Emily Stowell (32 - currently 13 weeks pregnant) and Rowan (2)
Oak Park, IL
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
I have been overweight to varying degrees nearly my entire life. Stretch marks and relaxed breasts were no mystery to me, nor a cause for fear/anxiety in my first pregnancy. I felt lucky, to a certain degree, to have to worry less than many women I knew about “ruining” my body with pregnancy and breastfeeding. My canvas didn’t start out perfectly blank of imperfections, and I’d come to accept myself and body image well throughout my life. Even if my body didn’t fit our society's standard of beauty, I had always felt strong and balanced within it.
That feeling of strength and balance changed drastically with parenthood. Just two years into parenthood, and 13 weeks into my second pregnancy and I do not feel strong. I honestly feel ten years older physically. I know much of this is due to exhaustion, and that some day I’ll have true restful sleep again and more time to myself. For now, I appreciate my body for the hard work it is putting in during my childbearing years and ask that it be patient, for it will belong to only me again someday.
What was your postpartum experience?
My son’s birth went exactly to plan; I trusted myself and my body, and I achieved an unmedicated hospital birth without fear. I felt educated, empowered, and in charge my entire pregnancy.
Becoming a mother was almost nothing I expected. My own mother made it look so easy to be always loving, kind, and nurturing. She told me loving your child is easy - she never felt anything except excitement and adoration around her newborns.
Nothing prepared me for the biological, instinctual, animal connection I would have to my child. I was shocked by the extreme anxiety I had for the uncertainty and unpredictability of life with a newborn, the innate need to fulfill all his needs, the sheer screaming alarms in my mind while he cried.
I was unprepared for the isolation. One day I was teaching 100 - 6th graders and the next I was home all day every day with a being I couldn’t understand very well at first. I was no longer just myself - all of my decisions now effected someone else and that was debilitating at first - I had a hard time making any decisions at all. I was able to stay home from work for an entire year (an incredible blessing), and now looking back I don’t regret that because I needed that extra time to get to know him and this new version of myself.
I was most unprepared for my breastfeeding challenges, and how that would impact my view of myself as a mother. I was whole heartedly committed to exclusively breastfeeding my child, and while he never received any formula, our latch issues lasted through the first 3 months of his life and I suffered from extreme physical pain and anxiety about feeding him. Eventually, this pain and anxiety began to trigger rage. I was not myself, I resented my child’s needs, and I was scaring my husband. I sought help, joined a postpartum anxiety/depression small group, and was connected to a supportive and caring therapist (to whom I owe all the stars in the sky.) While I will always have guilt about the way I acted in my greatest times of crisis, in the end I am a success story, not a failure.
I have a beautifully kind, intellectual, and sensitive son who is a much better person at 2 than I will ever be. I can take pride in that; overall, I made good choices between us. My next chapter of mothering begins in January and I love knowing that I learned so much the first time and have more knowledge and understanding of the process of being born again as a mother. I’m also fully aware, and ever hopeful that I will remember throughout, that I can never stop learning and trying to be better for myself and for my children.
What is your truth?
Forgive yourself. Don’t allow small conflicts to ruin your perspective on the bigger outcomes. Your child thinks you’re amazing.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
I have always thought of motherhood as a collective experience, connected to all the mothers before you and after you. This kind of collective project represents that well.