Ana D. (37 - she/her), mother to Leo (4 - he/him) and Logan (4 - she/her)
Oak Park, IL
Ana shares -
“I have not experienced any losses but it did take me 2 years to become pregnant which was very draining. Until I had a positive pregnancy test I didn’t know how I would feel to see it and I tried to do everything that I could to have a healthy pregnancy. I know that one in four pregnancies is lost and my heart goes out to all those who have lost a child who they dreamed of and loved. I conceived with assistance from reproductive endocrinologists via intra-uterine insemination with a known sperm donor. My spouse also carried at the same time using the same donor.”
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
Carrying a child, making life and then providing nourishment for my children with my body made me realize that parents are superheroes. Gestation is exciting and exhausting. Breastfeeding is a superpower. I still have some extra skin from when my belly was gigantic but it doesn’t bother me to have the reminder of the incredible ways our bodies can stretch and grow to accommodate life. Whenever someone tells me that something is hard I just think “I breastfed twins. I can do ANYTHING.”
What was your postpartum experience?
My pregnancy with our son was beautiful and without complication. My spouse who was also pregnant (with our daughter) and due a month before me was constantly nauseated, vomiting and in pain. On most days I felt like I was glowing and full of joy.
Our post-birth experiences were just the opposite. My spouse recovered quickly and I felt like I was knocking on death’s door. My spouse was not able to breastfeed and we had read so much about the benefits of breastfeeding so we decided that we would do everything that we could to get me to be able to breastfeed both of our children. We had all the herbs, the teas, oatmeal cookies, every pump and accessory ever imagined it seemed.
I did have a preterm labor scare at 31 weeks of gestation, I tripped when getting out of the car and went into preterm labor. I didn’t feel anything and I wasn’t injured at all but we decided to go in and get checked since I did have a little fall. I was having regular contractions every 3-5 minutes on the monitor at the hospital but I couldn’t feel them. My placenta was detaching and my cervix was funneling or opening from the inside, an indication that abnormal labor is starting. The outcome could have been very bad for our baby and we wanted to do everything possible to keep him in. I was admitted to the hospital for 3 days and luckily with medications the preterm labor stopped, my placenta healed and I was able to continue my pregnancy at home.
When our daughter was born several weeks later the lactation consultant we had been working with recommended that I did not try to breastfeed yet due to the risk of triggering my body to go into labor again with our son. We gathered as much donated milk as we could for our daughter but we ended up feeding her formula as well. Seeing how much pressure is put on parents to breastfeed and the stress that it causes when a parent cannot was really hard. It really effected my spouse to have to tell people every day, even strangers, that they could not breastfeed. My due date came and passed and we started trying to get our daughter to breastfeed then. I also tried pumping. We wanted to supply our child with breastmilk and also wanted to meet our other child so induction of labor from breastfeeding would have been welcome then. It did not work though. Nor did foot massages, spicy food, black cohosh or any of the other labor inducing tricks I had heard about.
Our son was born 2 weeks late. I had originally hoped for a homebirth in a tub of water but we decided on a hospital birth for both of our kids and we hired a doula to accompany us. After 3 days in labor with my membranes stripped 3 times, pitocin for induction and artificial rupture of membranes we finally got to meet our son. He was healthy and amazing but my placenta, which had been separating during my pregnancy, was being incredibly stubborn and would not come out. The umbilical cord was pulled off and every medical staff in the room got elbow deep in my uterus trying to dig it to no avail. I was taken back to the OR for a dilation and curettage to remove the retained placenta.
Life with 2 newborns was crazy. I felt like a milk factory, feeding around the clock. I would feed one baby for 20-40 minutes, then pump for 30 minutes, then repeat with the other baby. Then it was time to feed the first one again. I never had more than 60 minutes at a time to rest, I started to understand why sleep deprivation was used as a form of torture. I thanked my mom for breastfeeding me so many times as I had a new appreciation for how painful and exhausting it was. The first few times were excruciating, I don’t feel like people talk about it much for breastfeeding was not some “beautiful, natural thing” for me. It was like scraping glass on my nipples non-stop. And I just had to keep doing it to get my supply up. So with all this breastfeeding and sleep deprivation I thought that it was just normal to feel half dead during the postpartum period.
After several weeks of feeling like garbage I finally told my spouse one day that if I passed out to please call 911 right away, not to try to help me or figure it out. My spouse was quite alarmed and didn’t understand why I would say that. I explained that I was feeling light headed all the time and dizzy and just terrible like I was going to die. But every mom that I mentioned that too said “yea, that’s how it feels after having a baby” so I just thought that all those super moms out there were stronger than I am. I had even called an advice nurse who listened to my symptoms and diagnosed me with mastitis over the phone and started me on antibiotics. But I still felt like I was dying. My spouse wanted to just take me to the emergency room right then but I assured them that I wasn’t going to die right then, I just felt terrible but I agreed to go buy a thermometer and see if I had a fever.
My temperature was 104F. So I agreed to go to the hospital. I was already a week into the antibiotics I had been prescribed for presumed mastitis so this made the tests for anything infectious a little harder to run at the hospital. I was septic. My blood pressure was really low and my heart was racing. I hadn’t ever been away from the babies for more than a few minutes since they were born and now I was being admitted to the hospital with “high fevers of unknown origin.” The guilt I felt for not being there to feed my children got even heavier. I had already not been able to breastfeed my daughter for the first several weeks of her life, now I couldn’t feed either of them. But I realized if I died then I wouldn’t feed them either so with a heavy heart I agreed to stay in the hospital and be separated from my newborns.
The doctors ran every test and imaged every part of me, each day coming up with a new idea of what could have been making me so sick. I also got to sleep though which was amazing. I slept for at least 2 hours every night which I didn’t realize was a such a luxury until I had kids. I was pumping and dumping to keep up my milk supply every 2 hours around the clock. The lactation consultants had really stressed how important it was to pump or feed at least every 2 hours. The kids could not drink my milk because I was on so many medications. About a week into my hospitalization I requested a lactation consult to see if it might be possible for me to pump at less frequent intervals or if I really needed to wake up every 2 hours and pump for 30 minutes around the clock. I explained that I was still so sick and I thought that maybe if I slept for a full night that would help my body to recover. I just didn’t know if I did that if my milk supply would drop drastically and then I would not be able to feed my kids when I got home. I already felt so much mom-guilt for not being with my family and I wanted to do whatever I could do to get better.
The lactation consultant confirmed that according to the data new moms should pump every 2 hours and had no flexibility with this recommendation even in the case of sepsis. On day 10 my fevers subsided and I was discharged home. I was still ill for a few weeks but I didn’t feel as terrible. I had hoped to spend my maternity leave at home bonding with my babies and feeling joyful and wonderful like I had during most of my pregnancy. Instead I was sick for pretty much all of my leave. That was a bummer. After about 2 months of breastfeeding it was no longer painful and I was able to enjoy the bonding time I had with my twins while they fed. I did get mastitis twice while I was breastfeeding and it was most definitely not what made me so sick in the postpartum time.
My daughter who was a champion for going from bottle to breast as a 6 week old without hesitation self-weaned around 6 months old. I pumped for her until she was a little over 2 years old. My son breastfed until he was 3 years old, just at bedtime for comfort at that age. We eventually came up with a new bedtime routine with lots of cuddles to help him get to sleep. Our kids are 4 now and they are both healthy, happy, wonderful humans. My spouse and I are doing great too and have known no challenges in life like those of the postpartum weeks.
What is your truth?
Accept help when offered. Ask for help when needed. The saying that it takes a village to raise a child really is true, do what you can to find or make your village. And I do think breastfeeding is great. But I also think that there is way too much pressure for everyone to breastfeed. Not everyone can. And that is ok. Formula exists for a reason. It is ok to feed your children formula. Don’t feel bad about that. If you feed your child breastmilk then you are a good parent. If you feed your child formula then you are a good parent. If you feed your child then you are a good parent. That’s it.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
My spouse and I had the unique and incredible experience of carrying our children together at the same time. It was amazing to be able to relate to all the aches and pains of pregnancy as well as all the flutters of growth and joy. We first heard about this project a few years ago and wanted to be a part of it but we hadn’t made the time for it until now. Life with twins sure is busy. But it’s beautiful. And we can’t wait to see some beautiful photos.