I’m not ashamed of my postpartum body, but I generally don’t go around letting it all hang out. I recently gave birth to my third son, and after delivering him, I've realized that I mostly hide my body to conceal my belly. I don’t feel totally comfortable in the way my body looks yet, and much of my wardrobe is in need of serious revamping to fit my new shape. What’s even harder, though, is my suspicion that I’m hiding my body because I’m afraid. Like any new mother will tell you, I'm afraid what people will say if my body doesn't look a certain way. I'm afraid people will wonder why I can't "get my pre-baby body back," or if I'm even trying. I know the fantastical societal standard of a perfectly flat stomach isn't something I am pushing myself to obtain, but it has made me wonder: If my post-baby body doesn't look exactly as it did before, am I doing something wrong?
I’ve put myself out there before, and I know what an unkind place the world can be when you show off or simply operate in a body that doesn’t fit society’s expectations for women. My past experience made me wonder if I was covering up to ease my own insecurities or to save other people the uncomfortable sight of my postpartum body.
I know there is also amazing liberation to be had when you decide to love yourself as is. So I resolved not to hide myself for a whole week. I wanted to see how people would react, and to discover how comfortable (or uncomfortable) I truly was with my postpartum body. I made a concerted effort not to hide or cover up the way my body looks naturally, keeping track of the ways in which people reacted to me when I put myself fully out there, and also thinking of how I felt about myself.
This is what happened.
The first day I went for a run around dusk in nothing but a sports bra and running shorts. I’ve been to the beach in a bikini postpartum, but this was somehow way scarier. It’s one thing to be on a beach surrounded by lots of people in bikinis, where you can easily get lost in the crowd. It’s quite another to be running solo around your neighborhood with your belly hanging out.
There were a few people out gardening or kids playing basketball, but no one really seemed to notice me. It actually felt really good to go running with so little on once I got past the initial insecurity of running with my stomach exposed.
It was way cooler, and it encouraged me to focus on engaging my core while I ran. Moving in a way that felt natural made me aware of the power of my body, and doing something just for me meant that I didn't have time to focus on how other people felt about me. I only had room to think about how I felt, and I felt powerful.
The next day I had my reunion for my midwife centering group, and instead of choosing a nice slimming option, I went with my long maxi dress, which doesn’t do wonders for hiding my postpartum stomach. I knew the other women in my group were all new moms too, albeit first-time moms whose bodies tend to recover much more quickly. There was no need for Spanx here.
We all talked very openly and candidly about our bodies and how we were healing. I felt totally comfortable with my postpartum body as we all talked about our birth stories and were reminded of the miraculous thing our bodies had just done. When I was able to think about my body as the amazing machine I know it is, I didn't worry about sucking in or if my stomach was hanging out. It didn't hurt that the women I was surrounded by didn't care either, but it was nice to be immersed in such positivity with women who craved and encouraged the same.
On the third day, I chose one of my go-to pregnancy staples to wear as I dropped my son off at preschool. The stretchy non-maternity dress from H&M was one of the first things I bought when I was pregnant and wanted to show off my growing bump. It does a great job showcasing my postpartum bump as well.
Of course no one at the school noticed or cared. Among moms, a little pooch is nothing to stare at, especially if you have a baby in tow. I didn’t love the way I looked: it was strange to sport a baby bump with no baby inside. I felt relieved that I was out of the public eye most of the day except for school drop-off and pick-up. And good Lord, that dress is comfy.
On the fourth day, I decided to go for another run, this time in full daylight. I expected another uneventful run where I blended into the background of daily activity, but that was not the case. A surprisingly enthusiastic man waiting at the bus stop decided I was deserving of a hearty “Good for you!” I don’t know if he meant good for me because I was so out of shape, or because it was clear I had recently given birth, or if he just greets all runners with excessive enthusiasm and encouragement.
It was strangely wonderful to get such a salutation from a complete stranger, and it gave me a little extra oomph as I finished off the last quarter mile of my run.
On the fifth day I wore another one of my comfortable and revealing H&M jersey dresses. I had to go to the mall to pick up a present for one of my friends and decided to pop over to The Body Shop while I was there. I asked the girl working if they had any of the Buriti Baby Shampoo, which I used to use when my oldest was born. She didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.
She went on to say:
We do have this type of body butter that supposed to be great for preventing stretch marks.
And she totally had mistaken me for being newly pregnant. I was this close to lifting my dress in public and saying, “It’s a little late for that, darling.”
I couldn’t blame her because of course, I did look pregnant. I was a little shocked, however, that she would actually say something. Someone needs to sit her down and have a talk about how not all bulging bellies mean babies (like you sometimes have to do with toddlers). Damn youths...
On the sixth day, I wore one of my favorite old tanks and a pair of non-maternity jeans. Neither fit very well, and my stomach felt like it was spilling over the sides. I felt super uncomfortable all day. Even though no one seemed to notice, I noticed it and it made me feel totally insecure. It wasn’t simply that the clothes revealed too much of my postpartum jiggly bits (which they did), but also that they were ill-fitting and looked bad.
These clothes don't totally fit me right now. Maybe they won't ever fit me in the ways they once did, and part of the reason I felt so uncomfortable was because I was trying to fit into things that didn't fit me.
On the final day of my postpartum experiment, I went for another run. I was starting to love running without a shirt. I stayed cool, I was more aware of my form, there was no chafing — it was heavenly. I happened to get a lot of stares on this run, however, since I ran past a church while people were filing in or out of the parking lot. I felt like the staring had more to do with my obvious immodesty than my postpartum belly, so I let it slide and ran by quickly.
What I Learned
I don’t know what I expected when I put my postpartum belly “out there” for all to see. Did I think people would recoil in horror? Congratulate my bravery? The only person who really truly cared about my postpartum belly being over-exposed was me (and possibly that guy at the bus stop), and mostly because my belly-baring looks were, in my opinion, unflattering.
Even though it was scary at first, as the week progressed I became much more comfortable and well acquainted with my postpartum body. I didn’t expect it to change the way I felt about myself, but I definitely felt a shift toward accepting my body as it goes through changes. And I am totally running shirtless for the rest of my live-long days. What an amazing, freeing feeling.
Images Courtesy of Gemma Hartley (8)