I didn't truly learn to love my body until I became a mother. Long before my son was born, even before having children was a thought in my mind, I was never truly happy with my body. This went as far back as my early 20's when I was a tiny little thing and could get into shape without really even trying. I would often criticize myself, thinking my stomach wasn't defined enough, my arms not toned enough, my hips, thighs, and butt too curvy, and my boobs too small. While I recognized that I was not actually overweight and that I was healthy, I would still refer to myself as "fat" at times. I would find myself comparing my body to those of other women, envious of one's toned arms or another's long, slim legs.
As women, our society has taught us to dislike our bodies. To feel that no matter what we do, our bodies are never "perfect." That our stomachs could always be flatter, our thighs slimmer and smoother, our boobs perkier and our butts firmer. And when it comes to bouncing back after having a baby, women are expected to be back to their pre pregnancy weight within weeks. The celebrities all do it, so why can't we?
I once saw this quote and it stuck with me. "Every single human life is the result of a woman's incredible transformation and sacrifice." (-unknown) The female body is absolutely incredible. The fact that many women can carry, sustain, and birth a child is truly magical in my eyes. A woman's body undergoes a massive transformation during the almost 10 months she is pregnant. So why is it that our society expects her to look like her pre baby self within mere weeks of giving birth? And, why does our society care so much? Shouldn't the fact that she grew a human and gave birth to a child that she is now doing her best to raise be what matters? Shouldn't her body be honored for doing the incredible? I think so.
As new moms, the last thing we should be worried about is getting our bodies back into shape when we have a new life we are responsible for. The transformation a woman goes through not only physically during pregnancy and childbirth, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as she becomes a mother is the greatest transformation she will ever undergo in her lifetime. This is a time to honor that transformation, to be gentle with ourselves as we learn about this new version of who we are as a mother, and as we get to know our babies.
During my pregnancy I never thought much about what would become of my body after I gave birth. I just assumed I would bounce back relatively quickly since I was in good shape before I got pregnant, and stayed active throughout my pregnancy. But bouncing back quickly was not my reality. I had a difficult recovery from my son's birth and took my time getting back to exercising. (I didn't start working out again until I felt that I had recovered enough and was truly able to handle exercise, which was much later than the go ahead my OBGYN had given me.) I had gained close to 50 lbs by the end of my pregnancy on top of the 15 lbs I had gained from the IVF hormones I was given. I remember being about 4 months postpartum looking at my body in the mirror and thinking, "Who is that? Is that really me?" In that moment I felt ashamed of the body I saw in the mirror. My body. What an awful feeling that was. I looked back at photos of myself pre pregnancy and thought, "If only I had that body again! Why was I so hard on myself?" I noticed myself comparing my body yet again, this time to other mothers, and wondering why they were able to "bounce back" so quickly. I hated that I was doing that. I was not proud of those thoughts, and I knew I had to do something to change the way I saw myself.
I took a big step back and reminded myself what my body had just been through. I underwent IVF and two frozen embryo transfers to get pregnant with my son. That alone is a lot for the body and mind to endure. I then grew a human for 42 weeks, was in labor for 40+ hours, with 4 of them spent pushing my baby out into the world. My body had taken a beating. My abdominal muscles were so weak from pushing for such an extended period of time that I felt like my entire midsection was made of jello. My pelvic floor was now on vacation, and I was anemic from blood loss during labor. And I had just become Mama to the most gorgeous baby boy I have ever laid eyes on. My body made him, and brought him into the world. How amazing is that?! It was time for me to start being kinder to myself and recognizing the miracle my body had just created.
It wasn't easy to shift my frame of mind when it came to my post baby body. In fact, it took me a full year to get to the place where I am now. I recognize that my body is forever changed and I embrace that. I will never again have the body I did before my son was born, because that body had never grown a human inside of it, pushed a baby out from between its hips and into the world, or fed an infant from its breasts. This body, the body I have now, has done all of those things, and will hopefully do them again in the not so distant future. The body I have now, my "mom body" is in much better shape and is stronger than my pre-baby body ever was. My "mom body" can lift and squat heavy weights, run up dozens of flights of stairs, balance on two hands in various yoga poses, and carry around a 20-something lb baby while pushing a vacuum at the same time, among other things. My "mom body" also has loose skin and stretch marks, and boobs that pretty much don't resemble the ones I had pre-baby whatsoever. These things are proof that I created and sustained a life, and I am OK with that! While my body may not be societally "perfect" I could care less. I am strong, I am healthy, and I earned these imperfections, so I wear them proudly.
This isn't to go without saying that I don't have days where I wish certain parts of my body looked differently. I do. But they are fewer and far between, and I am quick to let go of those negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. The hardest part of my transformation was to let go of comparing myself to other women. It wasn't fair to me, and it certainly wasn't fair to those other women either. There is no way to know what it is like to walk in someone else's skin. Judging a woman's body because we are envious of it, or because we are not, is an ugly habit and one I strongly disliked having. After some serious soul searching and meditation, I found a way to let go of the comparisons I was making, and began to make peace with myself. I am so much happier for it now.
As women, we need to lift each other up, to recognize that every body is beautiful in its own unique way. No two of us are built the same. We need to let go of the idea of a "perfect body." The perfect body can be whatever we make of it. I choose to see my own body as perfect. I see all bodies as perfect. It is time to let go of the negative self talk, and begin to truly love every inch of ourselves. To honor the journey we have just been on to becoming a mother. To love our bodies not solely for the life (or lives) it has created, but for all that it does for us every day. We need to join together to promote self esteem, self love, positive body image, respect for ourselves and other women, good health, well-being, and love. We are all beautiful, magnificent creatures.