Julianna O’Brien, Cooper Desmond (4), and Maeve Audre (2.5 months)
Juliana is a previous project participant. You can view her previous photo and story from August 2016 here.
Berea, Kentucky | Akron, OH
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
“I'm so glad to be doing this shoot while I'm truly in my fourth trimester with my daughter Maeve. It feels so much more vulnerable than the first shoot when my son was nearly two. My body still has that sensation of existing primarily as someone else's home. It doesn't feel like ME yet. For me this is an incredibly challenging time. And yet, I think parenthood overall has taught me to value my body for so much more than what it looks like in any given moment. Instead I value where it's carried me, the life its brought into the world, the joy and the tears that come from learning over and over again how to be the parent my children need. What the number on the scale says or whether I fit back in my jeans yet, it all seems so irrelevant now.
Feel free to share your postpartum journey here.
With my oldest, I suffered a complication after an unmedicated birth resulting in surgery and significant blood loss. Although I didn't really understand it at the time, this complication made my postpartum recovery incredibly long and challenging. There were so many things no one told me about...the night sweats, migraines, mood swings, how long it would take my body to heal, how the blood loss would so drastically affect my milk production.
So in preparing recently for the birth of our second, I spent equal time preparing for my postpartum experience as I did preparing for the birth. This is something no one really talks about, and I wish more expectant parents were encouraged to do! Thankfully, Maeve's birth was complication free. Still, I stuck closely to the goals I'd set for myself. I really kept strictly to the bed/couch for a week which was huge for me. Instead of seeking opportunities to get out of the house to kind of escape the chaos I really tried to lean into it. In the hard moments, I just held my baby.
For the first month, I just let her sleep on me and tried to soak it in. As a really independent person, these moments were often difficult for me. But they were beautiful too. Through being more patient and kind with myself, I've recovered much more holistically this time around. I also want to mention that for some time not being able to breastfeed my son directly (I exclusively pumped from the time he was 3 weeks to a year old due to a failure to thrive diagnosis) brought me immense grief and guilt. I felt like I'd failed and that my bond with my son would be lessened. I felt real sadness whenever I would see other women breastfeeding.
Now, with my daughter Maeve, thus far I have been able to breastfeed her. And I want to send so much grace and kindness back to my former self because to me there's no more magic in this process than in how I fed my son. Just like pumping, it's hard work, it can be frustrating and tiring and I second guess myself all the time. And the bond between Maeve and I is no less strong than it was between Cooper and I. There's no magical level of extra love simply because I'm able to feed her at the breast. Of course everyone is different, but I just want to put that out there for any other new mamas grieving a feeding journey that has gone differently than they hoped.
What is your truth?
I've been reflecting a lot on something my doula said about Maeve's birth - "Embrace the suck."
Sometimes you have to stop avoiding the hard thing and just walk through it in order to get to the other side. I've really tried to make this my mantra. When things get hard in this postpartum, adjusting to two kids period, I just tell myself, "Lean in, lean in, lean in." And I cry, and move through it and things get a little better. There is something truly transcendent about motherhood. I realize now that this is the closest and most intimate way we can experience another person's humanity. All of their needs, all of their feelings, all of who they are. Mothering my children is such an intimate experience of who they are. Even in the moments when this is incredibly hard, I've learned to recognize it as such a gift and one they will give me less often as they get older. I'm so thankful for everything Maeve and Cooper have shown me about their unique selves and the many, many things they've taught me about myself.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
I'm here because the 4th Trimester Bodies Project does the incredible work of showing that a mother/parent doesn't look like any one thing. It looks like all of us. Because it is all of us. This was a lesson that was so valuable to me as a first-time mom. I participate in the hopes my story might speak to some other new mom. I participate as part of my own little victory dance. Here I am, my unique body and soul, living the joy and the pain of motherhood, doing it my own way and loving it. And I participate so my children will grow up to see how much I love them and loved what it meant that my body brought them into the world.”