Alex Wegman (31), Arwen (3), and Asa (5 months)
Minneapolis, MN | San Francisco, CA
Alex shares -
“In July 2017, I lost my second pregnancy—twins—at 13 weeks. It was devastating.
I’m a wheelchair user, and when I shared my first pregnancy with family, responses were varied. I heard everything from the standard, expected, hoped for, “Yaysoexciting!” to, “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I developed a bit of a complex about needing my body to prove that it could do this one thing right. I was terrified of a loss, in part because I knew the skeptics would either attribute it to my disability or breathe sighs of relief.
The twin pregnancy garnered more concern than my first had—I think folks were worried about everything from how I’d make it through that pregnancy, especially with HG raging early on again, to how I’d care for two infants. So in addition to the grief of loss, I experienced intense embarrassment and constantly had to find ways to avoid painful conversations about my deficiencies. For example, my then two year old’s pediatrician told me it was better I’d lost because she’d been concerned about how I’d manage two babies. Besides, miscarriage is the body’s way of eliminating defective fetuses. I didn’t want babies with birth defects, did I? (I was a baby with birth defects. Cue existential crisis.) We have a new pediatrician now.
Most of my friends and family were wonderful and supportive, but the echoes of “it’s better this way” and “everything happens for a reason” from people who didn’t know me well enough to know better were enough to make me scream.
The miscarriage itself was long and drawn-out, and I even had to take medication to get things moving because I was still suffering with HG two weeks after the heartbeats were gone, so it wasn’t surprising or spontaneous when it happened. One thing I didn’t anticipate, though, is that you actually labor and need to recover when you miscarry that far into a pregnancy. I think it was about four weeks before I felt physically back to normal after that.
A year and a half later, I’m still sad about the loss, but I learned much from the experience. My rainbow guy was born in September, and he’s brought so much sweetness and light. I wouldn’t trade him for the world.
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
My entire life has been a battle with my body. Broken, abnormal, atypical, unusual, and defective are all words I heard regularly in reference to it over my first 17 years or so. (Get me started on the term “birth defect.” I dare you.) Not great for confidence or positive body image.
I have a congenital spinal cord injury and spinal stenosis at (C6-7), so I have limited muscle control, tone, and balance from that level, which is at the base of the neck, down. I’ve used a wheelchair and other mobility devices my whole life, and have had about a dozen corrective orthopedic surgeries. My childhood was punctuated by operations, treatments and recoveries.
When I was pretty young, maybe 10 or 11, a doctor shared with my parents offhandedly that he thought it would be a bad idea for me to ever try to carry a pregnancy. I overheard and internalized that, and added it to the list of things my body couldn't do. If you’d asked if that bothered me, I’d have said no, I didn’t know if I wanted them anyway, and I would adopt if I did.
After I got married, that sentiment changed. It’s amazing how we’re wired to want to create life with our partners, isn’t it? Yeah, science! I asked my OB and my GP casually if they thought pregnancy would be a problem, and they both said no. I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal, so we went for it and conceived before we even intended to.
Turns out, my body does an absolutely perfect job of gestating, except that I get hyperemisis gravidarum that lasts through to the very end. Add that to the list of things I CAN do, thank you very much. And I survived the dang HG, too.
When I was a teen, I hated that low tone caused my body to be soft in places others weren’t. I hated my “swan-neck” fingers on my left hand, my flat butt, my knees that bowed in when I walked, my small, flat, puffy, usually purple feet. At 31 years old, I’m mostly at peace with all that, thanks to a super hot, wildly perceptive partner who gives me tons of affirmation and to motherhood.
When I was pregnant, none of my complaints about my body mattered. It did exactly what I needed it to do. Did it very well, in fact, even though I could hardly feed it anything and couldn’t exercise or even get outside into the fresh air most days.
As a non-pregnant person, I still occasionally spend too long worrying about how my feet will look if I wear sandals or wondering if I’m ever going to be able to tone my mama tummy back up or whatever, but I’m generally much more confident than before. High waisted jeans and not gaf for the win.
Postpartum with my first was a mixed bag. I was back in pre-pregnancy jeans after only seven or eight days and though I had a small tear, I had relatively little pain and healed quickly. Unfortunately, I dislocated my bottom left rib during labor and again a few weeks postpartum, and the second time it was some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t stand, couldn’t lift Arwen, couldn’t even inhale deeply.
My GP diagnosed it, prescribed Tylenol with codeine, and said I’d just have to wait it out, but I reached out to my chiropractor and acupuncturist and they got me in right away. Chiro was effective for helping things to realign and acupuncture relieved most of the inflammation and really helped to control the pain. I can’t even tell you how valuable ancillary care has been in my overall wellness during and after pregnancy.
Emotionally, I felt good. I had a little stage fright handling Arwen around spectators at first because I could just feel their fear that I’d drop her or something, but a week alone at home with my husband and babe helped me get over that.
Arwen was a very challenging baby, so there was some stress related to that, but she got much easier around 10 or 11 months, when she was more mobile and could communicate a bit. Learning how to speak her language and give her what she needs has really defined early motherhood for me.
In my experience, HG has made postpartum feel like a relief, almost easy, by comparison. During pregnancy, I feel like there’s just nothing I can do to move myself toward being fitter, stronger, or more comfortable. Postpartum means I can actively work toward those things, and just knowing that makes me feel like I have more control and is good for my mental health. My mood has been pretty stable after both births, but maybe a little less so after the most recent one.
Postpartum after Asa has been easier in some ways and harder in others. I had confidence that I could care for him from the get-go, which made a huge difference in terms of anxiety toward the end of my pregnancy. He’s been a very easy baby, so I’ve been able to focus on enjoying him and helping Arwen adjust to being and having a sibling.
I’ve been a bit broodier this time around, which I attribute to knowing that this is probably my last pregnancy. If not for HG, I’d probably try for one or two more, but I can’t put myself or my family through another year or two of that. That’s been a hard pill to swallow because I feel like I’ve really found my calling as a mother, and it’s frustrating to have to make that choice.
At this point, I’m soaking up every day with my babies and reflecting on what a wild experience this has all been.
What is your truth? What is one piece of knowledge you'd pass along to your former self, or a new parent?
A few nuggets I’d like to share…These are probably most relevant to disabled folks, but I think they’ll resonate with lots of others, too:
Be your own advocate when it comes to the medical world. Ask ALL the questions, then ask them again. Don’t let anyone flippantly or speculatively shape your future. That goes for everything before, during, and after pregnancy, both related to it and not. If you’re disabled, get comfortable with demanding respect and firing disrespectful practitioners. You deserve to be treated with dignity and to have autonomy.
Don’t give a fuck. I would be absolutely mad with anxiety and insecurity if I let other peoples’ concerns and opinions dictate the way I parent and care for my kids or even to get pregnant in the first place. People are naturally afraid of what they don’t understand, so yep, if you have any kind of visible disability, people are going to wonder about your fitness to care for children. Do your best, do it confidently, acknowledge your limitations, ask for help when you need it. But definitely don’t give a fuck.
This comes up a lot when talking with disabled friends who don’t have kids but think they might want to eventually: Kids are adaptable and flexible. You don’t have to be able to sway and bounce and get down on the floor with your baby. We have a very narrow and conservative view of infant care here in the US, but people do it differently all over the world. If you’re thinking of having kids and the only thing stopping you is the “how would I...?” questions, trust me when I say you’ll figure it out. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.
What brought you here today? Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
4th Tri made a material difference to how I looked at my body after my first baby was born. The visibility of what birthing actually means to the physical form has shattered some of the unrealistic expectations I had before and has helped me to embrace my body and its shape, irrespective of arbitrary standards of perfection.
I’m here sharing my story because disabled parents need to take up space. We need to know we aren’t the only ones, and we need our communities to know there are many of us, too. It would be a totally different world if existing in public with two kids or with a kid and a pregnant belly didn’t make us feel like a side show. We’re here, we’re capable, and a lot of us are actually really great parents, believe it or not.