We chatted to model, presenter and DJ Ashley James about her experience of postpartum...
My postpartum journey was confusing, lonely, embarrassing, magical...and complicated. On the one hand, I was in awe of what my body had done – and I still am – on the other, I felt embarrassed about my piles, my prolapse, my stitches.
It’s hard to feel confident, empowered and the best version of yourself when you’re scared your body will let you down, especially in public or during an intimate moment. There’s nothing scarier than the thought of having sex again when you don’t even know if your stitches have healed. There’s that fear that you’ll never feel ‘normal’ again.
Before giving birth, I didn’t really know what to expect for my postpartum journey. I’d been told to do pelvic floor exercises, but my attempts were pretty feeble, and as someone who’s run two marathons with minimal training, I thought I’d just be able to ‘power through’. Like it would be hard for a day, and I’d be fully recovered after six weeks. I don’t know where we get this expectation, but it’s not only untrue, it’s incredibly dangerous.
Another unexpected thing was an agonising rash on my boobs early on in my breastfeeding journey. It was like having mosquito bites all over my body, and I ended up having to take steroids which was unexpected given breastfeeding is meant to be natural.
At 7 weeks postpartum, upset I couldn’t get a physical check through my doctor, I went to see a private physiotherapist. I was still bleeding, which was longer than I expected, I had no idea if my many stitches had healed, and the doctor had only asked me if I knew about contraception.
There’s no better contraception than being afraid of your vagina.
I was also experiencing fecal incontinence, which I’d never heard of, and I was diagnosed with rectocele – a prolapsed rectum. I was mortified.
I also found out I had quite severe tummy muscle separation. I felt angry no-one warned me about these things, and that I found out through a service I had to pay for – not because I resented paying, because I resented the fact some people couldn’t afford to pay. Postpartum care should be accessible for everybody.
I’m angry the media only talks about postpartum bodies in terms of weight: ‘have you got your body back? Have you lost the baby weight?’. We don’t need to ‘get our bodies back’, they’re already there and they’ve just done the most incredible thing. And they deserve to be allowed the time to recover.
My biggest advice to mums-to-be about postpartum is to slow down, sit down and relax. I was so excited to get out and about, I think I had a point to prove, I wanted to go out with my baby carrier and my pram to prove, ‘look at me, I’m fine, I’m still me’, and that’s actually not a good idea because your body will heal better if you rest. Just enjoy the baby bubble. Everything is waiting for you in the future, but you’ll never ever get that little baby bubble back.
I wanted to be part of the Embodied: Postpartum Unfiltered campaign to be honest about the whole experience – the bleeding, the piles, the stitches, the prolapse, the leaky, lumpy and itchy boobs, the saggy tummy – to help women realise it’s normal, it’s not something to be ashamed of, and the fact it’s taboo and kept a mystery makes you feel like you’re on your own - and allows our postnatal care to be substandard.