It took me a long time to love my postpartum body, and to realize that growing humans is about the most badass thing imaginable and that my body is amazing, even if it will never look the same. Of course, our culture doesn't make it easy when we are bombarded by unrealistic images and messages in the media. Hell, in mom's groups you can be bombarded by advertisers promising you "toned abs" and "quick fixes" for the low, low price of $99.99. As a culture, we rarely talk about what your postpartum stomach really looks like, which makes that initial post-baby meeting with the mirror all the more shocking.
Instead of realistic expectations and the constant encouragement to love a body that did something truly incredible, there are two main messages moms hear about their postpartum bodies:
1. Do everything you can to "get your body back," even when that might be unrealistic or impossible or unhealthy. After all, how you look is the most important thing about being a mother.
2. Love your stripes and pouch. You earned them, even when that message invalidates real emotions you might have after a lifetime of being told what women should look like.
These messages hurt women when they are vulnerable and need support, and set unrealistic expectations that most women can't live up to. As moms, we are already expected to do it all. Now, we are expected to have six pack abs in the process or, if we can't, we should just love ourselves and forfeit the right to have any negative (read: normal) feelings. That's the patriarchy talking, and I advise you to ignore him. He's a lying jerk.
Instead of feeling ashamed, beating yourself up or killing yourself in the gym to achieve the impossible, I recommend radical self-acceptance. For me, that involves laughter and having some fun while loving my least favorite body part. It also means getting real and talking about what your postpartum pouch will really look like. No filters, cropping, or bullsh*t messages about "no excuses* or working out, involved. Just love (and some laughs, because motherhood should, if nothing else, be enjoyable.)
A Pregnant Belly
No one told me before I delivered my first baby that I would still look pregnant after that kiddo finally arrived (and for a few days or weeks). This especially sucked when trying to button jeans to go home from the hospital and when people asked me when I was due weeks later. I love Kate Middleton for not being shy about keeping things real regarding her pregnancy problems and postpartum body. She's a classy princess.
My advice for soon-to-be moms? Bring yoga pants to the hospital. I like the kind with a soft waist-band that folds over.
After a few days of uterine contractions and bleeding from my vagina (youch), my belly finally started to deflate a bit, losing its firmness, and resemble a puffy soufflé that, for me, hadn't seen the light of day in months. Not yummy.
A Plate Of Mashed Potatoes
A few weeks later, there were more lumps and bumps, resembling a plate of mashed (not whipped) potatoes on the Thanksgiving table. (Sorry for the visual but, well, it is what it is, my friends.)
A Smiley Face
There's the little line right below my panty line that looks like a smiley face. I'm so not smiling about that, but I don't really need to. It smiles for me.
A Decorative Gourd
It's decorative gourd season. A few weeks postpartum, I could have just taken off my shirt to decorate for Thanksgiving.
I've always had an "innie," but a few weeks after birth, my belly-button pretty much made my tummy look like a sideways butt.
A Naked Mole Rat
Most of my mom friends encouraged me to view my stretch marks as "tiger stripes," earned through the hard work of growing babies. I thought they actually made my postpartum tummy look more like a naked mole rat or a scrotum (same thing).
A Deflated Balloon
There's the tiny pouch that seems to never go away, no matter now many planks or crunches I do or how much weight I lose. Thanks, diastasis recti.
My favorite version of my postpartum belly is a soft pillow on which my kids like to rest their heads while either sleeping or listening to stories. I cringe/smile when my son says, "Mama, your belly is so soft and cozy." The honesty of children, right?
A Bikini Body
That's right, I may never have a six pack again, and I may always have a few stripes, wrinkles, scars, and lumps, but my postpartum belly looks awesome. I rock a bikini (after all, every body is a bikini body).
Some days it's a pillow, and on other days it helps me power through a marathon. This is me running in a sports bra with zero f*cks left to give. It's not perfect, but it's all mine.