“Get your body back after baby!”
I loathe this marketing slogan for exercise programs and diet products. It implies that you lost something; but you didn’t—you gained. Your life was added to and your body reflects that. Your body will never be exactly the same way it was before Baby, just as you will never be the same.
After the birth of my first baby, I was horrified with my body. I don’t know what I expected and I suppose that was part of the problem. Like most women, what I knew of the post-baby body was what I saw in the media, and what I saw in the mirror was nothing like the celebrities on television. After a year of making no effort to lose weight, my body returned to a new normal: only 2 pounds heavier than before baby—but different. It took this whole year and a lot of unnecessary emotional stress to come to terms with who I was now physically. I felt like a stranger in my own skin. There is, to a certain extent, a period of getting to know your new self after a baby, but shock and disgust should not be a part of that process. It should be a process of acceptance and love . . . and new clothes.
I learned a lot from this experience. It gave me the opportunity to look at why we have this goal and ideal of “getting your body back after baby.” It is absurd. Not even so much because it is unattainable but because you shouldn’t want to. I am no longer a teenager and I have no desire to look like one. My body created and nurtured life. I am so proud of that. I am different on the inside, different emotionally, and I want that reflected outside for the world to see.
What can we do to have a different experience—a better experience? We need to lift the veil of shame that results in so much secrecy concerning the post-baby body. We need to shift our perspective, adjust our relationship with our body to one based on respect, admiration, and gratitude. Be in harmony with your body instead of fighting against it. This can include eating healthily and exercising to honor and strengthen your body, but should focus primarily on appreciating your body, the life it just created and birthed, and on nurturing your baby. The post-birth experience should be focused on loving your baby and getting to know yourself as a mother, and that includes your new body.
With the birth of my second baby, I decided it would be completely different—and it was. I knew what to expect this time and that was a huge advantage. I vowed not to look at the scale for one year. It took nine months to grow to the size and weight of hosting a healthy baby. I would give myself the respect and courtesy of at least that much time to settle into a new equilibrium. Besides, what difference does a number on a scale make? All that matters in terms of my body is my health and how I feel about myself. And after the birth of my second child, my body was strong, healthy, and beautiful. I released myself from the emotional attachment to pre-baby clothes, released myself completely from the pressure to fit into the clothes I had before I created a second person. If a shirt didn’t look good, it was the shirt—not me. Dress who you are: your body today, not what it used to be.
Another huge factor for me is that I want to be a role model to my children. What do I want them to say about themselves when they look in the mirror? What do I want them to see? My children will never see me pick apart my body. They will never hear me degrade myself. I am not prideful or conceited, but I am happy with who I am while positively motivated to improve myself in the ways that are important to me. I am a practitioner of Krav Maga1 self defense. When my children ask me why I do Krav Maga, I say because I want to be strong and tough and able to defend myself and protect them. In engaging in this exhilarating activity, I exercise my strength and agility in a way that makes me proud of the power of this body, regardless of how I stack up against the figures in the magazines. My children witness me living that ideal. If I am unhappy with a pair of pants, I may say, “These pants are too small,” but I would never say, “I am too fat.” What do you want your children to believe about themselves? There are plenty of people in the world who will try to break them down. Don’t model for them how to do it to themselves.
It is also worth noting that I do not underestimate the role of having an empowered birth experience in your postpartum state of mind in terms of how you see yourself and your body. Walking away from my natural birth with a mind-blowing sense of accomplishment, strength, and faith in my body to be everything and exactly what my babies and I need, laid the groundwork for a respectful and positive relationship with my body. If you are coming away from a less than empowering birth experience, actively taking charge of writing the script for how you see and relate to your body is the perfect place to reclaim your power and positive self-image.
I love my body; one week after giving birth to my third baby, I thought it looked perfect. Yes, I have a belly. Yes, I have stretch marks. But I am happy to be marked by the creation of three human beings. I am a mom. I am a woman. And I love the way I am. I wish more women had the sense of peace with their bodies that I have and I hope it’s contagious. I don’t look like a model and I wouldn’t want to. I can nurture my babies and kick ass. What more could I want? When I look in the mirror today I think, “Damn, you are amazing.” Don’t get me wrong; I know I am not “pretty.” But I revere my body for creating, growing, birthing, breastfeeding, and carrying three babies. Honor your baby by honoring yourself.
You may think I am too big in some places, too small in others, but I am made to give life. I have the strength and dimensions to take myself anywhere and everywhere I want to go.
You may think I am too assertive, but I am built to reach destinations and protect what I love.
You may think my features are imperfect, but I see the beauty of every moment; I breathe it in and I taste it, I hear every whisper of nature’s song and I feel deeply with every touch.
You may overlook my value, but I see yours. My legacy of love is strong, and I stride through life leaving footprints down a path I am proud to have walked.