The first remark came two days after my daughter was born, as we stopped at the receptionist’s desk in the pediatrician’s office to make her two-week appointment.

“You look so good!” the receptionist exclaimed.

I didn’t know what to say. I almost wanted to laugh.

I had never felt worse in my entire life.

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I was uncomfortable and in pain even though I was on two different painkillers. I was wearing sweatpants, one of my husband’s t-shirts, and a baseball cap. The thought of putting on makeup or doing my hair at that point made me sick. I hadn’t slept since two nights before I gave birth.

The thought went through my mind, If she thinks I look good, what must other women look like at this point?!

It took a couple of weeks and several more people commenting that I looked like I hadn’t even had a baby to realize that what the receptionist probably meant was, “You look like you lost the baby weight already!”

I did lose most of the weight right away, and it’s true I’m blessed by my genetics and high metabolism.

But what people didn’t see was that it was also due to two weeks of hardly eating. The flood of postpartum hormones, the lack of sleep, the pain, the medications, the struggles with breastfeeding—it all left me with very little appetite and my husband had to remind me to eat several times a day.

Even though the weight was gone, I didn’t feel in the slightest like I had “bounced back”—a phrase we hear a lot when talking about women postpartum. I had a hard labor and delivery and lost quite a bit of blood. I looked in the mirror that first week and I felt wasted. Spent. Pale, with black and blue and green splotches covering my forearms from the five attempts the nurses made to insert an IV, and later the two times they did blood tests. I resisted being in any photos with Bree for the first month because I felt so run down, something I now regret.

It wasn’t until eight weeks postpartum, just before I went back to work, that I finally started to feel normal again.

I was cleared to start exercising again at five weeks, but didn’t actually try until ten. I’m now four months out and have gone on only five very slow, very difficult runs.

Then there are the things that still haven’t gone back to “normal” and probably never will. I was 31 weeks pregnant and we were on our babymoon when I woke up one morning and saw the first stretch marks. It was like they had literally appeared overnight, and I was unhappy. Now the cute baby bump is gone and I’m left with those stripes.

Things aren’t as taut and unblemished as they used to be. Once I regained my appetite, I regained it with a vengeance because of the extra calories required for breastfeeding. I’m solidly in the postpartum hair loss phase and the four-month sleep regression, and most mornings I forget or run out of time to use concealer under my tired eyes.

I know the comments about how quickly I bounced back were made in encouragement, and for that reason, I appreciated them. But whether a mother looks on the outside like she’s “bounced back” or not, give encouragement anyway! Know that there could be any number of things going on behind the scenes physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and give her the encouragement that has nothing to do with her appearance.

Because here’s the thing: I have never been happier in my life.

My husband still compliments me. My value is still rooted in Christ. My body is changed, but it is healthy. And my little girl was worth it all.

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog

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Jessica Vix Allen

Jessica Vix Allen is a SAHM who has always loved writing and is now finding endless inspiration in her daughter. Wife of Joel, follower of Jesus, and North Dakota transplant living in Kansas, Jessica loves reading, the outdoors, and sports.