I wish I could tell you that I felt comfortable in every inch and curve and crevice of my body directly after I gave birth to my son. But that would be a lie. I vividly remember showering the day after his delivery. I was sore, and peeling the hospital underwear off my lower half while removing the blood-soaked pad that saved it from being stained was nothing short of painful. I carefully stepped into the shower, each movement meticulous and labored, and I remember looking down at my postpartum belly, sagging and still large and nothing like what I had envisioned (or hoped). I didn't exactly know how to be body positive after having a baby when my body felt nothing like my own at the time.
It took a long time for me to feel comfortable in my postpartum body. I chose (and was successful in) breastfeeding my son, and while that decision aided me in losing some weight somewhat quickly, it also helped my body keep some weight on. I didn't know that my body would hold onto fat so that it could produce the milk needed to feed and sustain my child, so all the healthy eating and exercise I was consciously making time for left me frustrated instead of a few pounds lighter.
It wasn't vanity or social pressure, and it wasn't at all because I felt the need to make my partner happy by physically changing the way I looked. I wanted to lose the baby weight because it was — plain and simple — something I could do for myself.
When I shared my goal of losing weight as soon as I had my son with friends and family members, some understood and others rolled their eyes. Both reactions are indicative of a culture that demands a certain, usually unattainable, standard of perceived beauty from women. It was usually men who responded with, "Of course you want to lose weight after you've had a baby. 'Baby weight' is meant to be lost." And it was, more often than not, other women with children who told me trying to lose weight only made me a cog in the machine when it came to society's unrealistic expectations for what women should look like. But honestly, I wanted to lose weight because I wanted to feel like myself again.
I didn't recognize my pregnant body or my postpartum body, and feeling detached from who I was arguably one of the hardest parts of pregnancy for me. I didn't want to feel like a stranger to myself anymore and losing weight was one way I knew to take charge of a form I'd been powerless to control (thanks to a kicking, hiccuping fetus) for 40-plus weeks. It wasn't vanity or social pressure, and it wasn't at all because I felt the need to make my partner happy by physically changing the way I looked. I wanted to lose the baby weight because it was — plain and simple — something I could do for myself.
In fact, making the choice to actively lose weight did not mean I was negative about my body or that I hated it. It meant the opposite. Giving birth gave me an entirely new appreciation for everything my body is and everything it can do. It shouldn’t have required hours of labor and a painful birth to reveal that, but it did, and I appreciate my body more now that I'm acutely aware of all the marvelous things it can accomplish. I may not have felt comfortable in my body at specific moments or at certain weights, but I didn't stop loving it. I reserved the right to want to lose a few pounds and to fit into my old jeans while still loving my body, even (and especially) when those jeans didn't fit and the weight didn't miraculously fall off. For me, losing the weight I gained because of a difficult twin pregnancy didn’t mean that I hated myself or the body I was trying to sculpt and define.
So early in my post-baby weight loss journey, I thought that being mean to myself was a great way to stay motivated and committed. I was so wrong.
Doing so meant loving my body, and giving myself permission to feel as comfortable as I possibly could because hey, I deserved to. It meant eating the burgers I wanted and ice cream when I craved it because my body (and my mind) deserved to indulge and enjoy. Wanting to lose weight while being simultaneously proud of my body meant I could both reward its efforts and challenge it to be healthier and stronger.
I can’t say I didn’t falter. Like everything else in my life, losing a certain amount of weight my body had never carried before — in a healthy, body-positive way — was a learning process. When I started exercising and eating a healthier, more well-rounded diet, I made the decision to tape Post-it notes to my bathroom mirror, and they were extremely unkind. I wrote one that said, “You’re fat,” and another that said, “Lose the weight NOW,” and yet one more that just had one word on it: “Disgusting." As I stared at the pink, yellow, and orange notes, I realized what I was doing. I took them down less than a day later.
I'd become so accustomed to believing that I needed to hate myself in order to hit a specific number on a scale or become a certain size. I started to attribute working out and losing weight as signs that I was unhappy with my body. In doing so, I felt worthy of shame and judgment. So early in my post-baby weight loss journey, I thought that being mean to myself was a great way to stay motivated and committed. I was so wrong.
It was never about about the size of my pants or whether or not my shirt was too tight. It was, instead, about being in control of my body for the first time after an incredible journey that only pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum could provide.
I couldn't (and I still can’t) hate the body that brought my son into the world. I couldn't hate the body that survived a painful, emotionally-wrenching and difficult twin pregnancy, that resulted in one of my babies dying and the other living. That body grew and birthed and sustained and nurtured a living, breathing part of my partner and I. So to tell my body that it was disgusting and gross and unattractive would've been an attack on my son — and on the very life my body worked so tirelessly to create.
But most importantly, I couldn't hate the body that I finally felt I knew. Even when I felt uncomfortable — thanks to a few extra pounds and gigantic, milk-producing breasts — I felt in sync with my body for the first time in, honestly, ever. And despite feeling that way, I could still nitpick my body into oblivion if I felt so inclined. I still have a little bit of a "pouch" on my belly, and my breasts have sagged since giving birth and ending breastfeeding. I know the lengths I can push my body, and the depths I can stretch it.
Losing the weight was never about the number on the scale. It was about how I felt, in mind and body, after I had given birth. For me, it was never about about the size of my pants or whether or not my shirt was too tight. It was, instead, about being in control of my body for the first time after an incredible journey that only pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum could provide. When I became a mom I was able to unapologetically enjoy a body that finally felt completely and wholly mine for the first time. And that's been one of the most important lessons of all.