The stunning Destiny Jeffries and Kennedy Aspen (6 months). Destiny's pregnancy came as a surprise. She is in the Army and was in transition between two overseas deployments and discovered at training in between that she was pregnant. She says, "The pregnancy was easy, the childbirth was easy and parenting is exciting, it's so much fun!" She had hoped to have a medication free delivery, but dilated very fast, and decided to get an epidural at 8 cms which allowed her to have a vaginal delivery without any complications or interventions. Breastfeeding was difficult in the beginning but she was able to go to a La Leche League meeting for help and they are now going strong at 6 months, she hopes to continue indefinitely. Destiny works in an amazing unit that has been supportive and understanding of her need to pump at work to maintain her breastfeeding relationship. She has a close friend who is also a member of this movement and chose to participate after seeing the need for representation from more black women sharing themselves and their stories in celebration of motherhood.
The lovely Laura Klein and Otis (1 month). Laura had an amazingly wonderful pregnancy and birth and breastfeeding has gone very smoothly as well. Her labor was only four hours from start to finish and while she had planned to deliver in an alternative birthing center they only had time to get to the hospital and have their baby.
Laura says that even though things have fallen into line so beautifully for her, things have still been so incredibly hard. The transitions and the time and figuring everything out for the first time has been such a feat. The first week was bliss and then came a bit of adjustment but she says it's still been so much better than she expected it could be in part due to the support she's had from friends and family.
As a women who is very much interested in the notion that all bodies are beautiful and should be viewed positively, Laura has been interested in these shifts that happen through pregnancy and postpartum. As an athlete and someone who has enjoyed pushing her body and being in control, watching it change so drastically was quite profound. She says in this present moment she views her body more as Otis' body than her own - he grew in it, he gets his sustenance from it, and it hasn't quite yet settled into being hers once again. She says that we can often see flaws where others see a lot of beauty and goodness and she wants to be part of that shift for the betterment of herself and other women.
The magnificent Candace Mensik and Magnus (20 months). Candace developed a blood clot from birth control when she was 19 and was diagnosed with Deep Vein Thrombosis. She's had to be on blood thinners via injection ever since and was warned that any pregnancy would be high risk as a result. She was told that any pregnancy may or not be possible but would be high risk due to her multiple vascular surgeries, including stent placements throughout her femoral vein, up through my groin and into my vena cava, which runs behind her uterus. It was unknown whether or not pressure from a pregnancy would cause circulatory issues. Her doctor was also concerned with her clotting during pregnancy with the extra hormones, because she has the Factor V Leiden mutation. Candace had hoped to do things as naturally as possible but accepted that she may need more monitoring and intervention.
Candace was able to conceive without complication and had a very healthy pregnancy. Her doctor wanted to be in as much control as possible so he scheduled an induction but she ended up going into labor on her own before hand. Things continued to progress well, but there were a few things said and done along the way that she didn't agree with. Her doctor broke her water which she didn't want and at one point told her she needed to be quiet and relaxed so she felt like she just had to lay there and be still rather than moan and move like her body was telling her to. He told her this was because he didn't want Magnus' cord to prolapse. Her doctor told her he wanted to do an episiotomy which Candace refused and she was able to push Magnus out without any medication.
Unfortunately, Candace tore internally all the way up to her cervix and lost a liter of blood. Healing has been a long and painful process and it wasn't until the last couple of months that she realized she isn't having daily pain any longer. She is still having some difficulties though and hopes to explore possible physical therapy as well as alternative birthing options for her next pregnancy. Breastfeeding has gone very well for Magnus and Candace and she has made an overabundance of milk that has allowed her to donate to several other families.
Candace feels that now more than ever, women need to band together and rise up together in support of one another. "Our bodies are beautiful and we need to honor that, we need to take care of ourselves and love ourselves. "
Calling herself a Mother has been life's greatest gift. "I teach Magnus to love and honor those who are different, and I can only hope that he grows up to share peace, light and love with those who surround him."
The stunning Shannon Dicely and daughter Makayla (2). Shannon and her husband weren't able to conceive right away and she wasn't ready to go to the doctor yet and instead began to use at home ovulation strips to track her ovulation. Her cycles were going from 17 days to 72 days so she wanted to see what was happening and after 10 years on birth control knew it may take some time and wanted to be sure. She says it eventually lead to a big fight with her husband and she agreed to stop tracking her ovulation so heavily and set a goal for when they would seek a medical opinion.
They were getting ready to go out of town and Shannon knew she would be drinking while they were away, so she took a pregnancy test prior to leaving that much to her surprise, was positive. Her husband was home sick that day and mustered as much excitement as he could while throwing up - she jokes that he was the one with morning sickness. Her pregnancy went well and she loved every bit of it. Shannon says she's pretty Type A but wanted to leave her birth plans open ended so she could go with the flow if needed.
Shannon's water broke on her due date and she went into the hospital after stopping to eat. Active labor hadn't quite started when they'd arrived but she was so excited she walked the halls all evening trying to get things ramped up. She was able to get some rest the next morning and they were giving her clear liquids but she woke up that evening hungry and learned for the first time she wan't allowed to eat. The doctor agreed to let her have a meal that evening and they began induction the following day. After the Cyotec didn't work, she had an epidural and ultimately delivered via cesarean.
Shannon felt bullied into allowing them to take Makayla to the nursery and they were bringing her in every three hours to nurse. She was an hour late to one feed and Shannon called to see where her baby was. She was told that Makayla was being taken to NICU for risk of infection and had to be on antibiotics while they waited for her cultures to come back. The cultures came back negative so Shannon was able to bring her home three days later.
Makayla had latched as soon as Shannon was able to hold her and they had a wonderful breastfeeding relationship until Makayla quit cold turkey at 15 months. Shannon says that she felt like a failure after her delivery and breastfeeding really allowed her to reclaim some confidence in her body. She would have loved to continue longer but her goal was for her daughter to self wean and she's happy that's how things happened.
Shannon comes from generations of women who have had difficulty with their appearance and it's taken pregnancy and breastfeeding for her to appreciate her body. She had been an emotional eater for many years and recently decided to make healthier choices for herself. She hopes that not only manifests health and happiness for not only herself but is an example for her daughter.
The tremendous Traber Giardina and Jane Ellen (2). Traber and her husband were content not having children for a long time but when she turned 30 she started to change her mind and planted seeds with her husband. They decided to start trying but decided to see a specialist after 8 months when nothing had happened yet. Traber was diagnosed with depleted egg reserves and after having a couple of procedures to make sure her uterus could sustain a pregnancy, decided to use donor eggs. They searched for donors and found a match they were most comfortable with but it unfortunately didn't take. Their IVF second attempt, with a new donor was successful and Jane Ellen was conceived.
Traber developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy that was treatable with diet and at 38 weeks, developed preeclampsia which required induction. She says that after all they went through to make a baby, all she cared about was having her baby and didn't care so much about the birth itself. The magnesium made her incredibly ill and she ultimately delivered via cesarean. Traber's recovery was complicated by an infection in her cesarean wound that took some time to heal up. Breastfeeding was very challenging at first but by they eventually got the hang of things and Jane Ellen is still nursing today, though Traber admits she is about ready for the relationship to end.
Having a picture of this moment in time with Jane Ellen and herself together in which they are both so proud was very important to Traber.
The amazing Jessica Fernandez with her daughters Ezra (3.5) and Nova (13 months), Jessica has also had 2 miscarriages. Jessica is the second oldest of 9 and always knew she wanted a family. Her first pregnancy ended in miscarriage between 11-12 weeks. Soon after she conceived Ezra. Things went well, but at 14 weeks, Jessica was in a car accident and severely injured her back. The injury led to her feeling very uncomfortable for the rest of her pregnancy. Jessica's mother-in-law is her midwife and she wanted to let her carry as long as possible, she went post dates and at 40 weeks they began doing all the things they could to induce naturally. Her non-stress test at 42 weeks was great with one small heart decell, but four days later she had another non-stress test and Ezra had a heart decell without a contraction so they made the decision to induce at 42 +5. Jessica was dilated to a 4 with no contractions and did not respond to Cytotec or Pictocin but after her doctor broke her water she began active labor. Just before she was able to push, Ezra had another rapid heart decell and wasn't able to come back up on her own. They repositioned her all over the bed and they were able to get her heart stable on all fours. Jessica was able to push her out without complication soon after.
Breastfeeding with Ezra went well but Jessica stopped responding to the pump at work and soon her supply had tanked and her freezer stash ran out. She began taking Domperidone which allowed her to avoid supplementation but she still felt like she had failed in some way.
Jessica decided to give birth to Nova at home, with her mother-in-law as her midwife once again. She nursed Ezra through her pregnancy and the morning before her due date she found Ezra's nursing very uncomfortable. She began to have contractions throughout the day, tried to get some rest and when her husband was able to come home went right into active labor. An hour later she was 7cms dilated, labored in the shower for a couple of hours and was soon ready to push. She was having terrible back labor but Nova was born in two pushes with her cord wrapped around her neck, shoulders, arms and body with her hands around her face. She was beautiful and healthy and Jessica says it was the best moment of her life. It was cleansing and exactly the moment she needed to know that her body was capable.
Nova latched on after birth without issue and Jessica began pumping for her when she returned to work but Nova wouldn't take a bottle. While it was a struggle for them personally, the abundance of pumped milk her daughters weren't drinking allowed Jessica to become a milk donor. She has been able to donate to surrogate babies, preemies, babies with special needs and women like her who had struggled to respond to pumping, all of which was incredibly healing for her.
Tandem feeding has been an entirely new journey and though she feels touched out and overwhelmed sometimes she also adores nursing her daughters and nursing them together. She doesn't want to wean until her girls decide they're ready but has found the things that society has to say about her nursing a 3 year old difficult to deal with. She has worked so hard to maintain a nursing relationship with her daughter and doesn't understand why people have to say negative things about something that doesn't affect them. It works for her and her babies and that's all that matters.
Jessica has always been a small person and she says that in part due to the comments she received on her body she chose to get breast implants in her 20's. She never considered how that would impact her breastfeeding relationship and thankfully it hasn't but she has come to a place where she want's them out. She's is awaiting a consult to see if she can have them removed and realizes now that she never needed them to be feminine or to feel more womanly.
Jessica wanted to share her story and her struggles. "No matter how you come out the other side of pregnancy we are all changed and transformed. Everything is different and a new normal sets in. It's time to embrace those changes and celebrate them."
Jessica with Ezra (then 1) and 4 months pregnant with Nova.
The magnificent Jacqueline Hammock and Morris (8 months). Jacqueline researched pregnancy and birth long before she ever decided it was her time. Once it was, she had a healthy pregnancy and knew she wanted to deliver with midwives in an alternative birthing center. Everything was set but at 34 weeks, Jacqueline and her husband were visiting family to prepare for their baby shower and her water broke unexpectedly. She tried to rest and when she got a hold of the midwife to see what they should do, she told her to go straight to the hospital locally rather than risk having her baby on the side of the Interstate, trying to get home.
While this meant delivering with an OB she'd never met in a hospital she'd never seen, Jacqueline says the hospital was wonderful and supportive. They gave her a quiet corner room and tried to respect her wishes as much as possible. She was able to have a vaginal birth and Morris was taken to the NICU in hospital where he remained for a week. Jacqueline says that one of the hardest things she's ever done was to walk into the hospital pregnant and leave without her baby.
She began pumping right away and the hospital was able to give Morris her breastmilk. They allowed him to be put on scheduled bottle feeds in order to get him home sooner and were able to transition from bottle to breast at home without any issues. Morris is very healthy today and his doctors don't expect any delays due to his prematurity.
Prior to becoming a mother, Jacqueline is a lawyer and the primary breadwinner in their household. They decided to move back to her husbands hometown so that she can, at least temporarily, be a stay-at-home mom. Her son was thriving in her constant presence while on maternity leave, and so they took a temporary step backwards, moving to a place with a lower cost of living so that she can stay with the baby at least as long she is his primary source of his sustenance.
Jacqueline says that as she's grown older, her feminism has become increasingly radical, and she thinks this movement is profoundly important to the cause. "Celebrating the bodies of mothers, where the trials and tribulations of parenting are writ large, and highlighting the beauty of the changes motherhood brings to one's experience of self; these are crucial steps in dismantling the patriarchy."
The beautiful Katherine E Bradley Walker with her son Matthew (5) and daughter Kate (14 months). Katherine's pregnancy with Matthew was uneventful until 35 weeks when she experienced swelling and was put on bed rest. She soon induced for mildly high blood pressure, given an epidural and then ultimately delivered via cesarean quite quickly the same evening because her doctor had plans the following day.
Following her delivery Katherine had a spinal leak which resulted in severe headaches and temporary hearing loss. She says it sounded like she was under water and there was just constant noise and motion in her ears. She was told to lay down and things would get better but they didn't believe her what was happening because she didn't have classic symptoms. She eventually gave her a blood patch, 24 hours but it didn't last long. In the meantime, her sons bilirubin was up so they wanted to put him under phototherapy lights and start supplementing with formula. She says she didn't have the fight in her so they consented.
Once they came home her symptoms didn't improve. She was given headache medicine and antidepressants and told to get 8 hours of sleep. Thankfully, on day six she finally started to feel a bit better. She breastfed, bottle fed and pumped for three weeks before she realized it just wasn't working and decided to stop. Katherine felt guilty but had done everything she could. She had six lactation consultants in the hospital who all told her different things -use a nipple shield, don't use a nipple shield. It was all too much and she knew Matthew was going to be okay.
Katherine had wanted things to go differently for Kate's birth and found a doctor who said she was VBAC friendly. She had an uneventful pregnancy with no swelling this time and her doctor said she'd let her go to 41 weeks. At 38 weeks however she scheduled her for a cesarean at 40 weeks 5 days, because that was her dedicated surgery day, before Katherine ever had a chance to labor. Her doctor also told her that "some women just aren't made for natural birth". Katherine prepared herself for a shift in expectations after she had a good cry and Kate's delivery went smoothly. As soon as she latched she knew something wasn't right and thought she had a posterior tongue tie. She kept asking for people to evaluate but everyone said she was just fine, but her nipple trauma showed otherwise. Katharine finally found a dentist to repair the tie but Kate's latch was not immediately fixed and she started having vasospasm's. She was in so much pain and at 9 weeks realized she was missing out on so much by being so hyper-focused on getting her milk. She decided that was it, breastfeeding wasn't working out and as a result, her kids were both formula fed, healthy and happy.
Katherine loves the concept of this movement but never felt that it was for her. It was far out of her comfort zone and atypical of her personality but she did it anyway, without a reason she could grasp - simply because she felt she need to.
The amazing Allison Staiger with her daughter Violet Adele (2.5). Before becoming pregnant, Allison had an eating disorder and says that she was probably drinking too much. Taking care of herself and appreciating her body wasn't something she was accustomed to having to do but pregnancy changed that for her. Her pregnancy came as a surpise but as an anxious person she was amazed to find a sense of calm settle in right away. Her body began to grow and change without control and seeing that happen was both shocking and a lesson in self love. Taking care of her baby meant taking care of herself.
Two days before her due date, Allison lost her mucous plug and ended up going to the hospital later that day. Just after she got checked in her water broke but she wasn't progressing. They gave her pitocin and she went from feeling nothing to a huge rush that left her unable to move or talk. Having been unable to ease into labor she went ahead and got an epidural which she hated. They also gave her Stadol without consent and she says she felt like she was drowning and was numb. She slept fitfully for few hours and woke up ready to push but didn't feel like she could do it - exhausted, throwing up, on oxygen and running a fever due to chorioamnionitis. She was told to push differently but couldn't feel and Violet kept descending and then retracting. She pushed for two hours and they tried vacuum extraction but they ended up having to deliver via emergency cesarean, an experience that felt both like defeat and relief. Violet was healthy and Allison's recover went very well initially but she over did it a bit early on and had to take a couple of days of bed rest due to excessive bleeding. Allison initiated breastfeeding without complication but went back to work at three months and wasn't pumping enough for Violet. She made it to 6 months before starting to supplement and Violet weaned herself at 9 months.
Alison says her eating disorder hasn't been much of an issue on the other side of her pregnancy. She learned that she could eat and exercise normally and nothing bad would happen, it wouldn't change her worth as a person. She still has days where she runs through what she eats with too much intention or doesn't like how she looks but she says she's doing so much better. Her eating disorder was her last battle against herself and she's happy to let it go.
Everyone looks differently and to take the pressure off women to fit a certain mold is so important to Allison and it's so important to remember there is so much more to you than what you look like, she says.
The amazing Malana Anderson with her sons Linden (4) and Banyan (2). Malana never wanted to be a mother but when she was 32, she and her husband both realized they wanted to have a baby. She was surprised to get pregnant right away and had a wonderful pregnancy. She had planned for as unmedicated and intervention free birth as possible and found an OB in Alabama that was fully supportive. Her water broke at 38 weeks and she called her doula right away. After laboring at home for about 20 hours she decided to go to the hospital and learned she was only 3cms. She decided to get an epidural so she could rest and woke up feeling ready to have her baby. She ultimately ended up delivering Linden vaginally but in the OR just as they were about to call it and deliver via cesarean.
Linden latched right away and was the most gorgeous, peaceful thing she had ever seen. She says he never even cried except for a little sneeze and the entire time they were in the hospital he continued to be so relaxed and sweet. When they got home, however, she says, "the shit hit the fan". Linden screamed constantly and was entirely inconsolable - she felt like she was poisoning him with her milk. She had heard of colic but this went beyond any description she could find and was left with a baby that only slept 15 minutes at a time and screamed around the clock. They were all miserable and she didn't know what to do. Doctors said he'd grow out of it, friends told her that by three months it would go away, but three months came and went, then six months, then nine. Malana tried elimination diets, she had him evaluated for GI issues and nothing seemed to be the answer. At one point, she was only eating turkey and rice and even that was causing issues. The doctors suggested he may have silent reflux but they will never know for sure.
In the meantime, Malana was at a loss. She was angry, frustrated and found herself in a dark place. She would go to work and find herself taking the longest route home to prolong the time she was away from the screams still ringing in her ears. She looked for support groups and couldn't find anyone who seemed to get it until she met a women who held her hand as said she had been there. The only thing that would get her by for 15 more minutes was remembering that first moment she ever met him.
At some point, a shift happened. And Linden started screaming less and interacting more. While he is still amazingly strong willed and full of personality, things got so much better. When he was about a year and half old, she says that she and her husband's conversation shifted from "oh, my, goodness we're never doing that again" to "he definitely needs a sibling, right?" They figured they had paid their dues and decided to give it another try.
She got pregnant again right away and had another healthy pregnancy. At 38 weeks, labor began again but she still felt great and expected another long process. She prepped meals and decided to take a nap but when she awoke realized the baby was coming, NOW. They scrambled to get to the hospital and Banyan was born in the car in the parking lot. Malana says that the hospital treated them horribly once they got in as if they had broken the rules and had an unattended birth on purpose. They didn't want to circumcise and planned to delay vaccinations and the hospital went so far as to threatened to call child protective services because they weren't following their policies. They eventually got home without further issue and for the first two weeks things were bliss.
Unfortunately, at that point Banyan started screaming too. Malana says that he had more classical colic and "only" cried 5 hours per day but it still created such distress in their home. It always happened in the evening which meant that Linden had to learn how to get through dinner, bath and bedtime with little help from her. This time Malana struggled with breastfeeding and getting him to latch and stay latched. They continued to work through it and eventually his colic went away but at 21 months her milk dried up and she still wishes that they had been able to continue longer.
Malana adores her boys and is having a lot of fun at this stage of motherhood. She knows that at some point, distance will make the difficulties of the early months matter less but they will always matter. In that, she wants women to know that it is okay to talk about the hard times. She found herself understanding how mothers hurt their babies in some of their darkest times and felt like she was the only one who had been there. On the other side she knows that she wasn't alone; she says if her story, her honesty, can help even on other person through, then it's all worth it.