Beautiful Mommas

My Beautiful Momma Project is a collection of real stories and real women. My hopes for this project are that it may bridge the gap between Mothers and women. Strengthening our sisterhood by being ourselves. May you be touched deeply by these brave women and their lives, their triumphs and sorrows. May you find solace in the parts of their stories that mirror your own, for you are not alone.

Malonie, Liana, Karla, Jayme, Yolanda, Stacey, Susan, Patricia, Heather, Anonymous , Brooke, Christine, Tiffany, Holly, Natasha, Amelia, Christina, Julie


Julie

Being a mom has been the most wonderful and most difficult adventure I have ever been on. My journey through motherhood began before our first child came along. As we struggled to conceive, I joined online pregnancy groups, read books, took notes, and watched videos on how to diaper and swaddle a baby. Taking care of a baby was something new to me so I wanted to be as prepared as I possibly could. When our little boy was ready to greet the world, I finally felt ready for the next chapter of our lives.

On a late summer night, my husband and I were on our way home from visiting my parents’, they live two and a half hours from our home. The plan was to go home one last time to do any last minute preparations for the baby.  

On our way home, our car broke down. We watched the sunset together as we waited for the tow truck to arrive. That would be our last sunset before adding another being to our family. After a long ordeal, we arrived home at 11:30 p.m. and a few minutes later I realized my water broke. Luckily, I had my hospital bag packed and ready to go. We quickly switched all our packed items to our other (working) car, grabbed the hospital bag and car seat, then we headed to the hospital two and a half hours away.  

Kaeden was born three and a half weeks early. After nineteen hours of labour, he lay on my chest and I was overwhelmed with a sense of wonder and relief. I hadn’t seen his face yet and soon the doctor took him away and asked the nurse, “Did we know about this?” I tried to stay calm and they quickly brought him over and explained that our sweet baby boy was born with a cleft lip. I didn’t even know what a cleft was at that point and had never seen anyone with a cleft before. During the next 24 hours, I mourned the loss of what I thought was the ‘perfect’ baby.  

During pregnancy I had this sense, like God was telling me our baby was going to be beautiful. I even told my husband, “Our baby is going to be beautiful, I just know it.” I didn’t realize then what true beauty is. Beauty is not defined by what society deems ‘perfect.’ Now, I see that his uniqueness is beautiful and his cleft is exquisite. I wish I had known that then.

I shared a room with another new mom who received many visitors commenting on how absolutely perfect and adorable her baby boy was. People would tell them, “Seriously, this is the cutest baby I’ve ever seen.” When people did mention to me how cute Kaeden was, I thought to myself, “Sure, they’re just trying to be nice.” I loved Kaeden from even before he was born, but for me, the bond took a couple of days. I needed to accept the cleft. It was day two at the hospital when I was holding Kaeden and he looked up into my eyes. Instantly, all my worries, anxieties, and fears washed away. In that moment, the peace of God flooded my heart. I burst into tears and had to put him down so I could compose myself. He WAS perfect. He IS perfect. He was created in the image of God. God doesn’t make mistakes.  

We were in the hospital for five days before we were allowed to leave. By then, I was going a bit stir crazy walking the hall up and down all the time, watching others being able to walk around outside. On our way back home I broke down; I cried and cried. I was overwhelmed by being thrown back into all of life’s complications, by leaving the support of the hospital, and having a precious child in the vehicle (a dangerous weapon in my post-partum mind). It was a tough day and a long two and a half hour drive home.

According to the experts and lactation consultants, we should have been able to get breastfeeding to work despite his cleft. We spent many hours trying with tears, frustration, and no luck. It took a good three months of switching from bottle to bottle and attempting breastfeeding in order to find something that worked. 

Kaeden was a difficult baby. He was an awful napper and often cat-napped throughout the day. I ever knew if he was going to be down for 5 minutes or forty five. In order to get him to sleep, we had to bounce him vigorously up and down just right. He always needed to be entertained when playing so a lot of my energy was spent on this little baby.

Just before he turned 4 months old, we headed to the hospital early in the morning for the surgery to repair his lip. He was being such a good boy. I’m so glad he was so sleepy because it had been a long time since he had eaten. He was sleeping right up until we handed him off for surgery. 

My family forced me to leave the waiting room to go and eat while we waited. It was incredibly difficult. I didn’t want to eat. I just had this sick feeling of worry for what my little boy was going through. I had no idea what to expect when he was all finished.

When I got to the recovery room, there was some blood on the sheet. Like never before, my baby was crying in a raspy, weak, little voice. It was heartbreaking as we tried to calm our swollen and bruised little boy. I felt so helpless. I didn’t know what to do. I carefully picked him up, maneuvering around machines and IV tubes and started rocking him just the way he liked. He wouldn’t let me stop; any slowing down in that up and down motion and he would start fussing again. My first thoughts were, “Why did I put you through this? What have I done? I’m so sorry.”

Before Kaeden's surgery: Image provided by family

Before Kaeden's surgery: Image provided by family

After Kaeden's surgery: Image provided by family

After Kaeden's surgery: Image provided by family

The first night was the worst. I was alone in the hospital caring for Kaeden. He did not want to be put down and he did not want the rocking to stop. I was bouncing on an exercise ball to help me in the rocking, but I was nodding off while holding him. I called the nurses for help, but no one was available to spare their time. I was terrified of collapsing from exhaustion and dropping my poor baby. We eventually made it through the night. 

It was tiring trying to feed him by syringe as he healed. It’s a slow and difficult process for both mom and baby. During the first couple of days, he would just cry as we tried to feed him. Thankfully, he was smiling and babbling the morning after the surgery. It took a few days to get used to syringe feeding and by a week and a half he was back to his old self, but with a new smile. 

As trying as it was I would do it all over again because I love him so much. The blessings and joy of a child outweighs the struggles of the journey by far. I feel blessed to have a child born with a difference. Kaeden has taught me much about acceptance, perseverance, and inner strength.

As he grew older, I spent a lot of time playing with him and trying to teach him the things other kids his age were ‘supposed’ to know how to do. I attempted puzzles, singing, stacking blocks, many ended in frustration. All he wanted to do was run. His attention span was next to nothing. I eventually gave up trying so hard and accepted the fact that he was going to learn these things in his own time.

At two years old, Kaeden’s development was evaluated as delayed, diagnosed as ‘possible ADHD,’ and registered with Child DisABILITY Services. Since then, he has a busy schedule of appointments including Speech Pathology, Occupational Therapy, and Child Development. Now, after over a year, he has improved so much. He’s actually putting sentences together! (Try potty training a kid who has one word for four different things). He can sit for thirty minutes puzzling or doing games! (Of course, only when he wants to). And, he’s finally starting to answer yes and no to questions! (It was so frustrating when for the longest time he just resorted to fussing). 

Because of Kaeden's cleft, I was introduced to an amazing group of moms online. They are a wonderful community of friends that I can go to for any kind of support, advice, or prayer. Meeting these other moms inspired me to put a book together to tell our stories. It was a big ordeal, but a little over a year later I published "I Wish I'd Known... How Much I'd Love You." A 250 page book of stories written by moms of cleft affected children. The photos, advice, resources, and encouragement put together in this book is incredible and I am so grateful to the volunteers who helped me in the editing process. Another blessing that I derived from Kaeden being born with a cleft is that I have been able to start a support group for parents of children born with a craniofacial difference in Manitoba. I felt very alone when he was born and wish I had had some local support and knew someone who could relate. I had to search online to find others. My hope is that we as parents can provide a helping hand to others who are going through the same struggles we faced. 

We don’t worry too much about Kaeden’s cleft now. He continues to see the dentist (or “denstist” as he likes to say) every 6 months to make sure his special teeth stay healthy. Challenges in parenting Kaeden have changed from cleft struggles to how to parent his particular personality as well as help him with his emotions and development in any way we can. 

When Kaeden was two and a half, I gave birth to our second son, Desmond. From the beginning, breastfeeding was a struggle. I pushed through for almost three months of him crying during most feeding times. He also wanted to feed every two hours, all day and night. I was exhausted. I told myself we would figure it out, that I could do it. But, it was too much. The lack of sleep and frustrations got to me and I became angry and depressed.  I decided to give up breastfeeding and since pumping worked so great with Kaeden, I figured it would be a great alternative. 

I finally worked up the courage to mention to my doctor about it. I told her I thought I was having symptoms of post-partum depression. We talked a bit about it and she asked if I was having any harmful thoughts towards my children or myself. I hesitated and slowly said, “Nooo.” She saw through my very bad lie and set me up to gain support through my public health nurse. Through this initial contact, I was quickly set up with a mental support worker, in-home support (provided by CFS), and also, Kaeden’s respite worker was cleared to watch both boys for me if needed. Eventually, we also set up a day once a week for the boys to attend daycare so I could have a mommy day.

I did not want to talk to someone about my depression or harming thoughts. I thought, “What good would it be to tell someone else all my evil thoughts?” I saw talking to a counselor more like a confessional, but it was much different. It’s like talking to a confidant; someone who wants to see a better you. I didn’t have to lay out all my depressing thoughts and emotions. We just laid out the problems I was having and found solutions. For me, that was taking time to rest and gain energy back, saying no when needed, not worrying, and doing things just for me. It’s important for every mom to take care of themself so they can be the best they can be for their kids.

I didn’t want to go on medication for fear of side effects. But, my anger, depression, and harmful thoughts became too much for me to handle. I was exhausted and overwhelmed, which made me forgetful and indecisive. I felt like I was dealing with things all right, but my mind and body became weary. I didn’t want to suffer anymore. By the time Desmond was six months, I had given up pumping and soon after that I had decided to go on medication. I thank God so much for medication. It was like a miracle. It took away those gory thoughts I had of harming my kids and replaced it with happiness. It feels so good to be normal! Thankfully, I have had no side effects to the medication.

My boys have both taught me valuable lessons. Kaeden has taught me compassion and acceptance. His beauty goes beyond any outward appearance; it’s deep in his spirit where his beauty shines the brightest. He is such a loving and compassionate boy. He loves introducing himself to new people, giving hugs, and waving goodbye to everyone when they leave. I love his free spirit and his warm cuddles.

Desmond has taught me the value of taking care of myself. I felt like I’ve had to give a lot of myself with Kaeden and his health and activity level. With Desmond not sleeping well, I was forced to appreciate myself more and take better care of myself. 

In all, I never knew being a mom would be this difficult, this demanding, and so tough on the mind and body. I’ve been through a lot with my boys, many ups and downs. But, I’m thankful for each day with them; even if it is a day of them screaming in the back of car. They are more than that. They are more than the difficult times. They are beautiful. They are joy. Through their presence and love, the scars on my own heart heal. I love being their mommy and wouldn’t change them for the world.

For moms out there going through difficult situations, take a look at the big picture. If your child consistently has tantrums in the store – it DOES get better. If your child wakes up to eat every 2 hours day and night – it DOES get better. It may not seem like it when you’re in the trenches, but soon the sun will shine. Take time to enjoy the special moments and let them sink in. Make those good moments your positive memories. Take the good with you, leave the bad. And always remember to take care of yourself first so that you can be the best mom you can be.

Cleft Resources:
www.cleftopedia.com
www.iwishidknown.yolasite.com (my book site)
www.craniofacialfamilies.yolasite.com (the support group I started, "craniofacial families of manitoba")
The facebook group "Cleft mom Support" (amazing group!)
Podcast interview on PPD


Christina

Nothing can prepare a little girl, who just outgrew dressing up and playing with dolls, how to be a mother. I am one of the many young girls who have found themselves in this position. I had turned 15 and met a boy, a boy who promised me the world for one thing in return..... Myself. So just 15, I found out I was pregnant. The thoughts that go through your head; "Oh, babies are so cute", "My very own family".  You see all the good and happy parts, not having full knowledge about reality of being a mother. No one can prepare you for all the changes your body experiences, how your emotions don't seem to be your own and how your relationships change in unexpected ways. Trapped between no longer being a girl and not yet a woman.  

In the middle of this emotional storm on January 17th, 2006 I became a mother to a beautiful baby boy. When I held my baby in my arms for the first time my world did a 180. Everything that was, no longer is, it's just you and that baby with all of your hopes, fears, dreams and love. Wrapped up in being a mother while learning who I would become, my partner decided this wasn't the life he wanted. 

What was I going to do alone with a 3 month old son? Shell shocked doesn't even begin to describe how I felt when out of the blue that moving truck pulled up and he left us without saying a word. My baby and I moved back to my mothers. A less than ideal situation, filled with anger, regret, hostility, and broken relationships. My younger brother lived in the home and was heavily addicted to meth, so we lived quietly not to set him off. I was experiencing constant battles with CFS to prove that I was capable and that I loved that little boy with everything. 

Homeschooling myself in order to graduate and provide a good life for us; working part time I found I had lost who I was.  When I turned 18 I found a small piece of happiness in alcohol. I would spend each night, after my baby went to bed, going out and drinking to forget how hard it was and fill myself with an empty misled joy. When my baby was 2, I ran into a childhood friend. He made me believe in the possibility of love again, that both my son and I could be loved for who we were. He seemed so devoted, so honest. Life seemed so perfect.  We moved in together a few short months into the relationship and the dynamic drastically changed. For the second time in my life my relationship had come to an end. 

I started to see how my attitude and perspective on things needed to change in order to be happy in life. During the first week after our breakup I found out I was 6 weeks pregnant. I moved out of the home we had shared and into a Manitoba housing complex. I was determined to give it a go on my own. 4 months into my pregnancy, he moved in with us and the darkness of our relationship quickly resurfaced. Clinging to the hope and belief that I could change and become better, I rode out the stormy times. December 30th, 2009 baby boy #2 joined our little family. My second journey into motherhood was 100 percent different than my first. I knew what to expect, I was ready, happy and in a good place. I felt whole. I had everything I could ever ask for. My children, my home, myself; those were my focus. Once again, my relationship was being neglected and things were becoming volatile. My partner was changing jobs every few months and had little focus beyond friendships and hobbies. 

We made the decision to move to a different town and start fresh. I had just established myself at work, became proud of my body and happy with life when I found out I was pregnant yet again. This was a huge, crushing blow for me. Although we were at a good place in our relationship I did not want this baby. I was ashamed and angry. Those 9 months were terrible. I resented the changes that came with this pregnancy. On June 16th, 2013 baby boy #3 was born. That day was chaos. My parents had an explosive fight which resulted in numerous phone calls from my mother and my father showing up in the middle of my labour. Here I was in the middle of delivering a baby and there was fighting and anger. I felt so unprotected and uncared for. Then I saw my baby, my sweet black haired, chubby, perfect baby, and I knew it was my job to protect him from everything and everyone. 

I didn't let anyone visit for the first week. When family started to trickle in I didn't want anyone to hold my baby. When they would hold him I couldn't breathe, I felt like he was in danger. I would make excuses for people not to come over. I started to avoid going out unless it was the middle of the night and knew we wouldn't see anyone. As I watched him thrive, everyone around me watched me fall into a darkness. I would cry, scream and completely lose control. I neglected my house, I neglected myself. I lost friendships. No one understood that I didn't understand. I was invited into an online support group of amazing woman dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety. There I met an amazing woman who blessedly lived one town over. 

Her and I met. I was reluctant, but when we did there was an instant connection and silent understanding. That winter was the darkest, hardest time in my entire life. All I wanted was curl up and die. I repeatedly had thoughts and motivations towards ending my life and freeing the people around me. With the love and support of this group and my dear friend I grew stronger. I was learning coping techniques and always had a place to turn, not feeling so alone. I began a new job and saw life from a different perspective. 

I'm not "healed" or "better" or "over it". I still have the hard times where it physically hurts to get out of bed and face the day ahead. Sometimes it's just a day, other times it is months. This is not what I've chosen. No one would choose to feel these feelings. I just hold on to my supports and know that I am strong. There is love, and I am worth it.


Amelia

On July 8, 2014 I gave birth to our son, Landon James Barnes. After about 12 hours of natural labour I was 8 centimeters dilated. Suddenly his heartbeat dropped dangerously low, and I was rushed into the operating room for an emergency c-section. By the time they got him out it was too late. His heart had stopped beating. It took over 15 minutes to resuscitate him and by that time his brain was severely damaged. We were given no answers, no reason why. "These things just happen sometimes", we were told. 

Four days later, my husband and I held our baby son as his spirit left his beautiful little 8lbs 6 oz and 21" body. With his silky soft skin pressed against my bare chest, I could feel each raspy breath, each faint heartbeat as they slowed and then stopped completely. What should have been the most joyful point in my life became the most sorrowful. My heart was ripped right open in a way I'd never imagined possible. I didn't think I'd survive the pain. 

And yet I did. My family and friends, my yoga, and the community of support that grew around my Instagram account  were what held me up and helped me move forward. Eight months after Landon's death, we became pregnant with his little sister, Lily Orysia. Overjoyed, yet still healing emotionally, I enjoyed a perfectly healthy and uneventful pregnancy - until 37 weeks. 

It was then that I noticed an itch all over my body, the same kind of itchiness that I had in the last few weeks of my pregnancy with Landon. I knew something was wrong. After researching my symptoms I was certain I had Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP), a liver disease that causes a build-up of bile acids in your blood and is potentially fatal for a baby past 37 weeks gestation. 

Test results to confirm this diagnosis would take at least a week to come back, but I trusted my instincts that told me she needed to be born right away and opted for a c-section the next day. Lily was born healthy and strong, 6lbs 12oz and 19". My heart nearly exploded with joy when her squishy little body was brought right up to my face. It was truly the most beautiful, healing experience. 

When the test results came back they showed that I did have ICP, and since it's a disease that usually recurs with each pregnancy this was most likely the cause of Landon's death. In a way it was a relief - at least now we know for certain, we have an “answer” for what happened to Landon. I did what I thought was necessary to keep Lily safe, and I was right. It is hard to make peace with the fact that Landon’s death could have been prevented; had I known what I know now about ICP.  As positive as Lily’s birth experience was, there's still a part of me that is a bit disappointed that I never got to experience natural childbirth as I so desperately hoped I would. 

As I write this, I keep looking down at Lily curled up snugly on my chest. I still can’t believe how perfect she is, how beautiful she is, what a miracle she is. The days and months leading up to her birth brought a storm of anxiety, fear, doubt and regret, but her safe arrival has been a blessing, a light in the dark like no other. They say babies after loss are “rainbows” - I couldn’t agree more. 

(To read more of our story or learn about the retreat created in Landon's honour, search the hashtags #LandonsLegacy and #LandonsLegacyRetreat on Instagram, see my blog or visit www.landonslegacyretreat.com.)


Natasha

On my 20th birthday I celebrated very differently from the way I celebrated 19. I was pregnant with my first child and although it was scary I was so excited.  Given that cognitively you are considered a teen until closer to age 25 I was a pregnant teen. I was in a relationship with the boy I lusted after all through my teen years and we were going to have a baby.  It felt like a fairy tale and a nightmare.  I felt like I was ready to be a mom, but not ready by social standards.

My pregnancy started great, I had morning sickness and I felt pretty good for the most part.  I gained a lot of weight and by the last weeks I was in agony with my lower back and couldn't wait for my pregnancy to be over.

I went into labour on January 17th 2010.  I was under the care of a midwife for this pregnancy and she was wonderful. My water broke and I stayed home and laboured all night and into the afternoon before going to the hospital.  It was the perfect birth plan, everything how I wanted it.  Birthing tub, dim lighting, with music in my ears. I didn't progress. I ended up being on an IV for antibiotics due to my water being broken and I cried. It wasn’t in the plan.  I was given the option of an epidural or face the very high possibility that this could result in a C-Section.  I cried.  I opted for the epidural.  It did what it was intended to and on January 19th 2010 my beautiful first born son was placed in my arms, all 7pounds 9ounces of him and he was perfection.  The plan was to breastfeed, it is natural, babies just instinctively know what to do as do mamas, not this duo.  Breastfeeding was a disaster. For three painful, scream filled weeks, I nursed, pumped, cried, and he latched, bobbed and cried. I gave him a bottle and it was the first time I had seen my baby satisfied, relaxed and content. As hard as it was and as much guilt as I felt over it I switched my baby to formula.  

I relied on my family a lot when he was a baby. I did things more because I was told to rather than because I wanted to. I remember feeling forced to have couple time or to go out with friends and to leave my baby. I did those things and I get that we all need time, but I didn't take the time I needed before this or speak voice loud enough to say “not yet, I'm not ready”. During this year the social pressures crept in, we still weren't married or engaged and the friends we had all seemed so together. They had done things the “right way”.  There was no question I needed to go back to work in order to move forward in our lives.  Mercifully, I ended up in the perfect job and I can’t even begin to describe the “family” of women I have had the pleasure of working with and learning from. However, I know now that it was not the right decision and it was made for the wrong reasons.

We got married. We planned to have our second baby. We got pregnant fairly quickly, but unfortunately it ended in a miscarriage.  It was terrible.  It devastated me, I was sad and broken.  No one means you harm during a time like this, but no one knew the right thing to say and because it was early on for a lot of people it was just one of those things.  It wasn't to me, my heart was broken.  I went to counseling for some time to work through my feelings of depression and it helped a lot.  Time also healed and after many ovulation kits and pregnancy tests I was pregnant again and I cannot begin to describe the level of elation and fear and desperation that came with seeing that positive test.  

This pregnancy was so opposite to my first. I was so sick. I think I was sick before I had even peed on a stick! I was 12 weeks pregnant, I was so happy to be “out of the woods”, my son was so excited to finally be becoming a big brother. He drew a picture and I used it to announce our pregnancy on social media and that night my husband said “we need to talk...”  He was unfaithful.  I felt disgusted and betrayed and in that moment nothing mattered, none of it, the plan was gone.

Such a stark contrast of emotions in one day, a soaring high to the darkest low, but even in the dark the vomit came and that was all I needed to remind me how happy I was to be carrying this baby.  

I made the decision right there and then to be positive looking ahead and to just enjoy the present and all it brings with it.  Over the next 24 weeks I learned so much about myself and I enjoyed every minute (almost) of my pregnancy, My family was incredible.

I really had to remind myself not to focus on the things that really didn't matter like moving back into my parents’ house with a child and a baby on the way.  It was really hard for me, but I had very limited options at that point. Instead of dreading and worrying about it I embraced it, I got excited. I went and found out the gender of the amazing little bean growing inside me. It was an incredible bonding experience for my son and me.  We knew our boy before he was even born. Of course there were days where it was dark but they really were few and far between. 

I was signed off workby my Doctor in January as I was at risk for gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, I needed to focus more on my health. I also got to enjoy some time with my first at home before my second came which was wonderful.

My baby arrived early but this time around I had no “plan” per say. Labour started at home but I was positive for strep B so I already knew I was going to be “hooked up”. Off we went, my sister, my mother and I. My dad also got the phone call and started his journey back and made it in time for the birth! My baby was born March 26th, he nursed like a champ. He too was incredible and pure perfection just like his brother.  

Some things in life are sent to test you and others to save you, I believe my mama experiences have given me both.  My boys are my world and I feel incredibly lucky that they call me mama.

I am so grateful for the woman this journey has made me. I have so much more grace, acceptance and love for myself because of it.  I know my worth. I am a lover by nature and although I was in no hurry to be in a relationship life has a funny way about it and I find myself here in the happiest place. I am still learning to just be and live in the moment but now I know how it feels to just be happy and content and it’s a really nice place to be.

It’s time to start a new adventure and trust in the magic of new beginnings.


Holly

Every Momma is beautiful, every Momma has a story. This is mine.

I always knew I wanted to be a mother, I always knew I would be a good one. I just never knew it would be so hard.

I grew up as a daughter of a single mother. I cannot even begin to imagine her struggles, and I’m so thankful she made the decision to leave her relationship. So glad she didn’t stay in a marriage full of infidelity, emotional abuse and little help parenting. My father struggles with severe mental illness, and you know what they say about the apple not falling far from the tree. For as long as I can remember I struggled with anxieties, worries, sleep issues and sadness. This, and the fact that I was missing a decent father figure, affected my decision making greatly. I sought out attention from men, never the right ones. I jumped from one bad relationship to the next, never knowing who I was or what I wanted. Eventually, I tired of this cycle and went to college where I met the love of my life, the father of my babies.

We have a five year old son. He is my sun and moon. It took us a while to conceive him, which caused me great sorrow. While waiting for our appointment at the fertility clinic we became pregnant. I won’t ever forget the sight of those two pink lines. I loved being pregnant, I felt radiant, which was such a nice change from feeling like the skinny, curveless woman that I always felt I was previous to pregnancy. He came into this world 10 days early via emergency c-section. It was discovered while pushing that he was in fact breech. I was so disappointed by having the surgery. I felt my body had failed. This took me a long time to move past, but I did.

Three years later we became pregnant with our daughter on our first try. She is my universe. She is also my greatest challenge, and I am ever so thankful for that. From before I even knew I was pregnant I was sick. Really, REALLY sick. I ended up in the hospital on IV fluids. Eventually the sickness passed and I felt that pregnancy glow I longed for. A month before she was due my water broke and she was coming whether I was ready or not. I was so blessed to have a successful VBAC. She was immediately placed on my chest, all 5 pounds and 6 ounces of pure perfection that she was. We were all in love. Then there was the crying, the never sleeping and chronic UTI’s. We struggled with nursing which eventually led to my exclusive pumping for that year. All of this changed me.

In the early days of no sleep the post-partum depression/post-partum anxiety showed its ugly face for the first time. I pushed through with exercise and music. However, the second time it came to haunt me was when I “weaned” my baby, I did not escape so easily. My husband was working 10 hours away, I was alone, I was scared and pretty sure I was going crazy. Friends helped with the kids while another brought me to the ER. I thought I was broken and would never heal. Friends stayed by my side and my kids were sent to my parents. Women lay with me in bed while I cried, took tearful calls from me in the middle of the night and never left me alone. I worked hard, I took my meds, I exercised daily. I sought counseling and took mindfulness courses. The clouds started to part, there were some good days. That was over a year ago and I am a different person. Not to say there are not hard days and struggles, but I survive. I survived!! As hard as it was, it has made me such a better person. I’ve learned things about myself that I never knew. I’m more empathetic to others, I’m kinder.

I shared my struggles openly on social media. I later found out that because of those posts other women who were struggling sought help. Thus my #beautifulmomma project was born, just a baby then. I have dreamed of all the women we could help with our stories, our struggles becoming helpful and not just painful. I have been blessed beyond words by all of the amazing women in my life who have supported me in my pain and shared so willingly to make this project what it is. We are all so damn beautiful!


Tiffany

I got pregnant at 18, just a month after I got married. 

The first contraction I had was an incredible feeling. After 18 blissfully un-medicated hours Gabriella was born. It was a birth that mothers dream of having and it was the perfect way to enter into motherhood.

My second daughter Natalie was born almost exactly 2 years later. It was an un-medicated hospital birth that lasted 7 hours and 2 pushes. Although that sounds great, it was a very hard pregnancy that ended in many trips to the hospital because of gallstone attacks. By the time I gave birth I was so exhausted. I disconnected from her and then she had colic and screamed 24 hours a day for the first year. That first year was incredibly difficult. I stopped nursing her at 11.5 months and sure enough was pregnant soon after. She has taught me a lot about patience and looking back I've learned so much from her and wouldn't do it any other way. I would however have liked to have been diagnosed with severe PPD. I wasn't....I was in denial.

My son Anikan was born 21 months after Natalie. We almost didn't make it to the hospital and when I got into the delivery room he was born just 15 minutes later. It was a very easy labour, for that I was thankful. He was also a very easy and happy baby. 

Unfortunately I then miscarried twice after him. One at 6 weeks and no one believed me, but I knew and my body knew. Then again at 16 weeks, ultrasounds showed no heartbeat and we learned baby had passed at 7/8 weeks. I felt so disgusted with myself. How could my body let me down. I fell into a depression.

One month later I was pregnant again. I was so disconnected the entire pregnancy .I suffered horribly for 6/7 months with nausea and severe vomiting. Meds never helped. I needed to be induced for her labour. I failed to progress 12 hours of water broke naturally. She was born 1.5 hours after they hooked me up to the meds. Even after I delivered her naturally at the hospital I still felt disconnected. This was 2008. I continued to have a difficult time connecting with her the first 6 months but after that Delilah and I have had the best relationship possible. 

My husband and I made the decision to be done having kids. He opted for surgery. The minute he was out in recovery, I felt like I wanted another baby. I mourned and fell into a deeper depression.

Then things changed, in 2012 my husband and I split. After my separation I was thankful to find an amazing man who accepted me and my children. He also had a newborn son. It was then that I realized I had been suffering in silence for far too long and made the decision to go to the Dr and talk about my depression. I've been on meds since then and it's made me human again. I wish I would have gone in sooner. 

He and I got pregnant in 2013 and unfortunately that baby left us at 16 weeks.

In July of 2014 we became pregnant again and although I had a very difficult pregnancy with 4 months of nausea and bleeding, I delivered Grayson at 36.5 weeks. My water broke at home and unfortunately I was 2 days short of my planned home water birth with my midwife. We instead went to the hospital and delivered after just 5.5 hours of hard un-medicated labour. He was just under 7lbs and perfect in every way. Giving birth to Grayson completed our family. This birth made me feel whole and like a new woman. This was my chance to start again and be a better mom to all my babies. I felt the same magical feelings that I had had when I became a mother the first time. 

We've recently begun contact with my fiancés son (after 3.5 years of no real contact). Having all 6 kids under our roof has been a very difficult but amazing experience and although we have a long way to go in perfecting our blended family......we can smile knowing we are exactly where we want to be.


Christine

I have two children. My kids are 22 months apart.  My first pregnancy was intentional. I thought we wanted more than one child, but we hadn’t planned on it happening so soon after the first.  My husband was a long haul truck driver at the time, so I was by myself 90% of the time. Like any other relationship, we have had our ups and downs, but it seems more so since we have become parents.  It seems to me that parenting and marriage don’t really come naturally to me, and it takes a lot of effort on my part to make things work.  

I thought I was prepared for motherhood but I wasn’t. It took 10 months to conceive, but I didn’t use any artificial methods to help things along.  Pregnancy was good, only a few days of morning sickness, extreme exhaustion, and hunger all of the time.  I got off pretty easy! I got my first stretch mark around 6 months, right above my belly button.  They seemed to multiply daily from there. I gained about 40 pounds and was down a bit when I got pregnant again.  I gained another 40 lbs and have bounced around 200-210 since.  Delivery with my first was as I expected, but I also had an epidural.  I felt calm and in control of my first delivery. I had minimal tearing and no adverse reactions from the epidural.  My daughter had jaundice and we stayed for an additional 5 days.  Breast feeding was fine as long as I had help; once I got home I failed.  But I was so determined to do it; I was convinced it was the right thing to do and that I would totally screw up everything in the whole world if I fed her formula.  I went all over the city to different lactation consultants until I finally got established around 4 months. I felt pretty gross after having a baby. I had water retention in my feet, a saggy, scarred belly, huge, leaky boobs, and I felt fat.  I knew that weight wouldn’t just go away after delivery, but I was not prepared for what my body would look like after.  I had memories of my mother whose body is actually quite like mine is now. It’s not that I hadn’t ever seen a post baby body before.  She had 2 C-Sections in the 1980’s that were quite damaging.  I just didn’t envision it on myself. 

It wasn’t until about 6 months post-partum that I needed help.  I struggled with anxiety and depression. I explained it to my husband that it was like a disconnected TV was on in my head. The black and white fuzzy with the grinding noise to go with it was what I felt like.  I felt incapable of feeding, clothing, bathing or RAISING a child.  I’m not a perfectionist, but I felt like if I made a mistake, it would be irreparable, the child would be damaged and scarred for life and it was paralyzing to me.  I felt drained, unhappy, exhausted, and I wanted to RUN.  Then I felt worse for wanting to leave a baby that was totally dependent on me, and then worse again because, who would want to be with a fat, stretch marked woman who runs from her child because she ‘can’t handle it’. I started exercising more, talked with my doctor and started anti-anxiety medication. I went to women’s/mother’s support groups and therapy.  My fog started to lift.

I went back to work full-time when my baby was 10 months old.  I like my job. I don’t feel the guilt of leaving my child while I go to work. It is also a financial necessity. Soon after, I found out I was pregnant again.  I was ok with it, my husband was not.  He felt like I was just coming back to ‘who I was before’ and then I was going to be taken from him again.  Pregnancy was good to me, but my stretch marks were made worse!  We moved into a mobile home close to my mom and I continued my medication throughout my pregnancy.  Delivery was awful, he was almost 3 lbs bigger than my first and I felt totally out of control.  I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t breath and I felt out of touch with my body.  Dilation was quick and by the time they called for an epidural, it was too late. I was already fat and ugly, so nothing really changed.  Nursing was a breeze this time around.  I felt, literally, like a superhero for the first 10 days after delivery.  But I did have a little cry when my daughter came to see me after my son’s delivery. She was a big girl overnight.  After my superhero bit of time, I felt awful.  I felt ABSOLUTELY GUILTY for having another baby. 

I tried to stop taking my medication, but it only lasted about 6 months until I felt an uncontrollable urge to run from everyone and everything.  I was never suicidal but many, many times felt incompetent and like I was drowning under everything.  Kids, house, husband, money, job, moving, eating, sleeping, showering.  I felt, and still feel, like a shadow of who I once was.  It’s a struggle to remind myself that the person (body, mind and spirit) will never be the same as it was before.  And that is the lesson; it is continual change and repurposing of my pieces.  

But I have to back up a bit to before I was a wife and mother.  I feel like I was also ill equipped for motherhood because of my childhood.  My mother did the best she could with the circumstances she had.  I feel the result of all of my experiences in life have left me slightly damaged, I have accepted that and I work with the consequences the best I can.  My mom is fantastic, I’m not sure that if our roles were reversed I could have done as well.

My father is an addict.  Always has been.  My mother took me and left him when I was two. She had nothing. We moved from BC to Ontario to live with her parents.  I don’t have many early memories of being with my Dad. There were many times that he would ‘disappear’.  He was full of lies and broken promises. I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t just quit, why he chose drugs over me, his child.  I visited a few times, and more recently, he has met my children. I keep him at a distance because I can’t let him affect my kids the way he affected me.

My mother married a wonderful man when I was seven.  He had two boys; we made a family of 6. They married in May of 1990 and in June, he was diagnosed with Leukemia. There were a few times that he was close to dying, different treatments, trips to Winnipeg for chemotherapy. He was a kind, funny and gentle soul.  My brother and I consider him our dad.  He passed away in May 1997.  I wish that my children would have known him.  I was a very bitter and angry person after he passed away.  I was not a nice person for a long time. I was totally lost. 


Brooke

I found out I was pregnant 2 weeks after my 18th birthday. I am not going to lie, I was full of mixed emotions. I knew one thing for sure, I was going to be a mom. I wasn't sure if I was going to be good at it, but I was going to do it. Nine short months went by, and in November of 2013 I gave birth to a gorgeous red-headed, blue eyed baby girl. She was 9lbs 2oz. I instantly fell in love. No one knows true love until they hold their child for the first time. I sobbed and sobbed just looking at this perfect little creation in my arms as she was looking up at me. Being a young single mother is hard, especially in today's society. I still get asked if she is my little sister. I was told, "your life is ruined for the next 18 years." I've heard people say, "That poor kid, with a mother that young, she'll never be properly taken care of." People can be mean. Very mean.

But knowing this little one is aware that she is well taken care of, the comments, stares, and snickers don't bother me. It's not just the rude remarks that come with the "single mom" title. It's the assumptions about how you got that title. Most 17 year olds don't set out to get pregnant. I was with my daughters’ father for 2 years.  I guess some men are not meant to be fathers and some women are required to be both. I am the mother and woman I am today because of my daughter. I wouldn't change who I am or how my life is for any reason. My daughter loves the way I look, because I'm her mommy and I am proud of it.


Anonymous

I am a mother.

I am a wife, a grandmother, an aunt, a friend, an employee, a coworker.

I am any woman in your life.

I am mentally ill.

I am just one woman. Just one of the millions of nameless, faceless women who suffer silently next to you.

Too ashamed to reach out. Unaware of where to even begin finding help. Living alone in the dark. The darkness of all that comes with my illness. Using most of my energy to cover up my ugly, painful secret.

But there is no Cosmopolitan Magazine for the Mentally Ill Woman. No “20 WAY’S TO HIDE THOSE SOCIALLY TROUBLED AREAS”……”HOW TO LOOK GOOD EMOTIONALLY NAKED”...

I watch other women with envy. You have it all together, you post such lovely pictures on your social media pages. You chat so lightheartedly with the other mothers at the playground. You show up every day to work with a smile, ready to greet your day.

I can barely manage to pull myself out of my bed.

You seem genuinely able to connect emotionally with your children, your husbands, your family, your friends, your coworkers.

Some days I am thankful if all I feel is apathy.

But here’s the thing, maybe I am YOU.

Maybe together, we can be warriors. Together, we can strip away the ignorance society teaches us to feel about our emotional battles. Perhaps we can stop putting so much emphasis on what we are taught is physical beauty, and focus on the splendor that is the female mind. That we can accept and love ourselves; stretchmarks, quirks and all. Accepting that just as our so-called physical “imperfections” make us uniquely exquisite, so do our emotional ones.

Together we can provide awareness, guidance and help to ALL the YOU’S and ME’S out there.

Becoming a united “US”. An army of Woman Warriors. A Champion for all those in need of one.

Or do you think I’m just crazy?


Heather

My body has never done what I want. Some days I feel the struggle inside is worse than the struggle people see on the outside.  My flabby outsides often scream louder than my doubts and fears, but I am learning that being brave is being free. 

For my whole life I wanted to be a mother. That is what I was meant to be. To tell the truth I was given away at birth. For 21 years I figured I was set aside. Thankfully I was gifted to the best family. I was loved, cared for and had all I needed. I suppose though there was always a part of me that whispered to my soul that I was not enough or maybe I was too much.

My first pregnancy was not awesome. I was quite sick, tired and huge. At 24 weeks we found out we were having twins. We packed up and drove halfway across the country and moved to a new life. New jobs, new babies, new house.

I had been a birth doula and an advocate for natural childbirth and had some high expectations for what I wanted. At 33 weeks I was admitted to the hospital and it was clear that none of those expectations would be met. After a c-section and weeks in the NICU all of a sudden we were at home with these two humans who required more of me than I had ever imagined. My midwife gave me advice that I won’t ever forget. I sat in my chair in the living room nursing my babies continuously. She told me to grieve, to get mad and to walk through it, not around it. I cried a lot those days. The first year of motherhood was tough. It was more than tough and although I don’t have clear memories, I know survival was what kicked into high gear. I thought this was what I was meant to do. I was terrible at it, and honestly I hated it. A downward spiral of depression followed, and only by the saving grace of my Mother, we survived that first year. The battle inside was only beginning. Not enough. Too much. Not enough. Too much. 

Please don’t misunderstand me, I love my kids. We are in a much better place now, but the thing I want you to understand is that my feelings really didn’t depend on them. This was a battle that I would have to fight and it became clear that, although magnified by motherhood, was more about me becoming free.

We had our third baby 4 years later. The whole hospital would have heard my sigh of relief at that 7 week ultrasound when we learned there was only one baby in there.

I had grown a lot in those 4 years. I am so far from perfect in my motherhood, but what I am learning is that I own my story; I can write the ending. I want to teach my kids that there is nothing more important than showing up, putting ourselves out there and really being seen and that is where the magic happens. When we dare to live our lives, to not be selfish, to always think of others first, to show compassion, love, and humility, and be able to realize when we are wrong, we make an impact. Most of all I want to teach them that they are worthy of love and belonging. They belong to their story and it matters. It will be entwined with some stories that are good and some that hurt, but as I am learning even in the darkness there is beauty. I am a mother to three boys who I hope will learn that being vulnerable is the best definition of courage. I am learning that my expectations are sometimes wrong and I need to be at peace with allowing them to learn and grow in their own ways.

What if every day were the perfect day to finally be exactly who you were always meant to be? What if everything you ever wanted was just on the other side of fear? Inside you there is a place to be happy, pure, simple and full of joy. Instead of perfection hold yourself to the highest standard of grace. That would be incredible. You are brightness and light. You can do everything with so much love in your heart that you will never want to live any other way. Let this truth sink in. You are confined only by the walls you build yourself. Big truth. I think it's time to find your wings. To soar. I am. 


Patricia

I met my now husband in June, 2010. It was hard for me to date him because he had had a vasectomy and I knew I wanted a child. I gave him a chance and we ended up falling in love.

In 2012 he got a vasectomy reversal.  So we started trying to conceive.  Unfortunately the reversal failed and I couldn't get pregnant. In 2013, we got engaged and then married in September. After the wedding we decided to try IVF. March, 2014 was my first IVF and unfortunately that failed. I felt was miserable thinking I would never conceive a child.

We started to think about and consider adoption. We went to a seminar and started the process to be placed on the waiting list. We decided to try IVF one more time which was in July, 2014. This time the procedure was successful and I had the pleasure of hearing congratulations, you’re pregnant. I cried so much, I couldn't believe it was true. This was my lifelong dream come true. In August, 2014, I started bleeding and thought I was losing my miracle. I bled for almost a month but all the doctors I saw said everything looked good and no one knew why I was bleeding. Eventually the bleeding stopped.

The entire pregnancy, I had heartburn. My feet became so swollen that I couldn't wear my normal shoes. I ended up having to wear crocks. I couldn't wear my wedding ring anymore and could barely walk without losing my breath. This discomfort occurred for most of the pregnancy. My due date was April 4, 2015. They considered inducing me because I was gaining too much weight. On March 27th, I was having contractions all day and after supper my husband suggested we go to the hospital in town to see if I was dilating. This way we would know if we had time to make it to Winnipeg an hour and a half away. I was only 1cm dilated which I had been for weeks already.

We decided to go in and stay at my Mom’s for the weekend just in case I progressed. This way we would be close to the hospital we wanted to deliver in. On the way to Winnipeg, my contractions were getting closer together so we went straight to the hospital to get checked again. When they checked me at around 11pm I was already 3-4 cm dilated. So they admitted me. The next morning at 7:30 am they decided to break my water to get things going. By 12pm I was 6cm dilated and stayed at that. They kept checking and it was always 6cm. They gave me a Syntocinon to intensify my contractions hoping this would help me progress. But no 6cm is where I stayed. My blood pressure went up and I started to run a temperature so they were closely monitoring my vitals.  About 10pm they decided to perform a c-section to deliver our baby. At 12:03am on March 29, 2015, my beautiful baby boy was born.

I say this is my miracle baby and a dream come true. There were a lot of struggles and tears to get here but I finally had my baby boy.


Susan

How do you know how many children you want to have?  One, two, three, or more!  The answer was clear as glass for my husband and me once we started into that chapter of our lives.  We wanted to have a couple of kids for sure then go forward from there. It was really a dream I had dreamt about for years, after I did some nanny work overseas. That got me thinking about how I could picture my life.  My vision of my life looked something like this, a cheerful inviting home on a farm, with animals of course, putting my career on hold to be a stay at home mom. I would keep busy by making home cooked meals, watching my kids play on their bikes, driving them to sports, play dates, and taking road trips to explore new experiences.  To answer the question, how many children to have? Well my body was giving me the answer to that question, and it was a response I didn’t like. This answer from the body I have invested in for years.  At an early age I adopted healthy eating, daily exercising and most importantly being able to balance stress.  

I have already gone through the most wonderful, humbling experience of becoming a mother.  Soaking in the excitement with my husband, thinking of happy days to come, while staring down at a positive pregnancy test. I got to watch my body naturally change before my eyes and adjust to its new purpose. At the end of that beautiful journey I was left with a miraculous souvenir, a beautiful baby to hold in my arms. There are no words to describe this moment. This is the turning point of my dream.

Soon after our daughter’s first birthday I became pregnant. With a simple pregnancy test to confirm the pregnancy, we counted our lucky stars and looked forward to bringing home a sibling.  I was really excited to report I was feeling fine and not at all sick. It seemed weird to not have any early signs of pregnancy 6 weeks in, so I retook the test. It showed a faint line, so we were right, pregnant! But at 8 weeks along I got my period.  I made an early appointment to see my doctor. The doctor said it is likely you had a miscarriage. I knew nothing about miscarriages and yet I had just had one. The complication seemed odd since we had no problems with our first pregnancy.

My husband and I tried again, only to have three more miscarriages within the same year. I was upset and discouraged. I met with our doctor to get a referral to a specialist. Through blood work I was told I have a disease called Antiphospholipid Syndrome. It’s when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks some of the normal proteins in blood. It can also cause blood clots to form within your arteries or veins. It can cause pregnancy complications, such as miscarriages. So the next plan of attack was to inject myself twice a day with a blood thinner called Warfarin.  It was a bit hard to get past the idea that I would have to give myself injections, but if it was going to carry a baby to term, I was up for anything.

After another 8 week pregnancy we lost another baby.  This was a very upsetting time for me. I was not prepared for the emotions that followed, guilt, anger, but most of all sadness. We suffered a huge loss. The reality was starting to catch up to me, 4 miscarriages within a year. I was starting to hate my body. After years of healthy life choices I was not receiving any benefits. My body’s sole purpose was to create a life and instead it was doing the opposite. I had to ask myself the question many times, how many more losses will we have before we call it quits. When is my husband going to say let’s forget about having more, I can’t handle to see you heartbroken? I knew I wanted to be a mom again, I didn’t want to close that chapter yet.  I found myself very much alone in my story, no other friends or family members had gone through these experiences. I decided I wouldn’t talk anymore about my issues, since the replies I heard only hurt more. My husband felt terrible and didn’t want to see me go through another miscarriage, but I really wasn’t ready to stop trying. I had to buck up and write off my emotions at this point on. 

The next step my doctor suggested was a hysteroscopy which is a procedure to look inside the uterus. They noticed that I was born with a heart shaped uterus. So trying to conceive with this malformation of a uterus was problematic for us to say the least.  I should add, if you are pregnant with a heart shaped uterus, given the space in the uterus, the likelihood of having a breech baby is high. This makes sense since my first was breech and I had a caesarean.   After undergoing surgery to fix this issue, my husband and I decided to take a break for a while and heal.  Then we would give it another shot, with our luck we became pregnant quickly. The question was always for how long would I carry this baby?  This seemed like a great time. It was winter and nobody would see the change in my body. We retested my blood to see if any changes had happen in the two years since it was last taken. We decided with this pregnancy to not do injections, but I continued to take baby aspirin daily and also progesterone for the first trimester. As for telling anyone our news, we decided to wait until our fetal assessment which was at the end of the fourth month when I couldn’t hide my growing belly.

It was hard to not be able to enjoy my pregnancy. I didn’t want to have photos taken or journal any details about my feelings and hopes. I didn’t want to talk about my pregnancy since it didn’t feel real in my head. I was starting to get used to the idea that we might only have one child.

But on October 6, 2015 I was scheduled for my second caesarean. I was so overrun with emotions that I had been with-holding for months and months. When my husband placed our baby girl’s cheek right up beside my tearful face, I can still remember the huge sigh of relief that poured out of my body. I closed my eyes and cried hard.  This was the moment I longed for and finally got to live out with my husband at my side.


Stacey

To be a mother is to have enormous responsibility. To want to be a mother is often inborn and the desire often grows as we age. This was true for me, but I was entirely surprised by the emotional rollercoaster that motherhood is.

 To start, there is a tiny bit of backstory. I was always afraid of what my body looked like. I was afraid to show any part of it, including and especially my belly and my feet. I was always an average size. I would say now that I can look back at my history from a better place. I was always the biggest female in my family though, which made me feel huge. My mother is a tiny woman and so is my sister and then beyond that so are all of my closest aunts. To hide my body I wore oversized jeans and sweaters so that no one could see my shape. I was bulimic for several years and still struggle with the urge to get rid of food because I have a huge amount of guilt over eating. So take this information about me and apply it to the thought of a growing belly and body.

I got pregnant with my first child (our first child) at 20 and was very excited and nervous. It took a while to start to show and I was really excited about that first tiny bump. I was very active and tried to eat well. Every woman grows and so did I. I gained 26 pounds, which was a huge deal to me. I felt like a whale. My husband was very supportive and loving but I felt ugly and undesirable and unsure of my body. I felt very sure of motherhood though, which helped me get through all of the emotions I was feeling. Birth went very well for me and nursing was a breeze. Then the loneliness of being a mother at home with a small child set in. I craved people and contact and conversation, but none of my friends had kids and we had just moved back to Winnipeg from Montreal and my sister was working. I was alone. I was depressed. I was afraid of getting fat, being the mom that let herself go. So I formed a better relationship with my aunt who had a baby my son’s age and that helped. The getting fat part didn’t happen, but I was very anxious about my relationship with food.

Second pregnancy started when my son was 11 months. I felt like I had not even got back into my regular body and clothes before I was back in maternity wear. I was more tired with this pregnancy and chasing a toddler did not help. I was more depressed and felt lost in the darkness of depression. My “cousin” moved in with us and she was a nanny. She would often come to the house with her nanny child and spend the day. I don’t think I have ever expressed how grateful I was and still am for that company. I don’t know if that winter would have turned out well if I had not had her friendship and company. Again birth went very well and nursing was perfect. The spring came early in 2012 and I think Mother Nature knew I needed the sun. I craved the sun and tried to use it to pull me from my lonely darkness. My “cousin” moved out and I was alone. My husband was in school and gone a week out of every month. I don’t know if it was PPD or just exhaustion or stress, or any number of combinations of all of these things. With the darkness came the desire to purge and I became afraid of my body again.

At 13 months my body stopped producing milk. I had lost too much weight. I was 110 pounds, which for me was too skinny. My husband was scared for me and tried to get me to be more balanced and to eat like I normally would. I couldn’t let myself. I worked out too much and ate too little. Once an eating disorder has taken root it is terribly difficult to get it out. It is an awful weed.

My second child is now 3 years old and I am in a better place. I work part time, which keeps the loneliness of being at home at bay. I work with people, which is perfect because I crave adult conversation and contact with the outside world. I work with pregnant women, which helps me to come to grips with my own personal image and allows me to put what I have learned to use by helping others with their own body image.

I am a woman. I am stronger that I imagined I could be. I am a mother and I love my family. I am beautiful, even if some days I don’t feel it. I can sit in tights and a ponytail for a day and be ok with it now. I am in control of my eating disorder. I am a friend. I am proud of my body on most days. I was even brave enough to do a boudoir photo shoot. I will continue to learn to love myself in every way I can and I love that my children make me feel loved and beautiful and that my husband always finds me beautiful too. Most important is that I can now accept the fluctuations and changes my body goes through without spiraling into a dark place.

Beautiful Mama Project is for all women and all mothers. We are beautiful.


Yolanda

I have always known that I wanted to adopt. For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought that if I can’t have biological kids, that would be ok. But fostering was something that scared me. I couldn’t imagine how hard it would be to attach to a child and then have to let them go.
When I met my husband’s family, I started to see how important fostering is. Three of his sisters foster children, and the kids they have now have been in the family for years. When one of his sisters told me that the bio mom of her two girls was pregnant and that they were looking for a home for the baby, we decided we needed to do this. I emailed the social worker, but the reply was that plans had changed and they no longer needed a home. I was a little disappointed, but glad there was a plan for this innocent life.
Several months later, right before Christmas, I got an email from the social worker asking if we were still interested in fostering this baby girl. We said yes without hesitation, and two weeks later, we went to the hospital to pick up this tiny little human. I was beyond terrified. I felt like I had no idea what I was going to do. Like I had no mother instinct. That first night, I remember looking at her and feeling overwhelmed that this tiny little person was completely dependent on me….someone who had never been very good with babies. I didn’t think it would come naturally to me.
I spent a lot of nights walking with her for hours in the middle of the night, and I think this time is when I really started to feel connected to her, when the house was quiet and it was just the two of us. Hearing her soft breathing. Wondering what her life would bring and praying that she would always be protected.
I went back to work part-time when she was just three weeks old. This was really hard. I was exhausted most days and felt like I was running on auto-pilot, especially when she didn’t sleep much at night. Thankfully my husband was extremely involved as well, and we made it work.
Six months later, the social worker sat down with me and asked if we would consider caring for two of our little girl’s older siblings. My initial reaction was, “Absolutely not!” But after talking it over with my husband, we decided we needed to do everything we could to keep these siblings together. They didn’t ask for their lives to be like this, and they deserve to grow up with family. And so, six weeks later we moved, my husband quit his job to stay at home with the kids while I worked and we welcomed her three and five year old siblings into our home.
That was a shock. Life had changed so much for us since Christmas – moving is stressful, but add onto that going from no kids to three, and on top of everything my dad was starting to have serious health issues. I was beyond overwhelmed. I cried a lot. There were days when I seriously considered going to my doctor to get a prescription for something to help with all of the emotions I was having. I was honestly afraid I was going to have a breakdown at times.
On top of all of this, I was surprised at the reactions people had. I felt like some people were judging us for “stealing” someone else’s kids. Like they wondered why we didn’t just have our “own” kids. On the other end, some people said our kids were “blessed” to be in our home. Really? You think that not being able to grow up in their biological family is a blessing? They should be with their bio parents. They didn’t deserve any of this. But they also need to be kept safe. Or people asked questions like, “Where did you get them from?”, “Are they yours or are you just fostering?”. When you’re already emotionally, mentally and physically barely hanging on, these questions and comments are enough to send you over the edge. The “just fostering” question really got to me. We have raised our baby girl since she was a day old, we get our kids up in the morning and put them to bed, hold them when they cry, celebrate with them when they succeed, discipline them when they do something that’s not ok, teach them how to get dressed, read, solve problems, etc., help them heal from the trauma in their lives, and a million other things, but yes, we’re just fostering. It’s so hard when you do everything that any other mom does, but you don’t even feel like you get to wear the title proudly.

I wish people would remember that many things are so much more complicated than we think they are. Not everything is black and white. The foster care system has many faults, but it’s also there for a reason. On the one hand, I feel guilty some days because I am holding the children another mom carried for nine months. My heart breaks that she cannot be there for all of the firsts and that she is not the one they run to when they need comfort. I grieve the loss with her. And I know there needs to be a change in the system. These kids should be with their bio parents if at all possible. On the other hand, I am so thankful that these kids are together and that they are safe. That they have the opportunity to grow up with a strong support system of foster aunties, uncles and grandparents who all love them deeply and completely. Our kids have two mamas and two daddies who all love them the best they can in their own broken human way. Life isn’t perfect or fair for them, but together we can still do our best to help them have a beautiful life.


Jayme

My husband and I first began our journey to parenthood in December of 2009. Nothing could prepare us for the bumps we would hit along the way.  Bumps we couldn’t see coming.

We got pregnant with our first baby in March of 2010. We were that naive couple who thought getting pregnant was easy. 7 weeks in, I started bleeding. An ultrasound showed that I had haemorrhaged, but it also showed our baby with a beating heart. Oh, how happy we were. At 14 weeks, I started bleeding again. This time the ultrasound didn’t have a happy ending. It showed that our baby’s heart wasn’t beating and that he/she hadn’t grown since the 7 week ultrasound. The doctors would later decide that I would need a D&C operation to remove our baby.  This would become angel baby #1.

I had a natural miscarriage in September of 2010. Loss of angel baby #2. They say things happen for a reason, but we were beginning to wonder what the reason was. Fear set in as I knew that the more losses I had, the greater my chance was of losing again. It was after this loss that we were referred to a specialist in Winnipeg. We crossed our fingers that we would get some answers.

In April of 2012, I would go through pain and loss that I never thought possible. It began with terrible, sharp pains in my stomach. I thought my appendix was rupturing. My husband took me to the local emergency room, where they ran tests to determine that I was pregnant. Pain and positive pregnancy test= bad news, again. I was rushed to a hospital in Winnipeg. The OBGYN in Winnipeg thought I was having a tubal pregnancy so I was taken for surgery the next morning. Upon coming out of surgery, I found out that it was a tubal pregnancy, but an ovarian ectopic pregnancy.  The egg had implanted itself on my ovary. The chance of this happening to a woman is very slim, but it would of course happen to me. That’s just the way it was going for me. Recovery from this procedure took 8 weeks. Weeks of lying on the couch being reminded of what could have been.  Angel baby #3.

The specialist we were seeing wasn’t very helpful after this experience and so finally I had my doctor refer me to the fertility clinic in Winnipeg.  I needed someone to care. I needed someone to tell me that we could have a baby.

Even though we had an agonizing history of miscarriages, the fertility clinic found nothing wrong with me or my husband. All of our losses were unexplainable. In some ways, I wanted them to find something wrong. At least we would have some answers and be able to work out the problems. However, it was good news that they found nothing wrong because our specialist had many options for us to try. We’d start with option #1- fertility meds.

In August of 2013, I was put on clomid. Month #1, no luck. Month #2, no luck, or so we thought. One week after my period, I started experiencing terrible pain in my abdomen. It was pain similar to my ovarian ectopic. Again, my husband took me to the local ER, where they rushed me to Winnipeg. An ultrasound would show that there was a sac in my uterus but it looked abnormal. My stomach was also full of blood because I had several cysts that had ruptured. The doctor in Winnipeg asked me to come back in a week for a follow up ultrasound. During that week, I tried to think positive.  I was experiencing some pregnancy symptoms, which helped me to believe that maybe everything would be ok. One week later, my hopes were crushed. The ultrasound showed that there was no longer a sac in my uterus. The doctor told me that I must have passed the baby naturally, but I had never showed any signs of passing the baby. I knew something wasn’t right when my mom and I were driving home and I was in excruciating pain, again. She took me to the local hospital, where they admitted me, and later determined that my pregnancy hormone levels were still going up.  This meant I was still pregnant, but they couldn’t find the pregnancy because my abdomen was so full of blood.  I was given a cancer medication to kill the baby they couldn’t find. Angel baby #4.

Trying to prepare myself for our next appointment at the fertility clinic was hard. I had lost hope. I felt like our options had run out. Fertility meds clearly didn’t work for me. Our specialist talked to us about different options, which included IVF. He wanted us to take some time to think about it. He prescribed a new fertility medication,  which I was to take a half dose of, if I wasn’t too scared to try.

I decided to look into alternative medicine after I had heard many positive stories about it. I signed up for acupuncture in March of 2014. After two months of acupuncture and the half dose of medication, we found out we were pregnant at the end of April. Positive pregnancy tests scared me- a lot. My husband and I didn’t celebrate. It would be a long 9 months.

We were finally able to celebrate when our miracle baby arrived on Christmas Day! Baby #5 in our arms!

Through the tough years of trying to conceive, I can remember driving down the street and thinking about all the children I would see and I can remember feeling pain and jealousy.  My friends and co-workers around me were getting pregnant. Again, so much pain and jealousy when all I wanted was to be a mom. Why did it have to be so hard for us? We’ll never know why it had to be such a bumpy road, but I know that what didn’t kill me, made me so much stronger. I know now that I am a much stronger woman and mother because of it.


Karla

Young. Very young. Believing I knew it all, and I liked pushing the boundaries that my parents had set.  I wanted out - marriage  to a “bad boy”  I thought I couldn’t live without and an office job at 18. This won over continuing my education and pursuing a career. 

It didn’t take long for the marriage to show signs of strain. He worked on and off.  His idea of a savings account was what was left on the visa card before he hit the credit limit. Mine was a balance in a bank book.

At the age of 21 I gave birth to my son and began the process of trying to grow up and be a mother. I quickly realized I knew nothing. After an 8 week maternity leave I was back to work. There were many night feedings as well as colic, with little to no help from his father. It was hard.

 At age 23 I became pregnant again. It turned out to be a Hydatidiform Mole or Molar pregnancy that took 4 months to diagnose. With my husband nowhere in sight, I entered the hospital with my sister at my side to have labour induced to rid my body of this mass. Alone the next day I delivered it. I truly don’t believe I ever mourned this loss, there was just no time. I was totally exhausted and under a great deal of emotional abuse. The same year I lost my mother to cancer.

At age 24 I gave birth to my daughter after an uneventful pregnancy.  By this time I had endured 6 1/2 years of emotional abuse at the hands of my husband. Somehow he convinced me that I should be a stay at home Mom.  Within a year I was back at work as he still had not figured out how to hold a permanent job.

The emotional abuse continued.  It has a way of sneaking up on you a bit at a time and dragging you into a dark place.  He had me convinced that I was a horrible mother, unattractive, stupid, and sexually cold. He also thought that I was having an affair with every man out there. With the help of a councilor I finally gained enough confidence to leave. I dropped my pride and walked into the local welfare office and asked for first month’s rent and a damage deposit on my own place. The healing process had begun.

At 27, I was raising both of my children alone. But I had a job and family support. Money was tight but some was saved. Over the next 11 years I had my ups and downs. We had our ups and downs, laughter and tears, challenges met, music lessons, trips to the lake, dating and school challenges.  I healed slowly from the emotional abuse and began to realize I was none of the things he had convinced me I was. 

At 38 I married the most amazing man and have continued to heal and grow with his love, into the women I am meant to be. It continues to be a wonderful ride.

Looking back, would I change things if I could, you bet, but I can’t so I tend not to spend much time looking back for I am not going that way.

I enjoy healthy relationships with both of my children.  Always a Mom, when they need it, and an ear for listening when they just need to vent.

I consider them my friends and believe they both consider me one as well.

 


Liana

I'm a new mom of a healthy, happy, baby boy. My pregnancy was unexpected and took us both by surprise, but I was lucky to have such a supportive partner who encouraged me and told me that everything would be okay, and that things could be worse. The timing was not bad, we had both finished school, had stable jobs and were financially stable. Telling our parents was, of course, quite worrisome. I was very surprised at how they reacted! Contrary to my expectations, they were excited and extremely supportive! Once I got used to the idea of becoming a mom, I became excited and started picking out names. I always dreamed of having a little "mini me" that I could paint nails with, dress up like a Princess and do little piggy tails. Every time I went through the baby aisle at a store, my heart started beating faster and I could picture a little girl in all the cute pink dresses. Not knowing the gender yet, didn't stop me from starting to buy all things pink. I just couldn't help myself.

I've always loved kids. Now that I was having my own I couldn't contain my excitement, and soon I started revealing the secret to close friends and people at work. I told everyone I was certain the baby was going be a girl. I could just sense it. Of course I wanted to find out the gender to confirm my theory. The technician for our ultrasound wouldn't give anything away. I called my doctor the next day and asked if she had gotten the report yet, and whether she could tell me anything. She assured me, she would have someone give me a call as soon as they got the report in. A few days later, as I was heading to work, I received a phone call. I answered full of excitement, but as she was telling me the report showed a little boy, I almost dropped my phone. I just couldn't believe it! I was certain they were wrong and had looked at the wrong report. I was so disappointed, I didn't want to believe it. Soon enough tears started rolling down my cheeks and I felt angry, ashamed, guilty and horrible all at the same time. I felt like I was left out, everybody I knew was having a girl, why did I have to get "punished" with a boy? But as soon as that thought passed, I felt angry with myself and ashamed. I felt undeserving of this baby because I was such a horrible mother in my own eyes. People have miscarriages, babies with disabilities or missing body parts, and here I am, pregnant with a healthy baby boy, balling my eyes out and complaining. As much as I tried to fake a smile, when I walked into work, I couldn't stop myself from breaking down. I locked myself in the bathroom and cried. I didn't understand myself. I hated myself and tried blaming my behavior on the stupid hormones. My manager, who is very attentive, noticed me and called my boyfriend right away. He dropped everything at work and came to pick me up. He couldn't understand why I was being so dramatic about the whole situation (he had hoped for a boy). Despite that, he tried cheering me up by going into stores and picking out baby outfits for our boy. My manager text me later and told me to stay home for the day. After a few hours of crying, I calmed down and got used to the idea of having a little boy. I tried to think of all the good things that come with boys. Not having to go through the "drama phase" that girls go through, not having to worry about future boyfriends and started hoping he would be a "mamas boy".

My pregnancy went by quickly and was painless for the majority of the time. I was lucky not to get any morning sickness or early contractions and even my labour was beyond any of my expectations. You always see pregnant women with swollen feet and rounder faces and I wasn't looking forward to that, but it never came. I remember how my doctor told me at my last check-up before my due date that I hadn't dilated yet, and that I was most likely going to go overdue. She then advised me of procedures if I was to go beyond 42 weeks and basically prepared me (mentally) to be uncomfortable for an extra few weeks with my bump.

As my due date approached, I packed and had everything ready to go but mentally I was waiting. Early in the morning of my due date, my water broke and after realizing I wasn't just peeing forever, we headed to the hospital and immediately were put in a room upstairs.  Shortly after, my contractions started coming and labour progressed quickly. As much as my mind was made up about not using any drugs, the pain of my contractions quickly changed my mind. I wanted all the drugs I could get just to make it less painful. I got an epidural which made the pain more bearable, although I had really hoped not to feel any pain. It didn't take long until I pushed my baby out. The doctors and nurses took him right away, I could see worry in their expressions and I started freaking out. What if my baby wasn't going to make it? I carried this baby in my belly for nine months, pushed him out in a lot of pain, only to see him for a minute? The doctors worked hard and soon got him to breathe, however he was still put in an incubator for the first 24 hours. I couldn't bear the thought of losing him but the doctor assured me he was doing much better and that I could probably see him in a few hours. As hard as it was, I wanted only the best, so I waited patiently until I could see him. As soon as I saw him, I instantly forgot all the pain I had just been through. I cannot explain the feeling of holding my child for the first time. It is the most joyful, incredible feeling.

After the first challenge of giving birth was overcome, the next one was waiting for me when I made my first attempt to breastfeed. I had watched numerous videos at my prenatal class explaining and showing how to breastfeed and as easy as it looked on the screen, it was anything but easy. While we didn't have trouble with latching, my son wouldn't suck. He would just latch on and sit there. It was impossible to get him to suck no matter how many times I tried. So I pumped and gave him the bottle, then I tried feeding him with a syringe. Finally a nurse came and offered to help. She told me to put my finger in his mouth until he would start sucking and to them offer him the breast so he would continue the sucking motion. It seemed to take forever and I felt very discouraged, but after several attempts, he finally seemed to get the hang of it. Because of his feeding issues we ended up staying at the hospital for five days and I felt like a bird in a cage. I was begging the nurses to be released because I needed to get out.

I wanted to show off my son to the world, go out for walks with him and cuddle him in my own bed. On the evening of the fifth day, I finally got the okay to go home. I was so relieved and excited for this new journey. However, the excitement quickly faded when baby decided he needed to continuously stay up all night. It was so tired and this process drained everything out of me. I wondered how in the world moms managed the household on top of taking care of a baby, especially when so sleep deprived. The first few weeks were hard. Very hard. I was told to get used to getting less sleep after the baby arrives but this was far worse than I expected. I had a lot of adjusting to do. I would get angry and easily frustrated and I took it out on my boyfriend. I felt like nobody understood me. I lacked sleep, when I looked in the mirror I felt like the pounds weren't falling off fast enough. Because of a crying, needy baby and sleep deprivation, I didn't have time, or energy to work out. I was miserable.

I would often start crying when I was alone, I didn't know why. What was wrong with me? I couldn't tell anyone because I felt guilty and like I didn't appreciate motherhood, so I would keep everything to myself. Finally, after weeks (which felt like forever) my depression diminished. I started feeling more like myself again. My son was starting to sleep better too. I asked myself why don't babies come with instructions and how do the nurses trust me with a newborn? I felt scared and unsure and didn't know if I was doing the right thing because he cried so much. After reading every single pamphlet I got from the hospital and doing some research, I came to the conclusion that my baby must have acid reflux disease. I went to the doctor with my suspicion and he prescribed me some Rhanitidine which was very effective and helped within days. 

Slowly, I felt like I was starting to know what I was doing. I remember sitting in his nursery one evening while breastfeeding (or trying to) and it was so painful, I started sobbing. I just couldn't do it. I wanted to throw things at the wall, nobody had ever told me nursing was so painful! People always make it look so easy and natural. I was so close to giving up. I felt like I couldn't do it. But I was determined, I pulled through. It was a short period but felt like a long time until I got used to it, the pain eventually stopped.

To this day, he still doesn't sleep through the night, but he only wakes twice to nurse and falls right back asleep and for that I am grateful. I am forever happy to be his mother and he is becoming such a mamas’ boy. We've been through thick and thin together and I love him like I never thought I could love anyone. Even when he wakes up at night and wants to eat, I wake up grateful because not everyone gets the opportunity to do what I do. Being a mother and raising a child is the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life. Even when I look back at all the difficult times during the first few weeks of motherhood, I would do it all over again for my baby, without hesitation. Because he means the world to me and I want to be the world to him.


Malonie

I got married at age 17, which is very young, and I hadn't experienced much of a fun life. Before 6 months of marriage had passed, I decided to leave my husband and enjoy a single life. I hated myself for it and started partying, trying drugs and self-harming myself. When I found out I was pregnant 3 months later, all of that stopped.

My baby saved my life. I got back together with my husband and we were happier than ever. My pregnancy made me feel nervous and excited. I remember when I was about 18 weeks everyone was saying I should be feeling the baby move already, and it really scared me because I couldn't feel movement yet. I would lie down on the floor and have my mom feel for my baby moving and she couldn't feel it. It brought me to tears thinking that my angel might not be there anymore. When I finally felt movement I was so happy!

My sister was pregnant at the same time as I was.  This was hard for me because I was comparing myself to her. She had no marks on her body at all and I was getting stretch marks on my stomach, on my thighs and other places I never would have imagined, along with varicose veins. It wasn't a very tough pregnancy for the most part. The back pain and cramps were bearable. Towards the end our baby didn't move much, so we went for stress tests twice because we were worried.

On Dec 19 my husband and I went on one last date before she was born. During the meal I started getting contractions, I figured no big deal so we went to a movie and the contractions continued. We went home as they weren't unbearable. Around midnight we went to the hospital and they kept us the night, but sent us home in the morning because I was not dilated far enough. I was still having contractions all this time. We spent the day trying to move the dilation along and in the evening we went to a Christmas program. I spent a horribly painful night trying to sleep. On Sunday we went to a Christmas gathering and I spent the day in pain. By the evening I was in so much pain that we went back to the hospital and I got an epidural. We spent all night continuing to progress at the hospital. By Monday night I was fully dilated and could start pushing. Our baby got stuck and we had to go for an emergency caesarean.

Once born the doctors realized she had inhaled some poop and amniotic fluid and she was sent to Winnipeg. I was only able to see her for an hour. The next morning I went to Winnipeg to be with her and I still had to wait until the evening before I could finally spend time with her. On Christmas Day we came home. My legs were swollen for over a week, and I had a very difficult time moving. Then the swelling went down and I felt like I was so much lighter. I still bare the scars of growing a life and I carry extra weight, but it was all worth it. The marks on my body may fade but for now they are reminders of my beautiful daughter.