Sarah Meier (28 - she/her) and Kajsa (4.5)
Ann Arbor, MI
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
As an athlete, I try to view and appreciate my body for the awesome things it can do, rather than valuing or devaluing it according to my culturally influenced view of how it looks. The key word here is ‘try’. I have inhabited every space on the spectrum between appreciation to disdain for my body, and parenthood took this dialogue to an entirely new level.
I didn’t plan to become pregnant, so I didn’t experience that liminal space between the decision to pursue a pregnancy and its biological onset. I didn’t spend weeks or months imagining, and thus making real and adjusting to, the embodiment of a pregnancy or the identity of a longed-for child. The changes that I soon saw in my body had never previously existed in my imagination. They were jarring and unsettling. I swam in guilt as I recognized that my healthy pregnancy was simultaneously a cause for celebration and mourning. From my shell-shocked, unsupported perspective, I was losing my body as I knew it, and I was losing my existing sense of self. I felt so detached from the machine of my body. My baby wasn’t yet real in my mind and I couldn’t see the gift I had been given. I didn’t recognize how precious and grounding those thirty-some weeks could have been.
Four and a half years later, I am incredibly grateful for my body and for the changes it went through. I am absolutely astounded by the things that it has done— the things it still does— the things it will do. I grew my daughter, my best friend, from a single cell to a thriving infant solely with the nourishment that my body drew and transmitted to her. I was able to breastfeed her into toddlerhood, and today I am joyous at the strength in my body which allows me to run to her and lift her above my head as we reunite after a day at preschool or several days with her father.
My body is still a machine. It operates, creating and sustaining, completely under the surface of my consciousness. But, it is also more than that. My body is a home— not only mine, but hers. From my womb to my arms, I hope that she will always find shelter, peace, and unconditional acceptance with me. I once mourned the loss of my singularity within my body. Now, I see that it’s true: my body will never again be solely my own. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.
What was your postpartum experience?
My reality shifted into place when I felt my child’s cheek against my own in the moments after her birth. All of the best parts of me: the protector, the nurturer, the observer— became highlighted as I navigated the unpredictable waters of new parenthood. But, so too did my ghosts and sharper edges: unresolved developmental trauma, relentless and piercing anxiety, absolute codependence on the people who were actively harming me.
In the first year of my daughter’s life, I was awestruck. I couldn’t get over her existence or perfection, or the speed and tragic beauty of her swift growth into a toddler. My fixation on her situated my own internal struggles to the peripheral. I was happy to leave them there. It took two and a half years for these essential battles to move into perspective. After ending my relationship with my daughter’s father, I started to attend therapy. Slowly, I realized that I was there not only to figure out how to navigate a coparenting relationship, but to confront my traumas and to learn about myself as a human, a mother, a survivor. Somewhere around this point in time, my postpartum journey’s trademarks shifted from desperate love and confused shame to mindful exploration and unwavering presence— with my daughter and with myself.
It’s hard for me to tap into those first few months of postpartum life now. When I think about myself sitting with my infant daughter, I want so badly to enter the scene, to hold and protect both of us. I needed love and unconditional acceptance so desperately in those first years. I was drawing and giving both to my daughter from an unknown source, and I myself was alone and depleted. I was in love and surviving for her, but I was suffering so deeply that I couldn’t see the source of the pain.
My postpartum journey was paved with a ridiculous love, a stubborn endurance, and an unspoken dream of something better for my child. I think back to the pain I felt in the scar of my cesarean incision; the unsettled feeling of my organs shifting back into place— and I see with clarity the metaphor that this serves for my unquiet struggle as a postpartum mother. My movements were inhibited by a subconscious guarding from pain. I was unfamiliar with all that was inside and around me.
The recovery in my mind did not carry on in biological rhythm as the recovery of my body did. It has taken an immense amount of energy and trustful leaning on new sources of support— from my loving partner, from my sister, from my therapist, from my self— to begin to heal my postpartum mind. As its scars smooth over, I am able to bask in a presence with my daughter that was once clouded by shadows and ghosts. I see her so clearly. I am beginning to see myself more clearly, too.
What is your truth?
Learning to parent without a blueprint— or with a noxious blueprint— is an incredible task. You can do it. You can break the intergenerational cycles that harmed you. You can parent guided by love, gentleness, and by a true, deep sense of seeing and knowing your child. In doing so, you might start to see yourself more clearly; you might be gentler with yourself; you might learn to love yourself in a way that wasn’t accessible to you before. It will be so. fucking. exhausting. You will slip up. You will knee-jerk parent in ways that scare you. And you’ll learn from it. You will create a painfully beautiful, textured, deep relational unit that is enhanced by your enduring love and by your arduous past. Everything that you need in order to rewrite narratives of trauma, abuse, and pain; to love fiercely and endlessly; to be all that your child needs— already exists inside of you.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
Seeing and living the integration of body and mind is an essential value to me personally, relationally, and professionally. I see this project as a true representation of that. The postpartum experience is embodied and cerebral, and this collection of photographs and stories captures that truth. Truthfully, that is why I am here: to capture a moment. A moment in time with my child and the dynamic, vital energy between us. The softness of her face and the vibrancy of her character. A moment in time with myself at this stage of becoming a more conscious human. I will value these images dearly as we continue to evolve together.