I wrote this post at nine weeks postpartum after delivering my sweet baby girl. I am now twelve and a half weeks postpartum, and am still a work in progress. Everything I wrote here still rings true. This post is for any woman who not only has ever given birth, but also, for every woman who has ever struggled with loving her body, no matter her weight and size. May it serve as a helpful guide for you to love your body, as it is, right now. May it also serve as a reminder of just how beautiful and miraculous you are (because guess what: you are).
I talk a lot about the art of surrender. Heck, I even meditate for twenty minutes a day while repeating the Sanskrit word for it (swaha) over and over again. The. Entire. Time. Before my daughter was born, I used to meditate before starting my day. Now that Madison is here, I sit on the floor of her nursery during her first morning nap and meditate right in front of her crib.
Swaha, swaha, swaha, swaha!
More deep breaths.
Does my mind wander a few (or a thousand) times? Of course it does. But I always come right back to the word and get re-centered, if only for a few minutes before my mind starts to wander again (did I turn off the oven? I should really make those black beans for dinner tonight. Oh shoot – is she waking up already? Noooo! No…no…she’s not. Ok. Phew. Shit. Focus, Lauren. Focus….swaha…).
Despite my (self proclaimed) valiant attempts to remind myself to surrender every day, there is something you should know:
I suck at it. Yup. I said it. I suck at surrendering. I’m a work in progress, at best. I have enough awareness to know that I need to do it, because I believe it is the ultimate path to peace. But the truth is, though I talk the talk, most days, I don’t actually walk the walk.
I know. I’m a fraud. A criminal, even. Well, at least, I feel like one. How can I preach what I have such a hard time practicing?
Well, for starters, I have to remember that I’m only human, and I have to forgive myself for that. In this my human experience, I have learned that I am never perfect, nor can I ever expect to be (though not for lack of trying). All I can proactively do is commit to being aware of both my strengths and my weaknesses, and vow to always work on them – not allowing them to hold me back – as long as I shall live (which, universe willing, is until at least a hundred and ten).
Giving birth to Madison, as you know if you read my labor story, was quite the experience (whose isn’t?). Once it was over, all the pain of the previous 81 hours was replaced with awe and undying love with one look at her sweet face. She served as a reminder (and does to this day) of what all that pain was for: more love than I could have ever imagined.
But though the pain is but a distant and fading memory, the marks the pregnancy and the labor left on my body are anything but.
You know those women who tell you, “I was wearing my skinny jeans a week after my daughter was born!”?
Yeah. I’m not one of those women (though of course I had high hopes that I would be). And if you are one of those women, all the power to you!
As for me, at almost nine weeks postpartum, on top of having some tearing (ouch) and some stretch marks, I still have a big ol’ belly. My skinny jeans are still tucked away on a shelf too high for me to reach without standing on a chair. And there are no signs of me getting that chair anytime soon.
I still look five months pregnant. And though I’m trying to surrender to the healing process, I cannot say that I am happy about my belly (or my stretch marks, for that matter).
Naturally, I torture myself by looking at pictures of my friends on FaceBook (aka the devil). I look too long at the images of friends who had babies either around the same time I did, or even on the same day. I see their flat tummies (actually, I obsess over them, if we’re being accurate), look down at mine, and get jealous. Frustrated. Discouraged.
The nasty little voice in my head comes on strong:
What’s wrong with me? Why isn’t my stomach going down? Why do I still look five months pregnant? What am I doing wrong? I am disgusting.
Don’t hate me for saying this, but my tummy was never my problem area. I always had a flat stomach. It was (and still is) my butt and thighs where I held extra weight. But now, it’s my butt, my thighs and my tummy (and incidentally, my back and my sides as well, not to mention my once normal but now giant porn star boobs). I also have a moderately bad case of diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles) working against me which further lends itself to my new mummy tummy (basically your guts stick out because your ab muscles aren’t holding them in).
But even knowing that, I won’t seem to give myself a break. I look at my tummy in the mirror and I try to suck it in. I get disgusted by it, I’m ashamed to say. Where I used to look at my pregnant tummy and marvel at the miracle of life growing inside me, now I look at my jiggly tummy, and knowing there is no longer a human growing inside it, I feel a sense of loss for the body I once had. It’s so vain. But it’s my truth right now, so – in the words of Dr. Seuss: that’s why I’m bothering telling you so.
Why can’t I just give in? Surrender? Be grateful for the way my body showed up for me to bring this beautiful being into the world rather than hate my body for not going back to the way I want it to look before it’s clearly ready to do it?
Throughout these last few weeks of terrorizing myself with all of these thoughts and questions, I was reminded of something sad: this body hatred is not exclusive to postpartum moms. This phenomenon of body hate is rampant for all women who’ve ever looked at a fashion magazine and been told what their bodies “should” look like. I definitely had qualms with my body before I ever got pregnant! In my experience, women aren’t taught to love our bodies at any size, at least, not in the media (no matter how many Dove campaign commercials you might watch, which – in my opinion – will never be enough).
Why can’t I look at my bulging belly and think, “Wow! Thanks for the miracle of life, body!”
Why can’t I look at my stretch marks and think, “Wow! I can’t believe you stretched so wide to make room for my beautiful daughter, tummy!”
Why can’t I look at my butt and thighs and think, “Wow! You’re holding onto fat so you have enough nutrients to feed my daughter. Thanks, body! You’re so smart! I love these new love handles! I’ll fit back into my favorite J Crew pants some time in the future. No. Big. Deal.”
Because I spend too much time on FaceBook, that’s why.
Just kidding. Well, not entirely.
Whether it’s FaceBook or the fact that Heidi Klum was back modeling underwear at 8 weeks postpartum (seriously?), I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m not asking myself those very wise questions I mentioned above. Instead, I’m asking stupid questions that fill me with anxiety and frustration. And I’m not being very nice to or patient with myself.
Whenever I’ve had weight concerns in the past (which I realize now is just so silly), it was easy to fix: eat healthy, exercise daily, get plenty of sleep, and drink lots of water. Easy. Peasy.
Well, things change when you’ve just had a baby, at least, for some of us. And for some women who haven’t had babies, those “fail safe” techniques don’t work for them either: sometimes you just can’t lose the weight. And the truth is that sometimes you may not be meant to. At least, not in that point in time. But one thing is for sure: we are not all meant to be size 0’s. We come in all different shapes and sizes, and we should celebrate that rather than try to change it and wish we were different.
In my postpartum case, where I would normally watch what I eat and exercise to promote healthy weight loss, unfortunately, I can’t really do either right now. As a breastfeeding mom, I need to make sure I’m taking in enough calories to keep up my supply and make sure the milk is nutrient dense. Besides, because I’m burning so many extra calories breastfeeding, I’m never full. I’m quite literally always hungry, so I couldn’t diet even if I wanted to. That said, I don’t eat badly. I basically only eat protein shakes (without fruit), salads, veggies, quinoa, beans and other legumes, and the odd scoop of coconut bliss ice cream on special occasions. So food isn’t my problem.
As for fitness, I had some pretty major trauma down there, so I still haven’t been given the green light to get back to my regular exercise regimen. I also have diastasis recti (as I mentioned earlier), so I’m not allowed to do any regular core work. Not even yoga. *Hmph*
I’m allowed to walk. That’s it. So I walk as often as Madison will allow me to before meltdown ensues and I have to rush home with her wailing protests from the stroller. I also keep weights and resistance bands around the house so I can get a few bicep and tricep curls in here and there throughout the day.
But as a new mom, just getting a walk in or a bicep curl here and there is a challenge. Oftentimes I have to give up something else (a meal, a shower, a pee break) in order to exercise or eat at proper meal.
Sorry, I’m ranting. But I’m clearly not raving.
But I know this much is true:
I need to give myself a freakin’ break. I know that. But I also know it’s hard. Bearing a child forces you to face so many inner demons, and it’s really hard to talk about them. It’s hard to admit that you feel them – I certainly feel ashamed for saying them out loud.
But you know me. I’m always honest. And if any other moms out there are feeling the same way, I’d like to create a safe space for which to acknowledge how you’re feeling. Because as I’ve learned, just because I’m mourning the body I used to have, it doesn’t mean I love my daughter any less. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do it again (because I would in a heartbeat). It doesn’t mean I’m not grateful to have been able to get pregnant and have a healthy child.
But just because I’m grateful doesn’t mean I’m not human. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel. And though I’m typically positive, sometimes us optimistic people get down too. We get overwhelmed. We wish things were different. Right now. Not in twelve weeks. Not in a year. Not when our body decides it’s ready to drop the weight or heal the diastasis or whatever.
But since I can’t wish, hope or dream this tummy away (or the extra fat around my back, thighs and butt), and there is no amount of vitamin E in the world that will hide my stretch marks, I will just have to work on practicing what I preach:
Surrender. Trust that this too shall pass, but also, accept the new normal. My stomach may go down, sure. But it may never look the same again. And why should it? It housed a human for almost 10 months. Perhaps it has changed for the better, if only I could find the eyes to see that. I don’t just need to be ok with that: I want to be ok with that.
And as for the Heidi Klum’s of the world, just because some of my friends have been able to lose their baby belly faster than I can, in a year from now, when my tummy is flat again, will it really have ever mattered?
Of course I know the answer to that.
But just because I know the answer doesn’t mean it’s easy to accept. Logically I know it’s true. I just wish I could get the message through to the little annoying voice in my head that doesn’t seem to have any quit in her.
The other day I caught myself making a goal that by my birthday (June 5), I would be back at my pre-baby weight again.
And then I thought, no, that’s not right. The extra weight I have is nourishing my daughter. Why on earth would I want to mess with her health? Sure, I want to be back at my fighting weight again. I want to feel good in my clothes again. But not until my body is ready. And not until my daughter no longer needs me to store extra fat for her nutritional needs. And if that means I have to wait a year to get there, and buy some new clothes to fit (and I dare say, flatter) my new and perhaps temporary curves, then so be it. Because what is more important is spending time with Madison, being present, and not obsessing over every little extra ounce of body fat.
So instead, I made a new goal:
By June 5, I will be ok – and even be happy with my body exactly as it is. No matter my weight. No matter the size of my jeans.
To help me in this goal, I’m going to use these 7 realistic strategies. Whether you’ve had a baby recently, or you are just having trouble loving your body right now, I’d bet my lonely skinny jeans that these tips will help you too:
1. EAT HEALTHY FOOD 90% OF THE TIME.
As long as I am eating healthy foods at least 90% of the time, I know I’m giving my body the nutrients it needs. As for the other 10% of the time, there is one rule: don’t have any remorse. Enjoy every morsel. If you’re going to be bad, what’s the point in feeling guilty about it? Have your cake and eat it too, gosh darnit!
2. BE ACTIVE EVERY DAY.
I may not be running any trail races, and I may not be exercising the way I used to, but in my opinion, as long as I am active every single day, that’s what counts. Even if it means I just have time for a quick 15 minute stroll around the neighborhood, or a few bicep or tricep curls here and there throughout the day, that is perfect.
3. ADD YOUR BODY TO YOUR GRATITUDE LIST.
After my 20 minute meditation practice every morning, I always end with a gratitude list. Among the things I am grateful for (Madison, Ted, my family and friends, my health), I always make sure to thank my body body for all that it did to get Madison here safely (not to mention creating her), and all that it’s doing now to nourish her. Not everyone is so lucky. I have to trust that at any given time, my body is doing what it needs to do in order to stay healthy. And if that means I’m 10 (or even 40) pounds heavier as a result, then so be it. Because of my body, I can walk, talk, eat, run, stretch, write and quite literally do everything I do on a daily basis. I need to give it way more credit!
This is a tough one for new moms, but sleep is hugely important not only for maintaining a healthy weight, but also for mental health. For those of you who don’t have children, or whose children are older, don’t skimp on sleep. Aim for 8 hours a night, if you can. Your body goes through important rejuvenation processes while at rest. For those of you (like me) who are either new moms or suffer from insomnia, sleep when you can. Or at least rest your eyes.
5. MEDITATE EVERY DAY.
If you have trouble sleeping (like I do during the day when I’m “supposed” to be sleeping while Madison does), meditation can actually have the same affect on you physiologically and mentally as having a nap. My suggestion? Do it in the morning for at least 20 minutes, and pick a word that resonates with you to keep you focused (like mine: swaha (surrender)). If you can’t do 20 minutes, do ten. If you can’t do ten, do five. If you can’t do five, do one. You get the picture.
6. BUY NEW CLOTHES THAT ACTUALLY FIT YOU.
Stop trying to squeeze yourself into your old clothes that don’t fit like I’ve been doing. It’s depressing. Splurge and buy yourself some clothes that actually fit so you can feel sexy when you look in the mirror (and so that you can start breathing properly again since you’re not trying to stuff yourself into your old clothes like a sausage).
7. BUY YOURSELF SOME “SEXY” PAJAMAS.
Who says feeling sexy should stop when you go to bed? Just because you’re wearing a giant nursing bra and you’re probably going to get thrown up on a few times throughout the night doesn’t mean you can’t at least start the night off feeling like the sexy woman that you are! I’m not saying you have to buy yourself some garter hoses and a low cut negligee (unless that’s your thing), but at least buy yourself some nighttime digs that make you feel yummy instead of just wearing an old t-shirt and some pajama bottoms that don’t inspire you. I just ordered this nighty and I’ve got these pajamas on my list too.
I am confident that if I follow these 7 strategies, I’m actually going to start walking past the mirror and being able to love the silhouette I see staring back at me. Not when I’m 10 pounds lighter. Right now.
Besides – sexy isn’t a fixed number. It’s a state of mind. And I’m going to do everything in my power to shift my mind over to err on the side of it.
Today, and every day, though it may be a struggle, I’m going to choose to love my body.
What will you choose today?
Love, love, love,
Your crazy new mom who’s trying to figure it all out,