Rae D. (37 - they/them), parent to Logan (4 - she/her - pictured), and Leo (4 - he/him)
Oak Park, IL
Rae shares -
“I got pregnant the first time we decided that I would try to be a gestational parent. My older sister Adrienne died on July 12, 2013. Logan was conceived on October 23, 2013 about 3 months after her death. I had not seriously thought of being a gestational parent until her death. My due date was July 16, 2014, just a few days after the anniversary of my sister's death but Logan was born 3 days early on July 13, 2014.”
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
I see my body in a more positive light. Even when I feel insecure regarding my size, or whatever it is I remember that my body was strong enough to create life. I remember the tiny human whom is looking at me for guidance and sees how I treat myself. I had top surgery 8 months prior to getting pregnant, and this also increased my positive image and gave me the courage to gestate.
What was your postpartum experience?
When I gave birth to Logan, my spouse was 8.5 months pregnant with Leo. I had lots of help within our house - my mom, spouse and nephew. My mom had moved in a month prior, so she was very good at making sure I ate good food, drank enough water, and when I was up with the baby in the early mornings she would hang out and be a comfort to me. I was having a hard time adjusting with being responsible for a tiny human, and also feeling like I needed to be more help to my spouse who was due any day. It felt overwhelming to feel like I was having to choose between taking care of my spouse and taking care of our tiny human.
I felt very isolated because I was scared to discuss with everyone that I wanted to be my kids Dad, but everyone was still calling me mom/mama. My close friends and family knew that I had top surgery before the pregnancy and that I had no mammary glands and would not be able to breastfeed. My spouse and I had been meeting with lactation consultants regularly throughout our pregnancies to have a breastfeeding plan for my spouse to breastfeed both children. We understood the benefits of breastfeeding but one thing I did not expect was the societal judgement and guilt that I would feel for not breastfeeding. "Are you breastfeeding?" I was been asked this question on a daily basis since my daughter was born. “Nope,” I would smile and reply, “she is formula fed.” Most people just say okay, but some feel as if it is their great enlightenment to tell me how great breast feeding is for babies. I totally agree it's great, but I don't think it's a cure all. I am lucky enough that my wife was able to provide breast milk to our daughter after giving birth to our son. What an amazing bonding experience for the both of them. I love that Logan had the chance to be able to breast feed with her other parent.
I did feel some guilt when she was just about to be born in regards to not being able to breast feed. They were quickly subsided by the fact that she was such a good baby. We couldn't possibly be doing anything wrong by not breast feeding. We did have some donated milk for her as well but we ran through that very quickly as babies drink so much milk and we couldn’t keep up with exclusive breastmilk for her. We also didn’t think it was anyone else’s business what we fed our children, as long as they are fed and healthy.
I did not know the stigma I would face in regards to not breastfeeding. Nor did I know the general public would make it their business whether or not I breast fed. Now if you are a friend or family member who has asked me, I'm not talking to you. I'm talking to the grocery clerk or the barista. I also didn't realize how it would impact our care in postpartum. Now the funny part is, I didn't realize this until after my wife gave birth. There was someone in her room every 2 hours to check the baby, make sure he is eating, make sure he is latching etc. When it was me I think they came in once during the night. We told them about her projectile vomit which they attributed to her just being born. We did a lot of research and had good support to get Logan to learn to breastfeed. I did chest feed her daily with a supplemental nursing system attached to my chest. This involved a tiny tube attached to my chest that Logan had to work really hard at sucking to get the smallest drips of milk or formula to come out. We did this in ten minute increments so that her face muscles would learn to work hard and develop like a breastfed baby’s do. It was also a wonderful skin to skin bonding time for us both. A lot of people doubted that our daughter would be able to transition from the ease of bottle feeding to the hard work of breastfeeding after a few weeks when my wife could feed her. But Logan transitioned without any problem and breastfed from my spouse for several months.
All this being said we can fast forward to my wife being in the hospital for some "fever of unknown origin". Around day 6, she asked to see a lactation consultant to find out if she decided to stop breast feeding what exactly that would entail. The LC told my wife, "no one will blame you if you choose not to breast feed, but the benefits of breast feeding are well documented and I just don't want you to be ridden with a lifetime of guilt." I get it, that's her job to attempt to get people to breast feed..... But to say such things to someone who has been getting up after 2 hours around the clock to pump in the hospital in order to get up her supply for when she is released. There is also benefits to sleeping when you're sick and not exhausting your body. The guilt that we both felt around breastfeeding and a temporary or permanent inability to provide breastmilk for our children was something that we had not anticipated. There are so many people out there who cannot breastfeed. My heart goes out to all those people who likely face the same feelings of judgement that we felt for not being able to breastfeed.
Physically I seemed to be doing okay postpartum. During labor my blood pressure went dangerously high to above 200 systolic, and over 100 diastolic. This seemed to resolve itself after they gave me medication to lower it. However at about 8.5 months postpartum, I began having a horrible headache, my face hurt and my neck hurt. We were visiting Chicago and I didn't really know what to do. After going to a clinic and asking for imaging I was told I had an aneurysm in my Left Carotid Artery. They admitted me via an emergency and then did more imaging. They then told me it was not an aneurysm, but that it was a dissection with a thrombus, which is very similar to an aneurysm. The doctors told me that I had saved myself from a stroke by coming in and asking for imaging. The reason I insisted on having imaging was because my sister had a headache and went into the hospital and no imaging was done. She was discharged home and died alone on her couch from a carotid aneurysm that ruptured. I felt like somehow my sister was looking out for me. I gave birth the day before the anniversary of my sister’s death and knowing her cause of death had helped me to get a similar diagnosis before it was too late for me. She is constantly on my mind and in my heart, I miss her everyday and wish that her aneurysm had been caught and treated when she was alive. I’ve seen many doctors and been worked up for various vascular anomalies but they have not found any definitive genetic or familial cause for the rupture prone vessels that my sister and I share.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
Since seeing this project I have wanted to participate. I want to "normalize" bodies that do not fit into the cis-gender category. I want someone to see me with my kids and know that if their body doesn't "fit in", or if they know they need to transition in anyway that they can still decide to gestate a human. I know that many folks in the early 2000's whom I saw that decided to be openly trans and have kids really impacted my feelings about myself later and worrying that I would be alone.