If there was ever a time to be self-congratulatory, it’s after you've birthed a baby. Is there anything more amazing than accomplishing that feat of physical prowess? To me, no. And still, I couldn’t beat myself up more after becoming a mom. All of a sudden there were so many new things to fail at. The most obvious one was staring back at me from the mirror every day. Who was this still-pregnant-looking version of myself, holding that baby? I was not prepared for my own image. Disparaging thoughts about my postpartum body occupied too much space in my new mom brain. I wasn’t prepared to be so unprepared when it came to the emotional roller coaster that many women, myself included, ride throughout the postpartum period.
When you’re pregnant, you don’t think there is anything you need to be concerned with other than the baby (once it comes). It never occurred to me that there were so many other things I needed to (and should have) prepared myself to deal with. For example, it’s quite shocking to go from being pregnant to non-pregnant in a matter of a day. I had trouble adjusting to the change, and most of it had to do with looking like I was still pregnant — a look that lasted for several weeks. Why didn't I know about this?
Having dealt with negative body image issues my entire life, it was a significant challenge to live in a body that fell short of my postpartum expectations. Wasn’t I supposed to be shedding pounds from breastfeeding? And once I eventually lost the baby weight, shouldn’t all my clothes fit me again? The fights I had with my postpartum body were, in hindsight, truly absurd. I was relying too much on my own warped idea of what was “right,” in terms of my appearance, and letting that dictate my feelings about motherhood. I wasn’t being fair to myself, or to my body, which had done an incredibly job gestating and birthing a healthy child.
It took me until after I had my second baby to make peace with my postpartum self. I still have negative thoughts about my body and set unrealistic goals for how much space it should take up in the world, but every day I work to lower the volume on those negative voices that reside in my head. It’s a process, but I’ve come a long way from having the following ridiculous fights with my postpartum body:
Attack Of The Scale
Old habits of weighing myself die hard. While I’m proud that I no longer feel compelled to step on the scale three times a day (once upon waking and emptying my bladder, once after the gym, and once before bed), my weight was always on my mind. It was tracked throughout my pregnancy by my OB, and then postpartum, by me, since it was the only time in my life when I could watch the number go down consistently over the course of a month after giving birth.
But the numbers never satisfied. I was stuck in an old mentality of dropping to an “ideal” weight. When the weight loss plateaued about three months postpartum, I grew frustrated at the number that continuously stared back at me when I stepped on the scale. I started to treat that damn number like it was everything. Like the healthy, content baby I had brought into the world, who was now thriving, wasn’t enough. I couldn’t measure my happiness on a scale anymore.
Bra Versus Engorged Boobs
Bra shopping is the worst, and it’s especially un-fun when you’re shopping to accommodate size fluctuations during and after pregnancy, because you have no idea how big these girls are going to get.
Bra Versus Deflated Boobs
Just when you can’t believe you’re a Double-D cup, at the height of your breastfeeding game, you drop down three cup sizes seemingly overnight.
You’ve spent your whole lingerie budget on nursing bras, which you’re now floating in. I lived in sports bras for a year at that point.
Hair Loss Tussle
With great pregnancy hair, comes great postpartum hair loss. In the months following my children’s birth I cursed the bathroom floor every time I combed my hair. It wasn’t so much the actual loss of my hair that soured my mood, but the thought of having to vacuum.
The Great Bathing Suit Debate
"Is going up four sizes enough? Is this skirt too matronly? Can I nurse in this thing? Will this material irritate the baby if he falls asleep on me? When am I even going to get in the pool with a newborn?"
I was so happy my second kid was a summer baby, because being on maternity leave with my first child during the winter was isolating. However, it meant squeezing my barely-not-pregnant-anymore body into swimwear when I was at my most self-conscious. Best. Summer. Ever. Not.
Can someone just design some pants that are waistband-free? Sure we’ve got leggings and yoga pants and elastic waistbands, but those options don’t exactly make me feel like I’m winning.
For those of us in the fourth trimester, we could really use some cute clothes that don’t remind us we may still look, and feel, pregnant.
Mirrors Are The Enemy
If I don’t have to look at myself, I don’t have to face, literally, any disappointment in my appearance.
I know this is my hang-up. It’s just that I saw that magazine about how a Kardashian lost a million pounds of baby weight in the first six minutes after giving birth, and I’m feeling just a teensy bit like an underachiever.
No Wait, Jeans Are The Enemy
No one can deal with jeans postpartum. It is emotionally impossible. Whether you keep trying on your pre-pregnancy jeans, or shop for new ones to fit your current shape, you will not be able to handle the drama that comes with putting on jeans for the first year after giving birth.
For now, refer to them as my mother does: dungarees. Maybe you won’t be itching to wear any for a while.
Oh Muscles, Where Art Thou?
I know my mushy "Mom Bod" was perfect for cuddling newborns. However, as a recovering over-exerciser, it still pained me to lose sight and feel
of any muscle definition under my squishy pregnancy armor. And yet, with all the hoisting of car seats and a baby who nursed like a champ, I was probably in better shape as a mom than I was in my pre-pregnancy days (if you don’t count the severe sleep deprivation).
Death By Clothes Shopping
Fine. I’ve accepted that I am just differently shaped now. It’s not a matter of better or worse. It’s just different. While this is a great excuse to buy some new clothes, I’ll dearly miss the ones in my closet that just don’t flatter me anymore. For the postpartum woman who is trying not to let the ghosts of body image issues past haunt her, barricading herself in a dressing room with a bunch of full-priced garments, under the ghastly lighting, is not a step towards self-acceptance.
When I needed new clothes for my "Mom Bod," I just had to dive into those racks, grab what looked good, which made me feel good, and stop fixating on numbers that didn’t come close to measuring my worth as person.