Rachel Hines (35), Duncan Wulf (5), and Henrik Beau (9 months). Rachel is a previous project participant. You can view her photos and story from 2018 here.
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
With Henrik, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, which impacted a lot of my daily life. I failed my glucose test twice, and was told I needed to go to a two hour nutrition class. The class wasn’t helpful because it only covered portion sizes, and everyone in attendance left with a list of foods to eat and avoid. I was required to track my blood sugar levels upon waking in the morning, and an hour after eating every meal. I had to document everything I ate and drank for the last two months of my pregnancy. My morning fasting numbers were still too high, so I was referred to a dietitian and endocrinologist, who put me on medication to help bring my fasting numbers down. Because I needed to be medicated, it was an automatic transfer from my midwife to an OB, and I was devastated that I couldn’t have the home birth I wanted.
My experience with the endocrinologist was horrible. I was shamed because I couldn’t get my numbers down, and was told that everything that I was eating was wrong, despite following what the dietician told me to do. When I said I wanted to try some natural methods before starting on the medication, the endocrinologist told me that what I was planning on doing was wrong, dangerous for the fetus, and flat out wouldn’t work, even though she had no research to back up her claims. I ended up losing so much weight in a short amount of time that they were getting concerned about Henrik’s development.
At our final appointment, I was told that this was just the way my body was working, and there was nothing else they could suggest. I was mad and confused, and I felt like my body was failing me. I was scared to eat anything because it would spike my blood sugar levels, but not eating wasn’t an option. By not being able to eat a lot of the foods that I loved, I started getting aversions to them. The thought of eating made my stomach turn, and I only ate for the sake of nourishing my body. I hated eating because it was no longer an enjoyable experience.
When I was eight months postpartum, Duncan and I attended a birthday party for one of his classmates. Another mom and I were making small talk, and she asked when I was due. It took me a second to realize what she was referring to, so I asked, “due for what?” She told me that someone had told her I was expecting, and when I mentioned that I had Henrik in October, her only reply was “oh.” I didn’t get any kind of apology for the misunderstanding, and that’s what hurts the most. I’m constantly worrying when I go out in public if everything thinks I’m pregnant. Living in a bigger body isn’t easy, and I think about this comment a lot more than I should.
What was your postpartum experience?
My husband and I were able to have a few days alone with Henrik while Duncan stayed with my mom. Things got into a good rhythm once Duncan came home, and our schedules and consistencies pretty much stayed the same. I had forgotten how tiring the newborn stage was. This was amplified by Henrik’s bad reflux and constantly gasping for air and spitting up in his sleep. I didn’t get much rest at night for fear that he was going to choke in his sleep.
During the day, I rested as much as I could, but on the weekends I was trying too hard to be super mom. I wasn’t listening to my body, and would become exhausted and weak because I was doing too much. I wasn’t letting my body heal, and my postpartum bleeding picked back up.
We hired a postpartum doula this time around, and even though she had one shift a week, she helped our family immensely. Some days she would wash dishes and bottles while I took a shower or ran an errand, other days we would just chat or watch cooking videos together. One day she accompanied me to a postpartum midwife appointment. Having her company and energy in our home was extremely beneficial for me and my mental health.
I wanted to pump alongside breastfeeding Henrik, so I started when he was one week old. I had a great freezer stash of “just in case” milk that we used at night when Henrik started refusing one breast, but I started to hate pumping. It was taking away time I wanted to spend with my family, and it was interfering with the sleep that I needed. Pumping was starting to take longer and longer, and my output was getting smaller and smaller. I couldn’t pump enough to keep up with Henrik’s appetite, and I could feel the postpartum depression creeping in, so I made the decision to stop pumping all together for my mental health. To make up for the bottle of breastmilk Henrik would have gotten at night, we decided to start giving him formula. Feelings that my body was failing me started again, and I cried when I gave him his first bottle. But he was so happy. He wasn’t fussing at night anymore. I stopped feeling like I was letting him down.
With Henrik, I was able to recognize the signs of postpartum depression. I asked for help when I started feeling overwhelmed, even if it was as simple as someone else changing a diaper. I vocalized when I needed a break, and by nipping it in the bud, I felt that in my fourth trimester, I was a lot happier.
What is your truth?
Mental health and self care are paramount during the postpartum period. Familiarize yourself with the signs of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. Ask for help no matter how big or small the task is, and be willing and open to accept help when it’s offered.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
Duncan and I participated in 2018 when I was pregnant with Henrik. I wanted to document not only my relationship with Duncan, but my growing and changing body. Now that Henrik is here, it’s a perfect bookend photography story - a beautiful before and after.