“getting back your body after baby” is bullshit

“getting back your body after baby” is bullshit

Ah, nearly two months postpartum now. Running is getting more comfortable, though the somewhat unpredictable schedule leaves me guessing when each run will happen each day (if it does at all), which is a-okay; my focus for the rest of the year is to slowly build volume, so I’m where I should be/want to be. It has been just a joy to see little Spike and A “interact” with each other over the past almost-two months, and particularly for Spike, it has been cool to see her awaken just a little more each day and get just a little more intrigued with her surroundings and her big sister, the latter whom just can’t get enough of her.

pay no mind to the ladder in the background
pay no mind to the ladder in the background; we seem to have a never-ending list of home to-do items that necessitate a ladder being in our living space at all times

 

So: two months. Eight weeks. As a mother now to not one but two girls, I feel like it’s in my best interest — and theirs — for me to radiate the image and notion of body positivity, even (especially) if it means getting comfortable with myself and my own body, which — no surprise — can be a tricky thing postpartum. After I had A, I became acutely aware that she’d eventually mirror the way I talked about myself and the way I carried myself. Consequently, I’ve been intentional over the past 4+ years of the language I use when talking about my looks, my body, and anything physically- or aesthetically-centered when she’s around me — which is basically all the time. When I hear about tweens and younger-aged kids going on diets and expressing self-loathing because they hear the adults in their lives (my guess would be their mothers) do the same, I seriously think a part of me dies inside. “I’m so fat” or “I’m so ugly” or “I don’t like my _____” and the like shouldn’t have to cross any child’s lips ever, in my opinion.

So here I am, nearly two months postpartum, and all these notions of body positivity and “female empowerment,” if you will, are coursing through my head more than ever before. As I’m nursing Spike at WTF o’clock each morning, I often scroll through IG and come upon images from the 4th Trimester Bodies Project or from the hashtag #takebackpostpartum, like the one below, and it really gets my wheels turning:

The wonderful Jamie Hartman, Daphne (2.5) and Emrys (7 months). Jamie was working as an apprentice with a midwife for several years before she became pregnant. She’s hesitant to say that prepared her for her own experience but it certainly didn’t hurt and the midwife she trained with went on to catch both of her babies. Daphne was born at home without complication and Emrys was born in a freestanding birth center. Breastfeeding has gone well with each of her babes and she’s enjoying tandem feeding them today. She’s had to work through some nursing aversions but after feeding through her pregnancy and setting up boundaries with her daughter, things have been great. Her struggles with and survival of Postpartum Anxiety have been the part of her mothering journey that Jamie has found the most transformative. Within 48 hours of the birth of her daughter, Jamie began to have panic attacks surrounding her daughters health, feeding and well being. She was able to find an amazing therapist and eventually start medication which was the perfect answer for her. Being in the natural minded community however, Jamie has often found herself in a bit of an anti-med loophole. Jamie continued medication throughout her pregnancy with Emrys, weaned off of them shortly before birth and resumed just after Emrys was born. The panic attacks came back much later this time but Jamie still experienced them and is grateful for the treatment she’s found. Regardless of your shape or size, Jamie echoes the sentiment that body positivity needs to be for everyone. She’s had her own struggles and witnessed so many other women enter motherhood and their postpartum period with concerns about changes that are very normal but still startling. She hopes to see this conversation continue to change. #4thtrimesterbodiesproject #fourthtrimesterbodiesproject #4thtrimester #fourthtrimester #postpartum #breastfeeding #childbirth #bodypositivity #stopcensoringmotherhood #motherhood #bodypositive #4thtrimester #4thtribodies #pregnancy #everybodyisbeautiful #feminism #feminist #selflove #bodylove #fourthtribodies #4thtrichicago #postpartumanxiety #homebirth

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Seriously, let’s talk about how awe-inspiring the female human body is for a minute. Think about it. Once a woman gets pregnant, her body goes through tremendous change — every single part of her, from the obvious aesthetics on the outside all the way down to the cellular level. At no other time during a woman’s life will she actually grow — physically grow — an organ (the placenta) specifically for a set amount of time in her life (pregnancy) that, once her pregnancy is over, her body will eject. That, in and of itself, is mind-boggling to think about. An organ! And her body knows when it’s no longer needed and oof! out it goes!

And besides this organ-growing business, there’s the also-obvious aspect that the female human body cultivates what eventually becomes a living, breathing, growing being, beginning as merely a fertilized zygote and  culminating in a squishy, wrinkly neonate (only after the incredible process that is birth, which is an amazing process by itself), a brand-new baby that smells so sweet, looks so darling, and seems to do nothing but eat, sleep, and poop and is perfect in every way imaginable.

[Here, I’d post a picture of Spike’s placenta that I insisted on my husband taking after I gave birth, but I’m guessing you probably don’t want to see it. It’s AMAZING though. Seriously. So cool. Yay biology!]

Women’s bodies endure this this enormous and transformational, downright profoundly life-altering process for a good 10 months — 40 weeks, nearly an entire year — with the excellent takeaway being lifelong membership into Club Mom. Those 10 months can and I’d imagine, often do, change females’ bodies forever, and the changes themselves can change with subsequent births. It’s amazing. I’m repeating myself, but seriously. It’s all so amazing to me.

Why then, if we know that our bodies go through this tremendous change that take the better part of an entire YEAR, is there such a push to so quickly “get our pre-baby bodies” back?

I mean, seriously now  — why do people buy into this notion that women need to look how we did pre-pregnant nearly immediately post-delivery?

Are we really that oblivious, and our short-term memories that shitty, that we forget exactly how much change our bodies just endured for nearly a year?

Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but to think or even hope that our bodies can “return” to the same way they were pre-pregnancy so quickly after birth — assuming they do at all — is delusional, and on the side of the people/organizations/companies who make us think that this is rational, completely manipulative and predatory.

A cursory search online will lead you to a flurry of products that offer beleaguered moms the “easy” and “effortless” opportunity to get their pre-mom bodies back. The options are endless here, gang. You could use or ingest anything from bodywraps, lotions, creams, “detoxes” or “cleanses” (and we all know how I feel about these… gag me), magic foods, hell, there’s probably even a special song-and-dance routine out there that someone is touting as the magic elixir that’ll promise moms their original bodies back.

What. bullshit.

Imagine how this feels if you’ve recently become a mom for the first time (or the 8th time, whatever), and you’ve got the fun circus that is maternal hormones pumping through your body at full-tilt, and you see products and advertisements espousing how much better you’d look and feel or how much higher your self-worth would be if you merely looked how you did pre-pregnancy.

Here’s the thing, though, the important thing that I’m taking it upon myself, by way of my little corner of the internet here, to remind you: you just had a baby.

Without exaggeration, you literally grew and birthed progeny (as well as the accompanying organ necessary for said progeny).

And, better yet, if you’re breastfeeding, your body is literally sustaining the life of your child.

In other words, not only did your body grow and expel another being, now your body is still working, even harder perhaps, to ensure that your little one lives and thrives.

Yet somehow — growing and birthing and sustaining life — that’s not, you’re not, good enough.

What the hell.

Cut yourself some slack when you’re postpartum if (read: when) you don’t look how you did before. Give yourself a freakin’ break, moms.

I want to use my MA skills here for a second and examine the shoddy rhetoric implicit and explicit to claims and promises of “returning to your pre-pregnant body.” When you say that you’re going to return to your pre-pregnant body, that implies that it’s possible in the first place, that somehow, you can make your body go backwards in time to mirror how it looked before — before the growing-of-a-human-and-organ and before the sustaining-of-a-child business that I talked about earlier.

It ain’t gonna happen, kids. It can’t.

To say that you can “return to your pre-pregnant body” implies that your body can be how it was before you were pregnant — and that’s simply just not true. Once you’ve had a baby, you’ve had a baby. There’s no other way around it, no halfsies or kinda-sortas. For some women, myself included, you might have visual “scars” from your pregnancy or breastfeeding years. Some women own their scars, calling their stretch marks their “tiger stripes,” for example, and others hide them, maybe out of shame or resentment or embarrassment that their once-taut midsection or perfect ass or whatever no longer looks or feels the way it once did.

It’s really a matter of personal choice and preference, but I think some women’s inability to own their postpartum bodies is due to these bullshit products/companies/organizations out there (and their corresponding advertising) that make my fellow mothers feel like their postpartum bodies are somehow “less than” or otherwise not good enough, at least compared to how their bodies were pre-pregnancy.

Again: I call bullshit.

This soapbox is as much for me as it is for any reader who might stumble across this entry. Being two months postpartum now (and nearly four and a half years since my first daughter’s birth), I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t been periodically frustrated that I’m not at my exact weight as I was pre-pregnant with Spike or that I’m annoyed that my pants don’t fit me as perfectly yet as they did before — and who knows, maybe I’ll never get back to my pre-Spike weight or my pre-Spike pant-fitting-perfection. Whatever. I’ve implored my husband to correct me if I start body-shaming myself, even casually, because I don’t want that shitty behaviour and language to rub off onto my girls, and in particular, my incredibly impressionable four year-old.

Just because you might not look exactly like you did before you had your child doesn’t mean that you’re somehow less worthy of a person, less beautiful, or in general, less of anything. It’s aesthetics, and we all know that health can and often does look very different from person to person.

Allow me to remind you, again, that you grew, birthed, and if applicable, are still sustaining human life.

Cut yourself some slack.

If anything, celebrate that amazing body of yours because it’s obviously strong as fuck, and while I don’t think that “strong is the new sexy” (ugh, that should be another post entirely), I absolutely believe that “strong is the new strong” and is damn worthy of celebrating.

from a Sierra summit (over 2,400' of climbing in an ~11 mile run) a couple weekends ago. I could easily admit that I think my ass still looks bigger than usual or pinpoint exactly where I'm carrying the leftover pregnancy weight, but no fucks can be given for those menial matters, my friends. I'm no special snowflake or anything, but that body there grew and birthed and sustained two kids over the past 4.5 years and runs a shit ton of miles. Strength FTW, amigos
from a Sierra summit (over 2,400′ of climbing in an ~11 mile run) a couple weekends ago at 7 weeks postpartum. I could easily bemoan that my ass is bigger than usual and pinpoint exactly where I’m carrying the leftover pregnancy weight, but no fucks can be given for those menial matters, my friends. I’m no special snowflake or anything, but that body there grew and birthed and sustained two kids over the past 4.5 years and runs a shit ton of miles. Those matters — **not** the fact that I still can’t wear some of my pants  — are far more significant to me. Strength FTW, amigos [PC: S]

Besides, going on a limb here, but I’m guessing that if someone asked you at the end of the day, was it worth it? — was it worth gaining X number of pounds or Y number of inches on your waist and butt or your breasts never looking the same again — or whatever — if it meant that you’d get to experience the gift that is motherhood, you’d resoundingly say yes, and some, and even consider doing it all again.

There is definitely an importance and a value to practicing self-love postpartum, which includes the obvious stuff that we all know full well by now, like eating well and exercising, and how that looks to you will be different from how that looks to me. Therein lies the beauty of it. Just because you may not right now walk or run or whatever as fast (or well) as you did before you had your child doesn’t mean that you won’t ever return to that benchmark or, more importantly, it doesn’t make you any less of an athlete. I promise.

probably the most challenging run I've done since living here is just down the street from me. top: Nov '14, about a month or so before I got pregnant (and was in the thick of 50k training); bottom: last weekend, 8 weeks postpartum. Here again, I could talk about how much "better" my body was in the top pic, or how much faster I was then, or whatever, buuuuuuuuut no fucks can be given. That my postpartum (x2 now) body can throw down a double-digit run and climb nearly 3,000' through what is practically Everest, as far as I'm concerned, is way more valuable to me these days. [PC: S]
probably the most challenging run I’ve done since living here is just down the street from me (Monument Peak), and I like to stand at the top and pretend that it’s all my kingdom 🙂   top: Nov ’14, about a month or so before I got pregnant (and was in the thick of 50k training); bottom: last weekend, 8 weeks postpartum, just building volume and getting back into shape. Here again, I could talk about how much “better” my body was in the top pic, or how much faster I was then, or whatever, buuuuuuuuut no fucks can be given right now, friends. That my postpartum (x2 now) body can throw down a double-digit run and climb nearly 3,000′ through/over what is practically Everest, as far as I’m concerned, is way more valuable to me these days. [PC: S]

I’ll step off this soapbox for now. With the chaos that is the postpartum period, and especially the fourth trimester, we moms need not waste any of our extremely valuable and scarce mental real estate on stuff like this, stuff that somehow makes us question our worth as females, as mothers, or as humans. (And really, who the hell has time for stuff like this in the first place?) Body positivity is an acquired habit and one surely worth emulating as much as for ourselves as for our children.

Please, if no one else will say it to you, allow me to: your postpartum body is never, in any way, less than your bod pre-pregnancy. Promise. If anything, it is more than because it is your body — and yes, that emphasis is necessary — that did the work of growing and sustaining life. That, amigos, is serious strength and beauty. Own it.

18 thoughts on ““getting back your body after baby” is bullshit

  1. You are amazing, Erin! Your daughters are very lucky. The positive messages you send and share will benefit them for their whole lives. I have been really trying to be grateful for my health and to cut myself some slack when I feel like I put on a few lbs or have a few more sags where muscles used to be. My body is strong and I am lucky.

    1. thanks, Erica. 🙂 I agree; it is really tough to not constantly compare ourselves to how we were at other times in our lives when we were in “better” shape (or whatever). It’s a slippery slope, too, because I think there’s something to be said for wanting to better ourselves and our health but also something to be said for being content where we are and — like you said — simply grateful for our health in the first place. Probably just like anything else in life, I think it’s a balancing act.

  2. I love this. I don’t have a baby, but I agree with everything and hate when I hear friends shaming themselves after having babies. I especially don’t like the messaging of certain products, one of which I tried some workout videos for until I got to one where the instructor mentioned ‘getting thinner to get revenge on people.’ WHAT? No, you get stronger for yourself. Anyway, thanks for sharing! 🙂

    1. thanks, Paulette. and what?!? my jaw dropped when I read your comment! I am so curious now about this workout video you mentioned… and you’re so totally right; we should get strong for ourselves/our health/our well-being, not to get back at someone. that is ludicrous!

  3. Incredible writing! Now obviously, I cannot, and will not ever be able to, relate to the whole pregnancy and postpartum experience, but thank you for sharing this and for doing your part to promote healthy body image perception!

    1. you bet, Sara! I think it’s a conversation worth having but one that (for whatever reason) moms just don’t have… or if they do, we feel bad about it for some reason.

  4. I love your soap box! I should have been taking notes here because there are so many things I wanted to respond to. Let’s see…

    First, your point that you will never get your pre-baby body back is right on. It’s literally impossible. You can’t unbirth a baby. I hate that there’s so much pressure on new moms to get right back into shape and lose the baby weight. As you noted, what about the awe of what your body just accomplished??? Isn’t that more amazing than having flat abs?

    Secondly, please write that post on “strong is the new sexy.” Please.

    And last, damn girl, you are SUCH an awesome role model for your daughters! When you talked about kids on diets because of their moms’ influence, I recalled drinking Slim Fast shakes with my mom in grade school because she was always trying to lose weight. One of my first memories is actually going to Weight Watchers meetings with her (then we’d go to McDonald’s for lunch, so I have no idea how successful WW really was for her). Weight has always been a struggle for me, and probably always will be thanks to some not-so-awesome genetics, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I knew that a) being overweight doesn’t make me any less awesome and b) I can keep my weight in check by making healthy choices, such as eating well and exercising regularly, rather than going on extreme/crash diets, doing cleanses, and other unsustainable fad things. I’m envious of your daughters for being able to grow up knowing things like that, versus having to learn them the hard way in their 20’s and 30’s.

    1. thanks, Anne. I get really frustrated at the crap I see online that’s specifically directed toward moms because we’re kinda in this crazy vulnerable state (especially new moms who are making the enormous transition to first-time motherhood), and I really think it’s just downright exploitative. I’ve been part of WW before too and have some mixed feelings towards it (as it sounds like you did/do, too). You’re totally right though; health — and what that looks like — is so much more than flat abs or doing bullshit fad stuff like cleanses or exclusively eating grapefruit and drinking cayenne pepper water (or whatever). Weight is a number; one’s level of awesomeness is unquantifiable IMHO 🙂

      1. Yeah, I actually wrote about my experiences with WW a couple years back (http://annereallyblogs.blogspot.com/2013/05/its-just-number.html because I know you have so much free time these days). For someone like me who loves numbers, quantifying things and hitting targets, counting points led to what I’m pretty sure in retrospect was an eating disorder. It works for some – technically it worked for me (I lost 60 pounds) – but it was by no means healthy living.

  5. I just re-read this (read it when you first posted it but found it again) and I love it! It’s such a refreshing, truthful look at this trip that is being a woman in our current society and now being a mom. Thanks for posting! :*

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