A Photo Journal by our North Carolina TRIBE de MAMA group
My goal is for this photo journal to inspire and empower young mothers. I hope to show everyone that we may be young, but we are fierce. We are loving. We are capable of motherhood. - Ashley
Madilynn was born May 2, 2016. I was about to take her home when the pediatrician heard a harsh heart murmur. The murmur led to the discovery of a rare congenital heart defect and a diagnosis of Truncus Arteriosis. That led to immediate open heart surgery, which went well.
At 1 week old, Madilynn was on the road to recovery. On her eleventh day of life, we got devastating news; Madilynn was born with Complete DiGeorge Syndrome. This means she doesn't have an immune system at all and will need a thymus transplant in order to live.
The irony is that despite no child in North Carolina ever having this specific type of illness, the only place in the country this type of transplant can take place is at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. There's a long waiting list, but I've been told by Duke that Madilynn is next on the list due to her condition. I will be forever grateful to Duke for the rest of my life.
Madilynn has a G Tube (can't eat by mouth yet, she aspirates, which is normal with a heart baby). I change her feeding bag everyday, make her new formula, and clean around her G Tube. I give her two infusions every day to treat CMV, a virus she contracted at birth. I also give her medicines and vitamins through her G Tube twice daily.
This has made me grow up very fast and has given me a whole new outlook on life. I know not to take anything for granted and am grateful for everything. Madilynn is very precious to me.
I was 17 years old when I became Mama.
I was failing all of my classes at an adult high school program, with only two weeks of school left, and not much hope in graduating. I had a knack for skipping out. My home life was rocky, my love life was questionable, and I felt so isolated and alone. I was 17 and felt no one understood me. I wanted to escape… or fill a void.
I was learning more and more about schizophrenia during this time. My mom suffered with this condition and it wasn't easy to live in her home. On the inside, I was battling my own demons, and chain smoking cigarettes. I was also at war with my body. I had been anorexic since the 6th grade.
All of this changed in the blink of an eye. Reading several pregnancy tests in an Arby's bathroom, I felt a warmth in the pit of my stomach. This was a sensation I had never experienced. It was unconditional love, something that I had always searched for, in everyone. My own mother wasn't very maternal. My dad took on both roles as parents. This was my motivation. This is where I found my reason to keep going, because just months before that, I wanted to end my life. I opened that bathroom stall with 4 pee sticks in hand and felt pure joy!
I ended up working hard and graduating with honors, thanks to my amazing teachers that let me work, even when class wasn't in session. I never thought that I would see myself graduate. My family felt the same. I proved everyone, including myself, wrong. I tossed the cigarettes and began repairing all of the damage that I had done to my body. Then, my life truly began. My wonderful dad and my mother, who was getting help, continued to show support throughout my pregnancy and after.
It was my obstetrician who showed the least support. He emotionally abused me my entire pregnancy, when I was giving birth, and during the postpartum period.
Knowing that I was anorexic, he picked at my weight. I was underweight in the beginning of pregnancy, which was an issue, but when I started gaining weight it was too fast. He had me on a strict diet. Knowing that I ate plant based, he would ask how many cheese burgers I had eaten to gain so much weight. He would laugh at me. I was even limited to the amount of fruit that I could consume, due to natural sugars. Though I passed my glucose test, my weight was always every appointment's topic. I always left in tears.
I brought my sweet girl Earth side on New Year’s Day, 2014. My labor did not go as planned. I get a lump in my throat and my voice shakes when I talk about it. My obstetrician saw me at 9 AM on New Year’s Eve, because I called and said that I had contractions. I am very in tune with my body, my cycle, and was very in tune with what was happening inside of me. My uterus was contracting. It started at 7 AM and felt like tolerable period cramps. By 9 AM they were uncomfortable. It was extremely painful when my OB gave me a vaginal exam that I didn't want. His response to me coming in that morning was, "You're not in labor. If you come to the hospital at all today or tonight, I won't admit you." I walked back to our car holding back tears, shaking, not even wanting to go to the hospital. I would have given anything to give birth at home. I was afraid of my OB. Afraid of the hospital
My contractions intensified after I went shopping for postpartum snacks. I could hardly make it back to the car. This was only 4 hours into my labor. Little did I know, I would be in labor for 27 more hours. I didn't go to the hospital and try to be admitted until I was 16 hours in, riding out every wave. I paced the floors of my parents home, cleaned, and roared. My Mama roar got so loud that my parents were mortified. Their baby was having a baby and was too afraid to go to the hospital. I saw my parents at their most vulnerable state right before I tried to be admitted. I had never seen my mom act so.... human. Her and my dad stood in the kitchen, holding each other in tears over me. They were afraid. This wasn't how they saw birth. Birth always took place in a hospital. That wasn't me. I roared and moaned and they couldn't help me. My pain was out of their control and I think the fear and anxiety over birth made the pain worse.
I tried to be admitted 3 times that night. They checked my cervix every time, even when I asked the nurse not to. I went from feeling in control and empowered at home, to terrified and trapped in the hospital. My vagina felt violated, my baby felt violated. I can't even describe the pain of my vaginal exam. I stopped telling the nurses to stop checking me. I became silent, afraid, and surrendered to them, rather than to my own body. Warm tears ran down my cheeks as they hooked me up to an IV that I didn't want, induced me when I didn't need it, and told me that I couldn't pee because it was too much work to help me go to the bathroom. This birth was a sit down and shut up kind of birth. Not allowed to pace the hospital floors, not allowed to labor on all fours, not allowed to be free and let my body work its magic. From the moment they finally admitted me, this was no longer my birth. This was someone else's. My birth was taken from me, I was stripped from my own experience, and my experience doesn't even feel like my own.
I labored for 14 hours in the hospital and it was not quiet. It was loud, louder than ever, it was birth! It still wasn't my birth. It felt like I was floating above my body, watching a woman imprisoned in this hospital bed, wanting so badly to escape and fearing for her and her baby’s lives. Dee entered the world around 2 in the afternoon on New Year’s Day. My OB gave me an episiotomy that I did not need and 22 stitches. My baby was taken from my chest as soon as she was placed there. Her cord was cut as soon as he rushed my placenta out, basically pulling it out of my vagina. They bathed her of her sweet vernix, that I wanted so badly to rub in. They placed her on a heater, covering her beautiful head of hair with a cap, when I wanted to share my warmth, skin to skin. I was unable to nurse her. My family passed her around this sterile room. After 31 hours of intense labor and mistreatment, my baby was taken from me. She didn't even feel like my baby, but theirs. Not my birth, not my baby. There I sat in the hospital bed, shaking from the rush of hormones after birth, vagina bloody and so exposed as my OB stitched me up.
I purposely missed my first postpartum checkup because I didn't want to see my OB again. Finally, I made an appointment because my episiotomy site still seemed raw. The first thing that he did was comment on my weight. "You're never going to lose this baby weight." I felt numb to his insults. I felt numb to the world.
It took a year and half for my chronic anxiety attacks to go away. The heart palpations, the out of control anxiety, it took so long to find my normal again. To no longer shame, hate, and turn my head away from my body. I have joined traumatic birth support groups, I have found peace with my birth and with my daughter… especially with my body. I will never be completely healed, but I am no longer at war with myself. I also have not been anorexic since I found out I was pregnant. I encourage any mother that is feeling incredibly sad or anxious, during pregnancy or after, to reach out. You are not alone. I also encourage any mother that has dealt with or is dealing with any sort of abuse with a healthcare provider to take action. Do not be afraid. You know your body and no one should ever have to deal with abuse out of fear.
I am happy that I have found a safe haven within TRIBE de MAMA. I feel the support of the sisterhood, radiating from social media. I am empowered.
I have found my true happiness, my true purpose. I believe I was put on this earth to be a mother. Motherhood brought me so much joy, happiness, and most importantly, peace.
My life has changed drastically. In a scary, amazing, and incredibly rewarding kind of way. My thoughts went from being all about me, and what would make me happy, to this tiny incredible human that I created.
It was very much all about him the first few months after he was born, that I forgot about me. I forgot who I was, and got wrapped up in just being his mother. As time went on I've learned how to take care of me first, which in return has made me a better mother and a better person.
I don't want this to sound like being a mother is all fun and dandy. It is also so difficult. I've had to learn and use this new level of patience I didn't know existed. I went from sleeping whenever I wanted, to breastfeeding 10-15 times a night. My son is a comfort nurser, and I am his paci, especially at night.
Even through all the challenges, I will always be so grateful to be his mother. My baby changed my world, my mind, my life, and my heart in the most amazing way possible.
Written by Ashley
I met Paige in high school. Upon meeting her, I knew she was different. She was crude and honest, someone I could easily get along with.
Paige became pregnant during her junior year and gave birth in September, during her senior year. She did this with her high school boyfriend and baby's father by her side, but then, after baby, life changed forever. She had to move out of her parent's home following her 18th birthday. She lived alone in her first apartment, and had no car as she did not work yet.
Paige is hard and tough on the outside, but soft and loving on the inside. She was confident, yet was hiding a deep pain and longing. She's been through so much. I admired her strength from day one, because I could sense how strong she was.
After living alone for some time as a single mother, Paige became pregnant with her second child. She gave birth to this babe alone. Born into the hands of nurses. She was courageous and strong, as ever. It happened so fast and I was unable to witness the birth or be there for her. I have so much respect for her. She empowered me.
After having her second child and being put through the ringer, yet again, she found out that she was suffering with Bipolar Personality Disorder. Though life was throwing her constant curve balls, she caught them with her bare hands.
Now, she is working and expecting baby number three with a wonderful man. I am so happy that life is calm and that she is loved. Support is everything and I feel like Paige is finally getting what she deserves from others, because she is wonderful.
Having a child at a young age has forced me to look within to heal myself in many ways. It's still a constant struggle to find strength to be a mother to my son. Every day as my son grows he supports my own growth as well.
Connect with photographer Sydney Greer HERE