Katie Vigos (33), Joshua (11), Caleb (8), and Jesse (4)
Minnesota | Los Angeles, CA
Katie shares -
“My reproductive experiences have spanned a much broader spectrum than I ever could have imagined when I pictured myself becoming a mother as a young woman. After getting married at age 20, my husband and I conceived within a few months and after a healthy, uneventful pregnancy, I had an unmedicated hospital birth at 41w5d. My husband was an amazing doula for me, but I felt pressured by hospital staff to accept interventions I didn’t need, and afterwards my midwife even admitted that she didn’t think I could give birth without an epidural.
We planned and conceived easily the second time around just after our oldest son turned one, and we announced the pregnancy early to our families on Thanksgiving. A few weeks later I started spotting and suffered a miscarriage. I was shocked and devastated by the sudden loss. I knew almost nothing about miscarriage and I had never spoken to anyone who had experienced it. While it was painful to have to tell friends and family about it, I’m grateful our announcement forced me to start talking rather than grieve in silence.
The third time I became pregnant, it was unplanned and we were both overjoyed. I was surprised by the intense anxiety I felt during the first trimester after having had a previous miscarriage. I found amazing midwives for support during my pregnancy and I exercised and practiced self hypnosis daily. I self medicated with cannabis during labor and experienced a euphoric, orgasmic home birth at 41w3d. To this day, the birth of my second son is the most empowering experience of my life.
My fourth pregnancy was also unplanned, but under completely different life circumstances. From the moment the test turned positive, every cell of my body said no. It was like a dark cloud enveloped me, obstructing my vision and suffocating every breath. Deciding to have an abortion was the most difficult decision I have ever made, and yet I knew I was making the right choice for my physical and mental well being so I could care for myself and my young family in the way we needed at that time. While the experience itself was traumatic and isolating, I have since found the support I need to process it and I believe our stories must be shared if we have any hope of normalizing our reproductive choices.
A little over a year later, I had a powerful spiritual experience just days before we physically conceived our youngest son. I opened my heart to the heavens and proclaimed myself ready and willing to receive another child, and I could feel his presence enter my body. My pregnancy was healthy although stressful in many ways, and I prepared diligently to have an unassisted home birth with only my husband and a few close friends present. I had been dreaming about this birth since my previous home birth, but nothing went as planned. My son was born by emergency cesarean at 42w6d. In a twist of fate, modern medicine saved our lives.
I look back on my five pregnancies and three living children with a deep sense of awe, appreciation, and if I’m being honest-- grief. I think I will always exist within the duality of utmost gratitude for my three beautiful sons and the pain of what it was like to experience miscarriage, abortion, and difficult postpartum recoveries in a society that provides little support for birthing people and continues to shame and stigmatize them for their choices. My years of childbearing have been beautiful and bittersweet, and I cherish the lessons I have learned and the woman I have since become.
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
For the most part, I enjoyed my pregnant body and the changes I experienced. Like most pregnant people, I quickly learned how the public felt entitled to opinions and unsolicited advice regarding my pregnant body and the choices I made while carrying a child. For instance, I found cannabis to be tremendously helpful in managing nausea, discomfort, insomnia, and much more, but couldn’t speak of it to anyone besides my husband, my cannabis doctor, and a few trusted friends. When I was planning my first home birth, I didn’t feel able to discuss it freely skeptical family and friends, and I felt like I was coming out of a closet when I finally told them about it. It’s mind boggling to me how little trust and respect our society places in the vessels who are actually carrying and birthing children.
My greatest challenges with body image came after my cesarean birth. My belly looked and felt completely foreign to me. I had to completely relearn myself as a sexual being. The uneven shelf the cesarean incision created and the persistent roundness where there used to be flatness took a long time to love and accept. To this day nearly five years later, I still occasionally experience mysterious pains around my uterus, almost as if my womb remembers what it went through during its five pregnancies and needs to mourn from time to time.
Today, nearly five years later and after a great deal of physical and emotional labor, I can truly say I love my body more than ever before. I see self love as a process, not a destination. It’s a daily practice of honoring the vessel that birthed my children and remembering gratitude for the healthy body that gives me life, pleasure, and joy.
What was your experience?
I found myself wholly unprepared for the challenges of postpartum life. I’ve never felt more inadequate than when learning to breastfeed my first child. There was no continuity of care or follow-up beyond one six week postpartum visit (which was when my midwife told me she hadn’t believed I could give birth without an epidural) and one outpatient visit with a lactation specialist which I scheduled myself amidst sleep deprivation and bleeding nipples so painful I would cry each time he latched. The fact that this is the standard of postpartum care in America still fills me with desperate rage.
By trial and error, I was generally more prepared the second time around and I also had better support of my home birth midwives during the immediate postpartum period. However, once again I found myself feeling isolated and in need of more support after the first four to six weeks. Once again, I struggled to breastfeed and maintain my milk supply while going back to work.
My first two sons weaned early at five and three months old. I felt like a failure each time for not being able to breastfeed longer. Looking back on it now, I realize it was almost entirely due to lack of knowledge, support, and resources. I formula fed my boys until they were ready for solids. They are healthy and happy now but I still have moments of guilt and worry about it.
By my third postpartum experience, I was ready to fight for our breastfeeding relationship with all my might. Although I was blindsided by an unexpected cesarean recovery, I had taken more time to prepare myself for breastfeeding and was armed with information and resources. We used a nipple shield for the first six weeks which helped tremendously. I struggled with milk supply issues again and supplemented with a ton of herbs and ultimately started taking domperidone, which allowed us to continue breastfeeding for two years. I pumped hundreds of times while working full time as a registered nurse-- in bathrooms, empty offices, closets, cars, locker rooms, stairwells, you name it. Providing breastmilk for my youngest son as long as possible was part of my healing process after years of struggle. It was a victory that I cherish to this day.
While the physical recoveries from my first two vaginal births were relatively easy and uncomplicated, I was astounded by the toll the emergency cesarean took on my body. One day at a time, I slowly regained strength through gentle yoga and core exercises. I processed the birth trauma by writing about my journey online and connecting with other parents going through similar things. I didn’t feel a new sense of normal until around two years postpartum. I’m certain that if I had actually sought mental health care during that time, I would have been diagnosed with postpartum depression.
I consider myself fortunate to have had children with a very supportive and present partner who shares the work of childrearing and caretaking and is an incredible father to our children. That said, my postpartum experiences have left me feeling like humans weren’t meant to birth and parent the way we are currently doing it in the United States. We need much, much more support. We need to prepare parents for the realities of postpartum. We need to arm them with information and connect them with resources. We need to cultivate cultural practices (without appropriating them), and remember how to nurture our species through this sensitive and beautiful time of our lives.
What is your truth?
The tradition of silence no longer serves us. Storytelling can be a powerful medium to destigmatize, normalize, and heal from our experiences.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
I am here to commemorate this time of my life as a mother of three young children and to stand in the truth of my reproductive experiences in their entirety.
You can follow Katie’s important work at Empowered Birth Project.