It happened on a Tuesday morning. I stepped on the scale and it there it was, the number I’d been longing for—my pre-baby weight. Seven months had passed and finally all 50 (yes, 50…) pounds I’d gained via pregnancy were gone.
This moment I’d built up in my head, this goal achieved felt strangely anticlimactic.
Despite all my work to “bounce back,” deep down I knew the truth, and the truth is this: my body will never be the same again. Since giving birth the skin on my stomach is a little stretchier, my butt’s a little saggier, my laugh lines are a little deeper. My hair is perpetually shedding. My hands are starting to look like the way I remember my mother’s hands looked when I was a child, etched with extra lines and wrinkles.
My body will never be the same again.
As a new mama I’ve made peace with this fact, though it’s taken me some time. When I first got pregnant, I didn’t fully comprehend the physical and mental transformation I was about to undergo. There’s a lot that has been said about how becoming a mother changes your sense of identity, but I think that the natural, slow progression of women’s bodies postpartum is not talked about enough.
What the media tells us about mothers’ bodies
In the U.S., the media and our culture celebrate the beauty of the glowing, expectant mother. There is nothing inherently wrong about this.
Here’s the rub: The messages a mother hears change quickly after she has given birth. She is exhausted, hormonal and experiencing a seismic life transition and what does the media say a new mother should focus on?
Well, for starters, her baby, but also her “post-baby body.”
Yes, really. Women—especially celebrities—are expected to drop all the healthy weight they gained as part of pregnancy ever-so-quickly, practically the moment their baby’s out of the womb.
All women face this obstacle
We ordinary women feel the pressure, too. After I had my son, I felt unnecessarily anxious about dropping the extra padding I still carried, even though I knew holding onto this weight was completely natural. This certainly wasn’t in the forefront of my mind what with so much else to worry about, namely, figuring out how to care for my infant son, but it was still there, lurking in the background. As I recovered from my C-section and struggled to make sense of the trauma of Jack’s birth, I was troubled by the worry that my body would stay “big.”
I know I’m not alone in this.
Mamas, I wish we could give ourselves some grace about our postpartum bodies, but popular culture is working against us. Whether we believe them or not, we internalize messages we receive from the media we consume that promote the archaic lie that a woman’s worth is measured by how small she is. (Being pregnant is the one time this “rule” is suspended but even pregnant women have body image issues and wish their pregnant bodies looked a certain way. I’m working on a future post on this too–stay tuned.)
As media companies embrace more body-positive messaging, I see the tide turning, but overall we in the U.S. continue to be obsessed with judging women for their bodies. The thinner, the smaller, the better.
Health and fitness companies prey on postpartum women’s insecurities, encouraging new moms to buy their [protein shake/workout program/coaching service] NOW to get their pre-baby body back.
What the media and health/fitness industry fail to mention is that this set of expectations is not healthy or normal. This pressure to get back to normal (whatever that is) is harmful and quite frankly, offensive.
The early days and weeks post-birth are an incredibly tender and trying time physically and emotionally. Your body is healing and yet it’s also being tested with the demands of caring for an infant. That’s enough in and of itself. If you haven’t lived it, it might be hard to understand but trust me: that’s enough. Just live and let your body heal.
Yes, I know this is easier said than done. A wise friend once told me that it takes a woman’s body 40 weeks (give or take a few) to transform and bring life into the world, so she should allow herself that time or more to recover. This advice was a great comfort to me as I struggled with my postpartum body.
I titled this article “Making peace with my post-baby body” — how did I do that?
First, I managed my expectations from the start of my pregnancy. I knew from the mamas in my tribe and from books and articles that pregnancy and birth would change my body–for good. I also knew that breastfeeding would help me lose some weight naturally, over time.
It’s one thing to know this, but it’s another to live it.
Early on after I gave birth to my son I hit a weight loss plateau for a few weeks. The number on the scale wasn’t dropping the way I thought it should. During this time I worried I had some sort of thyroid issue, that my body would stay this way forever. I realized in my worrying I was being ridiculous and I had other, more important things to worry about (i.e., taking care of our son), but I still worried.
I kept breastfeeding, drinking water and eating healthy meals when I could.
At six weeks postpartum, I was cleared by my doctor to start working out again. I joined my local yoga studio and started going to classes here and there while my son was napping.
I remember the first time I got on my mat after having Jack. I barely recognized my body in the mirror. My body was lumpy and weak. I felt a bit like I didn’t belong.
But by the end of class, I felt transformed.
I felt calm, powerful and refreshed. My body remembered yoga and it craved more of it.
Going forward, whenever I could find a free hour away from baby, usually 2 to 3 times a week, I’d go to my studio. Practicing yoga made me feel more confident and grounded.
Early on one of my instructors began class by talking about intention on and off the mat. “What is your intention for this class, this season of life?” she asked.
In that moment I realized that my intention would need to be patience. I would need to trust that my body would heal the way it was meant to, slowly and over time. I needed to stop stressing that my body even defined me–what defined me was my character, my roles as a mother, wife, daughter, sister and child of God.
Buoyed by my intention of patience and the truth that our bodies do not determine our self-worth, I began my journey toward body peace and acceptance.
And wouldn’t you know, slowly the weight began to come off. However there are ways my body has changed that are permanent, and I know once I stop breastfeeding I’ll go through another whole set of changes. I have simply acknowledged these changes, then acknowledged that they have nothing to do with WHO I am as a person.
Maybe that’s why the number I recently reached on the scale isn’t so important anymore.
I’m making healthy choices, but I also have a healthier mindset towards my body. It was my journey over the last 6-7 months toward self-acceptance during which I cultivated a deep peace and comfort with change.
Now that’s something worth celebrating.
Have you ever felt insecure in your own skin? What helped you cope?