After another painful, stressful nursing session, I finally rocked, shushed and willed my four-week-old newborn to sleep. I was exhausted and so stressed that I could just pull out my hair if postpartum hormones weren’t already doing that for me. I settled into my couch and prayed for 20 solid minutes of quiet before my sweet, needy, tiny human would begin to stir. I slid open my phone to scroll through Facebook while I probably, actually most definitely, should be sleeping while she naps. That is when I see it. A message notification from an acquaintance from college.
“I know you are busy with your new family so I will make this short. You can probably tell from my Facebook posts that I am a Beachbody coach. I’m starting an online fitness challenge group and was wondering if you wanted to join? Beachbody helped me lose the baby weight. Accountability is key to making a lifestyle change! “
As a girl, I have always struggled with body image. My body changed early and I was uncomfortable with my new curves and that discomfort has been the nagging quiet voice that followed me to adulthood. After getting married and struggling to start our family, my dislike turned to hate. My body not only did not look the way I felt it should, it was failing me at the one thing it was designed to do. After countless specialist visits and doctor appointments, daily blood draws and shots, ultrasounds and the demise of any modesty I may have had, I was pregnant.
Creating and sustaining life was a miracle that was not lost on me. I truly felt my pregnancy was healing my hateful attitude towards my body. I felt capable and I felt feminine. My belly never grew very big but I adored resting my hands on it and feeling the life I carried. I had butterflies before every appointment and nothing was ever as reassuring as hearing the gentle thump of her tiny heart. I had a short intense labor and an easy delivery. From the moment my daughter was laid on my chest, my heart swelled with pride and my body had never felt so strong and capable. I was overwhelmed with knowing I grew her in my womb, that my body created perfection. And she was all mine.
Postpartum life was not easy. My husband took FMLA leave to stay with me for a short time but it ended far too quickly and then he was back to working overtime. My tiny daughter fussed and cried until I would cry right along with her while we tried every remedy to ease her colic. Healing was a slow process and I often over exerted myself in desperation to feel like myself again. My old jeans were too tight and my maternity jeans slid off my body. Nursing was difficult and left both of us crying. My belly was soft, breasts were swollen, and still the bags under my eyes felt worth it. When I received that message encouraging my participation in a diet and exercise program four weeks after delivering, my stomach that housed my sweet babe for nine months felt fat instead of soft. The stretch marks on my hips suddenly looked angrier. My clothes seemingly felt tighter. But ten minutes prior to receiving that message encouraging me to drop the weight, while I did not love my postpartum body, I still felt like my body was strong and capable. The high of feeling like my body did exactly what it was supposed to do was slipping away and I could feel that nagging discomfort creeping in.
It’s okay to not “bounce back.” It’s okay to be in limbo between the comfort of maternity wear and the familiarity of your old clothes. It’s okay to have a squishy belly, saggy breasts and softer skin. It’s okay to be bigger than you used to be. The world needs more of you now. That sweet child you carried needs a waist to hug, arms to lift and feet to walk with them and it is okay if those are a little softer than before. It’s okay to go slowly and allow your body to change at its own pace even if it feels like the world is waiting and expecting you to bounce back. At almost a year postpartum, I weigh exactly what I weighed the day I found out I was expecting. My clothes still don’t fit the way they used to. But something as life changing and earth shattering as bringing a new life into the world should not happen without leaving a mark. I’m learning to love my new body because it deserves to be loved. The way I speak about my body will become my daughter’s internal voice when speaking about hers. I want her to always view her body as strong and capable. My daughter is the single most amazing thing I’ve done and her birth did not wreck my body. It reminded me of my own strength and I am forever grateful.