Sarah Lawson (35), Kora (5), Rae (3), and Hope (1)
Pittsburgh, PA | Akron, OH
“I had an early term miscarriage before my first daughter. We had been trying to get pregnant and I knew I was pregnant for about a week when I started bleeding. I wasn’t sure what to do so I went to the ER but there was obviously nothing they could do other than tell me what I already knew. Although it was only a week, it was really hard to have started thinking all of those thoughts in my head about a baby and then have it all go away so quickly. I was fortunate that I only had one cycle and then got pregnant again with my oldest. I was surprised because it had taken months to get pregnant the first time. I had a lot of anxiety during my first trimester; I took a pregnancy test every day for weeks to see if the line was getting darker! I don’t think much about that miscarriage anymore but it’s always there.
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
I’m not exactly sure when this happened but I think that I have a more positive body image now than before I had children. I have always been relatively healthy and fit, but as a teenager I remember always finding something to be unhappy about. At one point I remember thinking that my knees were too bony (seriously!). I was never happy with my stomach because as much as I exercised I couldn’t produce a 6-pack. I got stretch marks on my thighs from a growth spurt and was so embarrassed.
In my twenties I continued to worry a lot about my appearance. I gained around 15 lbs very quickly when I started my first job after college. I was horrified when I saw myself in a family photo and it took about a year to lose what I had gained in a few months.
My husband was ready for children way before me, and I think that one of the reasons that I was hesitant was because I worried about what it would do to my body. It may have been having children or it may have been simply gaining maturity, but I just don’t worry about all of the little things anymore. I have learned what type of clothing works for me and I think that is a huge contributor to body image. Sometimes when I put on something that I haven’t worn in a while, I initially feel badly if it doesn’t look good, but then I just get rid of it and move on. I also have no shame is using shaping undergarments!
Overall, there are a few major changes in how I feel about my body since having children. First, I feel proud of what I have done, from pregnancy, to breastfeeding all three babies for over a year, to learning to be happy with the new me. At the same time I feel a bit sad about some of the functional changes that come with the territory such as the sciatica that sometimes bothers me or the weaker bladder function. More importantly though, I have started focusing on staying healthy so that I can be here for my children for a very long time.
Feel free to share your postpartum journey.
With my first pregnancy I dealt more with physical issues and with my second two I had more emotional hurdles. My first labor was over 24 hours long with two hours of pushing. I got an epidural about halfway through the labor but it didn’t work well on one side. I hated the epidural and I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be able to lay on my back once I had it. Everything felt so awkward.
I had a second degree tear and my recovery was horrible. I was in pain for weeks, and on top of that breastfeeding was even worse. I went to lactation consultants but it took about a month for me to be able to nurse without pain or bleeding. At my 6 week follow up I had barely begun to feel normal again. Combine the physical issues with the shock of being a first time parent and my overall memories of the first couple of months of parenthood are pretty dark.
I was “lucky” because my job at the time provided 8 weeks of fully paid maternity leave and I had a lot of time off saved up so I was able to take 13 weeks of fully paid leave. I don’t think I could have even considered going back until about 10 weeks. Shortly after I returned to work, a project came up that was in Australia and since we had decided that my husband would be a stay at home dad, I offered to go if I could take my family with me. We left when my daughter was 4 months old and returned when she was 7 months.
On my first day on the project, I went to pump but my pump didn’t work. I thought I had figured out the right plugs that I needed but something went wrong so my husband had to come to my office so I could nurse my daughter. He then went and found a place to rent a pump for the next few months. I remember an instance where I was sitting in the lactation room with another mother who asked how old my baby was. When I told her the age, she looked really confused and asked why I was there. No mother in Australia would be at work with a baby so young. When I returned to the US, I had some project assignments over the next year that required me to travel for 3-4 days per week. I carried my pump with me to all of them and became a pro at bringing all of my equipment and milk through airport security. I was determined to make it work!
With my second pregnancy, I moved to a new company right when I became pregnant. I actually got the positive test result on my third day at the new company. They did not have a maternity leave policy so mothers received short term disability plus FMLA leave. Unfortunately, I did not qualify for FMLA because I had to be working at the company for at least a year when the baby was born. I knew that meant that I would only receive 6 weeks of short term disability and I’d have to return to work. After the memories of my first recovery, I spent my whole pregnancy and postpartum period dealing with a lot of anxiety about how I would be able to do that. Luckily, my second labor was vastly different from my first and unmedicated. It was only 5 hours and I pushed twice. I had a tear but recovered so much more quickly. Breastfeeding was still a bit difficult and I had some pain and bleeding but that only lasted a couple of weeks. The main thing I remember is that the day my daughter was born I was already counting down the days that I had with her. My company did allow me to work from home for another 4 weeks so that I could continue to nurse her and then I started going into the office at 10 weeks. Luckily she (as with my first) was a good sleeper so it was somewhat bearable.
For my third pregnancy I was again at the same company with the same policies. Luckily, my third labor was very similar to my first so the recovery was also similar. For this leave, I qualified for FMLA however it is unpaid leave and my company has a policy that we must use up all but 5 days of our time off for the whole year before we can take unpaid leave. Since my daughter was born in February, that meant that I would return to work in May with 5 days off for the rest of the year. We were already planning a summer beach vacation where I would use those 5 days which meant that I had zero days off for anything else. Because of these issues, I again dealt with a lot of anxiety during my pregnancy and postpartum period worrying about how I would survive without days off.
On top of that, my department at work changed during the leave and I knew I’d come back to a new boss, whom I knew nothing about. My daughter was also a terrible sleeper (the only one of the three!) and I was running on empty during the whole leave. A few weeks into working again, her sleeping got even worse as she hit the 4 month age where sleep issues often begin with babies. I was a zombie at work for a while and I honestly don’t remember how I survived but I did it. After that baby, my husband and I were both confident that we were done!
What is your truth?
It’s impossible to do it all and be everything to everyone. You need to consider who YOU (and your partner) are, what YOU (and your partner) are capable of, and what is important to YOU (and your partner). Set your goals accordingly and let go of the things that don’t align.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
The timing of today’s event is really perfect for me. My third, and final, child turned 1 a few weeks ago and we will be weaning over the next couple of months so I am excited to capture the end of that journey. I also have recently started getting into a regular exercise routine which hasn’t happened since my first pregnancy. It feels like a bit of a turning point to close out the baby phase and focus on my own health and my daughters growing up. This may sound a bit dramatic, but I truly feel like a survivor after having three children amidst the lack of social and legal support for parents in this country. I hope that people like us can start to change that and I hope that my daughters will grow up with a stronger body image and will have more positive experiences than myself.