Johanna Macaulay (34 - she/her), mother to Gwendolyn (22 months) and Gabrielle, born sleeping in 2009
“I first became a mother ten years ago when my daughter Gabrielle was born sleeping at 25 weeks after I developed HELLP syndrome. I did not know I was pregnant until I was in the emergency room in liver failure, and she was already gone. The experience of learning that I was pregnant, hearing that they could not find a heartbeat and then quickly being induced because I was so sick was a blur. It took me years to fully process the shock and the immense guilt I was buried in. I felt so disconnected from my body after not realizing that I was pregnant and angry that my body had failed me and my baby. I was scared that I would never have a healthy pregnancy and baby. It was surreal identifying as a mother but not having my child with me. Even now I have a hard time answering when someone asks me how many children I have.
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
I spent a long time hating my body, sometimes for how it looked and other times for how I felt it betrayed me. My second pregnancy was both joyful and scary for my husband and me. We were elated to be expecting our rainbow baby 8 years after our loss but the whole pregnancy had us holding our breath and expecting something to go wrong. Instead our big, healthy girl arrived just hours into her due date. I had the unmedicated birth I had always dreamed of and couldn't believe that my body had grown this perfect little human. Pushing her into the world made me feel stronger and more powerful than anything I've ever done. I'm still amazed looking at her and knowing that my body made that person. I hated my belly for a long time but have grown to love it knowing that it was her first home and still her favorite place to snuggle. Instead of focusing on all of the things that my body is not, parenthood allows me to appreciate all the things that it is.
What was your postpartum experience?
One of the hardest parts of my first year as Gwennie's mom was struggling with breastfeeding. As a NICU nurse and lactation consultant I assumed that I had all the knowledge and tools I would need to breastfeed my baby and was blindsided by the obstacles we faced. Our early days were spent shuttling from home to the doctors office for weight and bilirubin checks and trying everything I could think of to increase my milk supply. It was rough to be on the other side of the relationship as the exhausted, worried parent. I felt like my body was failing me all over again not being able to feed my baby. Thankfully we were blessed with donor breast milk from our amazing community, which eased my stress about having to supplement. Eventually we found a rhythm of breastfeeding and bottle feeding and I let go of my obsessive attempts to increase supply and learned to be proud of every drop I could give her. I also learned to love everything that breastfeeding can be that has nothing to do with nutrition. Nearly two years later it's still how we reconnect after I've been working a lot, how I soothe her when she's hurt or tired or anxious, and that moment when she still feels like my little baby.
What is your truth?
It gets easier and it gets harder. I'm still in the early days of raising a child but have already learned that whatever is hard today will get easier eventually. I also know that there are things that will get harder that I don't even realize yet. It makes me live in the moment more and appreciate the things that are good right now.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
I've admired this project since its start and always wondered if I would be brave enough to share my body and my story. Now that I'm raising a daughter, I'm trying hard not to pass on the negative feelings I had about my body growing up. These photos are part of the example I'm trying to set for her to love the body that carries her through life and to appreciate everything that she can do.