I’ve always struggled with self-esteem, and after having my first baby, my insecurities increased. Learning acceptance of my body’s transformations—and the weight gain and stretch marks that followed pregnancy—made me feel more self-conscious than ever. This is my story of learning to let go, respect and love my postpartum body.

I have six beautiful children, and it is my honor to be their mother. For almost 10 years, I lived in a pregnancy cycle, pushing a stroller, getting ready to potty train and then being pregnant all over again. 

My life was moving quickly. I held an executive position in the fashion industry in the heart of New York City. I would come home in the evenings, pick up the kids from daycare, cater to my family, cook dinner and enjoy our time together. I looked put together on the outside, but my light was dimming inside. I wasn’t feeling great about myself. At. All.

I worked in an office full of beautiful women, many of which were model-thin, and I was reminded of this daily. My breasts, which were normally large and already made me self-conscious, topped a G-cup once they were filled with breast milk. Many of the designs we sold weren’t even made in my size. It was agonizing.

One day, I looked over some pictures of my oldest four children through the years. I was absent from so many of them. The realization hit me like a bag of bricks. Truthfully, I didn’t feel good about how I looked on camera. I often preferred to take the picture rather than join my family in the shot. Still, I decided to do better and take photos with my babies and start living in the moment… and being less critical of how I looked. 

One day, however, I realized I was passing my insecurities down. My pre-teen daughter was approaching the beginning stages of puberty and was in my bedroom with me. I watched her in the mirror. She looked at herself meticulously from each side, with a frown on her face. Tears came to my eyes. She was repeating the same criticisms of her beautiful body that I had placed upon mine. Things had to change.

Society and media depict women that are perceived as perfect. In three weeks, celebrities give birth and are back in a bikini, but this isn’t real-life. These women have millions of dollars, trainers, doctors and teams of people to help them get into shape quickly. We have laundry, carpooling, crying babies, bath time and doctor appointments, to name a few.

As women, there are many obligations and expectations placed upon us. Work hard, be a great mom, satisfy your mate, be beautiful, stay active, be sexy, be feminine. We forget some of the expectations we need to place upon ourselves, like self-care, kindness and love.

I began setting a new example. I needed my wonderful tiny humans to look in the mirror proudly and feel good about what they saw. I stopped fad dieting, which they noticed as well, and began living a more regimented healthy lifestyle that included the entire family. 

I learned about affirmations and body positivity and began to pour positive affirmations into them, girls and boys alike. I taught them about nutrition, making healthy decisions, looking at calories and we’d do yoga together. Feeding them this emotional positivity increased my self-worth over time as well. I proudly put on a bathing suit for the first time in years without cringing. Now, I have come to enjoy bathing suit shopping.

Looking back at that woman who struggled daily with her confidence makes me proud that I pulled through- although she still shows up from time to time. Ultimately, my children helped me learn to love myself more, which is where it all begins. I’ve grown to be compassionate and loving with myself. I may never return to the body I had before I became a mother, but I love and am proud of the body I am in.

Motherly Stories are first person, 500-1000 word stories, reflecting on the insights you’ve experienced in motherhood—and the wisdom you’ve gained along the way. They also help other women realize they’re not alone. Motherly Stories don’t judge. Instead, they inspire other mamas with stories of meaning, hope and a realization that “you’ve got this.” If you have a story, please submit it here: https://www.mother.ly/share-your-story/

A version of this post was published March 3, 2022. It has been updated.