I spent just short of 41 weeks growing my baby and changing my body.
I’ll start with a few positives:
I was proud of what I was doing. A prayer had been answered: I had a baby on the way! I was 34 and in a solid marriage, a homeowner, financially stable and loved my career, and 11 years in recovery from my eating disorder. I knew that my body would change in pregnancy and that it could be difficult for me, but I had done the mental work. I was ready. Here is me the day I found out I was pregnant:
As pregnancy went on, my hair was shiny, my nails were strong, and I stopped having to shave… completely. My boobs got bigger, which was kinda fun. I felt feminine. I felt sexy.
I felt radiant. I was showered with love. I received a lot of attention from family, peers, and strangers. Which if anyone knows me well, I like attention. 🙂
and… in the end… I got this little nugget:
One Expectation I Met:
I looked like a pregnant lady! My flat firm-ish stomach grew into a hard, beachball sized- but- bowlingball-weighted globe.
BUT… Here’s What I didn’t Know:
My hips felt pains I never knew- as if a crow bar was slowly prying them open to make room for the little nugget to grow and eventually work toward his exit. What I didn’t know, is that even when I had lost the pregnancy weight, my hip shape had changed and widened permanently. Certain pre-pregnancy shorts could now not fit over my hip bones. As I tried on my shorts post-partum, I cried a little that day.
My cute innie belly button popped out about 8 months along… and 8 months postpartum, it’s still working it’s way back.
My breasts were sore and engorged. I was making baby milk, and those hormones needed a place to flow. I gained stretch marks from the rapid growth of my breasts, changing from a small fit athlete to having va-va-voom curves I had never known.
I read all the books and articles learning that I “should” gain between 25-35 lbs during pregnancy. I ate intuitively, I didn’t binge eat or “eat for 2”, I stayed active, and I still gained nearly 50 lbs. I was utterly befuddled and disappointed, but also trusted that I did all the right things and if my body was supposed to gain 50 lbs, then well, I guess it was supposed to gain 50lbs, even if that was difficult emotionally for me.
Approaching childbirth, I was convinced I was going to lose a good amount of weight during childbirth, right? Nope! After a 43.5 hour labor and baby/placenta/blood came out, I had actually gained 2 pounds of bloat and water weight from all of the IV fluids! I saw a scale in the hospital hallway the day after birth when my husband helped me take a walk. He implored me not to get on the scale. I did anyway. I saw the number where I weighed 2 lbs heavier than when I checked into labor and delivery, and just laughed. “Wow! I can’t even,” I thought. I was numb in the aftershock of an exhausting and traumatic 43.5 hours. I felt nothing. I couldn’t emote. The bloat took almost 2 weeks to subside.
This is the most vulnerable picture I will share, so please be kind, but here it is… (51 lbs heavier than when I became pregnant, 2 pounds heavier than when I checked into labor and delivery) :
My muscles atrophed, my butt got flatter, not smaller, just fla(bbier)tter.
I waddled like a penguin, I felt like a whale, my feet were swollen, and my laugh deepened and became a laugh from my belly (HO HO HO — Merry Christmas!). My husband and I can now laugh about my masculine sounding laugh I had for a while, but it is still slightly embarrassing.
My arms gained fat, my face got rounder, my feet became perpetually swollen. I had cankles. I had those unmentionable hemorrhoids. Shhhh…
Sex was painful during pregnancy and even postpartum for a while. Whereas I mentioned larger breasts made me feel sexy for a short time, as my belly got bigger and bigger, along with so much discomfort, hot flashes, and the other aforementioned variables, it was hard to feel sexy.
I didn’t sleep, so I got bags under my eyes. I remember people advised me through my pregnancy, “oh honey, sleep as much as you can before baby comes!” Bull crap. My advice: Sleep as much as you can before you start trying for a baby because once your body starts changing, there is no sound sleep anymore. You will feel, and feel like you look, perpetually tired. This doesn’t get any better when baby arrives.
My coloring changed. My nipples got darker… and bigger. My chest started showing prominent dark blue veins. Age spots and freckles became darker on my face and arms. I even got a very visable dark line vertically down the middle of my stomach.
Even though, I stayed as active as I could through my pregnancy in the heat of the Texas summer: swimming, the indoor recumbent bike at the Y, and prenatal yoga, I was in the worst shape of my life. As someone who has been in dance or sports since I was 3 years old, who has played college soccer, and who has completed triathlons and marathons, this was so hard for me. Note the aforementioned 50 lbs.
Then Baby Comes...
And your boobs, which could be seen as sexy and feminine, are now a food source.
And your belly is soft. Everything is soft. for a long time.
And your hair starts falling out as your milk supply drops… in terrifying quantities! Your hair becomes so thin.
And your arms and butt and legs are soft because your body does this wonderful thing for baby and holds on to fat, for what feels like way too dang long, in order to have a stockpile of calories to breastfeed your baby.
Also, your abs separated during pregnancy, which means it’s almost impossible to do ab work, so your core is so weak and your tummy is still so soft. Side note: working out when you are exhausted… is exhausting.
And you still look, and feel… Tired.
But…. I wanted this. I prayed for this. How could I complain?
Why would I mourn?
It’s all for sweet baby boy. It’s my privilege. My Joy.
It’s okay to mourn!
Saying goodbye to your old body as well as your previous independence, energy, and freedom is important. If you don’t, how will you ever accept the growth and beauty that is new. If you can’t say goodbye, how can you say hello with fresh eyes. How can you have peace if you are still holding on for dear life to a goal that just isn’t realistic; kicking, scratching, and fighting tooth and nail to get something that just isn’t you anymore. You are not a pre-baby body. You are a badass-mom-super-woman who did a remarkable body changing, life changing, and life giving thing.
Would you say your heart and mind are forever changed by having this baby?
Think and reflect for a minute to answer this…
Is your answer a resounding YES?
Is it a beautiful thing?
Well… so is Your body … It’s forever changed…
and that is OKAY. it’s more than okay, it’s awesome!
Soooo…. How do I Cope and Embrace my new Mom-Bod?
- Realize I can honor my femininity and motherliness by seeing “softness” as analogous to my journey. I started with soft baby linens/swaddles/wash clothes, a soft gentle hold, a soft tender heart, and soft in compassion toward myself. As I am slowly able to be less delicate with my baby boy (and whew! at almost 9 months he is already showing to be a squirmy, rough tumbly little guy!), my body gets less soft and firmer once again.
2. I have to check the facts and be compassionate to myself. So, yes, my hips don’t lie and I will have to get some new shorts, with a different number on the tag. But those hips gave me my beautiful baby, and a number is just a number, and bone structure has nothing to do with fat. Plus, I get to go shopping!
3. Remember and trust that some things ebb and flow:
While, my belly button is almost back to normal, and so thus a moot point, I remember that my belly button tells the story of when my very big, smart, super cute, and fast paced, in utero baby was basically at a healthy weight to survive at 34 weeks. Oven timer done! He just wanted to stay a little longer with mama, and that is sweet!
The hemorrhoids healed with medicine, the sex became less painful with patience and practice (Oh darn! 🙂 ), and that dark line on my stomach went away.
The color of my nipples also came back to normal, that blue line in my chest disappeared, and while I do have some light stretch marks and smaller boobs again with a new slightly deflated look, my breasts literally gave life sustaining nutrition to my baby, and that is amazing. My husband tells me that he stills sees my boobs as very sexy even though the “perkiness” and size may have decreased. This is also what I hear most of my heterosexual male clients say about their own wives.
With baby finally starting to sleep through the night, asking for grandparent help (it takes a village!), and with the cessation of breastfeeding and finally being able to get enough water intake, I finally don’t look or feel quite so tired.
4. As a Therapist, Understanding Trauma:
I have had the honor to walk alongside people who survive the most horrible traumas yet are so resilient. They somehow find new truth, experience growth and healing, provide hope, and make meaning from their struggles.
This is not to belittle anyone else’s trauma, but for me personally, and many others, pregnancy is probably the most significant bodily trauma a woman will go through. And it’s not just the 43.5 hours of pain and recovery from 5 hours of pushing a watermelon out of a small hole made for something usually the size of a cucumber, it’s the months of slow drawn out trauma as your body bends and shapes itself into a new form to accommodate the growing life inside of you.
So recovering from trauma like that will take time, and you have to reach a certain level of recovery before you can even attempt to work back to your pre-pregnancy body.
5. I am giving myself grace and time. Because of my history of my eating disorder, I emotionally planned for this. I had it well thought out:
It takes 9 months to grow a baby
+ for 6 months I want to give myself grace to just be exhausted and allowed to recover and find a routine and figure things out as a new mama
= I would give myself 15 months post-partum to get into the “best shape of my life” and “get my body back”
However, this I have emotionally matured in a way I didn’t think possible post eating Disorder. I have a new and clear outlook on the definition of “Getting My Body Back.” This now means: I will embrace my post baby body and be the healthiest, most feminine, balanced intuitive eater/exerciser who can still enjoy the good things in life, fittest mama I can be. If that ends up being the fittest I have ever been in my life, great!
If it’s something different, I will choose to accept it with grace and poise 🙂
Besides, who wouldn’t want to honor and spend time with this precious little one!