Joyce Faye Arnold (31), Gabrielle Alexis “Gabbie” (13), Charlotte Ann “Charlie” (5), Cooper Ryan (Stillborn at 21-22 wks in 2015), Emery Blaine “Emie B.” (16 months).
Joyce shares -
“We found out 9 days after our gender reveal blue cake that our boys heart had stopped beating. I was sent that evening to deliver him via induction at the hospital. I was able to deliver our beautiful silent boy naturally and spend a few hours holding him. We now frame our life in moments before and after him. He was a dream come true. However, The story of him would not end the day I delivered him.
I began pumping that same day in the hospital to become what is known as a Grief Donor. My boy and I were able to give over 9,600 ounces of breast milk over the course of a year to local recipient babies and fragile infants through Mothers Milk Bank of North Texas. Though he never was of this world, he's still the most beautiful part of my existence as a mother. He brought me the most beautiful year of strength, selflessness, and the most beautiful group of women (My Tribe) to see me to day 366 along with so many sweet little faces to have something tangible through out the journey of him. He may have silently passed in the womb, but he never knew cold or hunger, and I am sure he heard our sheer excitement and love for him at his gender reveal with our families.
He is still very much with me everyday in the faces of people he brought into my life, and in the faces of the growing babies he helped give the best start to. He is still driving me in the grief community as Volunteer with Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep and getting a Caring Cradle donated to our local hospital in his honor. The story of him stays further alive in me with future plans to be a Certified Lactation Counselor to help other loss moms heal through breast milk with Grief Donation. His little life forever a heartbreakingly beautiful part of me being a mother.
Parenthood had impacted my body image especially negatively after loosing Cooper. Empty arms met with a body ravaged from an empty pregnancy was hard on me mentally and physically. Weight never left after him partly due to breastfeeding and a sedentary lifestyle attached to the pump, and partly due to the depression that follows a loss and my coping mechanism of eating my feelings. It was always okay to me through justifying what my body was giving to others through my own loss. My weight wasn't on my list of concerns at the time.
Fast forward to having our rainbow Emie early 2017. I suffered a 43 lb weight loss in the first 9 weeks of her pregnancy due to HG (Hyperemesis Gravidarum), but was able to quickly pack my weight back on thanks to my OBGYN and meds. Weight on, weight off, weight on, weight off sure does wreak havoc. I still hate my body at times despite the beautiful children it has given me. It is so hard to not refer to my own body as wrecked, but I am not sure anything could look the same after what pregnancy sends the body through. so that is the trade off we make. I don't always see myself as beautiful when I look in the mirror, but then those little faces pop into the mirror beside me accompanied by those giggles and my body image seems to become so irrelevant. I often don't even remember what pucker or roll or mark I was eyeing in the mirror, because they flood my vision. It is amazing what parenthood can do both for and against body image.
I bounced back so easily as an 18 year old mother, and even as a 25 year old with my second. However at 30, three times as busy and heartbroken it really was not even on my mind. I felt awful about my clothes not fitting and constant nursing appetite, but it was easy to pass it off as "eating for recipients". Postpartum after my Emie I have adjusted to my weight being the "new me". I had my herniated belly button fixed some months after she was born, because it really left people making comments about me expecting again, though I wasn't. There is no worse a sting about your weight than several people asking about your new pregnancy, right? It feels terrible. Even with a witty comeback you still carry what they said with you. I now have a terrible crooked scar from that surgery and you guessed it, I hate it too. My tummy is riddled with upper Distatsis Recti that won't leave without more extensive surgery and I almost always look bloated and pregnant.
I often convince myself that I should be glad for every bump, mark and scar because I should be. look at the dolls who I brought into this world. Look at Cooper’s legacy I was able to leave with my body. I really had expected to bounce right back, but the unexpected has left me down on myself at times. When I learned about this project and heard Ashlee's story I immediately signed up. It all hits home with me on so many levels. I need to love me. I'm more than this wrecked body. I know it isn't all that I am. although it does take reminding constantly, I just need look at all its given me. In a sense our pregnancies trade our bodies for the new life we hope to bring into the world. In saying that, I would gladly trade my shape, skin, and breasts for them. I would make that trade a million times over in a hundred other lifetimes.
I am not just a wrecked under cared for body. I would tell me today that you are not a pant size, and your not a fit that can be bought just anywhere. You are not your measurements. I would tell me today that all the love of your girls and Cooper would supersede what you fit into, and what you feel good/bad wearing. I would tell a new parent, that time is fleeting and its too beautiful of a time to be worried about your size or stretch marks, bumps or puckers. You can fix those things later, but your babies are only babies once.
I am here because even though I still am working on self love daily within me, I have so many reasons to love myself. I may not be the smaller me I was, and I may never be her again, but my children were so worth it. I want other parents to know their baby's were all worth the exchanges that were made. From lifestyle, body, habits, every change was worth them and their existence no matter the stint of our pregnancies, or the length of their lives.”