I know it’s not the cool thing to say, and that “radical self love and acceptance” is all the rage. But can I tell you a secret?
I don’t like my postpartum body.
During my first pregnancy, I felt great. I was super confident in my body. Sure, I was gaining weight like crazy, but you’re supposed to gain weight when you’re pregnant! Before I was pregnant, I’d maybe eat ice cream or cookies or dessert a few times a month. “Polly” (aka Pregnant Molly) would think nothing of enjoying a blueberry muffin on a Tuesday morning, or having a burger for dinner. I was anemic and needed more iron in my diet. A burger was actually a step in the right direction.
I didn’t completely let the wheels fall off.
I exercised a few times a week until I hit 29 weeks and my body could no longer take it. Even then, I tried to walk whenever I could. I gave zero effs about what my body looked like, what the scale said, or how my clothes fit. I was propagating the species. My boobs looked great. My tummy was big, but it was taught. I was glowing. I glowed!
And I didn’t worry that I’d gained 45… or was it 50 pounds? Breastfeeding was going to slim me down in no time flat. Everyone said so. Sure, it’ll take time, but I’d get there.
Aside from the throbbing eight-inch incision just above my pubic bone and the chapped, bleeding nips, I felt fabulous. I loved my postpartum body. Almost immediately, I began producing more then enough milk for my kiddo. Yes, my belly was huge and my cankles made me a shoo in as a Rascal scooter gang member at the Minnesota State Fair. This look was only temporary. In the meantime, I spent my time doing the greatest job in the world: loving on an eight-pound baby.
Two weeks later, I had my uncle take some pics of our new little family. Arlene no longer looked like a skinny alien baby bird, and I finally could move around without grabbing my belly and swearing. He snapped a ton of photos on our porch. Our cute little family! I was so happy.
And then I saw the photos.
I hadn’t truly seen my postpartum body in all its glory. Oh boy. It was… not familiar.
I looked like a sausage stuffed in a dog hair-covered black dress. I still looked pregnant! I assured myself that this was all normal. My uterus needed six weeks to shrink back. I’d been recovering from surgery, barely able to crawl out of bed and sleeping mere hours every night. Girl, cut yourself some slack!
I selected a few photos I loved from our shoot, and then stuffed my body image issues into a figurative duffle bag. I had a human to keep alive; I had bigger things to deal with.
Three weeks later, I decided to step on the scale. I weighed the same as the day I went to the hospital to birth a baby. To be clear, I’d had a 7-pound, 9-ounce baby and still weighed the same.
Oh shit. What if my postpartum body is actually my real body?
I started to freak. I hadn’t expect to be Victoria’s Secret runway ready a la Heidi Klum, but this was ridiculous. Why had everyone said breastfeeding would make the weight disappear? Why had I let myself taste-test every variety of root beer over the previous nine months? Why did I think a Costco-sized container of cookies was an appropriate substitute for the beers I wasn’t drinking during the 4th of July weekend? Whyyyyyy?
Over the next few months, I relied on spandex and flow-y dresses. I had not one pair of real pants that fit. When fall rolled around, I headed to the GAP– a place where I could always reliably find a pair of jeans (and usually on sale!). I spent an hour trying on every single pair in the store. Nothing fit. I don’t mean I couldn’t find a pair I liked. I mean not a single pair would zip comfortably.
Did I cry? Of course not!
Ugly, red-faced, snotty-nosed bawling. The works, baby! And while it was sort of about how I looked, I think it became more about feeling out of control. I wasn’t eating as well as I had pre-baby (breastfeeding makes you ravenous!), and my workouts weren’t as intense. But I was still walking three or four miles a day, and trying to eat as healthy as I could. Also, WTF isn’t breastfeeding supposed to burn 500 calories a day???
Six months postpartum, I’d only dropped 15 of the 45 pounds I’d put on during pregnancy.
As time went on, my struggle hinged less upon what my body looked like and more on dressing a body I couldn’t trust or understand.
I’d psyche myself up to find a bra that actually fit, and buy it. A few weeks later, it would gap in all the wrong ways. Eventually, I did find a pair of jeans that fit. I finally felt like I could go out in public and not feel like I was in my pajamas. Two weeks later, they’d stretched out to the point where I could no longer wear them… then miraculously fit again a month later.
I didn’t know what clothes would flatter my new “shape.” Even if I did find something flattering, my body never stayed the same long enough to get adequate wear out of said item.
I found myself plagued with a serious case of the “why bothers.”
- Why bother trying to dress a moving target?
- Why bother attempting to look nice when everything just looks weird and lumpy?
- Why bother getting back into shape if you’re just going to get pregnant again?
What’s the point of busting your ass at the gym or really, truly watching your diet if you’re just going to let another baby take over the ship and do whatever it is they’re gonna do? I don’t exercise or eat healthy for completely vain reasons. It’s mostly because I feel better when I do… but also at this point, gym and cooking time were competing with my work and momming time and I needed a little more balance. In a lot of ways, my body didn’t seem like the right place to focus.
In the back of my mind, I kept thinking, “Maybe I’m hanging on to all this weight because I am breastfeeding.” I’d had a handful of people tell me this had been the case for them. Maybe my body stored every last little bit because my baby needed it. Maybe when I stopped breastfeeding, I’d feel some semblance of normalcy.
I announced to my husband that I’d need a few months between weaning and trying to get pregnant again to let my body chill for a sec.
Guess how that went.
I breastfed Arlene for 17 months… but I got pregnant again when she was 15 months old.
Aren’t plans hilarious?
Today, I am 37 weeks pregnant and heavier than I have ever been in my entire life. By a lot. I don’t think I look bad. It’s just that this time around, I know what’s ahead, and I am not looking forward to it.
This isn’t to say I am not absolutely in awe of what my body can do.
I am amazed that I somehow know how to grow a person. I feel lucky that getting pregnant the second time was easy. Even though my belly is enormous, I am still quite proud of it. Yes, even if it knocks glasses off a table on occasion and makes sleeping and picking things off the floor next to impossible. I am excited (okay, scared… but excited) for this baby. I cannot believe that I am solely responsible for growing him– now and after he’s born. That is nuts!
I am all about body acceptance.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to be sad, confused, disappointed. I can appreciate and loathe my body all at once. Just because the changes are “worth it” because they allowed me to grow two amazing humans doesn’t mean I can’t look at my saggy boobs or stretch marks or the ill-fitting clothes in my closet and think, “Whelp, this sucks,” from time to time.
I know there will be a day when my body becomes my own again. Until then, I can admit that I don’t like my postpartum body. And that’s okay.