Ashley Graham gets candid about body image following miscarriage, traumatic birth of twins: ‘I used to be a sex symbol, and now I am a baby-making machine'

·8-min read
Ashley Graham opens up about her body image journey. (Photo: Getty Images)
Ashley Graham opens up about her body image journey. (Photo: Getty Images)

Ashley Graham is revealing her truth in a new op-ed for Glamour where she writes about her body positivity journey through pregnancy, birth and a miscarriage, admitting, "I am still not entirely comfortable in my body."

The 34-year-old supermodel, known for advocating for body positivity and acceptance throughout her multiple platforms, got candid in her latest piece about the way that her relationship with her body has changed after becoming a mom. Graham also shed light on harsher realities of her birthing experience with her twin boys Malachi and Roman.

"The night I gave birth to the twins, I hemorrhaged," she wrote at the beginning of her essay, before providing details about her three-and-a-half-hour labor that seemed fairly easy and celebratory until she lost consciousness.

"When I finally came to, I looked around and I saw everybody. They just kept saying to me, 'You’re fine. You’re fine. You’re fine.' They didn’t want to tell me, right then, that I’d lost liters of blood," she continued. "They didn’t want to tell me that one of the midwives had to flip me over, press her finger down right above my vagina bone to try and stop the bleeding. And they didn’t want to tell me that the vein in my arm kept collapsing and they couldn’t get the needle in for the Pitocin, so they’d had to put it in my hand. But even though they didn’t want to go into the details at that moment, I looked around the room, saw blood literally everywhere, and let out this deep, visceral cry—an emotional release from the chaos I had just experienced."

Related video: Ashley Graham embraces her postpartum body in stripped down selfie

For consecutive days, Graham remained on a trundle bed that the midwives had been able to maneuver her onto since she was unable to walk, sit up or crawl.

"Thank goodness the twins were fine, while I lay on that bed for four straight days. I couldn’t walk for a week. And I didn’t leave my house for nearly two months," she wrote. "Like so many women, what I went through with childbirth has reshaped my relationship with my body."

Graham, who had given birth to her first son Isaac two years prior, recognized the extra attention that her midwives paid to her in the days after, knowing that she might be "triggered by how severe the events had been."

"I kept telling them, 'You all saved me. God saved me. This is a true miracle,'" she recalled. "It was a period of time filled with the joy of being with my husband and my three sons, the rhythm of our new life, learning and laughter, acceptance and recovery."

And although there were many silver linings, the relationship with her body that had defined her career was forever altered.

"I am the person who has been shouting from the rooftops to you all, 'Love the skin you’re in.' Yet for me, the births of all my three children threw a lot of that out of the window," she said.

It had even been changed with the birth of her first born in January 2020.

While Graham described Isaac's birth as a "magical moment" she also acknowledged the difficulty of being "plunged into the postpartum experience."

"I remember the first time I had to go to the bathroom after I gave birth, and I said, 'Wait a second, all of this is going to keep coming out of me, for the next how long? I have to squirt myself down there because I can’t wipe?'" she wrote. "Isaac was my entire world, but as a woman, the physical and emotional aspect was messy, a lot of hard work."

The pandemic came fairly quickly after, which continued to change Graham's life with husband Justin Ervin and isolated them as new parents as they left New York for Graham's mother's home in Nebraska.

"It was a wild time—we didn’t see anybody, and it felt really isolating, and challenging, raising this baby knowing nothing. I also obsessed over this 20 pounds that just wouldn’t come off, and it felt like my body wasn’t my own. I tried to brush it off and would say to myself, 'Girl, you still fine, who cares,'" she recalled. "I got a few stretch marks, and I had a few really good cry sessions over the stretch marks. But looking back, if I would’ve known what I was about to be going through—oh, it’s laughable what I was stressing out over."

After returning to New York in September 2020, the couple found out that Graham was pregnant in January 2021. "Because it was my second pregnancy, I started to show early, and we were so excited. But at the end of February, I had a miscarriage," she revealed. "It was devastating; it felt like one of the biggest losses I had ever had in my life to date. And I understood at that point what so many other mothers have gone through."

While more people have spoken out about the difficulty in pregnancy loss — including Chrissy Teigen, Halsey and Meghan Markle — the reality of it was difficult for Graham to bare.

"I had a child already, and looking at him was the only way to ease my pain, and yet the loss was so acute," Graham wrote. "I cannot even fathom how heartbreaking it must be for women who have not yet had children, and for those who have been through miscarriages multiple times. And yet the world expects us to move on and handle our grief with grace. I just remember breaking down more than a few times, just at random, and thinking, 'How do women across the world do this? Because my story is no bigger than anyone else’s.'"

After deciding to try for more children, Graham and Ervin were surprised to find out that they were expecting twins.

"It was incredible, overwhelming, and joyous," she wrote. "But it was also pretty much the end of my body as I knew it. I got huge, and fast."

While Graham continued to post photos on social media sharing messages about body positivity, even as her body grew and changed, she admitted to having difficulty coming to terms with the way that she looked.

"I talked about it with my midwives. I talked about it with Justin. I was bringing it up constantly to my team. I was like, 'You don’t understand. I used to be a sex symbol, and now I am a baby-making machine and I have stretch marks up to my belly button. What the eff is happening?'" she said. "Then one day I just stopped and thought, Screw it, this is my life, and I posted a photo of my stretch marks on Instagram, which that day my husband described to me as looking like the tree of life. Bless him."

She received praise over the photo. But reaching acceptance over what her body looked like "wasn't that simple."

"Malachi and Roman’s birth was incredible, but the aftermath was deeply overwhelming. I couldn’t walk properly for a long time, let alone exercise. I would shake, I didn’t feel like myself physically or emotionally. I had planned to be back at work after eight weeks, but I was a wreck, and when I saw myself in the mirror, I still felt like I looked pregnant," she wrote.

As a result, she took a longer break from work than she was anticipating.

"I felt, and still do feel, deeply lucky that I was able to take a longer maternity leave than I had planned," she said. "And yet, I work in an industry that expects me to return to work in a body that has 'snapped back' – a pressure that no woman, in any industry, deserves to feel. I have always fought against unfair and unrealistic standards and yet, if I am being completely honest, here I was, expecting myself to snap back. And fast."

Making her return with a new Knix campaign, Graham revealed what she most appreciated about the company's approach to postpartum experience.

"They gave me time," she said. "We pushed back the shoot to a time where I would be feeling better in my skin—more ready to model in lingerie, stretch marks and all."

With the launch of the Reveal Yourself collection, Graham hopes to inspire vulnerability and strength by sharing her story and admitting that her journey as a body advocate has changed.

"I’ve learned it’s okay if the journey to love the skin you’re in is more complex that you could ever have imagined," she wrote. "Even now, if I’m completely honest, I go in waves. I am still not entirely comfortable in my body, no matter my own body positivity advocacy. There are days where I look at myself and I say, 'There's nothing you can't handle. There's nothing you can't do.' Then I look at the stretch marks that still exist and will forever exist on my stomach, and I think, 'God why did you have to go up above my belly button? I'm a lingerie model for God's sake. This is not what lingerie models look like.' But then I remind myself, well 'I've never been the norm of what a typical lingerie model looks like.'"

She continued, "Day by day it goes, back and forth, I tell myself that I am a warrior for carrying and birthing my babies, for surviving the hemorrhage, for being a mother to my three boys, and yet also still struggling with the transformation of my body. But today is one of the days where I feel incredibly proud."

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