One of the many pressures that are put on mums after pregnancy and birth is this idea that we are meant to "bounce back"; that our bodies are elastic and when the human growing inside of us finishes pushing and pulling, we should be able to "rebound" to where we were pre-pregnancy. This idea, this social construction of a body ideal, is so dreadfully detrimental to mothers' mental health in their postpartum period. It is absolutely ridiculous to think that our bodies should return to what they once were, or that they even can, after completing a miraculous feat like creating human life. It is for these reasons, and many, many more, that I am passionate about creating conversation about positive body image and what that means, in particular, for mothers. You may have seen this blog post on other platforms as I have shared it on social media before, but its message is one that I consider incredibly important for mothers to work towards maintaining a positive state of mental health as we journey in motherhood and all other facets of our lives. If we can love ourselves and our bodies JUST as they are, then maybe we can teach the rest of the world, and our children, to do the same.
Prior to becoming pregnant, I had put a lot of time and energy into myself, especially my body. I did yoga daily, was on a diet that I was eating primarily vegetables, went for runs, and spent a lot of time being concerned with how I looked. Were my muscles showing? How did these clothes fit? What size could I fit into? As I look back on old pictures and try and fit into old jeans, I can only see in hindsight just how tiny I was. I can remember having tricked myself into thinking that I was finally confident in my skin (because skinny means happy, right?), but would then be so self-critical every time I stepped in front of the mirror. I was "skinny", but I wasn't comfortable and I wasn't happy.
During my pregnancy, maintaining that active lifestyle became too much to handle. Physical activity gave me anxiety and I worried that I would hurt the baby. Eating felt good so I caved into every craving that I had. I kept telling myself that I was young and would want my old routine back once I had my baby and would "bounce back". The result? I gained 90 pounds in 9 months.
Once Neera was born, I quickly realized that falling back into my old workout routine wasn't going to be an option. I needed to recover from my delivery. I was exhausted and sleeping whenever she was. Breastfeeding tired me out. Breastfeeding also made me want to eat everything in sight. Sure, breastfeeding helped in shedding some of the weight I had gained, but not all of it, and it didn't "fall off" like articles I had read said it would. Instead, it stuck. It stuck to my hips and my thighs and my belly and my love handles.
The only part of my old routine that I maintained was the self-critical stares in the mirror.
When would I "lose the baby weight"?
Would the stretch marks ever fade?
Would my body ever look like it used to?
When would I get to reclaim the body that my baby had taken over for nine months?
Sad, sad thoughts.
What I should have been asking myself was:
When will my perspective change?
When can I learn to love myself?
I don't know what sparked it, maybe the loving look in my daughter's eyes or just being fed up with feeling like shit about myself, but eventually I looked in the mirror and decided that I was going to love that reflection. I decided that I was going to focus all of my attention on being a good person and a good mom, not a "good" body - because every body is a good body! I decided I was going to celebrate my body for bringing the greatest thing that ever happened to me into this world. And I decided I wanted to talk about why I felt any of this in the first place, and why many mums do.
All too often, on top of all of the other new pressures and expectations when you become a mum, there is an unfair focus put on your body. What was my body before? What is it now? What did it go through? Will it ever be the same?
When I search #postpartumbody on any social media platform, the majority of photos are regarding what it took to "lose the baby weight" or tips to get fit quick.
I'm sorry, but this just isn't real for me. It is hard enough for me to find time to make a healthy meal, let alone get to the gym multiple times a week. And you know what? We shouldn't feel like we have to do any of that!
Don't get me wrong, I still strive to be a strong and healthy woman, but I think it is well past time time that we start to shift the conversation about what that looks like, sounds like, and feels like.
The size of clothes that fit you does not mean strong and healthy.
The number on the scale does not mean strong and healthy.
Limiting your diet so you feel guilty every time you want a cheeseburger does not mean strong and healthy.
"Losing the baby weight" does not mean strong and healthy.
To me, strong and healthy means balance: fuelling your body with good food but not feeling bad about the wine and chocolate - trying to get outside for walks but not feeling bad about binge watching Netflix while you cuddle your baby - having goals for living more actively but not being self-loathing about where you're at. Be a rebel and love yourself, as you are, where you are, for all the glorious things you are!
I "lost the baby weight" the moment that Neera entered the world. I love my body, as it is, for being capable of such an indescribable, miraculous feat: creating a human life. The extra skin, the push and pull, the scars; they all serve as reminders of what my body is capable of and the space that it gave me to grow a new life. My focus, now, is on the love and connection I have with my child. My focus is on the light and love I see in her eyes every time she looks at me, and how much easier it is to manifest that love for myself than it ever was before.
I think one of my friend's kiddos said it best. Every time she is in her bathing suit her son points to her tummy and asks, "Did I do that, Mommy?" And she responds, "You sure did buddy." Then he smiles at her like he created the most beautiful piece of forever artwork. And you know what? He did. They do.
I hope that one day, all of us can look at ourselves the way that children do. I hope that one day we can search #postpartumbody and see women who are celebrating their bodies as they are and not attempting to live up to some ridiculous body ideal that the rest of the world has. I hope that mums can be the ones to shake the way we see one another in the world, because body positivity doesn't just affect mums; body positivity affects us all.
So here is me and my daughter, stripped down and as real and raw and honest as we can be. This, to me, is what really matters. Let's start filling our social media feeds with photos like this; with photos of reality and of love.
** these wonderful photos were done by Molly Schikosky - molly.jeanine.photo on Instagram - check out her amazing work **