, Virginia | Photographed n Austin, TX
Phyllis shares -
"It's not an overstatement to say that parenthood has healed me and my relationship with my body. Full stop. I feel like I've confronted and transformed my wounds more deeply in the past year of pregnancy and early motherhood than I have in almost a decade of my yoga practice, spiritual self-study and therapy.
Like so many of us, I grew up with a mother who constantly lamented her body and was frequently dieting. She thought she was fat but I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world (I still do). So much of my value felt tied up in my appearance-- I remember distinctly the first time I exercised to try and get thinner, I was in the 5th grade. And my self-loathing continued and ebbed and flowed in intensity all the way through my early 20s and included many years of disordered eating and obsessive exercise.
I did a lot of work to make peace with my body but it wasn't until pregnancy that I felt totally at home in my skin. It was one of the greatest --and maybe most unexpected-- gifts of pregnancy, birth and motherhood. I felt magnificent and strong as my body grew my daughter. I also was in the care of wonderful midwives who constantly reassured me my body was sacred and wise; so much of my confidence came from my positive home birth experience where --for maybe the first time in my life --I was told I was capable and that my body was good enough. Now, my body looks different. My tummy is still soft and slightly swollen. My breasts are stretched and my thighs still touch. Will it ever all go back? I don't know. I don't care. I feel proud and powerful and every time I carry my daughter on my hip I feel like it's a public proclamation, "I made her, I grew her, I brought her here. I can do anything."
I feel really fortunate that I worked with new parents and babies for so many years before becoming a mother myself. Walking through the pregnancy, birth and early postpartum transition with so many families gave me the gift of perspective. I was able to step into this time in my life with the understanding that all babies are different and that I, as mother, am the only expert on my child (not professionals or book authors or anyone else trying to sell me something).
I also saw firsthand how we culturally place a great deal of focus on pregnancy but almost no thought to how we transition after baby is born. I knew I wanted to fiercely protect our early time together and set boundaries to keep our sacred space intact-- the result was a first month at home with my baby and husband, who was on paternity leave. He cared for me (doing all the cooking, cleaning, dog care, etc.) so I could care for our tiny new daughter and in the process we fell more in love with each other and emerged as a super tight family unit. All that being said, I was surprised when I felt seriously challenged around the 8-10 week mark. The post-birth high had worn off, my hormones had bottomed out, the cumulative effect of sleep deprivation suddenly felt hugely burdensome and real life had resumed (husband back at work and family help gone home). I made many a phone call to other mama friends, often in tears, and it helped me to get through knowing that I wasn't alone; that they'd faced the same challenges and come out the other side.
Trust yourself. As women, we've become accustomed to giving our power away and I see that manifesting culturally in our experiences of pregnancy, birth and motherhood. Please, please, please follow your instincts-- it's called a mother's intuition for a reason. Put down the parenting books stop the late night internet searches and watch your child. They'll show you everything you need to know.
I'm participating for posterity-- I want my daughter to grow up feeling strong and to see a mother who celebrates her body. I want her to know she has nothing to fix. That she can do anything.