Elissa Kellner (28) and Camille (9 weeks)
Elissa shares -
“Since I was 16 or so, I have had a history of eating disorders and disordered eating. They peaked when I was in college and early adulthood. Following the end of an abusive relationship in my early 20s, I worked hard to reach an equilibrium with my body and develop a healthier relationship with food. Finding a balance became especially important when my husband and I began trying to conceive. In that process we discovered that I ovulate very intermittently, with cycles lasting over 100 days in length. I'm not sure if this anovulation is the result of treating my body poorly for years or something else altogether, but it certainly was frustrating.
I had a very hard time with my body during pregnancy. I was at peak fitness when we conceived and had run a 50K trail race the week before we found out we were expecting a baby. Between severe morning sickness and fatigue during my first trimester, I found it difficult to maintain the level of activity I was used to. Eventually, I felt completely disassociated from my body. I was so excited to be pregnant and already felt so connected to my baby, but when i looked in the mirror or tried to run / walk / do anything, my body did not feel like it belonged to me.
Childbirth seemed to pull me back into my body. I had a relatively short, but very intense active labor. I choose an unmedicated birth and was amazed by what my body was capable of. I have never felt so strong or so powerful.
I honestly haven't had a lot of time to worry about what my body looks like postpartum. I feel soft and squishy in places, but also feel so much more at home in my body than I did when I was pregnant. I am happy to be able to once again be able to move with ease, and even though I know it's going to take a long time to regain the strength I've lost, I'm enjoying running again. I've also been doing a lot of internal work to foster a healthy body image. I want to raise my daughter to have a healthier self-image than I had growing up and I know a lot of that is going to start with me and how I view / talk about / move in / relate to my body.
Postpartum I have felt really, really good. I have a history of anxiety and had some significant traumas in my early 20s and I wasn't sure what to expect going into the postpartum period. The second that little baby was put on my chest, however, I felt the most profound feeling of joy and peace I have ever experienced. Since day one we have had an easy and fulfilling breastfeeding journey and I cherish that time I get to spend with her.
I went into motherhood thinking that I would have a baby who would sleep in her bassinet and nap contentedly in the crib while I went about my long list of projects I had planned for my maternity leave. 9 weeks later, my beautiful, co-sleeping, attachment-parented velcro-baby has spent a total of maybe 45 minute in her crib (mostly a minute or two at a time while I am peeing) and has not slept one night in her bassinet. I have not completed a single project I set out to do. Instead I have found it much easier than I ever could have imagined to forego my usually rigid routines for long snuggles with this amazing little person.
That said, I also didn't anticipate how ready I would be to go back to work by the end of my maternity leave. My company gives a very generous 12 weeks paid leave for which I am incredibly grateful. I know that I will miss my baby so much when I return to the office, but I also miss my job and my professional identity. I love my baby immeasurably, but I also don't want to forget that I'm me. It helps that last week my husband made the wonderful and brave decision to resign from his job and become a full-time dad. This was not something we planned on going into parenthood, but it suddenly felt like the right choice. I am beyond thankful for a partner in life who is willing to support my career and our family in this way. Plus, it means Camille doesn't have to adjust to sleeping in a crib anytime soon.
I first heard of the 4th Trimester Bodies Project when Ashlee told her story on the Birth Hour podcast. I started following the project on Instagram and drew such strength and inspiration from the amazing humans who participated in the project. I've also been very moved by the inclusiveness and activism of Ashlee and others involved in the project. I choose to share my story because I wanted to be part of a movement that promotes inclusive body positivity and talks openly about the joys and struggles of the postpartum period.
Be patient with yourself. I ran into the headmaster of my high school at an event when I was 36 weeks pregnant. He gave me a big hug, asked how I was feeling and then told me I needed to be patient with myself. He is one of those people who says exactly what a person needs to hear at any given moment. This has become my mantra. It helped me through the 6 days of irregular labor patterns leading up to my daughter's birth, through the first few sleepless nights, and through colicky evenings. I am not patient by nature, but having someone give me permission to go easy on myself has made all the difference.”