The singer and her newborn son both experienced complications that made the journey a tough one — but they've come out the other side "shining."

By Michelle Konstantinovsky
June 09, 2021
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meghan trainor birth experience interview
Credit: Getty Images

Meghan Trainor's new song, "Glow Up" may be an anthem for anyone on the brink of a positive life shift, but for Trainor, the lyrics are deeply personal. After giving birth to her first child, Riley, on February 8, Trainor was ready to reclaim her body, her health, and her life - all of which were put to the test during a tumultuous pregnancy and a challenging delivery that left her son in the newborn intensive care unit for four days.

The first snag in Grammy winner's first-time pregnancy journey came in her second trimester, when she received an unexpected diagnosis: gestational diabetes, a disease that affects about 6 to 9 percent of pregnant women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Without the gestational diabetes, I was a rock star," the singer tells Shape. "I was really good at being pregnant, I did great. I never got sick in the beginning, I questioned a lot, 'am I pregnant? I know I haven't had my cycle and the test says it, but I feel normal.'"

Trainor says that it was a random joke at a routine check-up that led to her eventual diagnosis, which doesn't cause noticeable symptoms for most women. "I did a blood test because I was trying to make a joke and ease up the room," she says. "I said, 'my mom said she had gestational diabetes but she thinks it's because she drank a big orange juice that morning and that's what spiked her blood sugar.'"

Trainor's lighthearted comment inadvertently alerted her doctors to a potential red flag. While the causes aren't well understood, many women with gestational diabetes have at least one close family member with the disease or another form of diabetes. And her mom's blood sugar spike wasn't just a funny anecdote - it clued her doctors into the fact that her mom had likely experienced an abnormal reaction to sugar, a potential sign of the illness. To test diabetes in pregnant women, doctors often administer a glucose tolerance test in which the patient drinks a super sugary solution after fasting and then has their blood tested at regular intervals for several hours.

Trainor's first results were normal, but then she was diagnosed with the disease at 16 weeks. "You have to check your blood after every meal and in the morning, so four times a day you're pricking your finger and testing your blood and making sure your levels are right," she says. "You're relearning how to eat food and I've never had a great relationship with food, so that was a challenge."

While Trainor initially called it "a bump in the road," the constant monitoring and feedback had a significant impact on her emotional state. "On the days when you fail the test but you did everything right, you just feel like the biggest failure," she says. "[I felt] like, 'I'm a failure as a mom already and the baby's not even here.' It was very emotionally tough. I still think there's not enough [resources] out there to help women with gestational diabetes."

But the diagnosis was just the first challenge Trainor faced in delivering her son. As she told her Instagram followers in a January Instagram post, her baby was breech, meaning he was positioned head-up in the uterus, with his feet pointed toward the birth canal - an issue that occurs in about 3-4 percent of all pregnancies and makes vaginal births more difficult, if not impossible.

"At 34 weeks, he was in the [right] position, he was ready to go!" she says. "And then the week after, he flipped. He just loved being sideways. I was like, 'he's comfy here, so I'll readjust my brain to get ready for a C-section.'" (Related: Shawn Johnson Says Having a C-Section Made Her Feel Like She'd "Failed")

But what Trainor encountered during delivery - just a few days shy of her due date - was another unanticipated obstacle she felt wholly unprepared for. "When he finally came out, I remember we were looking at him like, 'wow he's stunning,' and I was in shock," she says. "We were all so happy and celebrating and then I was like, 'why isn't he crying? Where is that cry?' And it just never came."

The next few minutes were a whirlwind as Trainor - medicated and in a state of euphoria after seeing her son for the first time - tried to piece together the sequence of events from behind the surgical drapes. "They said, 'we're gonna take him up,' and my husband begged them to let me look at him," she says. "So they ran him over and [then] ran right out, so I had one second to look at him."

Riley was immediately rushed to the NICU where he was given a feeding tube. "They told me it was all about 'when he wanted to wake up,'" she says. "I was like, 'wake up?' It was definitely spooky. They told me this happens with C-section babies and I was like, 'why have I never heard of it? Why is this a common thing and no one's freaking out when, to me, he looks like he has tubes everywhere?' It was super frustrating and super hard." (Related: This Woman's Incredible Journey to Motherhood Is Nothing Short of Inspiring)

Heather Irobunda, M.D., a New York City-based obstetrician gynecologist and a member of Peloton's wellness advisory council says the singer's story is all too familiar. "It sounds like her baby may have had transient tachypnea of the newborn," she says, noting that she typically sees the condition several times a week in her own practice. TTN is a breathing disorder seen shortly after delivery that often lasts less than 48 hours. Research on term deliveries (babies delivered between 37 and 42 weeks), suggests that TTN happens in about 5-6 per 1,000 births. It's more likely to happen to babies delivered via C-section, born early (before 38 weeks), and born to a mother with diabetes or asthma, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

TTN is more likely in babies born via C-section because "when a baby is born through the vagina, the journey through the birth canal squeezes the baby's chest, which causes some of the fluid that would collect in the lungs to be squeezed out and come out of the baby's mouth," explains Dr. Irobunda. "However, during a C-section, there's no squeeze through the vagina, so the fluid can collect in the lungs." (Related: The Number of C-Section Births Has Drastically Increased)

"Usually, we get worried about the baby having this if, at birth, the baby seems to be working really hard to breathe," says Dr. Irobunda. "Also, we may notice that the baby's oxygen levels are lower than normal. If this happens, the baby has to stay in the NICU to get more oxygen."

Trainor says that after a few days, Riley finally began to improve - but she herself wasn't prepared to go home. "I was in so much pain," she says. "I was like, 'I won't survive at home, let me stay here.'"

After an extra recovery day in the hospital, Trainor and her husband, actor Daryl Sabara, brought Riley home. But the physical and emotional pain of the experience took a toll. "I found myself in a place of pain I've never been before," she says. "The hardest part was when [I came] home, that's when [the] pain hit. I'd walk around and be fine but then I'd lay down to go to bed and the pain would hit. I remembered the surgery and I would tell my husband while crying, 'I can still feel them doing the surgery.' Now the pain is connected to the memory so that was really hard to get over. [It took] like two weeks to let my brain forget about it." (Related: Ashley Tisdale Opened Up About Her "Not Normal" Postpartum Experiences)

The turning point for Trainor came when she got the stamp of approval to start working out again - a moment she says paved the way for the "glow up" she sings about in her new track, which is featured in the latest Verizon campaign.

"The day my doctor approved me to exercise - I was itching for it - I immediately started walking and started feeling myself come back to being a human being," she says. "I was like, I want to focus on my health, I want to get back to feeling my body again. When I was nine months pregnant, I could barely stand up from the couch, so I couldn't wait to start my journey to focus on me for my child." (Related: How Soon Can You Exercise After Giving Birth?)

Trainor began working with a nutritionist and trainer, and four months after giving birth, she says she's thriving - and so is Riley. "He's perfectly fine now," she says. "Totally healthy. Everyone's just hearing about this now and is like, 'what a traumatic thing,' and I'm like, 'oh we're shining now - that was four months ago.'"

Trainor says she's grateful for her family's health, but recognizes the good fortune she had in emerging from her rocky start to motherhood. She extends empathy to other pregnant women and fellow new moms, and offers some words of wisdom.

"Finding a good support system is key," she says. "I have the most amazing mom and the most amazing husband that are there every single day for me and my team. When you surround yourself with good people, good things happen to you. And be inspired by that baby that came out of you. You grew that thing. It's because of you they're alive right now - that's amazing. So take that and motivate yourself. I want my son to watch me accomplish everything so he knows he can do that, too."