Written by Courtney Giroux
*This probably doesn’t need to be said with this topic, but: Trigger Warning*
I may be 9 years and 4.5 years postpartum, but this topic is still a little raw for me, I have healed from a lot of my postpartum experience, but many of you know that I am still on a journey with my health and as much as I have learned and am learning, it doesn’t mean I still have things to work on and have to reprogram the story I have had in my own head. I have come a long way, but healing just takes time, as you know. As hard as it is to talk about, I WANT to talk about it because it is important that you know that:
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
After my oldest Joshua (9 years old) was born, I struggled with not feeling like “my old self”. I grieved that process of who I was becoming. It was difficult to see through the fog of sleep deprivation, grieving, healing, and guilt from the C-Section I didn’t want. My poor nipples were traumatized from nursing a tongue and lip-tied baby. I was told by some doctors and others to just quit, but no one could tell me if they would even heal and function correctly if I did quit. Plastic surgery was mentioned at one point if the healing wouldn’t happen…Of course I also worried what they would look like when they did heal, what would my husband think of me/them…..just so many things. I felt SO confused, alone, and like no one could understand me. I didn’t understand why some people could just tell me to quit just like that, without a second thought. Yes, I was in so much pain, but the thought of weaning him without knowing the consequences, and the emotional aspect and connection we had with nursing felt more MORE painful to me. We did figure it out, it took 5 months to heal, and I nursed for another 2 years! By the time I weaned, I went down to pretty much a -A cup. I clearly remember trying to go shopping for bras for the first time and crying in the dressing room. Nothing seemed to fit right, I felt like I had no shape, I was basically buying bras to give me a little shape and help my self esteem. Spoiler alert, it didn’t. It was so strange having so much love for breastfeeding and knowing I would totally do it again if I needed to, but also how it drained me – mind, body, and soul and really was blind to how amazing that was, and I was!
After I had my daughter Aria (4.5 years), I had to fight the fears/PTSD I had about nursing another lip and tongue tied baby, and do it again. Fortunately, I was able to because I had functioning nipples that I fought for. So that was a victory, even though it was the same hard road because every baby is different, every restriction is different, and even I was different than I was the last time I had breastfed a baby.
My postpartum experience with my daughter was more of a blur. I remember still feeling that not feeling myself and also still feeling sick a lot after having her. I had severe nausea and vomiting in both pregnancies. It usually stops once the baby and placenta come out, but my nausea continued, along with other strange symptoms. I was exhausted all the time, and I lost weight pretty consistently, though I did not need to lose weight. I wasn’t on a diet, but I did struggle to get myself fed enough while caring for two little ones and nursing. I’ve had people comment on my “skinny-ness” throughout my whole life so as much as I was used to it, I felt like I was getting comments all the time. And usually again the train of thought was, “Oh it must be the breastfeeding, you should quit.” I was stubborn and stuck to my guns, I felt in my heart something was not right.
I had bloodwork done at 4 month postpartum to rule out anything hormonal that could be going on, everything came back “great”. Ok, so I guess we just keep going, it must be something I am doing wrong. I will work on adding more things in my diet for weight gain, etc. I continue to lose weight and feel sick. I saw several chiropractors that agreed something wasn’t right, but they couldn’t put their finger on it. I get more bloodwork done at 9 months postpartum because I was really struggling at this point. Bloodwork comes back “perfect” again, other than elevated calcium. I am basically told that I am stressed and anxious because I am breastfeeding and might have postpartum depression/anxiety. I am told to meditate more, and given a homeopathic remedy quiz. I sobbed in the doctors office feeling like I am insane and clearly this must all be in my head. I felt so extremely lost after that. I was really working hard to get enough calories in, making sure I had lots of good fats, carbs, protein, added extra fats, etc, whatever my exhausted self could think of. I continue to drop weight.
By the time Aria turns 1 year, I am under 100lbs, hovering closer to 90lbs. I begin grieving the thought that I know I am going to have to wean Aria soon because of this and I feel the heavy guilt of not being able to give her what I gave her brother. Trust me, so silly, I know, but I know you guys get the Motherly Instinct and how it can make you think. We literally will do anything for our kids, even if we are giving parts of ourselves away, literally. I even brought her to her Ped first to make sure she was at a healthy place to wean – this is how much my thinking was all over the place.
Out of desperation, I made an appointment with a different chiropractor who could do food sensitivity testing. I said, fine – I don’t know what she can help me with because no one else has, but whatever, I am desperate, maybe it is food sensitivities. Within minutes she found a bacterial infection in my stomach, and that my gallbladder was struggling as well, explaining why I wasn’t absorbing nutrients. Infection was confirmed by looking at older blood work. My Dr. had me wean Aria that day cold turkey; I was 89lbs.
What an emotional roller coaster that was. I had no butt at all when I would look in the mirror, it was literally flat. I could clearly see all my ribs, my stomach would pulse crazy and I could FEEL the atrophy happening in my muscles/tissue. It hurt to sit because my sciatic nerve had almost no protection on my behind, and it hurt to lean my arms on a table because my ulnar nerve would get pressure on it. I have to take a temporary leave of absence at Massage Envy because I physically couldn’t work, and we didn’t want me burning any extra calories while I was gaining weight back. My sleep was a bit scary. I felt very very strange coming out of sleep, which I feel like looking back it was probably my body just working so hard to heal during that time. I was also going through the grief of weaning (and fun engorgement for about 2-3 weeks). I was awakened at 2am very panicky and my blood sugar would drop immediately, I would begin to get very nauseous until I ate a little something, just enough to calm down and go back to sleep, only for it to happen again a few hours later. I was terrified of what was happening in my body. The next 6 months were spent needing to feed myself every couple hours, whether I was hungry and nauseous or not, as many calories I could get into myself a day (I was hitting about 3000/day) and not junk food because my body was too sick. Oh, and be a mom. I was fearful of eating the right foods, if they would make me sick, and I was so scared that I would be underweight forever. I gained all my weight back, which felt like an amazing accomplishment, but it changed me forever.
I recently have been going through some more fun health things, and got down to 100lbs, and of course internally panicking with my history. I have been worried that everyone can “tell” I am underweight and can get very self conscious about it, because well, some people can and DO make comments. I know they mean well, but they don’t understand how much I have already been working on it and how upset I feel when one pair of pants fit, and shopping is depressing and I can’t find sizes small enough to fit me, and it’s almost like I am claiming that size when I don’t want to. And people telling me that they wish they had my problem is not helpful, I sometimes wanted to scream, “DID YOU LISTEN TO ANYTHING I JUST SAID??” So many confusing thoughts.
It may not sound like it, but I have come a lot way on this journey. I am still working on getting back to a healthier weight (I have held onto 10lbs! Woot!) It took me a while to see all the freaking amazing things by body has done for me and to keep me alive that I couldn’t see at the time. I was so stuck in my guilt and fear that I didn’t see that my body has gone so much and learning that I have:
- Had a C section, but also ROCKED a freaking VBAC.
- Trauma with breastfeeding, but also nourished my babies for a total of 3.5 YEARS and advocated for myself even though I felt so alone through it, and the amazing things that my breasts accomplished and what they did for me in that time, and how the damage doesn’t define who I am.
- Thought I lost myself, but actually FOUND MYSELF and love who I am becoming.
- Thought my body failed me, or that I must have done something to fail it, but it actually has fought so so hard for me so I am still here today.
- Advocated for myself when I had no fight left in me when it seemed as though it was in my head, or people would say that I was losing weight “from breastfeeding”.
- Being underweight doesn’t have to be My Story, but it is apart of it, and that’s ok.
- Had to forgive myself for the guilt I put upon myself when it was so not fair to do so, but so easy to fall into the trap.
When was the last time you thanked your body for everything it has done for you? When was the last time you forgave yourself for the things you THINK your body should do, or the weight (not physical weight) you put on yourself? It can be incredibly healing to acknowledge this, even though it may seem silly. The week I was in bed when I was really sick and dealing with tender breasts from engorgement with weaning the grief/emotions that come with that and fear from being sick, I struggled. I just wanted it to be over. But it was part of the process, I cried, I massaged my breasts with peppermint oil, I thanked my body for what they did for me, even when I wasn’t appreciative or thought about all the things I maybe should’ve done instead or maybe could’ve changed, but couldn’t. I spent time giving myself belly massages, telling it how much I appreciated all the work my stomach and intestines had done for me through 2 really hard pregnancies of nausea and vomiting, horrible constipation, and being sick after for over a year.
Touch and gently massage your c section scar, give it appreciation for helping give you a healthy baby, and forgive yourself if you may still have guilt from thinking over and over – maybe you should have/could have done something different. Touch and massage your stretch marks with oil or lotion, giving it appreciation and gratitude for your skin covering your body and adapting as it changes whether from fluctuations in weight, or growing a freaking life. It all tells a story. Write out your story, grieve it if you need to, but also appreciate the story/journey. Sometimes it takes time for us to really see the whole story and not just the bits and pieces. I am not my health issues. I may not be where I think I should be physically, strength wise, but I know how strong I am without all that. And I wouldn’t be me without all the things that happened to me. I wouldn’t be able to support other people and mamas through their journeys if I hadn’t experienced those things.
I am strong, I am beautiful, I am love, I am funny, I am a good mom –
I am a lot of things, but I am not freaking broken, and neither are you.