Tina Van Winkle (30), Roger Archibald (14 months), and Theodore Meriwether "Teddy" (2.5 years)
Tina shares -
"Before my pregnancies with Teddy and Roger, I had a miscarriage at 12 weeks. We still think of that loss (the baby we nicknamed Little Moose) as a big brother or sister to our boys.
Pregnancy and motherhood have forever changed my body image, and that change has been in a variety of directions. First, I marvel at how I could turn food into humans using just my body. Despite having PCOS, getting pregnant was easy each time. These unconscious powers of my body astound me. But not everything was as easy - breastfeeding my first, Teddy, took a lot of fortitude. He was fussy at the breast, almost insatiable, and needed a nipple shield for every feed for his first three months. I felt completely housebound because of it, and irrationally jealous of breastfeeding dyads who didn't have to use that stupid piece of plastic.
My partner and my family were very supportive of me continuing to breastfeed through all the difficulties, and once we finally kicked the nipple shield habit, nursing him was a wonderful joy. We are still going strong at 2.5 years (though nursing a toddler comes with its own challenges). I've been proud of how little I've let public negativity or comments affect my breastfeeding relationships.
Another challenge to my body image was inherent in the births. With Teddy, I had gestational diabetes and was induced at 38 weeks despite some misgivings about induction. I felt strong and in control of the experience until a very "wrong" kind of pain took over. An epidural snowballed into a cesarean, and the surgery itself was difficult to recover from and demoralizing. I blamed myself and my body for not "succeeding" at a vaginal birth.
When I got pregnant with Roger, I decided I wanted to try for a VBAC at a birth center. I transferred to midwife care in the middle of my pregnancy and was very happy with that model of care. It felt more empowering and respectful of my experience. I didn't have gestational diabetes, but did have debilitating pubic symphysis dysfunction and struggled to enjoy anything for the second half of the pregnancy. I had to lean on my community heavily and felt ashamed that I wasn't happily bouncing along, pregnant with my toddler in tow.
My labor with Roger started out as a much more relaxed, holistic experience. I loved laboring in the bath and was very confident I would get my planned-on VBAC, confident that it would be a healing experience. Instead, I became a transfer to hospital after my third day of labor and things continued going wrong at that point. The pubic symphysis pain was overwhelming as Roger descended and I just felt incapable of going on. I asked to die a lot and meant it, I think.
When the OBGYN at the hospital and I decided to proceed with a cesarean (something I barely felt I really agreed to), the epidural had worn off and I had to be put under general anesthesia. I next awoke restrained, intubated, and being rushed into a CT scan. I didn't know how my baby was or what had happened. Turns out, there was uncontrolled bleeding at the same time as I started having serious respiratory distress. It was a perfect storm of complications. After a day and a half in the ICU, removal of large hematomas on my uterus, and 3 blood transfusions, I was out of the woods and reunited with Roger, who had been healthy and happy and nursing with my midwife and having donor milk.
The little over a year since Roger's birth has been a bodily struggle. I was severely limited in my mobility and it began to affect every aspect of my life and self image. Finally, I found a surgeon who believed my bleeding during the delivery had caused "artificial" endometriosis and he did an exploratory surgery 11 months after Roger was born. In it, he found and removed massive scar tissue, endometriosis, and the real find, a staple from a gall bladder removal 8 years prior that had wormed its way down and wedged itself beneath my cervix. He and I believe that the staple was the cause of the "wrong" pain I felt in both labors and may have contributed to the circumstances surrounding the cesarean births.
Since the surgery, I've been able to lift my toddler again, and go up and down stairs, and finally regain some quality of life. It's night and day. I'm still struggling with the failures of my body, and learning to accept the weight I gained over the past year of low activity, but I'm so thankful to have my bodily experience be getting close to pleasant again. I may never be exactly pain free (I also live with fibromyalgia), but the acute, daily, crazy-making pelvic pain has been left in the past.
Another factor in all of this - my wife began her public gender transition when Roger was two months old. Throughout that I've thought a lot about womanhood, and performance of identity, and had to challenge myself and others on our ideas about bodies and the self. Her courage has inspired me as I've walked this difficult path with pain and disability, and I'm so proud my boys have her as a mom. Our family is unique and complicated and messy and beautiful, and I want my kids to know the strength and peace of loving your body for all its capabilities and limitations.
I'm hoping participating in 4TBP will be another step on the healing journey for me. I'm still working on feeling let down by my own body, and feeling cheated out of the first year of Roger's life. But I'm starting to reframe those raw and painful emotions as just part of the transition to motherhood with all it's ups and downs. My therapist has referred to the lonely years with very small kids as often having an effect of "annihilating the self" of the mother, as she is consumed in the needs and demands and identities of her kid(s). I think recognizing it is the first step to combating it, and I'm beginning to stake a new claim on my experience of my self and my body. I'm growing myself now, just like I grew my boys.
Don’t let anyone other than yourself define motherhood for you. And, if you can, embrace the energies of creation that are part of parenthood, in other parts of your life.