I am the queen of baby weight. During my first pregnancy, I gained 50 pounds. I lost it all in about six months. During my second pregnancy, I packed on a whopping 70 pounds. That weight stuck around for at least nine months. And during my third pregnancy, I gained more than 90 pounds. I was fat-shamed by the anesthesiologist, and I actually was heavier than my husband, who’s one burly dude.
I immediately felt the intense pressure to lose the baby weight. I hated myself. I deeply, totally, and completely hated my body, even though it had just accomplished the miracle of growing a baby and then bringing it into the world. Then I compounded that miracle by feeding my own baby from my own body. Because I was exclusively breastfeeding, he never got a drop of formula.
I felt like I deserved a medal. I deserved a parade. Someone should have given me a tiara (side note: why don’t they dole them out post-delivery?!). But those achievements meant nothing to our society, which rewards women for immediately losing the baby weight and punishes women who don't. When I was pregnant, it was acceptable to gain weight, because I was growing a baby. But now, according to our diet-obsessed culture, I was just another fat mom.
I felt the pressure to lose the weight every day. I saw it in people’s faces, when they scanned their eyes from my still-bulging belly to my newborn baby. I heard it from the Target clerk when I came to pay for the clothes I needed to fit my new body. “Don’t worry, honey,” she said. “You’ll lose it. It just takes time.”
Next to her, a magazine showed a starlet who had just given birth. Her stomach was flat. She was toned and sleek and looked like she’d never seen the inside of a delivery room. THAT SHOULD BE YOU! the tabloid screamed at me. Other headlines shrieked at me about HOW I LOST THE BABY WEIGHT and THE BEST NEW DIETS and EXERCISES FOR WOMEN WITHOUT TIME TO EXERCISE! Honestly, I almost broke down.
“How’s the weight loss coming?” my dad asked over the phone. I hung up and cried.
For a while, I was terrified to see anyone. I refused to go out with non-mom friends. Even as the weight trickled off, slowly, slowly, I didn’t want anyone to see me post-baby. I wore T-shirts and cardigans and maternity jeans with my baby wrapped on my front so no one could see my stomach. I dressed to hide, to blend in with the furniture.
Still, people kept bringing it up. “How’s the weight loss coming?” my dad asked over the phone. I was speechless. I hung up and cried.
“I think you’re beautiful,” my husband told me. I told him to shut the f*ck up.
I thought about my weight constantly. I tried to wear meticulous makeup, to announce, “Look! I care about my appearance!” I’d internalized all that societal pressure to lose the baby weight as quickly as possible. I wanted to be Victoria Beckham or Princess Catherine, and I knew was expected to be. Because if my body was only good for being sexually attractive to men, what good was it if it didn’t adhere to our societal norms?
Eventually, I did lose the weight, although it took me an entire year. I only lost it because I had to go on a strict elimination diet to continue to breastfeed my baby. (Living on pears, chicken, and rice is miserable, but it will drop some pounds off you.) I was happy when I hit my pre-baby weight, because I could wear my old clothes again and have sex without feeling self-conscious. But when I think about how miserable it made me, I can't help but think: "I did it. I lost it. Just like society told me to."