Romper

Turns Out, I'm Not OK With My Postpartum Body

When my first son was born, I made a rookie mistake: I brought my pre-pregnancy jeans to wear home from the hospital. I could hardly get them over my thighs, let alone button them, and I was devastated. I don’t know what I was thinking. I had gained 50 pounds while I was pregnant and the weight didn’t magically disappear when my son was born. And two sons after that baby, those pants still don’t come up over my thighs. I thought I’d be OK with a little more weight and some babies. But turns out, I’m not OK with my postpartum body.

Our culture tells us that we are supposed to glorify the postpartum body, but that right is reserved for women who's bodies look perfect after baby. Moms post half-naked after-baby pics, all jiggly tummy and preggie fat and stretch marks on display. These photos are lauded by the general public and go viral soon after. People comment how "real" and how "beautiful" they are. And those commenters are right: Those mothers are amazing. They are strong in their bodies, gorgeous in all their postpartum glory. As mothers, women who've given birth are supposed to embrace the extra pounds that come with having a baby, knowing we’ll probably never get back to our pre-baby weight. We call the stretch marks “tiger stripes” and “battle scars.” The 4th Trimester Bodies Project uses photography of women in black bras and underwear, with their children, to showcase “the uncensored beauty of motherhood.” A postpartum body, we’re told, is a fierce body. A glorious body. A beautiful body.

But that doesn’t help me when my jeans don’t fit.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

Frankly, I hate my postpartum body. Granted, I look back on pictures of myself before babies and think I could stand to gain a little more weight, especially in the face. But I love the look of my bare stomach, perfectly flat in a pair of size four jeans, pierced belly button high and narrow. Now — well, I was mistaken for pregnant the other day. (I'm not.) And even though part of that was the dress, my tummy is bigger than I want it to be. I like my postpartum breasts better than the DDs I had before, but I don’t like the invisible, ridged stretch marks that ring them. And speaking of stretch marks, I hate the ones that pock my inner thighs, spreading downward like a river delta, evident everywhere on my body as a map I did not ask for.

It’s a misery to hate the skin you’re in. You constantly feel oppressed by your own body because it doesn’t match the one you have in your head, the one you feel, no matter what, that you should have.

Books, TV, celebrities, magazines, friends, and articles on the internet say I should love my body for what it can do. It bore three babies and heartily breastfed them all, along with several other children. I suppose I appreciate that sentiment in a strictly utilitarian way, the way one appreciates a boxy car that runs well. It gets you from point A to point B, but it doesn’t have to be pretty. I’m grateful for my children and grateful for an easy breastfeeding experience with them, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy with the aesthetic result it's left on my body.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent
It’s not that I don’t try to feel beautiful. I wear nothing but dresses so I can feel glamorous. I spend a half-hour on makeup every morning so that, if nothing else, my face looks good. I’m careful to stand certain ways when my picture is taken. I never allow a profile. And when the pictures come back, I always think, Damn, I look fat right there.

It’s a misery to hate the skin you’re in. You constantly feel oppressed by your own body because it doesn’t match the one you have in your head, the one you feel, no matter what, that you should have. Trying on clothes becomes an exercise in failure. Every mirror is an enemy determined to exaggerate your flaws: the jiggly arms, the pooching stomach, the bloated face. Better not to look in them at all. Better to explain them away: a bad angle, bad lighting.

It’s not that I don’t try to feel beautiful. I wear nothing but dresses so I can feel glamorous. I spend a half-hour on makeup every morning so that, if nothing else, my face looks good. I’m careful to stand certain ways when my picture is taken. I never allow a profile. And when the pictures come back, I always think, Damn, I look fat right there.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

My family and friends say I look "fine." My husband tells me I’m beautiful, but that’s sort of his job. When I post pics on Facebook, my friends reply that I look great. I want to believe them. I try to believe them. But then I look down at my stomach and my heart sinks. I firmly believe every body is beautiful. It’s seldom I look at someone and find them unattractive, and when I do, it’s never because of their weight. I wish I could apply this logic to myself. I wish I liked the skin I’m in. But I’ve changed so much postpartum that my body doesn’t match the one I have. It’s that mismatch that makes me miserable.

I’m working on losing weight. Until then, I’ll wear dresses and makeup, try to look cute even though I feel I don’t have a right to that word. I hate my postpartum body. I know, objectively, that I probably look fine. But it doesn’t feel that way. Hopefully it will one day.