I looked down at my puffy, pasty thighs, the lemony lighting of the dressing room highlighting every angle of the enlarged lumps and humps of my postpartum body. I shook my head, disappointed that I didn’t try harder. Try harder to drink more water. Try harder to jump on my elliptical every day. Try harder to snag that salad instead of that slice of pizza.

My healthy pre-baby body is still nowhere in sight; instead, all I see is a soft tummy, chubby thighs, and fluffy biceps.

It has been almost nine months since my baby watermelon has exited my body, nine months since my pre-baby body has yet to return.

I miss it.

I know when Fergie sang about her “lovely lady lumps” and “humps,” she was trying to romanticize about the curves of a woman’s’ melons and booty, not the extra globs of fat that I still can’t manage to shove back into my worn-out Old Navy jeans.

I am wistfully trying to hold on to any mantra or motivation that will help me gracefully accept my postpartum body.

“Graceful acceptance” meaning I will try not to put myself down but instead carve out opportunities to take my body back to its healthier, more vibrant state.

A state in which everyday attire consists of jeans, skirts, and fitted sweaters, not yoga pants, billowy tees, and forgiving maxis.

A soft whimper snaps me back to the harsh lighting that I was trying to mentally escape. Standing in my frumpy nursing bra and underwear in the dressing room, I unbuckle my daughter Violet from her stroller and change her soiled diaper. She continues to cry. I cradle her as she chomps on my shoulder, leaving behind shimmering slobber.

Despite her teething woes, she grabs at my nose, laughs, then bears her trademark gummy grin. Her smiles, cuddles, and these following reminders are what is getting me through these days of rock-bottom self-esteem.

You are not your postpartum body.

You have personality, grace, heart, and a sense of humor. You make up all these things and more. Your postpartum body does not define who you are, nor should it determine how you respond to the world. We are on this earth for such a short time, don’t let your insecurities drown out your happiness.

You are raising a miracle.

You carried this mini-miracle for 9+ months. Then, once it made its debut, you loved her, nourished her, bathed her, snuggled her, played with her using every measly ounce of energy you had. You’re creating special lasting memories for her every day. Try to keep that smile on, turn that laugh up, and bask in the glory of “momdom.”

You are not alone.

Millions of women are going through what you are going through rightatthismoment. New mothers, recent mothers, mothers venturing down this road for their third and fourth times, they all understand your pain, your insecurities, your heavy-hearted spirit. Know that motherhood is a journey, and you have thousands upon thousands rallying around you, cheering you on to become the happiest, healthiest version of you.

You are as tough as nails.

You’re sore from holding your sleep fighting, separation anxiety induced baby all day. You’re tired from waking every two or three hours in the night from your wee one’s hunger squeals. Your skin is blotchy and bumpy from all the hormones pumping through your postpartum bod.

Your boobs are leaking through nipple pads, bras, and shirts. Your coffee isn’t strong enough for this, but you suck it up and tell yourself, “this time is going to fly by so fast, just embrace the moment.”

At the same time, you mentally apologize to all the mommies of the world you ever encountered that you didn’t give enough credit: the red-faced grocery aisle mom with the screaming infant, the scared mother chasing her toddler through a busy parking lot, the teenage mother snoring on the train, her baby cooing on her lap.

All of you, all of us, is as tough as nails.

Especially, when we stand in front of those awful, three-way dressing room mirrors in harsh lemony lighting.

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog.

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Brandi Wiatrak

Brandi Wiatrak is a crazed traveling medical professional turned stay at home mama of two who holds a Tide bottle in her hand more often than wine, wears yoga pants six out of seven days (because on Sunday, they rest), and knows the cashiers by name at her local Target. Learn how to rock mom life with humor, sanity, and culture by following her at The CulturedBaby.World.