Danielle Jahn (40), Kerrigan (2), and Sawyer (9 months)
Davenport, Iowa | Photographed in Seattle, Washington
Danielle shares -
"I never really wanted kids growing up and for most of my adult life believed that I didn't want children. I even joked that my biological clock must have been defective. Until one day I decided that I did want children. I was 34 at the time and my husband and I decided to go ahead and try for a baby.
Unfortunately, this was not an easy journey for us, and after trying for some time we began treatment for infertility. Our first medicated cycle yielded a pregnancy, but resulted in an early miscarriage. We proceeded to have 7 more medicated cycles and 5 IUIs before seeing another positive pregnancy test, only to experience another early miscarriage. During this time we underwent extensive testing to see if we could determine why we were struggling to conceive and why I was losing pregnancies once we did. Every box on the RE's (reproductive endocrinologist) form had been checked off when we finally learned that, due to some genetic composition, half of our embryos would be rejected by my body because they would be too similar to my own genetic make up that my body wouldn't recognize them as babies and would treat them as a foreign object that didn't belong in my uterus and would attack and kill them.
As we sat in my RE's office after our 9th medicated cycle and 6th IUI discussing my IVF protocol for my next cycle, my RE told me to expect more losses through my journey. At this point we had been through two years, two confirmed losses (I actually suspect that I had another early loss before we sought treatment that was never confirmed), a lot of tears and a lot of heartbreak. We steeled ourselves for what was ahead and accepted that our journey would likely have more losses, more tears and more heartbreak, but everyone was confident that it would end with a baby. Unbeknownst to us, as we were sitting in the RE's office having these discussions, our 9th (and final!) medicated cycle and 6th IUI was successful and just days later I would have another positive pregnancy test.
We held our breath as our beta numbers continued to increase, and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but at 5 weeks everything was progressing as expected, at six weeks there was a heartbeat and it looked like this pregnancy was going to stick. I had some bleeding early on, after we confirmed the heartbeat, which really shook me, and I was put on progesterone for the duration of my first trimester. I was anxious my entire pregnancy, constantly expecting something to go wrong. I ended up buying a fetal doppler to listen to her heartbeat daily just to quell my anxiety.
At 12 weeks there were some anomalies on her scan, and we had to complete some additional testing and a fetal echocardiogram, which again, didn't help my anxiety, but everything came back perfect. Eventually it sank in that I was probably going to take this baby home. I started feeling movements and I loved every one of them. While eventually I did calm down some, I remained anxious through the duration of my pregnancy.
At 34 weeks I started measuring ahead somewhat significantly and ended up having weekly NST and BPPs. While this might have stressed some people out, I loved my weekly glimpses at my little girl and looked forward to the journey out to the MFM's office each week. At 39 weeks we did a second growth scan and it was estimated that she was going to be 9 pounds 15 ounces. I was right on the cusp of where a c-section would be recommended, but I had a sturdy, wide frame that seemed favorable for a vaginal delivery, so the doctor was game to try. We met with my OB after the growth scan results and had a long conversation with him. While I very much wanted a vaginal delivery, our primary goal was for a healthy mom and a healthy baby after the delivery. Because of the fertility treatments, there was no guess work about our due date, and there was no doubt the baby was continuing to grow. I had no signs of labor, the baby was still high, I wasn't dilating or ripening and the OB was concerned that if she's not progressing on her own, there was a reason that was the case. He advised us that a vaginal birth was going to be difficult because of her size. I would not be a candidate for induction and they would not be able to utilize delivery aids, such as forceps or vacuum if we stalled during labor.
Ultimately, we decided to give her until her due date to come on her own and put a cesarean on the calendar for the following day. Unfortunately, her due date came and went without so much as a single contraction - despite bouncing on a labor ball all day for the week prior, eating chocolate cake, etc. you name it, I tried it! So we arrived at the hospital and my daughter was delivered via cesarean. The birth was fine, but I was shattered when they handed her to my husband while I was stitched up, because I was told I could hold her in the operating room. To this day, thinking about this upsets me. In the end, my OB told me that I wouldn't have had a successful vaginal birth because her shoulders were too broad and she would have gotten stuck, so we had made the right decision in opting for the cesarean, but I still mourn the loss of that experience and have regrets about it today.
When it came time to have my son, everything about the experience was different. I conceived him immediately and unassisted - I shouldn't have even have been ovulating at the time! And I knew, just knew, that I was pregnant. The first test I took (way too early...you'd think after 22 negative tests you'd know better!) was negative and it really opened up a lot of emotions that I wasn't prepared for and didn't expect. I had a good, long cry and moved on. But I still had this feeling that I was pregnant. One morning I woke up with a headache and was going to take some Advil at the office, but just knew I should test first, and sure enough that test gave me the faintest positive! We called the doctor right away to have labs done to check both my HCG and monitor my progesterone, and my progesterone returned low so I was given supplements again.
I replay that day in my head all of the time, wondering what would have happened if I hadn't had a headache that day. Would I have added another loss to my tally? This pregnancy was so different than my first, simply because it was "normal". By the time I finally saw my OB for a confirmation of heartbeat, I'd had at least 5 ultrasounds with my daughter. And while I was still anxious this pregnancy, and I still pulled out my doppler nightly, I was also a lot more relaxed.
There were no complications, no concerns and things just progressed. I throughly enjoyed every moment of being pregnant again. We had a growth scan at 36 weeks, given how large my daughter had been, and they were estimating him to probably be about 9.5 pounds at birth. We'd already discussed the possibility of a VBAC with my OB and he was on board. We again gave him until his due date to arrive, but put a cesarean on the calendar just in case. Again, we approached my due date and the baby was measuring large. Again, I had no signs of labor starting. Again, I was in the same situation I found myself with my daughter. I was really disappointed, but had also at some point accepted that it was likely I was going to end up here and with a repeat cesarean.
Sure enough we reached my due date, and despite having had contractions just a few days before due to a stomach bug and severe dehydration, I wasn't so much as a single centimeter dilated. So we went in for our cesarean, only this time I told anyone and everyone who would listen that I wanted to hold my baby in the operating room. My husband knew that he was to direct the baby to me if he was offered and did not dress for skin to skin this time. As it turns out, Sawyer was 10 pounds, 4 ounces and almost 23 inches long. My OB, again, felt that we had made the best choice in opting for the cesarean and I got to nurse my son for the duration of my time in the OR. While I still mourn not having the birth experiences that I wanted, my experience with Sawyer was a very healing experience for me. It wasn't the VBAC that I'd hoped I'd get, but it helped me close a lot of wounds from by birth with Kerrigan and I am forever grateful that I had the opportunity to experience that.
I think that becoming a mother has had a positive impact on how I view my body. One of the advantages of being an older mother is that I have had a fair amount of my life to come to terms with who I am as a person and accept some things about myself that I definitely needed time and age to accept. But, now that I'm 40, I'm proud of my body for what it has done and not what it looks like. And while there are things about my body that aren't my favorite, I try to be kind to myself and remind myself that choosing to love myself sets an example for both of my children. I am hopeful that showing my daughter that I can be happy with my imperfections will teach her to also love hers, and that she can be successful and happy regardless of her appearance. I'm also hopeful that setting an example for my son will help to shape how he will define beauty and strength in the women he meets throughout his life.
After the birth of my daughter, I experience fairly severe PPD and PPA. I am told that this is fairly common with women who experience infertility and loss, but that doesn't make it any easier to experience. After we brought my daughter home I literally did not sleep for two weeks. I was absolutely convinced that if I feel asleep and no one was watching her, I would wake up and she would be dead. As a result, I also began to imagine myself doing terrible things. I was so afraid that I refused to walk past the railing upstairs if I was holding the baby.
Eventually all of this would build up into a rage and all I could do was yell about anything and everything. I didn't know who this person was, or why I had become this person. It was a horrible time and I struggled so much with just being myself. This isn't what motherhood was supposed to be and this isn't who I wanted to be as a mother. I had grown up around babies and kids, I thought I would be so good at this and everything would just come naturally to me, but it didn't and it was much harder than I ever expected and I had a really hard time admitting that and an even harder time accepting it.
Eventually I sought out help, but I was resistant to utilizing medication and chose to treat by just seeing a therapist. In hindsight, I think that was a mistake and I made my own recovery significantly more difficult than it needed to be. But I did learn a lot about myself and a lot of strategies to help control my anxiety and anger/temper. Even though I know my daughter has no memories of these things, I still feel terrible to this day about those first few months of her life. As we geared up for the birth of my son, I all but begged my OB to send me home with medication for PPD/A. I simply could not go through that again, and I could not put my family through it either. He encouraged me to wait and see what happened after the birth before jumping right into medication. He advised me to get out of the house every single day, even if it's just to walk around the block and see if we couldn't head off another PPD journey. He would provide me the medication in a heartbeat if I needed it, all I had to do was call, but he really wanted me to hold off on jumping right into taking it. I reluctantly agreed. And, surprisingly, my postpartum journey this time was like night and day. I don't know if it's because I knew what to expect this time, or if it was because I was an old pro at nursing, or because I did make a point to leave the house daily. But I felt wonderful - this was the postpartum journey I had expected to have after my daughter, this is what I had imagined motherhood would feel like. It was so good for me to have this experience because it healed me in so many ways. My heart, my soul, my sense of motherhood and who I was as a mother. I didn't know how much I truly needed to have had this experience until I had it and I remain forever grateful to have been given the opportunity.
You are going to lose yourself to motherhood, I think that is unavoidable. You will never be the person you were before you had kids. It will be hard to realize that reality and you will sometimes question who the fuck you even are anymore because you don't recognize the person you've become. And it's hard, because you love your kids - but you also have to love yourself. It is imperative to find something for yourself outside of motherhood. A hobby, activity or sport. Something that belongs just to you - not you the mother, you the person. It's hard and I still struggle with it myself, but it's my current journey and I have realized the importance of maintaining some semblance of my own identity outside of just being "mommy".
I have been following the project for some time. I have always believed the women who participated were very brave for exposing both their physical and emotional vulnerabilities such a beautiful way. But through my own journeys I have come to realize that unless you take those risks and put your own truth out there, you never have the opportunity to really look at yourself and take the steps necessary to heal so that you can move forward without being stuck in your own history. I believe that my history shapes me into who I am now, but I'm ready to move past letting my history define me in this moment. While I have no problems openly sharing my experiences with others, privately I still have a really hard time keeping old wounds closed. When I saw that you were coming to Seattle, I decided that I am also ready to be brave and vulnerable and finally start to heal."