#strengthfromwithin, in collaboration with Rock The Naked Truth.
Today we have Jenna, 35, who shared with us her journey about her health scares during her pregnancy, and her struggle with breast-feeding and body image.
A post-partum struggle with body image is something that she is familiar with, even years after giving birth. She wants the community to know that it is OK and it is indeed not easy, that it is OK to take the time to be 'ready'.
May her story inspire you, as much as it inspires us.
When did you start struggling with your body/weight? Did it get worse over the years?
I have been overweight for as long as I can remember and my heaviest was at 89kg when I was pregnant with my second child. I wasn’t controlling my diet (who does when they are pregnant?) and was not actively exercising.
What and when was the worst of your body struggles?
I struggled with obesity in the past especially whilst I was pregnant and after. It really affected my energy level and self-esteem. I also struggle with back-ne issues which I was told will resolve with age.
What do you think caused you to feel so insecure about yourself?
I didn’t like what I see in the mirror, and the fact that clothes used to fit, couldn’t fit me anymore. I hated the figure I see on the scale. I also didn’t like the discomfort I felt when I was obese.
In your life, were there any traumatic incidents or major adversities that happened to you? What happened and how did you cope with it? Did it affect your body image?
Yes. When I was pregnant with my second child, I had a brain tumour scare. The “tumour” was pressing on my optic nerve and it affected my vision in one eye. It was always blur. I also had intense, pounding headaches, especially when I’m stressed. After getting an MRI without contrast, I was diagnosed with a pituitary gland tumour, and it was indeed pressing on my optic nerve.
I was told it will involve brain surgery (through the nose!) and hormonal therapies. I was told to stop breastfeeding in order to save my vision and my own life, as it will cause the pituitary gland to swell. This was a huge blow for me because I was an advocate for breastfeeding and a firm believer in the benefits of breastfeeding. I breastfed my first son throughout pregnancy even though I experienced pain. I had intended to tandem feed both kids after the second kid was born.
I also had to undergo general anaesthesia to deliver my son rather than VBAC (vaginal birth after C section) or epidural, which were my original plans. In addition, as I was under GA, I wasn’t able to have direct skin to skin contact when he was born, and I only saw him a few days after I delivered him as he was admitted to NICU due to some gastrointestinal issue (resolved now!). After he was born, I had a sudden dip in breastmilk supply due to all the trauma my body experienced. It was a chaotic time. My vision was blurry, my son was in NICU, I went against doctor’s instructions to try to boost my milk supply, but was constantly discouraged by the doctors and nurses to do so.
Eventually, my breastmilk supply did boost and I successfully tandem fed both kids. Unfortunately, I had mastitis just as when I was planning to return to work. It was the most agonising pain I have ever experienced. I resorted to dipping my whole breast in hot water in an attempt to clear the blocked ducts. I pressed on to breastfeed, even though it was extremely painful every time my baby latches. After 2-3 episodes of mastitis, breastfeeding both kids became easier.
As for my “tumour”, upon further medical check-up, it was confirmed that it wasn’t a pituitary gland tumour. However, it did swell to an abnormal size and pressed on my optic nerve during pregnancy. Thankfully, my vision recovered gradually after I delivered my son without any permanent damage.
This entire episode was the most challenging part of my life. My husband and I thought of the possibility that this “tumour” may haemorrhage, and I may die suddenly. While struggling with mastitis, my old bras didn’t fit because my breasts were so swollen from the inflammation and milk. Yet I was required to return to office before my ML ended. I had to get new breast-feeding friendly clothes which were unflattering. I had to pump at desk and was required to travel between two offices several days a week. Each time I had to carry my pump and pump parts, bottles of milk with ice pack, laptop etc. I didn’t like the entire image of carrying so many things, and wearing clothes that were meant for breastfeeding mothers on repeat. Work was so busy when I returned to work. Once, my bra was soaked with milk because I didn’t get to pump when a meeting overrun. I worry about anything and everything all the time.
When was the turning point where you started to think differently about your body?
When I stopped pumping milk at work, I didn’t have to bring my pump (also includes a pump bag, ice packs, 4-6 glass bottles, breast shields, container for breast shields and power adaptor) to office. The “tumour” had resolved itself. I had the mental capacity and actual time to think about my own health. I was still very overweight but I knew I had the potential to change to a healthier version of myself. So I started to actively exercise and control my diet again. The endorphins work wonders on my mental well-being.
I have had a healthy weight before (58kg during my wedding). I missed how healthy and free I used to feel at that time. I was enthusiastic to become that version of myself once more.
What is your take on body image now?
I believe in maintaining a healthy body that I’m happy to see whenever I look in the mirror. I don’t mind my stretch marks or c sect wound anymore as they are evidence that I gave life to this world.
Did pregnancy + childbirth affect your struggles with body/weight?
Yes definitely. I put on a lot of weight, probably 20kg when I had my second son. It became really uncomfortable as I had to travel to different offices for work. I also have a permanent C sect pooch that doesn’t go away. I fit in whatever exercise I can these days (5 times exercise a week) but the pooch stays. I have thought of surgery to remove this pooch.
Did becoming a mother change your look on body image?
I have accepted the stretch marks on my belly and breasts and c section scar. These are battle scars form pregnancy. They are normal to have and I embrace these battle scars from pregnancy. Even the fittest mothers have some sort of pooch, though small.
What made you want to be part of this campaign? How do you hope doing this will help to empower other women?
I know a few women who struggle with body issues after becoming a mother. This is on top of the issues they face at work and at home. It’s no easy feat. And I just want to let the mothers know that when they are mentally ready, to start taking care of their own body because mothers are the heart of the family!