I am one month postpartum. (Already! Time flies!) Any woman who has ever had a baby knows the frustration of this stage.
You may feel much more like your normal self at this point, but for some reason whenever you try to put on your “normal people jeans,” as I call them (a.k.a. non-maternity pants), they don’t zip. In fact, they don’t even come up over the hips. You jump, wiggle, squirm, lay on the bed, and no luck.
You try on a normal people shirt, only to find that it feels too short. Your belly still sticks out more than you’d like it to, leaving your garment uncomfortably tight. You notice your muffin top. Then you notice that the shirt doesn’t even cover the top band of the maternity pants you still have to wear.
Now, let’s clear something up right away. If you know me, you would call me thin, and you might even be laughing at me right now for writing this post. But I’m going to write a true fact here. Are you ready?
SKINNY PEOPLE CAN STILL STRUGGLE WITH BODY IMAGE.
I am one who does struggle with the changes in my body that come with childbearing, the lack of a flattering wardrobe, and an inability to maintain confidence when I feel so awkward. Pregnancy and postpartum can be hard on anyone’s inner self-conscious radar.
Also, without giving you all the gory details, you should know that I have a history of struggles with accepting and caring for my body. This has ranged from feeling “too skinny” and trying to act super tough to make up for it, to feeling fat and ugly and skipping meals (these phases never lasted long for me because I like to eat), to stuffing my face in anger as an “I don’t care” protest whenever I felt gross about myself. (How awful that I even put “fat” and “ugly” in the same sentence in my mind.) I know, understand, and have experience with self-harm habits that come from a warped body image and self-hate in various capacities.
(This scrawny, pre-children, 19-year-old version of myself hid a lot of anger and self-consciousness behind my loud, obnoxious personality. Trying to be hardcore was an outlet for me. Can’t you just feel the toughness emanating?)
I’m happy to say that over the past 10 years or so, by God’s grace and the help of some very patient folks, I’ve managed to finally come to a healthier view of myself- and my body too. So even though I’m thin by most people’s standards, I feel like I can write this post earnestly and legitimately.
Okay, now that I’ve cleared that up, let’s move on.
By loving your body, I’m not talking about being obsessed with yourself, or building a carefully-crafted self-esteem. Loving your body doesn’t mean that you should have some weird hyped-up image of how sexy you are, any more than loving your spouse means you should focus on how good of a wife you are.
What does true love for a spouse look like? It’s not a short-lived infatuation. It’s long-term faithfulness to them. Doing what’s right, even when it’s hard. Living the boring stuff day in and day out. Caring for each other. Knowing when you’ve failed, asking forgiveness, and moving on. Having realistic expectations. Accepting the quirks and imperfections of your relationship. Having a positive outlook.
While the metaphor can only go so far, I think that we can draw some similarities to a healthy view of loving your body.
Loving your body means you’re not obsessed with short-term goals and the daily ups and downs of the scale. The goal is a commitment to long-term health. Loving your body means doing what is healthy, even when you don’t feel like it. Making better choices one meal and one day at a time. Caring for yourself appropriately. Giving yourself grace and moving on when you make an unhealthy choice. Having realistic expectations, accepting your body as it is, and having a positive outlook.
Postpartum mamas, you may look down and see your floppy belly, your stretch marks, your skin loosened beyond reasonable repair. You may see extra weight that never went away after the baby. You’re leaking fluid from every end, your hormones are out of whack, and you’re sweating bullets with all the stuff you’re trying to juggle every time you go someplace.
But you know what your baby sees? Love. Nourishment. Comfort. Home.
What is healthy for you in the postpartum period? Eating nourishing foods for you and your baby- and lots of them, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Taking care of your mental health and emotional needs. And prioritizing sleep.
You shouldn’t be obsessed with the scale- and in fact, you shouldn’t even be exercising until you are well healed. Don’t agonize over the take-out you ordered or the chocolate you’ve been munching. While it is helpful to try to give your body healthy food for healing and energy, it is not helpful to fret over the occasional junk you may consume. Do your best, and move on.
Have realistic expectations. Remember that it took 9 months to put the weight on, and it will probably take a year or more to take it off. Sometimes it doesn’t all come off, and that’s okay too! There are some things that will never change- your skin will probably never be smooth and flawless again, and your boobs will always be saggier. So be it.
This is motherhood. You will not look like the airbrushed, photoshopped, plastic women in the magazines. You cannot wish to have a perfect teenage body anymore.
Accept those imperfections. They are beautiful. They are part of your story and a life passage. They are part of all of what you have become, and we shouldn’t waste so much of our time and energy despising those bodily faults that really don’t matter.
Try to keep it positive. When you’re in the clear to exercise, then exercise. Do it for health’s sake, for energy, for a better mood. Do it because it’s motivating and invigorating and good for you. But above all, do it out of caring for your body, not out of hate for it.
I’ll be returning to exercise soon, and (hopefully) developing a semi-regular regimen. But I know I won’t be perfectly consistent with eating and working out. And I’ll probably still have bad days. And I know that sometimes I’ll still wish for the ability to wear all those cute “normal people clothes” that I just can’t squeeze into anymore.
But you know what? It’s okay. I’m going to forget about society’s perception of beautiful, and keep working on being good to my body in all ways.
Care to join me?
I’m going to try to use some resources from my new Healthy Living Bundle (affiliate link) for motivation, encouragement, and exercise after I am completely healed. If you are interested in joining me, you can learn more about the healthy eating & fitness resources (including a 90 day exercise program) included in the bundle here. Thanks in advance for your support!
A newborn can make you see your family with new eyes.
I see the way my son looks at her and strokes her head when she’s crying. He makes that small sideways smile and squint. He gives the tiniest of nods because he knows I’m watching him, and he knows I’m pleased, and he’s proud of himself for caring for her. “I like our new sister,” he says.
I see my eldest daughter’s adoration for the baby. “Hold her!” she cries, arms opened to receive the squishy little bundle. She slathers noisy smooches on her little sister, and clings when it’s time to give her back. She bolts to get a diaper for the baby, and asks to “helpie” at every opportunity.
My husband? He choked up when baby I was born. She makes him light up after a difficult day like nothing else. He holds her gently, and gets that smile that makes crinkly wrinkles at the corners of his eyes He talks to her and sings to her. He spends time playing with the older two and carries them in tired little heaps up to bed. And after a full day of caring for his family and healing wife, he still puts his arms around my floppy, soft middle, and kisses my forehead. He gives us so much love.
I look at sweet baby I, and I remember how very fast it all goes. She’s two weeks old as I write this. Can that be? Didn’t I just have her last night? Were my other children ever this small? She’s not going to grow up too, is she?
The busy daytime hours and exhausting nights gather up into days and weeks and months and years, and the kids are ever growing and ever changing. My husband and I ride the ups and downs together- sometimes easily, sometimes not- but always together. These children have made us very different people than we were five years ago.
My baby carries with her enormous power. Children lavish unsolicited love on her. Adults weep over her. She brings transparency to our faults, and strength for us to try to change them. She gives us perspective and helps us to value the more important things in life. She teaches me to fall in love with my family all over again.
These kids. They don’t necessarily get easier. But they are good, in more ways than I can properly express.