Photo courtesy of Tiffany Burke

My Body After Someone Else's Baby

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I have given birth to five babies. Three of my own, and two surrogate babies (twins). I was the first one of my friends to get pregnant and have a baby. Back then, I was single and 23 years young and knew nothing about the female body or what happens to it during and after pregnancy. I actually tried to pack my pre-pregnancy jeans in my hospital bag to put on after giving birth. I still shake my head and laugh at the thought of it. And yes, I was in for a rude awakening when I gave birth and went to the bathroom for the first time, only to look in the mirror and see I still looked seven months pregnant. The feeling of gloom came over me and I thought: This is what my stomach will look like forever. FOR-EV-ER. Surely if it hadn't gone down once the baby was out, it would never go down. That was the beginning of my journey with my postpartum body.

At 23 years old and with lucky genetics, I "bounced back" after six weeks. Back then, in the olden days, we had MySpace. Had I been on Facebook, I would have been that friend in your newsfeed posting photos of myself and talking about how quickly I got back into my pre-pregnancy jeans. I'm cringing at the thought of my former self.

Burke 23 years old and six weeks postpartum with her first baby. Photo courtesy of Tiffany Burke.

When I had my second baby, I was 27 years old and knew the drill at this point. Good genes, exclusively breastfeeding, a grace period for the few weeks you still look pregnant, we got this in the bag, I thought. Nope. It took much longer this time and I was meaner to my body. I was 30 pounds heavier when I got pregnant this time, and a little older, and for some reason, mean to myself after giving birth. I had to work really, really hard to lose the "baby weight" this time. I was not as confident, I was ashamed, I was mad at my body for betraying me and not going back to its former self. I was ungrateful. I was never thankful to my body at that time for all the work it did. All I focused on was what it wasn't doing, and it wasn't looking like the actresses on TV who bounced back right away. I was bitter and unaccepting of my changed body.

At this point, my friends started having babies, too. What's strange is I never gave their postpartum bodies a second glance. I never judged them or looked harshly on them. I celebrated when they breastfed and celebrated when they bottle-fed. I encouraged them when they co-slept and encouraged them when they didn't. I was overjoyed that they had healthy pregnancies and babies to love on. Their body shape, body size, and body change didn't affect me or matter to me. They were beautiful. I didn't go home after a visit with them and ever think about their body. So why in the world did I think so many people cared about my body shape?

Burke 34 weeks pregnant with twins as a surrogate. Photo courtesy of Brea Bursch Photographer

By the time I became a surrogate, I was 30 years old and at a healthy weight — after working so, so hard to get there. I was excited to carry a baby for my brother and his wife, but selfishly, not excited for the postpartum body and all the hard work I would have to do again. I wanted to be done with that part. Couldn't they just lipo me moments after the birth?

Those were real thoughts y'all. No hiding it, I wanted that and spoke of it often. Something I didn't anticipate was the weight gain from all the medication you take to get pregnant for IVF in cases of surrogacy. I gain weight very quickly with any hormones (am I just eating ALL the food? Most likely). I gained 30 pounds in a few months and felt out of place in my own body. We transferred two embryos in hopes that one would take, and neither one did. Our hearts were broken and we tried again.

I felt weird being in public a few days postpartum with no babies to explain my expanded abdomen and larger body.

We transferred another two embryos hoping one would take, and lo and behold both took. It was twins! The pregnancy was incredibly hard on my body — I had morning (all day) sickness until the day the twins were born. I missed so much of my life and the lives of my children. I worked and came home and puked and was sick and miserable and often in bed. It was all worth it, of course, but when you miss so much of your life, it gives you a new perspective. After the babies were born, I let my body just be. I wasn't nursing and was focused on my two children at home, with a new appreciation that what my body looked like in this window of time didn't matter as much as what my relationships with my children looked like.

Burke 9 months pregnant with the fifth child she carried. Photo courtesy of Tiffany Burke.

As a seasoned pregnant woman at this point, I knew the postpartum body was fleeting. However, even knowing this, and making strides to not care as much, I still struggled at times. I felt weird being in public a few days postpartum with no babies to explain my expanded abdomen and larger body. I wanted to blurt out to strangers "I JUST HAD TWINS." Which was a really weird thing to even want to do. Why? Why did that Trader Joe's checker need to know why my body looked like this? Why did I care what the Trader Joe's checker thought of my changed body? Is that really what matters in the big picture of the world? It did at the time.

One hour after giving birth to her third baby, and fifth delivery. Photo courtesy of Tiffany Burke.

Oh, the things you wish you could change. For me, it would be the time wasted thinking about what other people "might" be thinking about my body. I did not owe anyone an explanation about why my body looks one way or doesn't. My sister in law, Natalie, loved my postpartum body and spoke to my body the words it deserved, "You're beautiful; your body did an amazing job." Natalie, who wanted so desperately to carry these babies on her own, was kind to my body, she was humble, she was understanding. I was thoughtless at times. I was frustrated at my body for doing something amazing, and I didn't allow my body grace or time to shift and change. I demanded perfection after it accomplished the greatest gift of all time.

Giving birth is a gift denied to many women. For every stretch mark and extra pound that we complain about, there is another woman who would do anything for the same mark if it meant holding and raising her baby. My fifth, and final baby (for reals!) was born just one year ago. I exclusively breastfed and guess what, not only did the weight NOT fall off, I actually gained 40-some pounds after giving birth. I was just about 80 pounds overweight at this point. But something was different this time.

Snuggling with her newest baby. Photo courtesy of Tiffany Burke.

Something had finally changed in my acceptance. I stopped worrying about my body and just enjoyed every second with this precious baby girl. My body was in a season. Seasons come and they go and we can make the season worse, or we can accept it and navigate through it. I accepted this new season and embraced the time I was gifted with my baby while she was still little.

The time we have to enjoy our babies with a positive mindset is so short it's almost cruel.

Our bodies, our temporary shells, ebb and flow through the seasons of our lives, from the seasons of junior high, when we're questioning everything about our bodies, to the season of no time for self-care as we struggle to make ends meet. The season of IVF injections for so many years, weight gain from pregnancies of angel babies lost, and bodies not willing to let go just yet. The season of a divorce, or depression, an eating disorder, an addiction, the death of a loved one, a toxic relationship. So much affects our wonderful shells. We must give grace, find ways to self-love as often as we can through whatever season we may be facing.

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Burke.

Keep in mind that doesn't mean we can't struggle with loving ourselves or be frustrated or shocked by our different bodies. That's allowed! That's all normal! But it's also about perspective and appreciation for what really, truly matters. Loving your postpartum body doesn't have to be instant or all of the time. It's often like a marriage or any relationship we have. It can frustrate us, and challenge us, but ultimately, it deserves the best love and care if it is to flourish. Postpartum bodies are temporary. The time we have to enjoy our babies with a positive mindset is so short it's almost cruel. Nourish your body the best you can with healthy foods, healthy routines, and treats, too! Balance. But in the end, nourish it most with positive thinking and love and gratefulness.

The next time you see your changed body and you want to be angry with it, remind yourself that your body gave you something so precious and what your body really deserves is kindness and love in return. Talk to your body like a dear friend. After all, she is a dear friend to you. And she deserves someone to be nice to her, especially after working so hard to make and grow a precious baby. You're lucky to have her.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.