Patricia DeVargas (32 - she/her) and Ruben (Ruben, 5 months)
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
Body image has been a struggle for me my entire life. Growing up fat, I was always trying to shrink my body, because I thought it was the only way I could be loved. This lead to an eating disorder that ruled my life for 10 years. I weight cycled for years and exercised to the point of injury. Just prior to getting pregnant, I decided it was time to heal my relationship with food and my body. Knowing I was bringing someone into the world, someone who would look up to me, was enough to start my journey to recovery. While pregnant, I fueled my body so baby could grow big and strong. I also celebrated the changes, because it meant baby was growing, and it was so beautiful and miraculous to me. I was honoring my hunger cues for the first time ever, and allowing rest, which I desperately needed after years of abusive exercise. I was working really hard on accepting and continuing to celebrate the changes in my body, but this became more challenging once baby was born.
The postpartum period has been challenging, because we live in a world where we’re expected to “get your pre-baby body back.” I am coming to terms with the fact that my body will never be the same, I have a tum that hangs a little lower, and breasts that will never be the same. But at the same time, I look at my sagging breasts and admire the fact that they’ve been able to feed my baby. I look at my stomach and appreciate its capacity to grow a little human. I am looking at myself with a lot more compassion and understanding. I truly admire what this body has gone through and what it was able to accomplish in 8 short months, which has been helpful in combating the pressure to shrink my body. I acknowledge that any body image issues I’m currently experiencing are an extension of lifelong insecurities. My stomach has always been an insecurity of mine. My breasts have always been an insecurity of mine. None of this is new. What is new, is being able to look at my son and appreciate that my body is, in fact, a fucking powerhouse. It grew a human; how amazing is that! I am continuing to work on accepting my body as it is today. I am no longer actively working to shrink it, because the way I look at it now, if I am actively shrinking my body, I am simultaneously shrinking my life. With a kid now in tow, the last thing I want to do is shrink any aspect of our lives. I am celebrating my fatness, I am celebrating my mom-bod. And, really, I am just grateful for this amazingly beautiful and transformational period in my life.
What was your postpartum experience?
Postpartum has been a doozy for me, for a variety of reasons. Ruben was born 5 weeks early, meaning I had to be admitted to the hospital. Gone was the option to birth my baby at home. My whole birth plan went out the window, and with it any feelings of power. I felt like a failure. My body was unable to carry to term and I questioned why that was. Following Ru’s delivery they quickly whisked him away to be evaluated in the NICU. I was exhausted and didn’t immediately go to visit him, and this made me question my devotion as a parent. This definitely wasn’t the rosy, beautiful birth experience I was expecting. I didn't immediately experience that overwhelming love and desire to protect him that you often hear about, and I wondered where I was going wrong. I saw him several hours later and didn’t think to try and latch. The delayed latching, I believe, played a role in my inability to produce enough milk. This was my first lesson in the importance of surrendering.
I learned very quickly that you can think and read and plan all you want, but your body and your baby follow their own rules. One thing I really wanted was to breastfeed. I struggled to produce enough milk and I’ve had to supplement with formula from the beginning. I was exclusively pumping and bottle feeding for the first few weeks but was determined to have him latch. He was 2 months when he successfully fed at the breast, which felt so incredible, but that wasn’t the end of our breastfeeding struggles. He is picky about when he will take the breast, and now will mainly takes it at night. For me breastfeeding has been where I’ve felt most close to him. It was during these times that I really began to feel that mother/child bond. It took a while for that feeling to really settle in, again making me question if I’m a good mother.
Parenthood, even though it’s still so new and fresh has made me question so many things about myself. I have a long history with depression and I feel this coming back up again. I am also struggling with the desire to smoke, even though I quit a year and a half ago. The things that were suppressed with the excitement of expecting are slowly bubbling their way back to the surface. Physically, I feel different. I have suffered with chronic SI joint pain since 2016 and pregnancy really exasperated this. I thought that once baby was born, my back would quickly return to how it was pre-pregnancy. The reality is that I suffer more than I did before. Not only do I still suffer with chronic back pain, but I have terrible joint pain, which I read is quite normal. This pain limits me in my day to day dealings with a new baby. I can’t sit up from a laying position with baby in my arms. I can’t walk him for more than a minute without it causing me terrible pain. I feel very limited by my body and have to accept that I have no choice but to do things a little different than if I were living pain free. I have to honour my body’s abilities and not punish myself for my inability to do certain things. I’ve slowly been incorporating more movement into my day. I am tuning into my body more than ever and really working on increasing embodiment. I want to be able to keep up with my son, but I need to respect and understand where my body is.
I never expected the postpartum experience to be such a roller coaster ride. I didn’t expect to question so many things about myself as a person, and as a mother. I have always loved kids, and have been told throughout my life that I would make a great mother, but the reality of it is so different than anything you can imagine or truly prepare for. But, at the end of the day, I love this child with every ounce of my being, and the only thing I can do is try and give him my best. My best will change as time goes, so I am trying my hardest to be present with him, enjoy what I can, and celebrate the small things. I lay with him at night, and look into his beautiful eyes while he drifts off to sleep. I feel us bonding more and more, and just love everything about this little human. What a beautiful, surprising, exhausting, liberating, terrifying, fulfilling journey this has already been.
What is your truth?
Surrender and open yourself up to change. Allow things to happen as they happen, and observe. There are no perfect parents, so release some control and enjoy the ride.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
I was brought here by a desire to make peace with my postpartum body. I also want to be able to celebrate this moment in my life through beautiful photography.