There she laid. With the white fluffy socks sticking out from beneath the fresh blanket provided from the hospital. Her cheeks all kind of something rosy and warmth. Her hair slicked back on her head. A hospital bracelet around her wrist. She was but just a number to the hospital. Birth is beautiful, magical, raw and real, but it is an everyday occurrence there on that hospital floor and she was one of many numbers that day. But, to that room, she was the glory and the all-mighty goddess. Centered in the sterile, white space with monitors and an IV drip connecting to a hanging bag to collect the pee from a catheter, there she lay. Tired and worn, but still full of so much hope, glory and promise, on display for every dear family member and friend who pushed open that heavy hospital room door for a glimpse of this major life altering moment.
Oh, you thought I was talking about the baby girl? Nah, I was referring to you, Momma. Because in those moments, those several hours or days depending on the type of labor you endured, there you lay and there begins the elephant in the post-pregnancy room.
Two years ago I delivered my daughter. I was 37-weeks pregnant the night my water broke, as I cleaned up the dinner I cooked and my husband sipped wine from the living room. Yeah, I pretty much wanted to annoyingly slap him then and even now as I share. Our daughter came a bit early which was a complete surprise, despite the weeks of lower back pain, cramping and general contractions I dismissed. My doctor left for Christmas vacation in Florida that morning, so as I lay in the delivery room contracting and death-starring my husband across the room, I had no idea who was going to deliver my baby and then about three hours in, a kind nurse, with her hand inside me, made the oddest, scariest face I had ever seen and I was rushed 40 minutes later into emergency C-section with a butt-first baby on the way.
Day one of post-pregnancy was a complete and utter blur. I felt weak, and sick and exhausted. The photos from that day I wanted to burn. I looked generally gray. I had incredible water weight in the face and looked run down and ragged. In fact, my immediate family shared weeks later that when they opened that heavy hospital room door on day one and walked into see me on display they were taken aback. I was not well looking.
Day two I was required to get up and shower, and as I braced the bed and then inched my way to the bathroom leaning my body on every piece of furniture and the wall as I could not stand straight due to the C-section, I got my first glance at me in the large bathroom mirror. Wow! Who knew that post-pregnancy could look so bad. But I was in pain and groggy from not sleeping well and really only cared about not dying taking my first shower. As I stripped down and stood in the warm water that cascaded down the back of my neck, I cried for the very first time over my body.
Who was I? Even I did not know. In 48 hours, I felt so far removed from me which scared and saddened me. I had just experienced nine months of incredible body changes and never felt this immense weight on my shoulders to get myself back. It was like the pregnancy was an excuse to allow myself to accept the changes and it was in those moments I realized that post-delivery did not mean pre-body or pre-me.
The days, weeks and months thereafter I would notice more and more of the physical changes that pregnancy impacted on my body. I would grab the skin on my waist and inner thighs and pull it back to reveal what I mentally felt should be my appearance or reflection. I poked and prodded my body trying to “stuff” skin and mushiness away. I stared at myself a bit longer in the mirror after showers and never gave myself any grace. It was immediate body shaming that I inflicted upon myself.
When I returned to work after my 9-week maternity leave, a male co-worker exclaimed, “Wow. You can’t even tell you had a baby. Nice work.” What he did not know was I was agonizing all day in spandex thigh huggers and belly sucker-inners and was miserably uncomfortable as I closed my office door to pump. Dresses and leggings can mask the many physical changes that happen to a woman’s body post-pregnancy, and that is when it actually began to bother me even worse—the fact that anyone (male or female) would say, “Nice work” in regards to my physical appearance after I had carried a growing human in my belly for 9 months, went through a major surgery, never really made proper time to recover because let’s face it, no mother does (newsflash: we start parenting right away and that takes time, energy and a lot of work). I was sleep deprived and there I sat in a closed office, pumping my engorged breast that I neglected due to too many morning meetings and I got a, “You look great. Nice work.”
My final straw to the madness occurred recently on Instagram. I often participate in chat loops with fellow bloggers and influencers. One mother wrote, “What do you miss about your pre-baby(ies) body?” Now I am not shaming her. I empathized with her because it was an honest question and believe me, I miss a lot. I was almost guilty myself of feeding into society and the norms and pressures we have crafted for women. I was typing my answer when it hit me, and I paused. I hit the delete button on all the things I did not like. I sat there and I waited. I put my phone away and came back the following morning, and what I read hurt my soul. Too many women to count responded and tore themselves apart.
I hate my squishy tummy.
I use to have beautiful locks and now I look like a greasy thin hair mess.
I use to have the best boobs. I would rock bikinis, now I wear a t-shirt on the beach.
One responded to the lady above with, I wear a t-shirt whenever my husband and I have ‘alone time’ and that barely happens.
I think my nose has grown and now when I look in the mirror that is all I see.
My butt sags.
Don’t get me started on my stretch marks. Disgusting.
Disgusting? I sat there and felt a lump in my throat and a pit in my belly. What have we become? It started the moment we all were that “elephant in the post-delivery room.” You know the woman on a bed on display for everyone to see. Many will read this and think, “No way. We were there to see the baby.” Bull crap! You judged my recovery and my post-pregnancy body the moment you walked in, subconsciously or not. How do I know? Because I was doing it already to myself.
So, I answered the fellow mom blogger who posted the valid and honest question that we all struggle with— “What do you miss about your pre-baby body?” And, I said this… because really in that moment it all hit me.
I miss the tightness and firmness of my stomach and I wish my boobs didn’t sag so much without a bra and I wish the dark semi-permanent circles that have made a home under my eyes would pick themselves up and find a new place to live. However, I have learned to love these flaws and accept them because they are the very reasons that the little girl sleeping in the room next to me in her crib, lies there. My pre-baby body could not stand a chance with the post-pregnancy me. I run circles around that chic. I am proud of what I see in the mirror because I am in awe of the strength and the power of my body, all of our bodies.
We made a human and then we didn’t stop and don’t stop. If I was given the opportunity to go back to her (who I was before I became a Mom), I would decline the offer every single time. Praise yourselves, ladies. Realize the beauty in your strength and give yourself some grace.
And, it is the truth. We define who we are now too often by the woman we were then and we tend to place the weight of our values on our physical appearance because honestly, we live in an unforgiving, vain society. Realize, the incredible beauty in your body post-pregnancy. It will not ever be what it was before, but should it? What you created, carried and now care for breathes strength and beauty into every wrinkle, stretch mark, dark circle or gray hair on that head.