Crystal Gauen (41), Sasha (4) and Duke (11 months)
Crystal shares -
“I've been pregnant five times and have two living kids. The first miscarriage I had was during my first pregnancy at 13 weeks. I remember the day like it was yesterday. After getting glowing results on the nuchal, my OB couldn't find the heartbeat that had been there several days prior. My next pregnancy ended almost as fast as the positive pregnancy test at around 5-6 weeks. The third ended at 9 weeks. During this time, I was mostly silent about what was going on. I had a lot of shame and felt like my body wasn't "working." I did lots of acupuncture, Chinese medicine and changing my diet.
Once I got pregnant with Sasha it was a pretty anticlimactic pregnancy accept for shear terror that she wouldn't come out alive that permeated most of the days. With Duke, just when I started to feel a little bit safer and confident at 20 weeks we were told that he had a kidney issue and that he would possibly die before he arrived. Cue shear terror for the remaining 20 weeks. We were monitored very closely throughout the rest of my pregnancy and he arrived 2 days before his due date.
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
I would like to say that I'm proud of my body and that I feel strong, but I'm not there yet. I had such a hatred of my body when I was losing babies. It felt as if my body was failing me, my husband and our hopes for a family. My first birth didn't improve that feeling. I felt like a failure for having a cesarean, even after a laboring for close to 30 hours. I tried very hard to breastfeed. My lactation consultant told me that I deserved a Purple Heart. Sasha was tongue tied and my boobs weren't producing enough milk. Sasha would scream at my boobs most days and I pumped as much as possible and supplemented with formula. At 3 months, my mental health was pretty terrible and I felt like I wasn't enjoying my baby because I was so concerned with trying to nurse her and make milk. I tried so hard to fix it and make it work and it just wasn't. Stopping nursing was bittersweet. I was happy to be rid of the pump, but felt as though I failed. In the community where I lived, I was one of the few moms who bottle fed and I felt that I constantly had to explain why I wasn't breastfeeding. One person said to me, "I guess you can still bond with your baby with a bottle." Luckily I found a tribe of moms that didn't make me feel self- conscious. It took a long time to start to accept what I saw as my "failures" as a mom.
With Duke, I was older and took me longer to get pregnant. There were months where I thought I might not be able to get pregnant again. Once again, I wasn't feeling very good about my body. Just when I was starting to lose hope, I became pregnant. After another long labor, I had an emergency cesarean when Duke wasn't tolerating labor. I thought I was prepped for the nursing struggles. He had his tongue tie revised at 4 days and I had already stocked up on domperidone to increase my milk supply. Once again I had similar low-supply even with the help of the domperidone. Duke was a better nurser most of the time, but would intermittently refuse. I was supplementing with formula. My boobs were failing me and my babe again. I felt terrible about my inability to breastfeed again, but stopped at around 2 months because I couldn't keep up with the pumping with a baby and a toddler. I guess I chose my mental health again. There was a grieving period when I made the decision. I'm still learning to accept the new normal of my body. I wish I felt strong and proud of my body for all its been through and done, but I'm still working on that. I do my best to be respectful of my body, especially in front of my kids. My body is evolving and it's a work in progress.
What was your postpartum experience?
I had a lot of issues after Sasha was born and my mental health was pretty poor for the first few months. I remember thinking that things would be fine once she was born. I'd had the hormonal dips after each of my miscarriages and would have days of crying. I thought that this would be different because I wouldn't be grieving this time. I was wrong. I cried A LOT. The struggles I was having nursing didn't help much. Once I stopped nursing and started to get some sleep at about the 4 month mark, things improved some. It did take me about a year to lose the foggy brain.
With Duke, things were pretty horrible for the first 5 months. Duke was hospitalized at 3 weeks old due to a fever that was found to be caused by a UTI which he was more susceptible to because of his kidney reflux. He was put on antibiotics and he became colicky. He would literally scream for hours.
It was extremely difficult and it felt that there wasn't much that would soothe him. We go to an amazing OT/CST who helps him a lot. I spent most days with him in the carrier walking or bouncing or holding a pacifier in his mouth because he couldn't do it for himself. It made it so much harder for me to bond with him. In some ways, it felt like his colic and crying broke me. It was just me and him most days while my daughter was at school and my husband at work. I was always ready for him to start crying at any moment, but when it happened I feel like I dissociated some in order to get through it. He's developed into a sweet, sweet, happy babe, but I'm still a little messed up from the colic and the screaming and crying. Slowly I feel like I'm getting back to a little piece of myself. I do think something happens around the 1 year mark and things start to even out and you can get into a rhythm and you start to feel a little more like yourself... but different, because you can never be the same as before.
What is your truth?
Two things: 1. Nobody wins. Motherhood is not a competition. We are all just trying to do our best and be good enough. After I finally agreed to a cesarean during my first birth, I turned to my doula and said, "What did I just do?!?!" I was worried about making the wrong choice and about the recovery. My doula said, "Nobody wins." This motto has stuck with me.
2. Find your people. Find the moms who you can be yourself around. you can share the hard stuff, the funny stuff, that parent similarly enough to you or at least respect the way you parent. I think this especially important if you don't have a lot of family support around you to help. I reluctantly went to a new moms group a few weeks after Sasha was born and in some ways it saved me. over time I found my small crew of moms that are my people. I continue to be forever grateful for them and their children in my family's life.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
After my last birth I was feeling particularly bad about my body and somehow I stumbled about this project on instagram and it brought me life. I felt like I wasn't alone and was in awe of the people who shared their stories. I'm trying to be brave.