Honesty Hour: Real Body Love, Postpartum is loving our bodies through all the changes of pregnancy and motherhood!
Honesty Hour: Real Body Love, Postpartum
This is the most vulnerable (and courageous) thing that I have ever done. This idea came to me months ago as I reflected on all of the changes that my body has been put through since getting pregnant. I remember the physical pain of pregnancy.. everything from nausea, violently throwing up, broken blood vessels in my face and eyes, acid reflux, fatigue, to restless leg syndrome, back/rib/joint pain, literally feeling my hips moving apart, and contractions/labor pains. My mom told me the last month, “You have to get so miserable, that you WANT to go through the pain of labor and delivery.” And boy oh boy was she right!!! Not to mention.. of course, all you want is to finally hold your new baby in your arms. 🙂
So yes… the physical pains are there. They are felt and they are seen. They are talked about and advice is given. What I’ve realized though is that a lot of the mental/emotional pain I went through during pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum recovery was not necessarily seen by others. That mental pain; however, was definitely felt by me and not much advice was given. So, let’s talk about it. This is MY story and I claim it as apart of me now. Having learned a lot from the past 2 years, I hope that someone else who is going through something similar can know that they are not alone.
You know the constant sickness I endured while carrying my sweet baby, Carter, was pure hell. My body hated it! Having all day morning sickness until 7 months is no easy task. I look back and wonder, how in the world did I do that?! That was mentally excruciating, plus my previous depression just made for a really rough time. You know when you’re physically sick, it just makes everything mentally and emotionally that much harder. There is so much I could say about this… but that’s not what I want to talk about today! I want to talk about the mental battle I went through when my body started to change.
I remember when I started to feel ashamed of my body. I was 26 weeks pregnant and my belly was huge. Along with that, I had stretch marks appearing all over my body, not just on my stomach, starting from the tops of my knees to my upper and inner thighs. It was like something had exploded on my legs. I could feel extra weight on my arms, back, hips, and legs and I hated the feeling. I started to want to hide my body. I tried to hurry into the shower as fast as I could before my husband could see me and what was happening to my body. My husband noticed and one day, (I will never forget this day) he grabbed my arm as I was trying to take my clothes off at lightning speed and said, “Come here.” I said, “No.” while pulling away wanting to just hide. He pulled me in and said, “You are beautiful. Your body is changing as it should be because you are growing life and you are beautiful.” I burst into tears. I could only manage to choke out these words, “It’s just SO hard.” He held me while I cried. I decided then, that I would love my changing body. My husband loves my changing body and I can too.
I had to put a lot of things to rest throughout my pregnancy. I had to learn to be okay with not eating “perfectly healthy” all the time and to just focus on choking down what food my body would let me because my baby needed the food. I had to learn to be okay with not exercising a lot because physically, I literally could not do it. It was already hard enough physically and I did not need my mind beating myself up and making it 10x harder emotionally. When I frequently got weighed at the doctor’s office, I had to learn to let the number and the weight gain go. I had to learn to let myself be and that I didn’t have to be miss productive all of the dang time.
What became important to me was this.
Am I taking care of myself? Am I giving my body what it needs and asks for? Is my baby healthy? Those were the only things I let myself worry about. I got a lot of massages, I ate a lot of watermelon, and I slept a lot. And that is okay.
On August 21st at 7:31pm, I delivered a very healthy and happy baby boy. Nothing else mattered– the extra weight, the number on the scale, the stretch marks, the scars, and the pain.. they didn’t matter. Carter Michael, weighing 7lbs 13oz, a gift sent straight from God, was the only thing that mattered.
I guess that I had just imagined that my body struggles would stop there with delivery… and they didn’t. I thought get through pregnancy and you’ll have your body back.. Yeah, nope!!! I thought my extra weight would just fall off of me and that breast feeding would help me magically lose it…. it didn’t. I remember looking in the mirror 2 days after having Carter at my exhausted body and just cringing. I mean, I still looked pregnant with the uterus still stretched out, I had stretch marks everywhere, and the weirdest looking belly button. My sister, not knowing about the postpartum healing process said, “You better start doing some crunches!”, after seeing how big my tummy was without a baby in it. Knowing that she didn’t know, instead of taking what she said offensively, I explained to her that the uterus takes 6 weeks to get back to normal size after delivery. Here is the thing… you just don’t know about any of this until you’ve actually had a baby yourself!
I vividly remember making plans to get back to my “pre-birth weight stat and I mean ASAP”. I was going to focus on intuitive eating, exercising each day (once healed), and was only going to weigh myself once a week to see my progress (which, intuitive eating is against weighing yourself at all— I was lying to myself that I could do both).
Once I had fully healed, I viciously started going to the gym. I HAD to get my hour in each day. I started weighing myself weekly and tracking my weight. I was also living in the “breastfeeding makes you lose weight world” thinking that that would just magically help my efforts. I wanted to be that mom that looked like she didn’t have a baby 2 months postpartum. I wanted to be that “back to pre-birth weight mom” and to feel confident again. Low and behold… my eating disorder thoughts started coming back to haunt me more than they ever had before. My mindset turned to all negativity as I saw moms who had given birth at the same time as I, post on social media, that they were back to pre-birth weight and in their old jeans again.
The cold hard truth is that I wasn’t. I had to buy jeans two sizes bigger than what I used to wear. I didn’t fit in my size 2 and size small clothes anymore. I tried to fight the thoughts of comparing myself to other moms. It wasn’t going well. A big awakening moment for me was when, amidst my “eat perfectly, exercise hard daily kick”, my body stopped producing breast milk. Literally just stopped. I drank SO much water. I did tons of research on how to work out while breastfeeding, lose weight, and still produce milk— nothing I tried worked.
Defeated and upset, I decided to quit what I was doing.
1. So that I could produce milk for my baby because that is the most important. (Keep in mind that I’m not writing about this internal debate that I had for months and how hard it was to decide not to quit.) I had to decide what’s more important: me feeding my son and using the gift God gave me? Or getting back into my size 2 jeans?
2. Because I knew that if I didn’t stop now, I’d get back to a mental state that I had worked so hard to be out of.
3. To challenge myself to learn to LOVE myself with an x amount of pounds on me.
When talking to my therapist, I told her: “I don’t fully love myself right now, like I did when I was thin. Even as a teen, I worried about what would happen to my self love if I ever gained weight.” My therapist asked, “What do you think you need to do then to fully love yourself again?” I said, “My mind tells me that I need to lose the 30 lbs in order to love myself again. My body tells me I can love myself just as I am by taking care of it. I know that I need to challenge myself to love myself now, exactly how I am.. but it’s hard. Sometimes I think it’d just be easier to quit breastfeeding, to restrict eating food, and to lose the weight quickly, than to fight my negative thoughts like I want to do. I hate my rolls, I hate my stretch marks, my belly button that doesn’t look like a belly button anymore, and most of all, the awful thoughts that bombard my mind every day.”
Then my postpartum body love journey began..
I challenged myself to not step on a scale, to do light exercise for movement— my body loves movement and stretching— and not for weight loss, and to learn how to love myself with some extra pounds, rolls, stretch marks, and an ugly belly button. It’s been a tough year. I did not quit breastfeeding and I did not quit on my mental health. I’m proud to say that I pushed through and that I love myself even with all the extra stuff pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding has given me. I learned that I don’t have to lose weight to love myself again. That I can love me as I am and take care of myself by listening to my body.
I learned that I don’t have to be the back to pre-pregnancy weight mom. That I don’t have to wear size 2 jeans to have worth or to love myself.
I learned that every body is so different— some lose weight while breastfeeding, some are back in their old jeans right away, some aren’t, some lose weight once done breastfeeding, and on and on.. why compare myself to others? For you moms out there, that are still at your after birth weight a year or more later like I am, (honestly, I don’t know my weight) that’s okay!!! For you moms that are back into your before pregnancy jeans, that’s so awesome! I don’t envy you anymore and I’m genuinely happy for you, hoping that you are happy with you too!!!
Here is a reminder that pregnancy and birth are awesome, that our bodies are incredible and that you don’t have to feel pressure to be a new mom and to lose your baby weight quick. But most of all, that these pictures I post, are a postpartum reality for a lot of moms. There is no editing, no photoshop, no covering up my marks, just the real, vulnerable me. I’m happy to be me!
I found the perfect photography team to make my Real Body Love Postpartum pictures come true.
I set a date with my team and as the date approached, I got more and more anxious. Was I really going to let someone photograph all the parts of my body that I like the least? On the planned day, I showed up. I told Tana and Sam that I was anxious, excited, and nervous and they lovingly supported me through such a vulnerable and hard thing. I did not want to take off my sweatshirt to reveal and take pictures of what was underneath… but I did it anyway. I still work on loving my postpartum body the way it is each and every day. On really hard days, I remind myself that there are many women who do not get the chance to carry and have a baby, that want it more than anything. I remind myself that I am blessed and privileged to have been able to carry and have my sweet baby, no matter what the body after math is. That I can love myself with a little extra weight. And most of all, that the number of the scale does not define my self worth or self love.
Here is to loving ourselves just as we are. 🙂
A special thanks to Tana and Sam for being such amazing people to work with and the best support system ever!!! I loved working with them so much!
Hair, Makeup, & Lashes By: Sam Hunt — Instagram
Written By: Madeliene
Experienced By: Madeliene