I've always had love-hate relationship with my body, especially after childbirth. One one hand, pregnancy is amazing. On the other hand, it seriously changes your body and everyone, from the media and your friends to the voices in your head, is telling you that you should hate your body and work as hard as humanly possible to change it. Whether I like it or not, my partner's words matter when it comes to feeling good about my body. In fact, there are things every grown-ass man says to his postpartum partner that can make or break your ability to feel good about your body after childbirth.
It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that my body would never be the same after my first baby. Honestly, I think it was a long process because my husband, at the time, was constantly suggesting I work out or eat "healthy." These things may sound supportive in the right context, but all I heard was, "I don't like the way you look and you need to change." That was honestly the last message I needed. I was depressed, breastfeeding wasn't going well, and I was filled with self-doubt about my ability as a parent. I thought I would never feel good or like myself again. It sucked.
This time around has been so different. I know now that my body apparently sucks at growing humans. I had a pretty complicated pregnancy and traumatic birth. I was pretty pissed off at my body for "failing me" during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding, and was at my highest non-pregnant weight after delivery. However, despite all of those experiences and factors, I feel pretty good about my body. What's different? I now have a supportive, loving, accepting partner who says exactly the right thing (well, most of the time, anyway).
So, what can men (and partners of all genders) say to help make their postpartum partners feel like they are badass, strong, sexy, beautiful, and enough after growing and birthing humans? Read on for some ideas.
Growing and birthing tiny humans is about the most badass thing imaginable. It's not only OK to be amazed at what your partner just did with their amazing body, it is pretty much something all partners should acknowledge. When I was feeling weak and pathetic after birth, my husband telling me he was in awe of my body made me feel accomplished.
My first husband asked ridiculous questions like, "When will your body get back to normal?" and worse, said things like, "You've really let yourself go." (There's a reason he's my ex). In contrast, my current husband tells me how much he likes my body now, just the way it is. It makes me feel OK to be me in my postpartum haze and in this amazing body, and reminds me not view getting back into shape as an essential part of being sexy or "good."
Grown-ass men don't expect their partners to cover up, whether she's breastfeeding, at the beach, or wearing a crop top. When my husband tells me I don't have to cover my body, just because it doesn't look like it used to, it makes me feel awesome.
I love sex. Seriously. However, it's so much better when I feel sexy and desired. Grown-ass men tell their partners they are sexy. I can't speak for other people, but when my husband tells me I'm sexy, it actually makes me feel sexy and like having sex, which is awesome considering that I am dealing with sleep deprivation, self-doubt, postpartum depression, and body image issues, which can totally mess with my ability to enjoy sex.
Honestly, sometimes I wonder how my husband could possibly want to have sex with me now that my body has changed. I need to hear this every day.
Guys, please know that when it comes to compliments, specific is better. It let's us know you are sincere. It's easy to say, "You look good," but what does that even mean, really? When my husband gets specific and descriptive about how much he loves my boobs, butt, and legs, it makes so much more of an impact than general comments about my body.
When men ask their partners things like, "When can you start working out?" (seriously, my ex-husband asked me this question, you guys) they are implying that their partners need to get back "into shape" to be good or desirable. Not cool.
Instead, grown-ass men tell their postpartum partners to take all the time they need to recover from something as rigorous as labor and delivery. Every person needs to hear that when they are recovering from childbirth. Our culture is so freaking focused on people "getting their body back," or "losing the baby weight," that they forget that pregnancy and child birth is a huge ordeal and everyone deserves time to recover at their own pace and dependent on their own needs and abilities. Acknowledging that is huge.
Whether it's a pedicure, a massage, a trip to the store for some new clothes, a gift card for Sephora, or simply getting to take a bath by herself in peace, every postpartum mom appreciates pampering and acknowledgement that she deserves some TLC and an opportunity for self-care after growing a human. Honey, I hope you're taking notes.
When people ask someone who is recovering from childbirth how long it will take to "get their body back," or to fit in their pre-pregnancy jeans, they are sort of implying that their postpartum body is not their real body and, as a result, they should hate it. That's pretty messed up.
Whether I like it or not, this body is mine. It's freaking amazing. I deserve for my current body to be acknowledged, not just ignored in the hope it will change. Honestly, it will never look like it used to, and that's OK.
I want to hear that my partner wants to have sex with me, even though my body has changed. However, I also need to know that it's OK if I don't feel like having sex, too. It's important for me to know that I am "normal" even when I don't want sex. It also relays the message that my body is amazing (hell, it just grew and birthed a freaking human) even when I'm using it for things not related to sex or looking good for my partner.
After growing a human in my body, having pregnancy complications, and having a pretty traumatic childbirth experience, I had to figure out breastfeeding, take care of my postpartum body, and struggled due to an injury.
Whatever their own personal struggles and recovery needs, please acknowledge that what your partner is doing after childbirth is pretty badass, even if she's not back to her same level of activity or her body doesn't look the same.