I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I spent an inordinate amount of time staring at myself in the mirror when I was pregnant.
I loved my pregnant body, every expanding curve and bump. I watched with delight as my body changed and grew. I wasn’t in the least bit daunted by weight gain or stretch marks. I just wanted to savour every second of the process. I was growing a tiny human after all!
Sadly, at only 28 weeks gone, my pregnancy was cut short.
My son, Arthur, entered the world, three whole months before his due date. He wasn’t placed lovingly into my waiting arms as I’d always dreamed. Instead, in an emergency operating theatre filled with medical staff, he was whisked away by doctors to be treated in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. A quick glimpse of my baby was my only interaction with him on the day he was born. I was utterly bereft.
The next day, I was allowed to go to the NICU to see Arthur. He weighed just 1010g and I couldn’t believe how small he was. I sat and watched as he slept in his incubator. The rise and fall of his tiny chest was rhythmic due to his ventilator. Countless tubes and lines seemed to cover his tiny body.
It would be two weeks before he was stable enough for me to hold him for the first time. And another two and a half months before he was well enough to come home.
I'd been discharged a week after the birth, with an aching feeling of emptiness. The pain from my caesarian was nothing compared to the crushing grief I felt for the abrupt ending to my pregnancy. The natural birth experience I'd wanted so desperately had been replaced with trauma. In my head I knew that the circumstances surrounding my baby’s birth shouldn't be important. But in my heart I couldn't hide from the feelings of loss and grief.
For the first few months of Arthur's life, I couldn't look at myself in the mirror. My flat stomach was a constant reminder that I'd failed to grow my baby to full term. The angry, red caesarian scar on my abdomen was a mark of my inability to deliver my baby naturally. My small, empty breasts just showed an inadequate milk supply. I felt my body had betrayed me and failed my son.
No one else seemed to understand how much this upset me. When I was being discharged from the hospital, one of the nurses remarked cheerily that I didn't even look like I'd had a baby. As if that was a good thing.
LISTEN: Personal Trainer Tiffiny Hall speaks to Mia Freedman about her decision to share the unorthodox post-birth photo that inspired women everywhere. (Post continues after audio)
It's taken me almost a full year to learn to love and trust my body again. I have finally gained some perspective, something only time can bring. Despite all the challenges that Arthur has faced in his first few months of life, he has grown and thrived. When I look in the mirror now, I no longer see failings but rather I can appreciate all the incredible things that my body is capable of.
I see strength, resilience and courage reflecting back at me. I see a woman who endured months of the stress and anxiety that comes with having a baby in the NICU. I see a woman who was willing to persevere with breastfeeding, despite everyone telling her to give up. I see a woman that is capable of nurturing and caring for her growing son.
I see the wonderful mother that I have become. And I've never liked my reflection more than I do today.