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The change that a woman goes through when they become a mother is huge to put it mildly, and the effect it can have on our bodies (and how we feel about them) can be overwhelming.
Being an ‘honest mum’, I wanted to be just that and honestly share how it feels to live in a body that’s had two babies, by writing an open letter to my post-baby body.
Mostly, it sucks. No pains about it (oh the irony), the physical and emotional off-set of dealing with a ‘post-par-tum’ tum just isn’t fun.
Okay, maybe Victoria’s Secret models blessed with the kind of lithe and strong bodies (yes I’m jealous) afforded to a tiny percentage of the population are able to spring back to their default mode of ah-mazing within days. But for the majority of us, bodies that housed babies for 10, yes 10, whole months for the most part, take time to recover and return to any sense of ‘normality’ (I hate that word) – and so they should.
A University of Salford study in 2012 conducted by Dr Julie Wray discovered, after interviewing women during their first year post-birth, that women need a full year to recover physically and emotionally. Relationships, self-worth, finances and health are all affected in those first 12 months.
I personally had two C-sections with my sons. One was an emergency and left me traumatised for a long time afterwards, as I spent most of my boy’s first year feeling lost, alone and in need of a counsellor and moving close to home – both of which I thankfully got – and the second was a blissful elective.
Both pregnancies saw between 2-3 stone in weight gain and a slump in confidence. The first experience was the toughest – new mumdom and not knowing what to expect makes for more of a shock, and an elective was worlds apart from a crash section for me.
My first pregnancy came to an abrupt end at 36 weeks after a turbulent pregnancy which saw me suffering from the liver condition ICP, and once my son was here, the stress of little sleep, nursing all day long (that boy could eat!) and colic, coupled with a body I didn’t recognise, left me feeling fairly horrendous.
I simply existed in survival mode, hoping the next day would be better than the last. Mostly, I felt like a failing mother. I wish I could return to those days and give myself a hug.
The identity-loss new parenthood brings and the lack in confidence was a result of my new reality – the urgency of the section and recovery, the body that ballooned and was left pained, empty, stretched and ugly to me (my husband always told me I looked beautiful, bless him) and the shock of finding myself in this brave new world. ‘I wish I could return to those days and give myself a hug’ – Vicki at 4 months pregnant
All played their role, but the weight sticks out as making me feel ‘less-than’. You can hide how you feel mentally most of the time, but the weight is there for all to see.
Yes I had a colicky baby born early, no close family nearby, a body in pain and a mind whirling, but looking so visibly different – unrecognisable even – made everything 10 times worse.
Looks undoubtedly play a part in how we feel. To deny this is nonsense.
I don’t mean there is only one way to be beautiful. I’m an olive-skinned British Greek Cypriot who has a naturally hourglass figure. I don’t believe we must conform to a single notion of beauty. All women and men of every size, shape and colour are equal. I am merely referring to how my own body changing so much made me feel.
And yes, no woman should feel judged, or bad about her post-baby body. We made babies. We did good. Let’s high five our wombs sisters. But by not acknowledging that it’s OK to feel down about a body that has irrevocably changed and accept it takes time to regain a sense of (new) normality helps no one.
Recently, due to the stress of an unwell family member and sciatica preventing me from exercising, I put on 8lbs in six weeks. By the time this is published I hope it’s gone for good, and while it’s not a huge amount of weight, it’s meant going up a dress size, not being able to wear most of my wardrobe and feeling rubbish about my body.
So low, I’ve not wanted to attend events for fear of unflattering photos (it doesn’t help my work is public-facing) or of being judged by others that I’ve over-indulged, stopped taking care of myself or just look plain awful.
I’m cringing writing this. I’d never think the same of others in my situation yet reserve great disdain for myself. I’m an idiot. I feel pressured by the ideals presented to me by the media and by myself. My ‘before’ pictures taunt me.
I don’t like feeling uncomfortable, I don’t like the feeling that my tummy has expanded (with no baby to show for it – I loved my bump). I hate that the tops of my arms have extra padding and my jeans feel tight.
And just because you’ve had a baby doesn’t mean you won’t feel just like me. That your body is not your own.
This recent weight gain took me right back to that early post-baby time. It took me a year to lose the weight after my first and 18 months after my second.
Don’t listen to the ‘9 months in, 9 months off’ so often bandied about, it varies for all.
Weight loss is hard.
It requires determination, a body that has adequately healed from birth and the strength to actually be able to do exercise and not reach for convenient food when you’re in survival mode simply trying to keep a little person (and yourself) alive.
And not getting enough sleep, every medical expert under the sun will tell you sleep deprivation is one hell of a diet-killer.
So, be kind to yourself and simply know that you’re not alone.
Weight gain and not recognising your body shape and feeling down about it is natural and normal post-baby. Just know, in time, when you’re ready, you’ll find the strength to take baby steps and will feel begin to better about yourself before you know it.
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