Adina Pearlman (26), Benjamin Ephraim (1 year, 3 months) and Hunter (miscarried at 11 weeks on 12/31/2011)
New Jersey | Southampton, NY
Adina shares -
“On New Year's Eve 2011, I miscarried my first child. It has been the most devastating, heart shattering experience of my life. I have wanted to be a parent since my sister was born when I was five years old. Puberty only made me crave it more. Each month as I got my period, even before I became sexually active, felt like a reminder that I didn't have a baby yet.
So when I started bleeding much heavier than usual, in thick, super sized pad soaking chunks, two days before 12/31/11, I intuitively realized I was miscarrying. It ended with me squatting in the shower in severe pain as the cells of my loss were washed down the drain. I was eighteen, back for winter break at a place I barely called home, and I had nobody except my (now ex) significant other to call. He urged me to seek medical attention, but I was terrified of my parents finding out, so I called my former pediatrician. Based on my description, and later medical attention, it was confirmed that I'd miscarried. The loss is something that I carry with me every day.
In almost 8 years, losing my child has never felt better, only different. I had tremendous support and compatible grief from my baby's father, which even as we went our separate ways was and is healing. Most typically, I am faced with "it's better this way," "it was a blessing in disguise," and/or "you were much too young, aren't you glad this didn't ruin your life." Those reactions from close family and friends caused me to retreat into myself and stop sharing my miscarriage.
With the live birth of my son, I try to speak about it as normally as I can. Holding my second child in a way I never held my first reaffirms for me that Hunter was my first child and that loss was not any kind of blessing. You cannot be too young to experience grief and regret when miscarrying. If my own feelings were that of relief, then it would be right to have that validated, but hearing it in place of the comfort and compassion I was seeking hurt deeply. We named Hunter, because we knew our baby, and Hunter was a part of us. I commemorated them with a tattoo of a quote from Sylvia Plath's "Parliament Hill Fields." It created some closure on the hole of despair I fell into following the loss, but I grieve Hunter every year on the date that they slipped away.
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
As many other folks do, I always struggled with my body image and disordered eating. A "normal" size by society's standards throughout my entire childhood and most of my teenage years, I still saw myself as "fat" and "unattractive." I gained and lost weight in significant amounts throughout college and my post collegiate years. Pregnancy changed all that. Other than regular amounts of morning sickness and food aversions during my first trimester, I definitely used pregnancy as "an excuse" to eat whatever I wanted. I gained about 60 pounds during my pregnancy, but for the first time I didn't care. I felt strong, powerful, and beautiful. I loved my rolls, chins, and flab. Carrying a baby, made me feel on top of the world.
That changed the instant my son came out. All of a sudden I saw tons of excess skin and weight. I eagerly anticipated the "rapid weight loss" that breastfeeding "promised." When nursing just resulted in a hungrier me, I was extraordinarily disappointed. While I don't seek my partner's approval on how I look, he proved to be incredibly positive and supportive of my postpartum body. He isn't one for words, but he speaks volumes with his acts of love, and he is always quick to defend me from myself. I am still working on loving myself, but his support of my decision to spend time with my son rather than spend hours at the gym (as many supposed friends, family, and doctors recommended) is appreciated.
After Benji turned one, I decided to start going to the gym and engaging in a healthier lifestyle. That being said, it was a choice I made for myself and as part of that decision, I refuse to treat myself or my body negatively or harmfully. The gym is a 30 minute workout 3 times a week that takes away from time at work, not time with my son. If I skip a day, I don't feel guilt or regret. It's simply to get more active, not for weight loss. My healthier lifestyle is a specific diet program, but one I've found incredibly supportive of breastfeeding and that encourages a kinder relationship with food. Again, no feelings of guilt or regret are invited in.
Beyond those aspects of postpartum impacting my body image, becoming a parent - especially to a child assigned male at birth who is automatically assumed to be heterosexual - has made me reevaluate how I see the world and how I want my child to see the world. I want to help create a safe, loving relationship for Benji with food and with bodies of all sizes. Parenthood has reminded me that the rolls, chins, and flab are normal, natural, and deserve love. That body hair, stretch marks, and body odor are normal, natural, and deserve love. It is my responsibility (and my partner's) for him to learn all those things. Conversely, I do love my stretch marks - I actively avoid applying anything to them that might help them "disappear" as has been advised by everyone I know. I hope in my actions of speaking my truth about my body image as well as trying to unlearn what is constantly being ingrained in me about all bodies, that I can teach my child better love of bodies, especially birthing bodies.
What was your postpartum experience?
Prior to giving birth, I envisioned myself in the birthing pool with my partner across from me gazing into my eyes with encouraging words as my midwife stood behind me saying "almost there." Then my child would emerge naturally from my vagina and live his first Pisces second in the water and his second second being brought to my breast where he would eagerly nurse as we waited the expulsion of my placenta. In reality, I had a Cesarean section following 60 hours of labor. Home birth, turned natural hospital birth, turned epidural interference and three hours of pushing, turned into the belly birth. It was traumatic and disappointing.
I had no back up plan, because it was my dream to have a water birth at home. So as the doctor scoffed at my midwife (but listened to her) when she insisted he double stitch my incision and then explained to me a resident would be pulling my baby out, I was in a panic. My partner stepped up in support and advocacy of me. He and the incredible nurse who spent 12 hours at my side (3 of them helping me push) and then switched spots with another nurse so she could hold my hand through the cesarean, were my guides as my dreams were literally sliced to shreds. It was okay though (so I'm told). My son came out with his eyes open and a full head of hair. They did not have to hit his foot or bottom because he let out a cry immediately; and they respected my directions not to wash him. They put him on my body and even though my arms were strapped down, I kissed him and smelled him. I immediately knew he was mine and instantly I loved him. His cone shaped head spoke of his determination, his little birth mark (that faded in the coming weeks) on his forehead indicated his birth struggle, and his nose shaped like my partner's sparked immense love in us. My partner followed my strict instructions not to leave his side for an instant, which eased my panic.
As soon as the epidural wore off, I was up and walking. I refused to be stopped. I refused to put my child down. My partner would watch us sleep, because I refused to put Benji in a glass box I couldn't reach into without standing on my tip toes and stretching my new stitches. Despite no offered support from the hospital until almost 12 hours post birth, my La Leche League leader mother was there to help me nurse. Benjamin latched instantly, and I thought that was that. Then he started losing weight. Then I was instructed to pump colostrum (retrospectively I didn't need to do that). Discharged on day three, my milk hadn't transitioned in. My nipples hurt. I hadn't slept well since I went into labor three days before birthing Benji. Nobody told me this was going to happen, and the medical professionals kept urging me to just give formula.
On day four my instincts told me Benji was dehydrated, and in the most horrible (but right) moment of being a parent so far, I gave him 2 ounces of formula from a free sample kit that had been in my car ready to donate, and another 2 later that night. It is to the disgrace of the mainstream medical community that nobody recommended donor milk or a supplemental nursing system. On day five, my aunt recommended the first and an IBCLC recommended the later. An emergency room visit that ended in diagnosis of mild dehydration (due to my instinct to feed my child, as fed is the required minimum) and encouragement from the only pediatrician I've ever met who is also an IBCLC resulted in forty-eight hours of supplementing with formula, and a week of supplementing with expressed and/or donor milk using the SNS that saved my nursing relationship.
Following our traumatic birth and delayed milk transition, breastfeeding has been an incredible bond for Benji and me. It has kept us close and connected, even when I returned to work one month postpartum (ridiculously soon, but financially it was our only option). As my marriage suffered and deteriorated until about six months ago when my partner and I began reconnecting and communicating, I felt I was alone in the world with my child.
My life long struggle with depression has often seemed a lost battle in the months postpartum. I did not expect such aching loneliness and desperation for a community. I am fortunate in that Benjamin has been my lifeline. His presence is uplifting, invigorating, and loving. His birth forged a new connection with my parents, as I was previously estranged from them, to the point that we moved from Virginia to New Jersey to be near them (and my mom watches him on days that I work). He brings out kindness and compassion in me that I didn't have before. He also brought out a passion for supporting and informing milk producing parents and all those that feed their children human milk. I didn't know that passion existed, but it gave me purpose in a part my life where I had previously been listless.
Being a parent is not all that I am, but for this short time while Benjamin is little I have allowed it to take all of me. Due to my birthing trauma and feeling unsupported following birth, Benjamin will be my last pregnancy. This is very different from my original expectation that I would have anywhere from 2 to 4 babies before I turned 30. So I am taking full-term nursing, safe bedsharing, contact napping, and a huge pay cut (currently working part time) to the fullest while Benji is still small. 15 months in, I still feel like I am in the fourth trimester, I still feel like I am postpartum, but parenthood brings me the most exhausting, thrilling, prideful joy I've ever experienced. My love for Benjamin is strength itself; and his kind, sweet, empathetic temperament (which is different from my own) reminds me that parenthood is encouraging and celebrating his traits. I am determined to support my son in learning all who he is, because in this short time parenthood and postpartum has helped me learn so much of who I am. Yes, I am more than a parent, but parenthood has made me so much more than who I was.
What is your truth?
Do not be polite at the expense of your child. This has been the truth I have lived since Benjamin was born. It doesn't mean to be unkind to others or that my child is above other children. It means that I am my child's advocate, and I should always remember to advocate for him. Whether it comes in the form of challenging uninformed medical professionals, insisting family respect Benji's boundaries, and/or physically placing myself between him and strangers who think they have the right to touch him without permission (seriously what is up with that); I will always assert myself for Benjamin. Even with an assertive personality, it is really hard to do, but I urge every new parent to follow that truth.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
When I was four months postpartum, my best friend who lives across the country sent me a picture of a mom breastfeeding a toddler on the beach via Instagram. The hashtags on the photo sent me into an online community that eventually lead to the 4th Trimester Bodies Project. As I was at my lowest, most exhausted point of postpartum, reading the stories of previous participants brought me light and solidarity. I have since wanted to be a part of this movement, that has not only kept me warm when it felt cold, but also taught me so much about birth, birthing bodies, and postpartum. I am incredibly grateful to this movement and for the opportunity to participate.