Caroline Dahlstrom (35), Robbie (6), Shay (2), and Wilder (6 months)
Boston, MA | Burlington, VT
Caroline shares -
“I saw my body as having a purpose. In my first 2 pregnancies I was so excited and grateful to be pregnant. It was amazing that I could grow babies, birth them, sustain them with only my breastmilk for months, and continue to nurse them into toddlerhood. Although it was strange having my body change so rapidly when I was pregnant, and then see it become something entirely different after giving birth, I accepted it as a necessary part of the process. There were days where I didn’t even recognize myself in the mirror and almost did a double take. But, there was a wonderful purpose to these changes and even when my brain didn’t quite compute what was going on, I accepted every new shape my body took as necessary to grow healthy children.
Then I got pregnant with my 3rd child, and because I had my daughter early at 35 weeks I had to get weekly shots and frequent check ups to try and ensure I carried to term. Everything seemed to be going fine, and I was again so grateful for what my body was doing. At 28 weeks my water broke and everything changed. Despite medical interventions, I was only able to stay pregnant 5 more days before I developed a serious infection and had to go in for an urgent cesarean. Wilder was born at 29 weeks weighing almost exactly 3 lbs. He had a long NICU stay and continues to struggle with different health needs. My feelings of gratitude and respect towards my body have vanished. I now feel that it let me and my child down in the worst way possible. My body could have killed my child. Because my body was unable to carry to term he has to endure so much. I am really struggling with viewing my body as a failure.
My postpartum time with all 3 of my children has been hard. The first 6 weeks with my oldest 2 were wonderful. I was sleep deprived, sore and figuring out how to nurse, but mentally I was great. I just felt so in love with my children and had a sense of calm purpose. At about the 6 week mark with both, postpartum anxiety hit. I didn’t fully realize what was going on with my oldest, so it took me a while before I got help. Thankfully I was much more on top of it with my daughter and sought out medication and counseling ahead of time, so it felt much more manageable. With my youngest son everything has been different. I have filled out half a dozen of those screening surveys for postpartum depression. Every time I scored high, but who wouldn’t? I had to leave my child in the hospital in an isolette hooked up to IVs and monitors and breathing tubes. Answering questions like, “do you cry every day?” seemed a little ridiculous. I couldn’t differentiate between what was normal processing of what we were going through and what was postpartum. I still can’t really.
My truth about parenting is literally that, the truth. Be brave enough to tell the full truth. I’ve found that it can be easier to gloss things over and give generic happy answers to everyone. Most people when they ask how you are expect something along the lines of “I’m good” or “I’m tired, but good.” I’ve started answering truthfully. Sometimes that means I say “I don’t know” because truthfully I don’t know how I am in that moment. Sometimes that means I say “not so good today” because I am struggling, or Wilder is, or my 6 year old is struggling because all of this has turned his world upside down as well. Some people are taken aback by these more truthful answers, but I’ve also found some wonderful people who stay and listen to the hard stuff. Sometimes they even share some of their hard stuff. This started for me because I just got too tired to pretend I wasn’t struggling, but I have found I enjoy these genuine interactions so much more.
One of my very good friends tagged me in an Instagram post when you announced you were coming to Burlington. At the time I had just had my son, he was still in the hospital and I was in a fog. Something made me keep coming back to your page though, and the stories of mom’s struggles and fears spoke to me. Then I finally read Ashlee’s story, I think it was about a month after we brought Wilder home from the NICU and were just starting to discover some of his long term health needs. I was struggling with what life was going to look like for him, and for me. We were heading towards a feeding tube and that scared me. My hesitation in participating in this was much more about him than me. I wasn’t sure I was ready to share him, g-tube and all. When I read your story of having a child with special needs I felt that I could let my guard down a little. Taking pictures of me in my bra and underwear seemed much less intimidating than taking pictures with his feeding tube showing. I wanted to share him too, as much as my other children, and this felt like a safe space to do so.”