Ashley Sipes (23), Delilah (4), and Odessa (5 months)
Ashley shares -
“Parenthood has helped me come to terms with my body. At the end of the day, I have to live in this body so I choose to celebrate it the way it is and be healthy. This is easier said than done, though. It has taken years for me to get to this place.
I first got pregnant in 2013, during the peak of my eating disorder, only weighing 98 pounds. I was 17 when I got pregnant, about to turn 18. Having anorexia and being pregnant was difficult and something that I didn't talk about to anyone with besides my OB. Rather than taking this information seriously, he mocked me and used it against me. He would make comments after the nurse weighed me saying, "How many cheese burgers have you had today?" After reminding him that I didn't eat meat, he suggested that maybe I had been drinking lots of soda. He had me on a diet during my pregnancy and asked for a food journal. I had no problem with eating healthy, but the way he dictated what I ate was not mentally healthy.
I was unable to read the scale after I got to 125 pounds. My OB said that I gained weight too fast, so I never knew how much I weighed when I gave birth. I think my body stored extra fat because I had starved myself for 5 years. I was finally eating 3 consistent (healthy) meals a day and snacks, though he suggested no snacking, especially after 6 PM. This sort of emotional emotional abuse destroyed my pregnancy and I hate that I let someone who I thought I was supposed to trust, get to me. I took maybe a total of 4 pictures during that pregnancy. I was ashamed of my body and didn't even like looking in the mirror or showering and seeing myself naked.
With my recent pregnancy, my midwife said that my weight would not be a topic of discussion. I watched my body grow and I truly embraced it. I took photos a lot - of every curve, mark, and roll. This pregnancy truly made me feel beautiful.
No one talks about postpartum, especially not in my family, and no one talks about postpartum depression. I didn't expect breastfeeding on demand every 30 minutes, slumped over a Boppy pillow, and confined to my bed. I didn't expect how exposed I felt or how some days it was all I could do to get through the day. My hands shook with every tear my little one shed, every whimper, and every diaper change. I was terrified of something happening to her and I was terrified of something happening to me, hindering me from caring for her. I cried uncontrollably to myself, had anxiety attacks daily, and didn't leave my daughter for the entire first year and a half of her life.
I even saw my body different from what it was. I got back down to 98 pounds, though it wasn't intentional, I couldn't eat due to nerves. I didn't even see how thin I was or even bother to notice that I had lost all of my weight. Too nervous to see my OB at 6 weeks postpartum, I finally mustered up the courage at 11 weeks. He said "You'll probably never lose this weight". That was when I was done with him, for good. I've never felt so much self hatred, guilt, and loneliness. I completely isolated myself after this.
My first pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experience made me fearful of pregnancy again. This was apart of why it was hard to get pregnant a year ago. I had joined a traumatic birth support group, wrote a letter to my emotionally abusive OB, and went through EMDR therapy to prepare for my home birth this past February. My counselor, my midwife, a person who supports me through a family program called FIPP all monitored me after baby but my home birth was healing. It was amazing to finally enjoy postpartum with my baby. This was something I didn't experience with my first daughter. I feel so guilty for that and for my first birth being traumatic, when there was nothing medically wrong. I am proud that my bad experience brought me to a good one.
Know your rights, learn about informed consent, and know that obstetric violence is real. It's okay to not be okay, pregnant or postpartum. Talk about how you feel. It's okay to go to counseling, get a prescription, and to have a bad day. A bad day does not make you a bad mom and neither does mental illness! Talk about your hard days, but celebrate the good days!
Postpartum is an adjustment, new mom or not. Being open with my own experiences helps me and others. Breastfeeding is natural, but doesn't always come naturally! Support is everything. Surround yourself with those who you trust. I wouldn't be thriving without my counselor, my midwife, or the family program that we're involved in. For too long our society has silenced birth, mental illness, postpartum. Speak your truth because you never know how many people can relate. It really helps to not feel alone when you're so lonely.
I want to share my story to help others. Especially those dealing with sexual assault and birth. This is something that I don't hear about often. It takes a lot to give birth and to fear being violated again. I also want parents to be aware of their rights when giving birth. It is okay to fire your OB! Not only that, but decriminalizing home birth midwives in North Carolina is important to me. My baby's health was important during my pregnancy, but my own health was as well. This kind of midwifery is important for mental health, I think. Home birth isn't for everyone, but I hope to make a difference in these laws some day because parents deserve more options!”