Ashley Keiser (32), Hayden (4) and Dawson (2)
Ashley shares -
“Postpartum body image is an ebb and flow. Having my two boys with very different births helped me realize the strength and power of my body. I learned that no one should have power or control of it, except me. Most days I look at my body with pride and confidence and am grateful for all it's accomplished. However, some days I get down on myself when I feel like I'm not meeting society's expectation of my body. I am constantly working on my self love.
I feel that a birth can be a powerful opportunity to learn more of who you really are, a chance to dig deep in self-discovery in your fourth trimester. I firmly believe that my first birth was a product of being groomed for a cesarean. My doctor shared multiple things with me in my third trimester that seemed to prep me for the inevitable cesarean section. I had never had any type of surgery, so the idea of cesarean during birth was something that I had complete fear over.
When in the hospital, I willingly accepted multiple interventions and my cervix began slowing in dilation, eventually swelling, and my baby’s heart rate was not as strong as they would have liked. Eventually, it was suggested that I have a C-section before things got worse. “We can deliver a healthy baby now, or wait until it’s an emergency. It’s up to you.” And like any Mama Bear, I obviously chose the healthy baby. And that he was, healthy as can be, whisked away and not to be seen again for over an hour after constant demands for him. My husband was divided on where to go and I urged him to be with our baby. There I lied alone on the operating table with my OB and my nervous anesthesiologist. I felt weak, incapable, dependent on my doctor, and very honestly, I felt like an absolute failure. I was empty inside.
When my baby boy was finally returned to me, I asked for assistance to help him latch. And yet, the response I received, “I don’t do nipples - here.” and my child was put into my arms, onto a stomach that was numb and swollen from surgery, and to a mother who was still struggling to think straight after all of the meds that had been pumped into her. My angel of a mother helped position my paralyzed lower body, moved pillows, lifted my gown, and helped bring my son to my breast. And he latched. It was our first beautiful moment together. I always dreamed of the first words I would say to him. I never got to whisper them, but my love didn’t need words.
That night, my pain meds lapsed and I experienced the most excruciating physical pain of my life. I screamed and cried for the nurses to reduce the pain, and after 20 minutes it was manageable again. The next morning, my breasts flowed with milk and my eyes with tears. This wasn’t the baby blues, these were tears of trauma and fear. I was asked to change my bandage in the shower and as I began to remove it, I froze. I was broken and this bandage would expose my pain and failure and weakness. I pulled the nurse’s help cord. An angel appeared in the bathroom and with complete grace she helped to restore my dignity. Standing there naked, I felt more human than I had felt in 24 hours. My nurse breathed in words of love and strength into my soul and she removed my bandage. I stood strong. I did not fall apart. I was a woman and I was strong.
In the weeks to come, I was in no way prepared for the long recovery and discomfort that accompanied a cesarean after hours of laboring. My husband relocated our bedroom to the first floor and I had to ask for help to bring my son to me, to change him, for everything. I began to lose my self-worth as a mother. Slowly, my physical abilities improved, but emotional stability was weakening and no one noticed. I began to feel empty inside, alone, paranoid, angry, developing irrational fears, I began to wish God would take me from this earth. But, when I looked at my baby, I felt a purpose. At 3.5 months postpartum, my mom said, “Ashley, this isn’t like you. I think you need to talk to your counselor.” My son kept me alive, but my mother gave me the lifeline to save myself. With a great deal of counseling and much self-care, I was able to emerge stronger from postpartum depression, anxiety, and OCD.
It wasn’t until my second pregnancy that I would face head on the trauma I experienced from my first birth. I had researched for months prior to conception and picked the doctor with the best stats within a 2-hour drive. Dr. Katharine Morrison at the Birthing Center of Buffalo would completely change my birthing experience into a powerful and joyful occasion! She encouraged my continued work with my counselor on my past trauma and she was dedicated to best prepare me for my VBAC. We spoke only words of positivity over the pregnancy and anticipated VBAC, although we had multiple plans and discussed what they looked like. To be prepared for various types of birth was key in my emotional strength. Twice a month, we would join a cohort of families due at similar times to improve our understanding of pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and the body’s innate ability to bring babies earth side. I went into my second labor as spontaneous as my first, but this time, I knew to trust myself.
I went with my instinct which was to stay in my own home to labor for as long as possible, rather than going to a friend’s house in Buffalo. I labored for 16 hours at home and even got a chiropractic adjustment. We made the 90 minute drive to the birth center and were greeted with smiles, hugs, and a warm birthing tub that I immersed myself in, true bliss. My husband, doula and nurse helped me ride the waves of labor without medication. To labor around strong mothers brought a strength and powerful connection I’d never felt before, like a stronger energy emerged within me.
After transition, my doctor felt it would be best to transfer to the hospital less than 10 minutes away based on my baby’s heart rate. (Yes, again. Eek!) She jumped in our car with us, massaging my shoulders the entire way. Entering those hospital doors and into a cesarean waiting room, the fear came back. She looked me in the eyes and said, “You do not need a cesarean, you’ve got this.” Once a room opened, I was moved to a birth room and there after several positional changes, I knew I needed to stand and push. Using my husband as my anchor, I squatted down and pushed with all I had. 30 minutes later, my baby was in my arms. I did it. 28 hours later, I freaking did it! My recovery period was heavenly without any complication. I finally felt like I had the physical and emotional well being to be the mother my sons deserved to have. My first son made me a mother; my second son made me a warrior.
I’m participating in the project because when I struggled with my self-worth after my first birth, I also struggled with my self-image. These images on instagram helped me to love myself again. I learned to love my thicker but strong legs, my fuller but soft tummy, and my plumper but nourishing breasts. The stories shared also encouraged me to believe VBACs were possible and common. I want to share my story for the woman out there who is questioning if she is worth fighting for the birth she deserves. Yes, my dear sister, YOU are so worth a birth in which YOU are respected and supported. Partaking in this project is a reminder of the beauty of my body, the keeper of my strong and resilient soul.”