Brittain Sobey (32) and Sabina (2.75)
Brittain shares -
"After having my daughter my rib cage had expanded and my weight re-distributed itself in different places than it had been pre-pregnancy. I wasn’t comfortable in my clothes (literally, with my sensitive cesarean scar) and I felt that I wouldn’t ever get back to my pre-pregnancy size or fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes ever again. It took time, but my rib cage did settle back at least close to where it was before pregnancy, my belly shrunk, and my incision healed. There are some clothes that I had to give away because they just did not accommodate my rib cage and chest any longer, but that’s okay. My wardrobe grew with nursing friendly pieces.
I was proud of my body for being able to nourish my babe solely through breastfeeding and pumping, something that not all mamas are able to do, or even want to do. I was thankful that I was both wanting and able. As a mother I feel a greater responsibility to take care of my body and mind so that I can take care of my people well. Two and a half years after my daughter’s birth I started working out three times a week to strengthen my body and combat a resurgence of anxiety and insomnia. I had tried running to combat anxiety in the past, but viewed it as beating my body into submission. This time around my goal was to care for myself and slowly but surely build strength. I had always been self-conscious about my broad shoulders and sought to hide them and chose clothing that didn’t accentuate them. But as they and my arms became more toned, I felt proud of them. I now wear athletic tops that accentuate my shoulders at the gym and I feel confident and beautiful. The bra I am wearing for this photo shoot is the same, something I would never have worn previously. I am working to embrace the body God gave me and treat it well, something that I want to pass on to my daughter. It’s not about meeting a certain weight or muscle distribution. It’s about appreciating who I am in my own skin and finding gratitude instead of judgement.
My postpartum experience was nothing like what I expected. I remember sitting in my hospital room after my cesarean (the only option presented to me because Sabina was breech), holding my sweet babe and telling my husband, “I could do this again.” The next day my spinal wore off and I was in a world of pain. The first time I walked from my bed to the bathroom I felt an intense burning sensation in the side of my scar that corresponded with the foot that took the step. It felt like I was on fire and I was terrified. I had never been in so much pain. My pain medication was increased and the pain became more manageable. I was walking around the halls near my room, walking with the nurse to check my daughter’s weight next to the nursery. I was told I was doing really well; better than most of the other cesarean mamas. That made me feel great! I felt strong and capable. But I still wanted to stay as long as possible for the bed rails to help me get in and out of bed, and for the nurse help.
When it was time to be released from the hospital, I thought, as I think many (most?) first-time moms have thought, “Are you sure you want to let me take this baby home? I honestly have no idea what I’m doing.” I’m so thankful for my kind and supportive husband who was there for me and our daughter and carried us through those first weeks and months. God knew what he was doing when he brought me David.
The first week at home was a whirlwind of sleep deprivation and stiff, cautious steps. Endless feedings. Sabina was nursing every hour the first week, and every two hours after that until she was six months old. I remember a friend coming over and sitting with me on the couch with her second babe born a few days before Sabina. I held my girl and turned to my friend and said “I love being a mom!” I was showering and doing my hair and makeup every day, something that I had read was good for warding off postpartum depression.
At the two week mark things took a turn for the worst for me. I remember going to one of Sabina’s early appointments with the pediatrician and being told we were doing a great job. She was back to birth weight and growing well. I felt so fragile; when she said those words I just wanted to collapse into a puddle of tears. Crippling anxiety soon set in. Sabina was an extremely fussy baby. It seemed as though if she wasn’t on the boob or sleeping, she was crying. I couldn’t soothe her in the way I knew how, by bouncing, because my body was healing from major abdominal surgery. I couldn't soothe myself in the way I knew how, by taking long walks with my husband and dogs, because my body was healing from major abdominal surgery. I couldn’t even make it around the block or to the mailbox and back when I had walked miles every day up through the day my water broke. Side note: one of the benefits of a scheduled cesarean is the scheduled part. Sabina has been blowing up all of my control since the day she was born! Such a painful yet beautiful process.
My crippling anxiety told me that I was doing everything wrong. We called the pediatrician every day for the first several weeks, scared about something. Once the nurse asked me what I had eaten that day that might have irritated Sabina. A sweet friend had baked chocolate chip cookies for me and I had eaten one of those. But don’t you know, new mom! Chocolate can give babies stomach cramps! I then turned to Google to find out what else might be troublesome. Basically everything. So I resorted to eating chicken and rice. My appetite plummeted. I lost my baby weight quickly because I simply wasn’t eating and was nursing around the clock. I was afraid to do anything that might hurt my baby. I cried all the time. I’m not sure who cried more, Sabina or myself. I retreated from our friends; I didn’t want anyone to see me this way. I was so embarrassed. I was devastated by my experience. This is not the way it is supposed to be! This is not the maternity leave I had pictured in my head!
One day I woke up and didn’t want to get out of bed. That was the first time I had ever felt that way. Months earlier I had talked with a co-worker about depression and how I didn’t understand how people could just not get up. It’s a choice, isn’t it? But that morning I understood. I was so weighed down by my new life as a mother. I only wanted my husband and dogs, the few pieces of my life before baby that I thought I had left. I felt disconnected from my child. I wasn’t even sure I wanted her anymore. I just wanted my old life back. I wanted to go back to work. At least I knew what I was doing there. I wanted me back. I had never felt so awful in my life. I started feeling like a burden to my husband and thought that he and our daughter would be better off without me. I knew then it was time to get help.
I called my OBGYN office and was told I couldn’t be seen for another month. That felt like an eternity to me. I didn’t know if I could make it that long. I called back in tears and they scheduled me with a nurse practitioner days later. I cried through the appointment telling her I was not the mom I wanted to be. I was prescribed Lexapro and referred to a therapist. My body adjusted to the medication quickly and within another two weeks I was feeling much more like myself. I still felt quite incompetent as a mother, but I wasn’t dreading each day filled with crippling anxiety and thinking my family would be better off without me. Anxiety is such a liar!
I think I mourned my childless state off and on for two years. Not constantly, but events and unmet expectations would trigger grief anew. I’ve heard it said that it takes six months to two years to properly grieve. Life transitions such as moving across the country back to my home state and transitioning from working full time to becoming a stay at home mom rocked my world. Each time I found myself grieving again, I felt guilty. I shouldn’t be feeling this way. And yet I was. And that is okay. Motherhood has been a journey of letting go of expectations and learning to live in the moment. Everything is always changing: feeding patterns, sleeping patterns, growth and development. The only thing I know for sure is that nothing stays the same! I fought this uncertainty so hard at times throughout Sabina’s first two years. A futile fight. The more comfortable I get with letting go of my expectations and going with the flow, the more comfortable I feel as a mother and the more peaceful are my heart and mind.
I’m happy to report that I no longer find myself feeling like I am missing out because I have a child to care for. There have been several events recently that in the past have triggered that grief in me and instead of grieving I felt fully content with life as it is. Toddlers are unpredictable, and that’s okay. Sometimes having a toddler prevents me from doing things I want to do, and that’s okay. I love being a mama and I am so thankful for the opportunity to be mama to the sweet girl God has entrusted to me.
When I first started this journey I felt so unsure, so worried that I was messing up my child even as she was only weeks old. I didn’t know if I was going to make it breastfeeding; it was painful for the first eight weeks. I hated pumping at work and towards the end of my time as a working mom I was getting hardly anything from the pump. Now almost three years later, Sabina is still nursing strong. And I will continue to nurse for as long as she and I both enjoy the experience. I still feel unsure as a mother at times. But then I remember: I spend more time with her than any other human on earth. I know her. I may not get things right every time. But that’s okay. I find grace for myself and I keep pressing on.
Motherhood has taught me so much. The greatest teachers are the hardest ones, and motherhood has been my hardest! And I am so thankful. I am so in love with my tiny human. She makes my heart burst with love and joy in ways I didn’t think possible. The struggle has been so worth it, and I look forward to growing our family again in the near future by domestic infant adoption. A completely different journey than growing and birthing a baby from my own body, but full of the same emotions of anticipation, excitement, uncertainty, and fear of the unknown. I’m not sure how I will manage with two, but I know that we will slowly adjust to our new normal just as I did with my first.
I heard about the 4th Trimester Bodies project when it was mentioned on a podcast I listen to regularly. I quickly looked it up and began viewing the photos and reading the stories and found myself wanting to just hug each of the women. Then I looked up the upcoming photo shoots and found that the project was coming to my city just a few weeks after I found it! Shortly after I saw a photo and the story of my former boss in a different state and was floored. I think sharing our stories is one of the most powerful things we can do. It’s so vulnerable, so brave to share. We are all connected through our shared experience of motherhood and each of us has arrived here with unique scars to bare and a story to share. And they’re beautiful. All of them. I knew I wanted to be part of this collective sharing of stories and pride in our bodies and what they have accomplished. Motherhood has broken me in the most beautiful way and my hope is that my story will speak life and hope into the life of another mama. I think this project achieves just that.
Surrender to the process, don’t fight it. It’s okay not to know what you’re doing all the time (or any of the time!). Trial and error, trial and error, and a whole lotta grace for yourself and for all the other mamas out there doing things the way you’re doing them or differently. Allow yourself to feel your feelings and share them with your safe people. You’ll find that the thoughts you thought were only yours are actually shared by many. Don’t let fear rob you of the gift of community. We cannot do this alone; we were created for community.