Sports Illustrated model makes history with C-section scar photo shoot, Kelly Hughes Instagram

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Kelly Hughes will make history this weekend, becoming the first Sports Illustrated model with an exposed caesarean-section scar.

For the first time in its 58-year history, Sports Illustrated will feature a model mother with an exposed caesarean-section scar when its annual swimsuit issue hits stands this weekend.

Kelly Hughes, 42, proudly bears her C-section scar in celebration of, and solidarity with, other mothers.

She’s in good company in this year’s issue — model mum Katrina Scott, 38 and expecting her second child, is the first model featured to show a visible baby bump, and curve model Hunter McGrady, 29, was photographed just six-months post-partum.

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Hughes found out she was pregnant back in 2018. Immediately, she started preparing for vaginal birth, practising breathing techniques to reduce pain and anxiety during labour.

She was also hoping for a speedy comeback.

“My whole goal was to recover as fast as possible, so I could get back to work,” she told the New York Post, adding that as a model, she’s always aware of the short “window of opportunity” she has to pursue both motherhood and her career.

But labour didn’t go as planned. After 36 hours of contractions, she hadn’t dilated past 7 centimetres. Hughes was told she needed a C-section to keep the baby safe.

“I was hysterical,” the Miami-based mother said. “I studied so many birthing options, and C-sections weren’t on my list.”

More than 1.1 million women in America have babies via C-section annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with C-sections comprising nearly one-third of American births.

Still, the procedure — in which the baby is delivered through an incision in the abdomen and the uterus — is considered major surgery, and Hughes wasn’t emotionally prepared for it, nor for the long recovery it would require, she said.

The day after getting home from the hospital, she started experiencing excruciating pains and vomiting. She returned to the hospital, where she learned that she had an infection caused by fluid in her uterus, and she’d have to go in for a second surgery, which involved reopening her C-section wound.

“That was the rough part,” said Hughes, who was separated from her son Harlem, now 3, just days after his birth. It was physically, as well as psychologically gruelling.

“When the doctor said we had to do an emergency surgery, he wasn’t sure if I could even have kids again because of the large size of the collection of fluids,” she said.

“That was really disappointing, but my goal at that point was to be healthy because of my amazing son.”

To her relief, Hughes later found out she would be able to have more kids if she wanted to.

Hughes was able to return home after eight days in the hospital, although it was difficult for her to breastfeed since she was unable to eat leading up to the surgery.

“I fought so hard, our bodies are incredible,” Hughes said. “When you go through an experience like this, you wake up and you’re thankful for health, you’re thankful to have your healthy son — all the other stuff we sometimes worry about fades away.”

Hughes has noticed that the industry is getting more inclusive. In 2019, during Miami Swim Week, Hughes was pleasantly surprised to find clients were looking for models who were size 6 and 8 instead of just 0 and 2. It was the first time she put on a swimsuit for work since birth, slipping into a one-piece to walk the runway.

Chelsea Hirschhorn, the chief executive of Frida Baby — a brand that sells labour and recovery kits for mothers and other baby products — suggested the idea for including a model with a C-section to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, as a way to empower other mothers to feel good in their skin.

Hughes said it’ll be the first job she’s ever done showing off her scar — and she’ll relish the moment when the glossy hits stands next Thursday.

“The scar represents the surgery I had, and becoming a mother,” she said. “I became this new person … That’s why I’m so thankful for it.”

“It wasn’t really until I embraced my scar that I embraced the power in it.”

This article originally appeared on the New York Post and was reproduced with permission

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