Colleen Reid (40), mother to Finnegan Danger (12) and Eamon Prufrock (5)
Oak Park, IL
Colleen shares -
I had a miscarriage before I knew I was pregnant, and before I realized I wanted kids. It was early, but I named her Scarlett, and losing her was very hard. Like each of my children, she changed my path and taught me many things. She was a gift, and I’m grateful for her, even if our time together was short.
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
The journey to accepting my body has been purposeful, and the road has been winding. I have been abused most of my life, specifically sexually, but emotionally as well. Up until only a few years ago, the abuse was daily and I was not free to be myself.
I felt the pressure to be beautiful at a young age. My idea a feminine was based in abuse, codependency, and unattainable cultural expressions of femininity. In college, I toyed with my gender a bit, trying on masculinity for size, ultimately becoming more and more comfortable with being femme after I had children.
I went though a time where the sexual abuse was so overwhelming, and so destructive, that I told my partner I was asexual, fully believing this was the case. His response was not supportive. I was not allowed to be asexual. I was expected to have sex with him, and if I wouldn’t, it was sex therapy or divorce. It was made clear that this was a crucial piece of who I was supposed to be, and I wasn't doing it right. But my body had never been mine. My choice had never been respected. And who I was as a sexual being was completely unknown to me. Because I had never *really* consented. I acquiesced, as was expected, by the men in my life who ‘needed’ things from me. And when I tried to pull back, or take distance from the sexual part of my relationships, I was emotionally abused and blamed for their unhappiness. Crying through sex, and panic attacks with sex were my normal.
I became unexpectedly pregnant with Finnegan on the very day that my father died. I don’t believe in many things, but I strongly believe that he was a gift from my dad on his way out. Initially, I was elated. But it didn’t take long for things to get messy. I developed hyperemesis gravidarum. I lost nearly 50#. I lost a lot of hair, and ruined my teeth, and the severity of the malnutrition also gave me osteopenia and serious spinal problems. I didn’t eat or poop for weeks on end, and my organs began shutting down, which is intensely painful. My doctors tried to comfort me by telling me that women in German concentration camps were able to have healthy babies as long as they were able to stay hydrated, and that starvation didn’t harm their fetuses.
My body was failing me. I was so hopeful that his experience would be redemptive, and beautiful. I wanted to be the divine feminine as I grew, and labored. But instead I was hospitalized more than a half dozen times, given 5 rounds of steroids, and home care for daily IV fluids and medications round the clock. I was broken. And there was just no hope for me. I felt stupid for thinking I would be capable of anything more.
The home birth I dreamed of was taken from me as I developed pre-eclampsia. And I literally sobbed the entire way home from the doctor and while I packed. I felt certain the hospital would kill me, and I would die. It was a HORRIBLE hospital, and a terrible experience. He was occiput posterior with a brow presentation, and very difficult to deliver. I was given an epidural to control my blood pressure bc they worried I’d have a stroke. And then they cut my vagina open to make the delivery easier. It all felt barbaric and terrifying. But I survived, and I brought home my baby and heavily stitched perineum two days before Xmas.
Nursing was a very pivotal piece of body acceptance for me. My breasts were GIGANTIC. After having HG, I was also very thin. I felt terribly vulnerable to predators and men who would hurt me walking around with these giant things. It was also really difficult for me to deal with constant NEED for my body from my son, and surrendering myself to the demand of another, even a baby, was triggering.
But I was determined to do what was best for him, and stuck it out. And magically, something wonderful happened. I grew to love my breasts, and the power that they gave me to soothe his sweet child. That was the first time in my life that I ever liked having a body. My tiny boy taught me to find safety in surrender, and within my skin. And it was so amazing. It changed me. I even wrote about it and was eventually published on the cover of International Doula Magazine.
I became a Birth Doula, La Leche League Leader, child birth educator, and a bereavement and abortion Doula. I also helped pioneer the nation’s first integrative model of care that included birth doulas, midwives, and OBs. I spoke at several conferences and am quoted in a handful of books and articles. I found my place helping women see the strength and beauty in their own bodies. It was redemptive, and beautiful, and the most satisfying work.
Years went by, and the issues from my pregnancy worsened, leading me to have two spinal surgeries, and 2.5 years in physical therapy. All of this left me with permanent nerve damage in my right leg from the hip down, and parts of my abdomen and genital region. This was the beginning of disability for me. And it was hard to shake the feeling that pregnancy broke me. And it must have broken me because I’m less than. Inferior. Not entitled. Just like with sex.
It became clear that having more babies was a terrible idea. And I grieved. I had a Mirena placed, and I tried to move on. But that Mirena migrated due to a hyperflexed uterus, and a nerve damaged pelvic floor. Most of the time they fall right out— but mine was embedded in my cervix, and not working. At my 5 week placement check, they informed me it wasn’t working.
I was pregnant.
I wrestled a lot with this pregnancy. I decided it was a gift, since I had wanted another baby so badly, and hoped that my years as a birth worker had prepared me for another difficult pregnancy. But HG is never easy. I managed to only lose about 25# this time, ultimately gaining weight by the end, which was better than showing up to deliver almost 30# under my pre-pregnancy weight.
But I was also having pre-term labor from about 20 weeks, and was literally covered in some kind of hives that were relentlessly ugly and itchy and miserable. And my blood pressure continued to climb as the weeks went by, and the medication wasn’t helping as much as it should have been. I went to MFM every week. And there were always questions about my baby’s movements and behavior. He was too energetic. They always asked if I was diabetic. But I wasn’t. Something was off, and we didn’t know what.
At 34+5, my blood pressure was raging. Eamon was growth restricted, measuring small, and it was time to meet him. I was contracting like crazy but not feeling it yet, likely due to the nerve damage in my abdomen. When checked, I was 3cm and 60%. It was time.
After helping so many women champion their births, I was really hoping I could have a smooth birth with no problems. But what I got was the most traumatic experience of my life.
Eamon came in 3 contractions once it was time to push. He was 4#10, and only 16” long. The tiniest of things. They whisked him away to the NICU almost immediately. My OB gave me a moment with him, but the Neo people were not happy about that. It was time to deliver the placenta, and then sit in that strange space where you’ve just had a baby but you don’t HAVE a baby because they took it from you. Except the placenta wouldn’t come. The cord was brittle and broke. The placenta was degraded badly, and needed to be manually extracted. For the birth muggles here, it means my doctor put his entire fist inside of me up to his elbow, and fished out my raggedy placenta piece by piece. We had no idea why it was such a mess, but he thought the preterm labor was likely because the placenta couldn’t provide baby with adequate nutrition any longer, and that perhaps it formed poorly due to the damned mirena that was still in when I got pregnant. It’s also worth mentioning that my OB was also my boss of almost 10 years. Getting fisted by your boss in front of an audience is super awful, even if you understand the necessity.
I cried desperately in the days following, because I feared I had made a horrible mistake by having him. That perhaps I didn’t want another baby after all. I knew it was okay to not be in love with him yet. But I didn’t even want to be. My body had broken him. And he needed so much help. And it was all my fault.
He was intensely colicky. I was forced to leave all of my jobs to care for him. Crying every single hour of his life until at least 3 years old. He nursed every 2 hours exclusively for 18 months because he refused to eat solid foods— he has a litany of issues to manage now, though he is a happy boy. And the guilt I experience over not having done better for him seems to be inescapable.
I was soon divorced. With a special needs baby, a body that didn’t work, no job, and nothing going for me. But slowly, slowly, I found myself. And at 37 years old, I learned the true meaning of consent. And I learned the true beauty of sharing your body with someone you love. And THAT changed everything.
That tiny preemie just turned 5. He doesn’t know he’s special. Or that he’s difficult. His brother is 12. No one hurts me anymore. I’ve discovered that I’m queer (pansexual), and the joy I take from bodies in general, has been so redemptive. I have leaned to love me through loving others who look like me. And while it’s still difficult to love a body that doesn’t work, or that hurts me all the time, I think we’re going to be okay. This chubby broken body of mine is MINE now.
What is your truth?
I am braver than you think I am. I am stronger than you think I am. I can do impossible things. I’m smart, and I’m capable, and being disabled doesn’t change that. I also strongly believe that people treat you according to who they are, not who you are, or your value as a person.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
This is a hard question. I watched almost everyone I know participate. And I have been afraid. I held back the ugliest parts of my story at the gathering, because I feel like most people just can’t deal with it. As a retired birth worker, I’m sensitive to triggering others, or causing secondary trauma in others. I also don’t like the way people look at me afterward when I speak my full truth. The sharing was hard, but the photos were easy. It took me a long time to allow myself into that healing space. Because I have a lot of work to do, and I don’t have time to do it. The trauma is soooo big. And it’s all wrapped up in my abusive marriage and sex work and being queer.... who I am is in that story. And I guess I’m afraid to show people that. Because I know I’m awesome, but I don’t take it well when other people don’t think so. I guess I was afraid of confronting those triggers. Thank you for giving me the space and the encouragement to do this. 🖤