When I was in high school I experimented with not eating. Or, at least eating just enough to maintain my thigh gap – which I discovered is an apple, a cup of coffee, and the occasional hot dog wrapped in lettuce. For the protein. While this phase of my life was relatively short lived, I was in deep enough that it took a solid relationship with a therapist, a nutritionist, and some light medication to stop my anxious hands from shaking around a plate of scrambled eggs. It was a time of self hate disguised as self-love, in which (only in retrospect can I see) my reality was twisted completely upside down.
However, even though I have always had, and may always have, some mixed up feelings about my body image, what I will remember most about this period of my life was the turning point – the moment when I chose to dig deep and get healthy: “if you continue down this road,” said one of my doctors, “it will greatly effect your future health, and could even interfere with your ability to get pregnant.” Before this, nothing made me shift my actions or my thinking; I was resistant to medication, I was resentful of those trying to help, and mostly, I was desperately scared of every pound I “needed” to gain. But somehow, even for a young high school girl, the idea that I wouldn’t be able to bear my own children one day was the thing that stuck with me. This felt like a direct threat to my womanhood – yet it was something I could completely control. Ever since then, while I was not planning to get pregnant for quite some time, I held on to the wonder of pregnancy and knew that one day I would experience it for myself. It was this very thing that brought be through to the other “healthy” side, and without sounding too crazy, I essentially had to convince myself I was pregnant in order to eat a complete meal.
It was still a long road, and I continued to fluctuate and battle my own demons over the years. But I eventually learned my limits, learned my body, and discovered what I need to feel my best. Numbers were my enemy, and moderation was eventually my best friend. Diet and exercise gave me the power to maintain and achieve, but what I wore could make or break my confidence.
Fast forward nearly fifteen years, and my journey into motherhood was just beginning – my dreams of being pregnant were coming true, and I knew my body could take this on in it’s completely healthy state. Now don’t get me wrong – I still had every intention of staying active, fit and body conscious during my pregnancy, (all of which I did to the best of my efforts), but all of a sudden something in me changed. That which was scary before, now had a completely new meaning and intention. At my first prenatal visit, I confidently stepped on the scale, and looked at the number for the first time in many, many years without a sweat or nervous bone in my body – this number now represented me and my baby (albeit my lentil-sized baby, but still). I then breezed through pregnancy and all it’s physical transformations – and welcomed both the belly and the extra padding, knowing this was one of the most important things I would ever do. And even on the days I was feeling less than crappy, it was rarely my body that was getting me down – at least not until the very end when I did actually turn into a beached whale. I also read countless blogs, tips & tricks on getting back to your pre-pregnancy size and body in the weeks & months after birth. I read encouraging accounts of perfectly fit moms baring their six packs AND stretch marks with pride, and pinned many a “postpartum workout” routine in preparation of my #momgoals.
Here’s the truth: of all the mom body pride there is out there, and as much as you can learn to love yourself in any physical form, there is nothing like a postpartum body to challenge every idea you have of yourself and every body image goal you’re dreaming up. Yes, I created life. But I also took on extra weight, extra skin, and probably a different bone structure in doing so – and these things did not get “delivered” out of me the like my baby did.
After my first baby was born, I was determined to get back every ounce of my fit self that I had nearly a year prior. Once I reached that six week magic mark, the “grind” began. And by grind, I mean whatever I could muster between nursing, sleeping, eating and my constantly fatigued state. I was still in a newborn fog, and only beginning to see which way was up by that point. I began “mommy & me” workout groups, streaming fitness programs on my TV (anything that could be done in the shortest time possible), and eventually I ventured back into the real exercise world without my child, getting back to dance class and running after baby was asleep. But I found myself more frustrated than gratified in my efforts, and while most of me began to bounce back, all I could see was everything that hadn’t. And at 6 months postpartum, when a sweet, kind old woman asked me how far apart my babies would be, I said with a smile “oh, I’m not pregnant,” but wanted to crawl under the biggest rock I could find.
Then I did get pregnant again, and the cycle started over.
I have now had two babies in two years, and am just creeping out of the newborn fog for the second time. I’m seven weeks postpartum this week, and while in many ways I have a longer way to go to get myself back, I’ve found myself to have a more relaxed (though still determined) approach this time around. (It doesn’t hurt that I have a big and rambunctious toddler running around to help maintain my 2 arms and only chin). For now I have welcomed the easy sleepy days staying in bed with my babe – for these are the days that are already growing distant. And I’m pleasantly surprised by the days I get myself out and about seemingly without skipping a beat (yet still skipping mascara and a shower most of the time). Some days I feel like my body is a train wreck with no hope, while other days I accept my current state and look forward to learning and loving my mom bod as I work to get it back to it’s happy place. Overall, however, I’m focused on being present and enjoying this all too fleeting moment in time. And this time, when someone asked me if I was expecting (while standing there with my infant at my side), I simply laughed and said “oh, no… this is just what she did to me…”
Then I went out shopping with my mother. You see, when I’m left with maternity clothes that are just barely too big, and pre-pregnancy clothes that are still far too small, I think the best answer is a semi-new wardrobe to carry me through. It’s all part of the healing process of learning and loving the body I have now. However, I soon realized shopping for clothes this early was just a recipe for complete self destruction.
When I pulled out a jumper, noted the size 2 tag, and immediately returned it to the rack, my mom quickly responded “you might not be a size 2 now, but you’ll get there!”, suggesting that if I love it, I should get it. In every way, this was meant as encouragement and support, as if I was deeply hurt at the prospect that I wasn’t a size 2, but I should keep my head up for the future. I quickly protested, explaining that I’m not going to allow myself to do that – it’s a rabbit hole I’d rather stay far, far away from. The thing is, as hard as it might be to believe, that’s completely fine with me. There was a time in my life that I was a size 2. There was also a time I was a 4, and then there was a time I was a 6. And then there was that time I couldn’t even button a maternity shirt around my own pregnant belly. It’s not about the size or the number. It’s about knowing my body, shopping appropriately and feeling comfortable with how I am now – not focused on where I want to be. I may never be a size 2 again – and quite honestly, even trying to get there sounds like way too much work. Numbers are my enemy, so numbers cannot be my goal, they can only be my guide. So I came home with new shoes instead.
Today I really hate my belly. Today I’m mad at myself for not making bigger strides to “fix” my postpartum body sooner. Today I’m feeling like I’ll never have a good looking body again… I know I’m forever changed, both emotionally and physically, because I grew, carried, and birthed two little humans with my body. Any marks I have as a result are surely well earned battle wounds. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that as a woman and a wife, I want to feel beautiful and sexy in my skin, no matter my size or shape. I’ve come a long way from my days of coffee and apples. I don’t even know how to identify with that person anymore. However, I do still struggle with loving how I feel rather than what I see in the mirror. I know those will always be very different things, and again, there is nothing like a postpartum body to remind me of this. So I am trying my best to stay positive, and I know that as time passes and I regain both my confidence and healthy physical activity (and, of course, find the appropriate wardrobe staples), I will begin to see myself again, even if slightly altered.
For now, I’ll keep my belly binder fastened just right.