Jana C (35) and Koa (2)
Berlin, Germany | Photographed in Seattle, Washington
Jana shares -
"I have PCOS and have struggled with my weight and appearance since puberty. As a teenager and young adult, I really didn't have a lot of love, kindness and respect for my body and it really inhibited the way I walked through life in general, always being afraid of other people's judgement. I loved being pregnant and felt really empowered in my birth, seeing that my body just knew what to do, and for the first time in my life really, felt love and kindness and acceptance towards my body. It helped grow my son, it was his first home, providing him with safety and comfort and then it helped us have a powerful birth. It really reinforced this new view of my body as a part of me that is to be loved and respected.
PCOS caused some challenges with my milk supply, but I worked hard to have a nursing relationship regardless and seeing how my body has been this tool for connection and comfort for me and my son has further reinforced feelings of respect and kindness towards myself. I still have moments where I wonder what it would be like to be a smaller size, or wish to have Gal Gadot's figure, but for the most part I am at peace with the way I look and parenthood has had a huge part in that.
Koa and I have had a rough start to breastfeeding. He had jaundice and was too weak and tired to nurse well. He was also born with a pretty severe lip and tongue tie that didn’t get released until he was already 2 months old. On my side of the equation things didn’t look much better. First of all, I had retained placenta. So my body didn’t quite get the message that baby is born and that delayed my milk coming in. On top of that, I had low prolactin levels and likely IGT. I also have PCOS and was under a lot of stress immediately postpartum. Each of these things in and of itself can negatively impact your milk supply. Dealing with all of them made it virtually impossible for me to exclusively breastfeed. Breastfeeding was painful. I had cracked and bleeding nipples.
Koa lost almost 2 pounds in the first week and I had lactation consultants and midwives visit every day for several hours and was put on a different regimen pretty much every day for the first 2 weeks. Nurse on demand for as long as he wants, or every 90 min from start to start, whichever one comes first. Help him latch by squeezing your breast this way, hold his head in this manner, tickle him so he doesn’t fall asleep. Massage your breast to facilitate letdown, get donor milk, supplement with a feeding tube and syringe at the breast (master this tricky thing while still learning how to help your baby latch), grow two more arms so you can do all these things simultaneously. Pump immediately afterwards, then care for your nipples in this way, then sanitize all the equipment, but don’t forget to hold your baby upright for a half hour after feeding for his reflux and do skin on skin as much as possible. Maybe pump on one side while you’re nursing on the other. Take Goat’s Rue, Shativara, Fenugreek, your prenatals and your DHA. Drink a gallon of water. Eat well. Don’t eat anything that might make baby gassy. Eat Oats. Get some fennel. Read this article. And this blog post. But only if you have time.
Remember that this wasn’t my second or third baby. No, I was completely new to motherhood! I had to learn how to even hold a baby securely, read his cues, clothe him, change his diaper etc., deal with the crying and the sleep deprivation. The new relationship dynamics. AND I was recovering from birth. I couldn’t sit without it being painful for weeks, and was supposed to do sitzbaths several times a day. I, to this day, only did that once, simply for lack of time to do it. Just writing this again now is making my head spin. I am not exaggerating when I say that I had no time to go to the bathroom, eat, sleep or do anything other than this. I honestly didn’t even have time or the nerve for half of this stuff. It was driving me insane. How someone is supposed to keep up with any of this is completely beyond me. AND I already had help. My parents fed me and held Koa when I needed to pump. The worst part, it affected my feelings towards my baby. I never not loved him, but for a few days, this infatuation, this feeling of being in love with my child went away. Completely disappeared. I felt depressed and angry. Deficient in some way. This body that so beautifully and easily birthed my child, had known exactly what to do, I had trusted it to do its job and it was failing me now. I sent everyone away, cancelled every follow up appointment and told people I needed a break. I switched to formula (it was hard to get donor milk and I hated the way Koa smelled like another mom’s milk) and bottle. This gave me a much needed break.
My parents fed him with the bottle and I either pumped or rested. I pumped and pumped and the most I ever got was 10oz/day. On a good day. Pumping was challenging in its own right. I had the wrong flange size and my hands cramped up from holding parts for hours every day. I had to sit leaned forward because of how my nipples are positioned and it causes my back to basically be in pain all the time. I contemplated giving up. Everyone around me that saw how much I struggled, encouraged me to just call it a day. I was close to it. But I would nurse Koa once or twice a day if I felt like it and I realized that I didn’t want to give up. I realized that breastfeeding is so much more than nutrition. Yes, the benefits of breastmilk are great and undeniable. Mother’s milk is magical if you will and there are plenty of blog posts about those benefits. But it’s also comfort. It’s bonding, it’s safety, it’s love. So I started going to support groups, and I read articles online and I told myself I’d just try this one last thing. And then this one other last thing. I just wanted to be sure that I gave it my all.
And we started nursing more often. I would nurse him, then top him off with a bottle of formula, hold him. Eventually, I decided to give the SNS a try. I was anxious and hesitant because the feeding tube initially was horrible and hadn’t worked for us at all. But when I finally got the Lact-Aid in the mail, it worked like a charm. I was so happy! I started a routine of preparing formula, straining it, storing it in the fridge and keeping two bags prepped in the fridge. Once or twice, Koa rejected the boob crying SO hard, he had learned that he wouldn’t be getting any milk and was waiting for me to give him a bottle. Eventually, he learned to trust me though. I went off all supplements and while it is sad that I couldn't ever provide Koa with a full supply of mother’s milk, I know that he is getting SOME milk from me and that is beneficial for him, but what’s more important is that he is getting a full supply of mother’s love. 100% nursing and proud of it. Koa is now two and we are still nursing. He wakes up 3-5 times a night to nurse and while that is hard for me, I worked too hard for our nursing relationship to just end it now when he clearly isn't ready to move on.
"Their judgment is not so much a reflection of you but rather of their own struggle." I think this can apply to any kind of judgement, judgment of your appearance, as well as judgment of your parenting choices.
Following this project, seeing other mom's pictures and reading their stories has had a huge positive impact on me in the months following my son's birth. It constantly reinforced that I was ok, my body was ok, that I am enough. I wanted to be part of something that's so powerful."