Allison Preyde (27 - she/her) and Rowan (7.5 months)
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
I always wanted a baby. From the time I was young, all I wanted was to be a mother. I was told I would have a hard time getting pregnant because of some underlying hormonal issues, but on our first cycle of fertility treatment we conceived. I was so excited, so glad my body could pulled through for me, I was almost happy when I first experienced morning sickness because it meant my body was doing what it was supposed to do.
But the early morning sickness quickly became intense, and I was diagnosed with hyperemisis gravidarum. I was throwing up so much I had to leave work and go on disability. I lost over 50lbs in my first trimester, and found myself dealing with a fatphobic medical community. One doctor told me not to worry about my extreme weight loss because "[I've] got the weight to lose". On top of that, I started getting horrible pains and no one knew what was causing it, I had multiple hospital visits before someone finally realized that I was having gallbladder attacks. At 25 weeks pregnant I had surgery to remove my gallbladder and the doctor said it was so full of stones that it was like a hacky sack.
With all of my medical issues and being constantly sick, I became depressed and angry with my body. At the same time, I had so many people complimenting me for how great I looked. No one understood how bad the weight loss was, people treated it like this great side effect or some sort of silver lining. I was angry at others for seeming to care more about my weight than my health, and I was angry at myself for secretly liking to see the number on the scale decrease at every appointment. Internalized fatphobia is fucked.
After transferring care to a wonderful midwife, we decided not to check my weight any more and to focus on finding the right anti-nausea medication that would allow me to keep down a bit more food. I was finally able to eat more in my third trimester, and have definitely gained since giving birth, but I still haven't weighed myself since the surgery. Overall I'm proud that my body was able to grow and nourish this baby, even though at times it felt like he was draining my life force. I was soft and squishy before him, and I'm soft and squishy again. My body was his first home, and for that I am so grateful.
What was your postpartum experience?
In preparation for the birth I devoured Ina May and wanted to have a beautiful, natural birth where I "breathed out my baby" and connected to my inner earth goddess. I was totally unprepared for the absolute overwhelmingness of contractions, and after getting stuck at 5cm for hours I asked for an epidural (which was something I had never even contemplated before and would never have pictured for myself). Within half an hour of getting the epidural (and before it was fully working), I "popped" from 5cm to 10cm and it was time to push. After a few contractions pushing to move him down, just as you could see the very top of his head, my body gave one massive push and he came shooting out. If I hadn't seen it happening in the mirror, I wouldn't have believed it. I have weird feelings of failure surrounding the epidural, but I was really glad to have it for the two hours of repairs required after his super fast birth. We spent two hazy, blissful days in the hospital feeding on demand, co-sleeping (highly discouraged by all of our nurses), and getting used to this new little family of three. Once we got home though, shit really hit the fan.
Our first night home from the hospital I was so anxious that I couldn't sleep. Rowan spent hours attached to my nipples, and they were cracked and bleeding despite using the nipple shield provided by the hospital. It was suggested that I limit his feeds to 20 minutes, because after that he was "just using me for comfort" and "didn't really need it". I felt so overwhelmed that I did what I was told, even though it didn't feel quite right. My parents came to stay with us, and people took turns holding the baby all night because he would just scream if you set him down in his bassinet. On our third night home we all fell asleep while sterilizing pump parts and had a fire in our kitchen. Our apartment filled with smoke, and we woke up to my mom screaming "fire! there's a fire!" At 3AM on Christmas Eve morning, after dealing with firefighters and paramedics and watching my little baby get oxygen blown into his face, we all headed out in search of a hotel room for the rest of the night. The damage was minimal, but the smell of burnt plastic permeated the apartment and we decided to go stay at my parents’ home.
I hadn’t been feeling very well, but we assumed it was the stress of the fire, new baby, and recovering from labour. At my parents’ home we were three hours away from my medical support, so we were doing regular phone consultations and weight checks using a sling scale my wonderful midwife had lent us. We were concerned about a fever which developed on Christmas Day, but I had no other symptoms at all. No breast or abdominal tenderness, no weird discharge, nothing else to indicate what might be wrong. After a few days of steadily worsening fever, my mother insisted that we go to the hospital. I nearly fainted walking from the car into the ER, and when they did my blood pressure they thought their machine was broken. It was 71/53, and my fever was well over 40 C. I was admitted for sepsis and heavily dosed with antibiotics as they ran tests to find out what was wrong. It turned out that I had a group A streptococcal infection in my uterus, which can be life threatening if left untreated.
Though Rowan was allowed to “board” with me in hospital, I lost my milk supply as my body tried to fight off the infection. I was determined to breastfeed, but Rowan was quickly showing a strong preference for the bottle. After I was released, we consulted an IBCLC who introduced us to a supplementary nursing system so that I could nurse while providing formula through a feeding tube that ran along my nipple. The way we were taught to do it, it was a two person job. Someone else had to hold the syringe and continually refill it with formula, because my hands were busy trying to position the baby correctly and keep the nipple shield and tube in place. Rowan’s weight yo-yo’d, and the IBCLC said the supplementations might be permanent, I might never be able to exclusively breastfeed. In addition to the SNS, I started taking herbal supplements and domperidone, as well as pumping after every feed to help boost supply. When he was six weeks old, we finally moved back home. There were a lot of layers, but we worked with a new amazing lactation consultant to slowly peel things back one at a time, take each bump as it came, and celebrate each small victory. He was two months old when we found out he had a tongue and lip tie, which we then got revised. He was four months when we were able to successfully wean off the nipple shield, and I was able to stop pumping after every feed. He was 6 months when he had his last ounce of formula. We’ve now been exclusively breastfeeding for almost two months, and it’s amazing. There’s such a freedom in being able to feed him wherever and whenever he needs, to not worry about packing formula and cleaning tubing and pumping and positioning and everything that went along with it. We feed in bed, we feed on the floor, we feed in the car, we feed on the street. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard for anything in my life. The questions have already started, “when are you going to stop breastfeeding him?”, “doesn’t he take a bottle yet?” If it were up to me I’d breastfeed him forever! I assume at some point he’ll want to stop (probably before high school?), and maybe I’ll want to stop too. But for now I just bask in it, the absolute glory of my body giving him everything he needs. Nursing him is truly my happy place, it feels so easy now that sometimes it’s hard to remember that it was ever work at all.
What is your truth?
Believe in yourself. You can do hard things. It’s all too easy to get caught up in overthinking, predicting the future, catastrophizing everything. Call in your community, lean on your people. I couldn’t have done this without my incredible partner, who washed seemingly endless tubes and dried seemingly endless tears and sang us through seemingly endless nights. He was my light during very dark and difficult times, and always helped me to keep my eye on my end goal while making sure that I knew he supported me no matter what and that I was always allowed to change my mind. He believed in me when I forgot how to believe in myself. So did my parents, and my midwife, my lactation consultant, and so many others in my village. Through these experiences, more than anything else, motherhood has given me the gift of a deep, unshakeable faith in myself. I got this. You got this, too.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
I love this project and everything that it stands for. When I was struggling to breastfeed, I looked everywhere for people who were doing it like me and it was hard to find representation. I hope my story can help be that representation for other people who need to see themselves. My maternity leave is ending, and I return to work this month. This season in my life is ending, changing, and I can’t believe how slowly and quickly the time went. I want a snapshot of this moment, this season, before everything changes again.