According to society, everything is wrong with my post-pregnancy body.
Fuelled by the mainstream media – from glossy magazines to lithe, Instagramming celebrities – we’ve been led to believe that our bodies could and should bounce straight back after pregnancy.
So imagine my surprise when I didn’t. Not even in the slightest. In fact, eight months on, I’m still rummaging through my ‘makeshift’ wardrobe – somewhere between pregnancy jeans and my pre-baby attire.
So what is wrong with me? Am I some sort of hideous whale that defied the laws of both physics and beauty?
Not even close…
The Lie We All Buy Into
I like to think that I’m a fairly level-headed, sensible individual. I don’t always take things at face value and I’m not easily fooled by outside appearances. Or at least, I would have said that eight months ago.
I now realise that I’m just as susceptible as everyone else to the incredibly clever and lucrative business that is the way you look. Most notably, the way you look after having a baby.
I’ve always been a fairly slim pear shape. I eat pretty well (if you keep me away from the chocolate) and I find exercise quite enjoyable. So before pregnancy, I was sitting somewhere comfortably around a size 10.
However, after developing something of a bottomless stomach towards the end of my pregnancy, along with a scare that put me off exercise at 25 weeks, I started putting on weight pretty quickly. I convinced myself that it was all baby (ha, six pounds 11 ounces at one week overdue!) and that I’d bounce back straight away.
After all, don’t we see celebrity after celebrity pop out a child or two and then grace the cover of a magazine with ‘washboard abs’ two weeks later?!
How hard can it be to shed a few pregnancy pounds if they can do it so quickly?
Trust me when I say, it’s not easy.
And trust me even more when I say, celebrities losing their baby weight that quickly is neither realistic, nor is it always healthy. It’s their job to perform miracles with the way they look. They have an army of personal chefs, trainers and in-house nannies to help them achieve the impossible. In fact, they’ve most likely spent their entire pregnancy working on the big body reveal at the end, which in reality sounds pretty gruelling to me. The pressure must be absolutely immense.
And that’s the problem.
The pressure to look a certain way after having a baby seems to completely trump anything else. How you feel about your role as a new parent, how you choose to raise your child, and worst of all, how you’re judged as a mother.
The Reality of the Post-Pregnancy Body and the Woman Who Inhabits It
Judging someone by the changes their body goes through during the most monumental period of their lives is entirely pointless. Not to mention cruel. But that doesn’t stop the media from fuelling the fire on a daily basis.
We’re surrounded by ‘shocking’ headlines about the poor socialites who didn’t miraculously avoid stretch-marks. There’s a never-ending stream of fad diets that ‘help’ new mothers get back into their pre-baby jeans. We’re bombarded daily with the idea that we should be dissatisfied with our postpartum body image. And so it becomes our focus.
We forget that the diet industry is one of the most lucrative in the world. It feeds with glee on those of us who were grossly misled about how we should feel about our post-pregnancy bodies. It preys on our vulnerability and sucks us into the ‘I must not look like I’ve just had a baby’ at six weeks postpartum mindset.
Of course you will look like you’ve just had a baby.
In actual fact, it’s amazing to look like you’ve just had a baby. Pregnancy, birth and becoming a mother is a huge event. It’s not something to simply sweep under the carpet as an inconvenience. It needs the celebration it deserves.
But what the media also don’t share in their eternal focus on weight, is all the other remarkable adjustments your body makes when it grows and gives birth to a baby. There are no mentions of hips permanently widening, hair falling out (and strange, fluffy regrowth), or your feet even going up a shoe size! They zero in on ‘larger breasts’ and ‘no stretch-marks’ while conveniently glossing over the fact that the majority of us will actually face rather droopy boobs and tiger stripes in the oddest of places – back of the knees anyone!?
And these changes can’t be dieted or exercised away. Like it or not, some post-pregnancy effects are here to stay.
The Importance of Health and Well-Being
I am not advocating that new mothers should stick two fingers up to the mainstream media and shovel burgers down their throats like there is no tomorrow. Unless it’s something you really want to do, of course.
Instead, I’m simply saying that health and well-being is far more important than whether you can fit your behind into some pre-pregnancy skinny jeans.
Eat well to nourish the body that has just grown, nurtured, and expelled a human. Exercise (gently at first) to strengthen and stretch your tired, over-worked muscles. Practise mindfulness and gratitude to support your sleep-deprived brain.
But above all else, do everything in moderation. Balance is the key.
Take some time to switch off from the latest headline or Instagram post about how awful/amazing someone looks. Instead focus on how you feel.
What are your goals? Ambitions? Hopes and dreams for the tiny little baby in your arms?
That is what is important. Who you are as a person, friend and mother – not what you look like to random strangers in the street.
If the media could support and build (both new mothers and the often forgotten fathers), rather than criticise and destroy, we’d be a much happier, healthier nation. And luckily, there are an ever-growing number of ladies fighting back against the popular portrayal of ‘perfection’.
Mummy bloggers and Instagram influencers are turning to social media to highlight the reality of pregnancy, birth and being a parent. My Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds are now full of truly beautiful, natural women loving their ‘imperfect’ lives and bodies. They share themselves with their millions of devoted followers to show that it is OK not to be a supermodel. Or even to aspire to be like one.
And I love it. I’ve finally come to realise that it doesn’t matter what size I am, what my boobs look like or even why I have stretch marks on my knees. I’m the mother I’ve always wanted to be and I wouldn’t have it any other way.