I remember a time when my body was freeing. After a long battle with low-self esteem throughout the entirety of my adolescence and into early adulthood, I had finally found a sweet spot where I was beginning to appreciate my body. I didn’t steer away from crop tops or bikinis. I didn’t second guess myself. But that was before my long and difficult journey with my postpartum body image.

That was before the stretch marks and the extra skin. That was before I had a kid and everything that I thought I knew about my body changed—forever. And it seemed as though all that I had worked towards was washed away and replaced with lingering insecurities.

I vividly remember the day after giving birth. My husband and son were sleeping and the nurses had just finished checking on me. I finally had a few moments to myself, and I used them to pull my aching body out of the hospital bed and limp into the bathroom—still sore and bleeding and simultaneously in awe of what my body had just gone through.

I didn't hate my body—but I didn't love it, either.

I silently closed the door and stood in front of the mirror. The woman who stared back at me in the reflection looked unfamiliar. And it was in that moment that my struggle with my postpartum body image began.

I was so proud of what my body had just done—yet I couldn’t seem to welcome my new form with grace. I was all-knowing of her strength—yet uncertain of her beauty. 

Related: An ode to my postpartum body

Because I didn’t feel as sexy as I once did. A flabby belly replaced where a toned stomach had once been. The clothes that used to perfectly accent my shape now didn’t fit. I traded in jeans for leggings and oversized shirts. 

Between sleep-deprivation, hormonal changes and tending to a newborn, I had no time to be intentional about how I looked. 

I didn't hate my body—but I didn't love it, either.

I grew self-conscious about my postpartum body image—always questioning if my husband looked at me with the same admiration as he used to before. Because of those insecurities that crowded my mind, we experienced a lack of intimacy after the baby.

More than often, I found myself shrinking away from my husband’s touch. Not because I didn’t want that connection with him, but because that sexy woman that I once knew was no longer there. I didn’t feel comfortable exposing this new version of myself to him—and I was ridden with unease every time I saw him steal a glimpse at me.

I heard a lot of people talk about sex after kids—how it decreases because of a lower libido or because both of you are just overwhelmed and exhausted. But I wasn't aware that the mental state that I carried around my body would affect my sex life with my husband.

I found myself yearning for those intimate moments—yet fearing them at the same time. Because if I couldn't love this new version of me, then how could he?

Related: One mama’s moving post about bounce-back culture

Most women know to expect a physical recovery after giving birth, but many of us are not prepared for the mental recovery.

Our sex life decreased a lot in those postpartum months, which is something I believe every couple experiences after having kids.

In Motherly’s 2022 State of Motherhood survey data, moms with kids under the age of 3 reported having the least sex. 37% of moms reported they have sex 1-2 times a month and 18% less than that (including not at all). 

And sure, the decrease in sex can come from various reasons like being exhausted or not feeling like you have the time—but for some women, it’s because of the mental load that we carry surrounding our postpartum body image. It’s because of the fact that we can’t seem to love this new version of ourselves, so that voice in the back of our heads tells us that our partners won’t love it either.

And that's how I felt with my husband for a while.

Our marriage felt like it was in this strange limbo for quite some time—and our connection felt like it was waning because of me. I blamed myself for leaving my partner feeling unwanted, but I am thankful to say that he understood and he showed me patience as I navigated my way back to myself, and as we navigated our way back to each other. 

We struggled to reclaim our intimacy, but we worked together. We began having more intimate conversations, and those slow and steady steps forward helped us to get to where we are today. He reminded me that for better or for worse also meant when I was at my lowest—going through hormonal body changes and struggling to love myself. But I am thankful that he showed me the most steady love through it all.

Because that helped me to have more patience with myself and with my new body. That helped me to see myself in a different manner and learn to appreciate myself more.

Related: I learned to let go, respect and love my postpartum body

I cannot say that I am 100% in love with my body now, but I have grown to love her for who she is—despite the new marks that show the trials of motherhood that she has endured.

Most women know to expect a physical recovery after giving birth, but many of us are not prepared for the mental recovery. The recovery that includes trying to fall in love with ourselves all over again. The recovery that includes redefining intimacy for ourselves and for our relationships. The recovery that includes not succumbing to society's demands of “snapping back” into place and falling back in line of being "perfect" employees, wives and mothers. The recovery that understands the soft spot of the unknown, the unfamiliarity and the uncertainty.

Yes, my postpartum body made me feel less sexy at a point in time—but it reminds me daily of the child that I carried, the woman I am, and what I am capable of. If nothing else, that sure enough counts for something.