The lies we believe about our bodies start when we are little girls. When I was eight, I believed the lie that my body wasn’t as good as the other girls’ bodies, so much so that I wore a cover-up into the pool that entire summer. When I was in fifth grade, I believed that girls shouldn’t eat as much, so I started depriving my body of food when my parents weren’t around. When I was in college, I believed that exercise was my answer to eating whatever I wanted, and I literally ran myself into the ground. The destructive importance society has placed on body image is ingrained in women from a young age, and while so much progress has been made in celebrating body image over the past decade, the subtle reminders of how we measure up to others is all around us.
I finally hit the stride in my 20s of truly loving my body and finding so much fulfillment in enjoying food and exercise for all the right reasons. It took a very long time to get to that place of feeling healthy and balanced. Then as I became pregnant with my first child, that balance suddenly shifted and I found myself walking the new yet familiar territory of trying to feel good about my body.
Two babies and four years into the postpartum stage of my life, I’m still navigating this territory.
The one truth that I have discovered about my postpartum body is that it is uniquely mine and can’t be measured against anyone else’s. And with this truth, I have worked to unpack the lies that I believed about my postpartum body, in hopes of empowering other mamas and creating a narrative that my daughter and generations to come can believe about themselves.
That it’s important to get your body “back”
The idea that you can “get your body back” comes with the assumption that you lost it, which is simply not true. Pregnancy is a physical transformation that changes us from the inside out, and having experienced the miracle that sits at the other end of this transformation, I would never want to go back.
Yes, you can go back to a pre-baby weight and find joy in fitting in your favorite skinny jeans. These aren’t bad things. But weight is only one part of the story, and yet somehow we have made it the main focus. The truth is that in the nine and a half months I was pregnant with each of my children, my body showed up for me and my child in ways I couldn’t possibly even imagine. So on the other side of bringing two beautiful children into the world, I am showing up for my body by giving it a lot of grace and love, and most importantly, realistic expectations.
While my body oftentimes reflects back an image that is unfamiliar and new, I’ve chosen to love it, even when I sometimes hate it. I am the first to advocate for a healthy diet. I preach the mental and physical and benefits of daily exercise. But you will not find me holding myself back from living my life because my body does not look like it used to. I’ve chosen life as a mom, and as such, I’ve also chosen to celebrate the body that got me here.
That you can’t talk about it
I consumed just about as much content about pregnancy and raising a baby as I possibly could, and yet I would’ve been genuinely shocked about some of the postpartum stages and changes my body went through if it were not for my sister and friends who experienced motherhood before me. The candor and vulnerability these women shared with me opened up the lines for me to share and ask anything, and in return, I’ve been able to do the same for other new mamas.
If I could ensure that every new mama would have just one thing, it would be another mama with whom she could confide the most intimate details of postpartum life. There’s a reason that so much of new motherhood and our postpartum bodies come as a surprise: it’s because many of our mamas didn’t have the channels or the empowerment to share this part of their lives, and when women don’t share, girls don’t learn.
These relationships with other women are essential. From periods to peeing your pants to sitz baths and hair loss, the adventure has just begun once the baby arrives, and the ongoing changes are overwhelming if not met with the familiarity and understanding from someone who gets it.
That you should hate it
I’ve found my own postpartum body at times unbearable, even marveling more than once at how I could produce such beautiful babies and yet feel so, ugh. Self loathing seems to often go hand-in-hand with new motherhood. But why? Who sets these unrealistic standards for us?
In a recent Motherly podcast, author Kimberly Ann Johnson celebrated the “soft” bodies that come with motherhood, the beautiful bodies that we as women have been uniquely designed to behold. The rigidity and structure that comes with many women’s “dream body” is far from the traits that make women amazing mothers. Softness, comfort, acceptance, joy… these are the traits that keep children drawn towards their mothers long past babyhood.
I want a postpartum body that is healthy and able. I want a postpartum body full of energy to keep up with my kids. I want to rock a cute outfit on date night and nail a Zoom presentation in my power suit. But I, and only I, am the one who gets to decide what that looks like for me. And perhaps it looks exactly like what it looks like now. Perfectly imperfect. Beautifully transformed. Amazingly strong, inside and out.