Model and jewelry designer Kelly Hughes had everything set in her mind for the delivery of her son, Harlem. She decided the best plan of action to welcome him would be through hypnobirthing, but complications arose. In order to ensure the safety of her newborn and herself, the only option was delivery by cesarean. “I was very upset when the doctors told me we had to do a C-section because that was not my birth plan,” the 2022 SI Swimsuit model explains. “I started crying…it was my first lesson in motherhood. Even though I had my plans of what I wanted, I didn’t want to put my baby at risk out of my selfishness.”
Once returning home with her new bundle, Hughes developed an infection that brought her back to the hospital for over a week. Her C-section scar had to be cut open again in order to get her back to perfect health. It is this scar that she is most proud of as it is how her now three-year-old son entered the world—and that scar is fully on display in this SI Swim edition. “There’s an incredible shift happening today with inclusivity and normalizing the changes our bodies go through as women, so to be a part of this moment is so incredible and liberating,” she says. “The thing that I was most insecure about became the thing that empowered me the most.”
Keep reading for more about Hughes’s journey to motherhood, and about how women everywhere should never feel ashamed of their bodies or scars but “embrace the power in it.”
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What have you learned about yourself since becoming a mother?
“In the beginning, I felt like I lost myself completely. Then, I felt like I gave birth to a new me. This new version of myself has taught me that I am sure of who I am now, and I have so much more patience than I ever thought I could have.”
“You get the call from SI Swim. What was your initial thought about doing this shoot?”
“I was beyond excited and shocked. I don’t think it really settled and became reality until I got the call sheet. My shoot was in Islamorada, Fla. Posing for SI Swim is a dream come true. To be a part of such an amazing group of women and to experience this after 20 years of modeling is exhilarating.”
What was the best part of the shoot experience?
“Meeting and working with MJ [Day, SI Swim’s editor in chief]. She’s such an incredible, positive force in this industry and from the moment I met her at the fitting, I felt she took something that I perceived as my biggest insecurity and turned it into probably the most fulfilling experience in my entire modeling career.”
You proudly display your C-section scar in the shoot. Did you always embrace it or did that take some work to love your body fully?
“After having my son, one of my biggest insecurities as a woman and a model was my scar. It wasn’t until I embraced my scar that I experienced the power in it. It took time to heal physically and mentally and embrace all that I had gone through in order to find the strength in it. I truly haven’t felt as empowered by my scar as I do today. It wasn’t until recently that I felt somewhat like ‘me’ again and comfortable with my body. This photo shoot made me feel more confident than ever (even pre-baby).”
These scars are beautiful and a reminder of life. What do you hope by putting these images out there?
“Embrace all of your imperfections because you created a life, we in a sense give birth to our new selves and there’s so much beauty in that.”
Can you explain your birthing experience?
“When I found out I was pregnant, I immediately started researching a birthing plan I wanted. With so many options to choose from, my holistic DNA leaned me toward hypnobirthing. After weekly birthing classes and countless doctor visits, the most important day of my life had come and I was ready to give birth. At 41 weeks, the doctor told me that the baby was high because my hips were not aligned, so I would probably go into labor that weekend. This was not ideal news for my natural birthing plan, so I decided to see my chiropractor the next day for an adjustment. I went into labor 24 hours later. I had my doula at my home and my contractions lasted 20 hours before I headed to the hospital. When I arrived, I was still only three centimeters dilated but almost fully effaced; the contractions were strong and super quick, so they checked me in right away. After 36 hours and only reaching seven centimeters dilated the doctors recommended a C-section. I started crying because that was not what I wanted to hear but it was my first lesson in motherhood. I realized even though I had my plans of what I wanted I didn’t want to be selfish and put my baby at risk and my beautiful healthy boy made his spectacular debut 30 minutes later.”
When you got home, you realized that something wasn’t right…
“I was sent home with a clean bill of health, however, unbeknownst to me I had a serious infection. I had to be rushed back to the hospital only two days later. When I arrived at the hospital, they knew I had an infection, but it wasn’t clear what was actually wrong yet so they put a tube through my nose down to my stomach to pump my stomach to alleviate the pressure. Eight long days later in the hospital of me not being able to bond with my son the way I would have wanted, they realized I had a terrible infection due to a collection of water by my uterus. The doctor told me I would need another surgery to remove it immediately. He continued to say my organs were jumbled up, and he wasn't sure if I would be able to have children again. My C-section scar was now being cut open for a second time, but the surgery was a success and my uterus was intact.”
What would you tell people about having a C-section?
“It’s not the easiest recovery, but always put the health of your child first no matter what birthing method you choose or is required.”
Any advice for moms-to-be in terms of prepping for baby and their own birth experience?
“The best thing to do is prepare yourself. I recommend daily exercise so you’re strong for whatever birth you choose or is required (doctor permitted), definitely do birthing classes. Education is key, so you can make the best decisions possible while in the hospital if necessary. Get products for a speedy and easier recovery and give yourself all the time you need for recovery.”
What’s the best part of being a mom?
“The bond. My relationship that I’ve created with my son is unbreakable. It’s unconditional love.”
As Harlem gets older, has anything about your parenting style changed?
“I think as they get older and go through different phases, we have to shift and adapt. It’s an ever-changing pivot as a parent.”