What if we lived in a society where the postpartum body was as celebrated as the pregnant body? How would that affect our own body image after having children? Would we feel more comfortable in our new skin? Would we be more accepting of (and possibly even love) our stretch marks, loose skin, softer bellies and less full breasts? I believe so.
We see so many lovely maternity photos of friends, family, and celebrities all over social media, in magazines, and even ad campaigns. But rarely do we see images of real postpartum bodies. Why is it that the only mainstream love postpartum bodies get are the “bounce back” photos we so often see of celebrities who within days or weeks appear to be back to their “pre-baby bodies”?
I get it, pregnant bodies are INCREDIBLE. What they represent is nothing short of a miracle! They are the epitome of new life beginning. I absolutely LOVE seeing beautiful pregnant bellies in all shapes and sizes. I smile every single time I see a pregnant woman (which in my profession is multiple times a day.) I truly loved my own pregnant body. Yet it took me a long time and a lot of inner work to learn to love and accept my postpartum body. I was so disheartened by the body I saw in the mirror after my son was born. I failed to recognize what my body had just been through, and instead focused on the stretch marks, soft, full belly, dimpled thighs, and extra fat I had. Even once I got back into exercising and the extra weight from my pregnancy began to shed, I was left with permanent stretch marks, loose skin, diastasis recti, and boobs that didn’t resemble my pre-baby ones at all. I was so frustrated & embarrassed by these changes in my body. After a while I began to shift my focus from how I looked to how I felt. I worked hard to heal my diastasis & pelvic floor and started training for strength and function, rather than for image and “looking fit.”
Looking back, I wish that I had seen myself differently then. If I could tell my new mom self anything, it would be that my body just went through the most incredible transformation imaginable. My body had grown, sustained, and birthed another human being. Of course our bodies are going to look different after that! It is nothing short of crazy to think otherwise. Yet there I was, shocked by the body I saw in the mirror. Had I seen postpartum bodies being celebrated, and more images of beautiful, soft postpartum bellies that still somehwhat resemble pregnancy, loose skin, stretch marks… and less images of 6 pack abs at 6 weeks postpartum, I can guarantee that I would have felt more at ease in my new skin. I believe I would have been more accepting of my postpartum body & I would have been gentler on myself. While there is nothing wrong with those bodies that do seem to "bounce back" quickly after pregnancy, and in some cases this is just how it goes for some women and that is beautiful too and also deserves to be celebrated! However, we need to move away from that being the "standard" of how we are expected to look after having a baby.
Imagine the effect it has on a postpartum woman’s psyche to feel like she needs to bounce back after just having a baby. Our emotions are raw as new mamas as it is! We are sleep deprived, healing, learning to breastfeed (or bottle feed), getting to know the tiny human we just brought into the world, and getting to know ourselves as who we are as mothers. Our hormones are all over the place along with those emotions, not to mention the presence of postpartum depression and anxiety that can often weigh so heavily on mamas. If we could look at our bodies as the strong, beautiful magic makers that they are regardless of their shape, size, stripes, & physical changes, perhaps we could drop into this sacred place of being postpartum a little easier.
Lately more and more women are sharing their own real, unfiltered, raw and vulnerable postpartum moments from their changed bodies to loose skin, breast pumping in the most awkward of places, struggles with postpartum depression, and more. And it is so incredible to see. I feel that the more we can learn to share our own truths, the more we can empower others to accept & embrace their own.
My son is almost three now, yet I will forever be postpartum. My body has undergone permanent physical changes from carrying a baby to full term and birthing him into the world. My “pre-baby body” no longer exists. And that is ok! I wouldn’t want that body anyway, because that would mean that my son didn’t exist. So I’ll keep the skin I’m in and I will continue to be grateful to my body for the incredible gift it has given me – motherhood.