Before I share on this very sensitive topic, I want to take a moment to say:
If you’re in the postpartum season after you’ve experienced the loss of your child, my heart aches for you and goes out to you. It’s an unimaginable loss and on top of the healing your body is doing, you are also experience a devastating grief and navigating it all without your baby in your arms. I cannot imagine a deeper pain. This post may be helpful or it may be triggering and I just want to encourage you to follow what feels best for you (i.e. exiting out if it is NOT what you need to read about right now). If you are in the Central Ohio area, my friend Elizabeth started an incredible organization to support those impacted by pregnancy and infant loss: Alive in My Heart.
When I first sat down to write about the topic of postpartum body image, I was three months postpartum with our second child, my daughter Yasmina.
Today, as I sit down to try and finish writing, I’m almost four months postpartum.
I share this because I think it speaks volumes about this wild, messy, and in my opinion fiercely beautiful season of life: plans fly out the window and things take (much) longer than we originally expected – whether it be writing a blog post or just getting out of the house for a walk around the park.
About 100 times a day, I say to myself ‘this, too, is possible if I’m willing to take my time.’
Oh my, this time of taking our time. It’s tender, raw, vulnerable, emotional, exhausting, and deeply challenging. It’s splendid.
Not only are you entirely responsible for keeping a human who is totally dependent on you alive, but you’re also getting to know your child, understanding your shifting identify as a mother, AND your body is doing some major healing under intense circumstances (like hormonal shifts and sleep deprivation).
It’s also a time of falling in love.
And yet all of this is put at risk and undercut by the ridiculous, unhelpful, unhealthy, and impossible expectations and messaging directed at a new mother’s body.
There is so much pressure on us to ‘get our bodies back’ after having a baby. Whether the comments come from social media, magazines, or someone in our daily life, it’s easy for those comments and pressure to get soaked up and internalized.
To me, this pressure is the most glaring example of how unrealistic, toxic, unhealthy, and impossible the standards on women’s bodies are in our society, in general, to meet.
It makes me feel sad. It makes me feel furious. It makes me feel frustrated. And it makes me want to continue working to change the narrative.
Because, what happens in our bodies + minds when we feel that our bodies need fixed? When we feel that we are somehow failing? Or a mistake? Or falling short?
We disconnect from the present moment and become instantly distracted by how we can ‘fix’ ourselves. If we aren’t actively engaging in the ‘fixing’ then we feel shame. If we are trying to ‘fix,’ we are often engaging in ‘solutions’ that are restrictive and dangerous (especially in a season where our body needs so much nourishment to heal, recover, and care for our babies).
On the flipside, when we feel safe and at home in our bodies we are able to be here in them now. This creates more connection to our needs (physical, emotional, social, mental, spiritual) AND to our babies.
For a moment, I want you to imagine two different scenarios:
I want you to imagine an interaction with your child when you feel that your body is something to be ashamed of. How do you feel? How do you act? What comes up for you? How do you view the child? What words do you use?
And, I want you to imagine an interaction with your child when you feel your body is exactly as she is meant to be.
How does it change?
Today, I want to offer you some strategies and shifts to help you experience more of the latter in a world that would have all of us buying into the former.
If you’re struggling with body changes that you’re experiencing during the postpartum season, I hope this will bring you some encouragement. Let’s dive in!
What does ‘postpartum’ mean?
The postpartum period has three general phases: the hours directly following childbirth; the weeks following childbirth; and up to six months after childbirth.
Change is normal, natural, and (dare I say) beautiful
First, body changes are a normal, natural, and (dare I say) beautiful part of living in a body in this life. And, of the process of growing + birthing a child.
For a moment, let’s look at a short list of things that are likely to happen in your body during pregnancy:
- Your body is naturally growing, stretching, and expanding (to make room for a growing, stretching, expanding human life)
- Your body is adapting rapidly to change during this time (thank you, dear body)
- Hormones are fluctuating
- Metabolism is increasing
- Immunity is lowered
- The uterus expands up to 20 times it’s normal size
- Your cervix changes
- The size of your rib cage increases
- Oxygen use increased
- Heart rate increases
- You gain weight
- Your belly expands
- Your hips widen
- Your intestine, organs, and stomach are displaced
- Blood flow increases and blood plasma increases in volume up to 50% so you’ve got reserves for birth + for your growing reproductive organs (THE BODY IS AMAZING)
Each body and pregnancy is unique, but these are some pretty standard examples of changes that happen. Is it even possible to fathom that our bodies would be the same after all this? Change seems pretty necessary, right?
Review this list and if you feel inclined, write down any other changes you experienced that come to mind to make the list feel like yours.
Really reflect on your list and remind yourself, ‘Change is part of pregnancy. Change is essential to pregnancy. My body is made to change. My body is meant to change. My body is marvelous at changing. Thank you body for changing.’
There is a popular narrative that babies don’t have to change anything – your body, your life. In my opinion, this is harmful to new moms in more ways than one.
Our bodies will change during and after pregnancy. They are meant to.
Having children will also change our lives. It’s meant to.
Rather than trying to avoid or erase change, what if we talked about how we can embrace it? Navigate it? Welcome it?
Compassion, grace, forgiveness, repeat
Change can be uncomfortable. Motherhood can be challenging.
Can you be gentle with yourself?
When you find yourself missing how your body used to feel or look, can you let yourself feel those feelings? Can you hold space for those thoughts + feelings without making it mean your current body is a problem?
When you feel exhausted and like you’re in the middle of a chaotic tornado (this can’t be just me, right?) can you practice grace for yourself? Can you remind yourself that controlling your food won’t make these chaotic moments disappear?
When you mess something up because this is all so new and overwhelming, can you offer yourself forgiveness?
Can you acknowledge that you’re learning and growing and dang those growing pains can be tough! But look at you! As my husband would say, ‘You’re really doing it!!’ This is his signature line – give it a try. It’s not only true but VERY helpful.
Compassion. Grace. Forgiveness. REPEAT.
If there are pants that are too tight or an account on Instagram that makes you feel like your body is a mistake, I’d love to encourage you to let it go.
I don’t care if they are cute pants. I don’t care if it’s a lovely person. Right now, it’s ok to say ‘this isn’t helpful to me right now.’
Pack the pants up, unfollow that person, do what you need to do. Edit accordingly.
Same goes with newsletters, magazines, TV shows, podcasts, books, etc.
Oh my oh my oh my this time is such a sweet, sensitive, fleeting time. Does it not just feel like your heart has been removed from your body + attached on the outside… so vulnerable, so exposed? It requires extra protection.
There is no energetic space for stomach squeezing pants or a voice that steals you away from this season.
Edit the ‘noise’ accordingly.
Add in a pair of breezy pants. Add in a nurturing voice.
Or, even better (in my opinion)… NO PANTS AND NO SOCIAL MEDIA. That’s my personal favorite.
Take care of the basics
You know what makes anything in life a smidge easier to navigate?
Eating regularly. Asking for help when you can. Stripping down for some skin to skin baby snuggles. Drinking water. Enjoying every sip of that coffee. Deeply breathing. And taking some more deep breaths.
I would add sleep to this list, but when I had my son Alyosha my doula gave me the world’s best advice: ‘don’t pray for him to sleep through the night. Pray to find joy in the nighttime feeds.’
So, while sleep might not be an option, I wish you little glimmers of joy in the sleepless nights!
And give the mental middle finger to any message that tells you that your life growing + giving body is something to feel ashamed of.
Write your own body narrative
Your body is not wrong. Your body is not ruined. Your body is not a disgrace. Your body is not awful. Your body is not lost.
Rather than asking how we can get back a body that we never lost, what if we talked about who is benefiting from us believing that is what we should be doing in the first place?
The diet industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that makes it’s money off of convincing people that their bodies need fixing – in the name of beauty, in the name of health, in the name of worth.
What if we wrote our own body narrative rather than letting them write it for us? I’d say a generation of humans (and our children) would benefit from that.
One of the most powerful things I’ve done during and after my pregnancies is to pick the words that I want to meditate on around my body.
Postpartum with Yasmina, my words have been ‘safe, soft, home.’
‘My body is a safe, soft home.’
Grab a pen and paper and jot down some words that feel neutral or even positive about your body today.
Close your eyes. Deep breaths. Meditate on the truth of those words.
Can you find some gratitude for your body in the midst of this very personal narrative?
And, when someone else tries to narrate your body for you, ask… ‘who benefits from me buying into this narrative?’ then come back to YOUR truth.
My body is a soft, safe home.
How do you choose to connect to your body today?
Sending you so much love.
P.S. There is a whole other conversation to be had here about the lack of postpartum support for parents in our country but one that I think is woven deeply into the way we view, care for, and value mothers.
P.P.S. If you feel you’re struggling with feelings of anxiety or depression, talk to your doctor as soon as you can. You’re not alone.
P.P.P.S. If someone you know is pregnant or had a baby, I’d urge you NOT to comment on her body. Can you find something else to compliment or discuss instead?