Michelle Malloy (32) Ellie (5), and Twins Claire and Owen (2)
What was your postpartum experience?
As a late bloomer in middle school I became painfully aware of how my body was different than others. I remember dreaming about the day that I would have curves like other girls. I tried to focus on how capable my body was - I was a soccer player and a third degree black belt by the end of high school - but feelings of inadequacy followed me through college. When I got pregnant for the first time I loved seeing the changes my body was going through (I finally had boobs!). I was surprised, however, how quickly my normal activities became difficult or impossible; I stopped running around 20 weeks and realized by the third trimester that even walking too far or fast could be painful. Postpartum was jarring - I had a softer, weaker belly and my world looked vastly different than before I gave birth. I was incredibly lucky to be surrounded by supportive family and friends during that transition. Many of the mamas I met in birth class or newly postpartum are still dear friends who have helped to weather subsequent storms.
My second pregnancy with the twins was harder on me both mentally and physically. By 20 weeks Owen was falling off the growth curve and at 29 weeks I was admitted to antepartum for daily monitoring due to severely abnormal blood flow in his cord. I felt inadequacy flood back in and wished I could have a body that wasn’t failing me and my babies. I made a belly cast a few nights before their planned cesarean birth at 32 weeks (with the help of a very dear mama friend). I didn’t know at the time that it was the same size as one I had made at 40 weeks during my first pregnancy. It serves as a bittersweet reminder that the two babies growing inside me were not meant to come out when they did. Postpartum with the twins was a whirlwind of healing from surgery, long days and nights split between the NICU and home, postpartum anxiety that completely robbed me of my appetite and ability to sleep, and two horrible bouts of mastitis. As a result of the infections and my mental health I was unable to breastfeed both of my babies - something I had planned for and taken for granted. I work with breastfeeding pairs as a family physician, I had nursed my first child for 20 months, and I had done everything right to set myself up for a good milk supply with the twins. Though I pumped to provide some breastmilk for both babies and was able to nurse Claire occasionally for comfort, I still felt (and feel) inadequate. Another aspect of my second postpartum journey that stays with me is how people frequently commented on how my body looked and how quickly I returned to my slender pre-pregnant frame. They were completely unaware that my poor mental health, not a healthy lifestyle, was responsible. I try hard to normalize postpartum mood disorders with my patients as well as family, friends, and strangers, but it still carries so much stigma.
It has been a slow and difficult two years, but since the twins’ most recent birthday I have found more space to redefine myself as an adult and a mother. I am more mindful about what I need to feel like a fulfilled human being. My body is stronger and more capable than I have given it credit for in a long time and it feels like time to honor that.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
I have loved seeing how bodies and stories of all kinds are celebrated by 4TBP. The strength and bravery of parents is awe-inspiring. I want to mark this moment in our lives by joining all of the amazing humans who have come before us.