Hillary Pepper (34). Mother to Veda (3) and Hadley (8 weeks - pictured)
Andros Island, Bahamas | San Francisco, CA
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
“I’ve never loved my body so much as when I was pregnant. I felt powerful. I felt desirable. I felt epic. I felt godly. I felt more visible and also less vulnerable (which is a paradox, especially for women, I think). I loved getting bigger and taking up more physical space. It felt empowering and righteous to inhabit a growing body.
The second time around I felt like I knew what to expect, so that made it somewhat easier, but still the shock of going from 42 weeks pregnant to newly postpartum and suddenly in charge of a newborn was dramatic physically and emotionally. Immediately after both births I’ve mourned the loss of my pregnant body — its tautness and power turned into the squishy, sweaty, bloody, achy mess that is a body that’s just given birth. Both times I was crazy proud of my body and what it had accomplished (my first labor was 42 hours and my second was about 3!) but it was almost like jet lag waiting for my understanding of my new body to catch up with its physical reality.
Feel free to share your postpartum journey.
The hardest part of my postpartum journey by far has been negotiating a new relationship with my older daughter, Veda. I’d been warned that she’d “suddenly seem so big” and that was definitely true but more jarring was that I felt a physical repulsion from her at times in the weeks after Hadley was born. When I was holding the baby (so basically all the time) Veda was just too loud, too grabby, too intense, too annoying and needy in her three-year-old way. I felt horrible (still feel horrible) about this but I have to believe it’s largely biological — that it’s a natural mechanism to protect the baby from her well-meaning big sister coughing in her face or squeezing her too hard and that it won’t last forever.
There are sweet moments with both girls that I try to pause and really appreciate. Of course I still love Veda immensely, but in practice I have so much less patience for her while the baby can cry and cry and I seem to have endless patience for soothing her. Even when Hadley is difficult to settle for hours I know she’s just being a baby and communicating the only way she knows how so I don’t take it personally. I know in theory the same is true of Veda, but it’s like I’m incapable of mustering the same understanding for her in the moment. The totally age-appropriate whining, tantrums, and boundary-testing don’t make it any easier.
I’ve felt many times in the last two months that there’s just not enough of me to go around. I often feel “touched out” by the end of the day. It’s hard as a mom to give up so much bodily autonomy but it also brings me such satisfaction and joy to know that I can make my babies feel better, can give them what they need, with a touch, a hug, a boob. I just hope that this feeling of needing space from my three-year-old will ebb as the baby grows more independent so that I can feel like I’m being enough for both of them.
This transition from one kid to two has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, emotionally and practically, but I remind myself that all families struggle when adding a sibling. It’s a monumental adjustment for all of us and I actually think Veda is handling it pretty well considering. Until we get to the other side of this I’ll keep asking myself “What would Janet Lansbury say?” and “How would Daniel Tiger’s mom handle this?” and taking deep breaths.
What is your truth?
Find your people! Seek out folks who are going through the same life changes you are — they’ll become your new family as you go through them together. The single best and healthiest thing I did as freshly postpartum mom, who didn’t really have any friends with kids, was attend a new mom support group when my first daughter was 5 weeks old. I’m not a joiner and am a social awkward introvert by nature but I went out on a limb and have been so thankful ever since for that act of bravery and faith. Three years later my best friends are some of the women I met in that first group (and parents I’ve met through them) and the advice, support, and real talk we’ve all shared as we’ve gone on this parenting journey together is invaluable.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
The simplicity, purity, beauty, joyfulness of the photos of mothers with their children spoke to me when I first saw them (and was newly PP) three years ago. When I was pregnant with my second child and saw your announcement for SF dates I thought, “this is my chance!” I want a timeless photo shoot that captures the sweetness of nursing a newborn and the beauty I feel in my postpartum body.