Honoring our Bodies on Mother’s Day – and Every Day

Honoring our Bodies on Mother's Day - and Every DayThis month, I am fortunate to celebrate my first real Mothers’ Day. I say “real” because that’s if you don’t count last year, when I gifted my pregnant self a pink bag I’d been eyeing for months in “honor” of my in utero daughter, or the year before that, when I celebrated being a paw-ma with my furbaby. I’m pretty quick to find reasons to celebrate. But as I ponder how to appropriately commemorate this milestone amidst such uncertain and stressful times, I am much more beset by wonder at what women’s bodies can do. Many recent articles have shone a light on how much of the COVID-19 burden women are shouldering, whether it’s the preponderance of women on the frontline or the still-disproportionate distribution of household tasks that have increased substantially with working from home and social distancing. But, as an OB/GYN, I’m always most amazed by the feats of our biology. 

Postpartum Struggles with My Own Body

I started thinking about this anew because I spent much of last month berating my body. My daughter just turned 7 months old, and while my pregnancy was smooth, the delivery was … rough. My sweet girl had been head-down nearly the entire pregnancy, but with this funny quirk of keeping her right hand – and often both hands – up by her face. Honestly, at times, she looked on ultrasound to be imitating Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone! At any rate, settling into this position may have contributed to the fact that she descended into the birth canal off-kilter, and it took a grueling 3 hours and 15 minutes to push her out. {Or maybe I’m just a really bad pusher!}. Either way, the slow delivery contributed to my milk coming in late, and kicked off a series of events culminating in the need to exclusively pump and supplement with formula. All the years of medical training completely failed to prepare me for what it would feel like to “fail” at this crucial goal of breastfeeding at the start of our journey together. I’d always hated my breasts – wrong size, wrong shape, and now wrong at doing the main thing they were there to do!

Honoring our Bodies on Mothers' Day - and Every Day

Fast forward through an intense regimen that got me fully meeting her milk needs for a few months, then supplementing again once I went back to work, and making peace with all of it… and then the arrival of an international pandemic. I was talking to my patients nonstop about self-care but I wasn’t acing it myself. By April, I was barely hydrating, working steadily through our wine collection, and stressing – about our family, my practice, the world, all of it. I burned off some of this anxiety by increasing the intensity of my workout regimen, while still not hydrating properly {can you tell that I’m really bad at drinking water?}. Well, lo and behold, after a few weeks of this abuse, my breastmilk production tanked, sending me into a panic spiral. Complain as I might about the EP life, I wasn’t ready for this phase to end.

The Truth about Women’s Bodies

So, I dusted off all the supplements I’d used to build my supply in the first place, got serious about drinking water and using healthier methods for handling stress, and worked back up to where we’d been. And as I sat through hourlong sessions of power pumping, staring at the milk as it dripped slowly, yet steadily, into the bottles, possibly carrying protective antibodies against this novel Coronavirus {because none of us really know if we’ve been exposed}, I decided that this was the story I wanted to share this month:: women’s bodies are amazing

And that is despite, or even because of, the struggle. Between my friends, family and patients, I’ve seen it all. One in every 8 couples struggles with infertility, one in every 4-5 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. I’m not sure if I know anyone who didn’t have at least one hurdle to jump along this motherhood journey – issues finding the right partner or deciding to go it alone, difficulty ovulating or tracking cycles, marital spats while trying to conceive, infertility, miscarriage, traumatic births or emergent deliveries, postpartum blues or depression, and yes, all the trials and tribulations of breastfeeding. And I’ve listened to countless women berate themselves for these challenges. And yet, for each of us, there our family is, at the end of that journey – whether it involved therapy, infertility treatment, donor eggs or sperm or a gestational carrier, adoption, or anything else. I’ll say it again:: women’s bodies are amazing. Perhaps more than anything, we see this in the resilience we mamas put into the giving over of our bodies to the pursuit of motherhood.

All I Really Want for Mother’s Day

And so, in the end, all I really want this Mothers’ Day is to quietly honor my body for what it has done and continues to do, as it runs around taking care of the family I’m blessed to be stuck at home with this year. And, for every woman who has yet to reach her happy ending, I am confident your time will come too. But along the way, do remember that there is nothing wrong with your body. No matter your struggles, or how your path to motherhood might meander, you are not broken – you are perfectly strong and capable and I celebrate you too, this month and every month. 

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