I stood on the scale, holding my breath as I wanted for the number below me to stop flashing and stabilize. Since the birth of my twins two years ago, I'd been trying to get back down to my pre-baby weight, convinced that doing so would make me a happier person and a better mother. For months I sweated and counted calories and obsessed over three numbers staring back at me, convinced that all those times I said no to bacon while weeping with desire was about to pay off. Or was it?
When I found out I was pregnant with twins, I knew I was going to gain weight during my pregnancy, and I was at peace with that fact. I was a healthy, active person before I became a parent, and I planned to remain that way during my pregnancy while nourishing my babies as best I could. I assumed after the birth I'd grab a double jogging stroller and be back to my old self; back in my old pants in no time at all.
But my pregnancy was not smooth sailing, and I spent the last two months on strict bed rest before having a premature delivery via emergency c-section. Add to that the fact that I suffered a serious muscle pull in my back during labor, two underweight babies that required bottles every two hours, and very little sleep, and it's easy to see why the weight I gained during my pregnancy decided to stick around long after my kids smashed into their first birthday cakes.
In order to be seen as a "good" mom, I needed to do more than take care of my children; I had to look the part as well.
Instead of being proud of the fact that I was keeping two tiny babies alive and well, I let the fact that I still hadn't gotten back to my pre-baby weight make me feel like I was failing as a mother.
Writing for parenting websites, I often come across interviews with celebrities who've recently had kids, and those interviews always, without fail, included mention of how quickly these new moms "bounced back" after pregnancy. I would see these slender moms with their newborn babies and pristine nurseries and think they looked so happy and confident in their new role. I was sure that if I could lose the baby weight, I too would be transformed into a mom with a spotless house. I thought losing the baby weight was the answer to magically knowing how to handle any parenting obstacle instead of consulting Google for advice and winging it. It felt like in order to be seen as a "good" mom, I needed to do more than take care of my children; I had to look the part as well.
I knew it wasn't really fair to compare myself to anyone else, let alone someone who had the means for a nanny, personal trainer, and private chef, but I couldn't resist. No matter how well my kids were growing or how happy I was in my role as a new mom, seeing the scale reflect a number I wasn't used each morning weighed on me. If my kids were fussy or didn't nap well, I had the irrational thought that if only I could get back into my pre-baby jeans, my infants would transform into angel babies who slept soundly and ate on command and created magical diapers that never smelled or ruined a onesie.
For months I was a woman on a mission, and the goal of saying "I lost the baby weight" made me lose sight of all the other healthy milestones I had achieved. It didn't matter to me that I slowly regained my core strength and that I was able to hold a plank longer than I ever had before. I took up running in a effort to shed the pounds faster, and although my anxiety benefited greatly from my new hobby and I was in better cardiovascular shape than I've ever been in my entire life, I didn't care. The readout on the scale was how I determined my self-worth, and if that number wasn't going down, I got down on myself instead.
On that fateful morning when I finally stepped on the scale and saw I was back at my pre-baby-weight, nothing happened.
I sweated and counted calories and sweat some more, denying myself all of my favorite treats, even Twizzler pull-and-peels, the world's most superior candy. I stopped eating carbs, not because I wanted to, but because I felt it was the only way to achieve my goal of getting my post-baby body back.
Having such a restricted diet made me pretty miserable to be around. I was resentful watching my partner or friends enjoy bread and pasta, and the fact that my baby boys kept trying to feed me their crackers makes me think even they realized I wasn't happy.
I thought I would achieve nirvana once the weight was gone, that I'd at long last be the total package, the Perfect Mom. Yet on that fateful morning when I finally stepped on the scale and saw I was back at my pre-baby-weight, nothing happened.
I looked down and saw the number I'd been working towards for months. I glanced around at the empty bathroom and down at the scale again, waiting for something — anything — to feel different, be different. My scale didn't vibrate with joy or go all Transformers on me and spring up to give me a pat on the back. No one burst out of my shower with a congratulatory bouquet of roses, sparkly tiara, or a gift certificate to the spa. A text bar didn't appear on the bottom of my mirror declaring: "Achievement Unlocked: Pre-baby Weight."
Even I wasn't overjoyed by reaching my goal. Instead of feeling accomplished and proud, all I felt a strong craving for my morning cup of coffee. I was relieved to be done with the struggle of the scale, but I didn't know why I wasn't as excited as I thought I'd be.
Despite thinking that losing the baby weight would somehow change my life, everything stayed exactly the same. When I ventured outside with my new "pre-baby body," other moms didn't approach me on the playground to join a secret society of women who'd also lost the baby weight. No one called me a "hot mama" from a passing car. Checkout clerks and bank tellers continued to look right past me in order to coo over the twins. My sons continued to be that perfect toddler blend of adorable and frustrating.
My partner loves me the same regardless of how I look, so losing the baby weight didn't suddenly turn our marriage into a steamy romance novel. Sure, he was supportive and complimentary of my new shape, but we have toddlers. Our kids think that sleeping past 6 a.m. is "sleeping in" so if given the choice between "Netflix and chill" or "Netflix for half an episode of Orphan Black and then pass out," we're picking the latter almost every time. As it turns out, my body is capable of drooling in my sleep at any weight.
Because I live for comfort and have a closet full of stretchy yoga pants and baggy long-sleeved shirts that always fit me, I can't even say reaching my pre-baby weight made me feel better in my clothes. The only thing that changed was my bra size, and since bra shopping is one of my least favorite things to do next to getting my teeth cleaned, going bra shopping was more of a punishment for losing weight, not a reward.
After a few weeks of monitoring the scale each morning to see if I was maintaining my new persona as a pre-baby-body momma, I finally realized why I felt so ambivalent about reaching a goal that has seemed so important. Now that I had found my way back to being healthy and active, I didn't actually want my pre-baby body back.
My pre-baby body was lovely, but it belongs to a woman who never held two tiny babies in her arms at once. My pre-baby body was never snuggled and hugged and covered in bodily fluids; it never experienced the all-consuming type of love you feel for someone who calls you "mommy." That number, that person, existed another lifetime ago. Now it feels like a fond memory I like to reflect upon sometimes, but not someone I want to be today.
I loved my pre-baby body, but I don't want it back anymore.
Images Courtesy of Megan Zander (4)