For my 4-week-old daughter’s baptism, we had a small group of family and friends at the church with us and a few attending virtually. It was our first real outing after she was born. I prepped for three days to make sure it would be smooth, knowing my family, my parenting, and my post-baby appearance would all be on display.
Afterward, I connected with all of our guests and received calls and texts of congratulations and well wishes for our daughter. Attached to all those sweet conversations were compliments for me—about how great I looked and how together I seemed. These comments were made genuinely, but with each one, I found myself uncomfortable and unsure how to respond.
They didn’t know how when they told me I didn’t even look like I’ve just had a baby, that it hurt my feelings for reasons I can’t articulate or even really understand myself. As though showing any evidence of just having had a baby is something terrible. But the irony is . . . I made a careful effort trying to make myself look like I hadn’t just had a baby.
I suppose at the end of it, it just felt like I was somehow tricking everyone.
When they said I seemed to have it all together, they didn’t see the days of prep—the thoughtful choosing of outfits, the strategic packing of diapers, snacks, and extra clothes, the obsessive coordination of the day’s timing. They didn’t see the spit up I had to carefully wash and comb out of my hair right before we left the house. They didn’t see that in order to take 15 minutes to style my hair in the first place, I had to spend an equal amount of time negotiating screen time with my toddler.
When they said I looked amazing, they didn’t see the number of times I stood in front of the mirror in a sort of dress rehearsal, examining how my postpartum body looked in my chosen outfit. They don’t know I was wearing two layers of shapewear in order to tighten the look of my very squishy belly. They don’t see that at four weeks postpartum, I was still bleeding.
They didn’t see that as I stood holding my baby in that church, in the most important moment of her baptism, half of my brain was elsewhere. It was worrying about the eyes that might be on me, whether they could see the milk leaking through my dress or the exhaustion on my face.
Do I wish they saw all of this? I don’t know. This is the complicated insecurity that has grown in me since becoming a mother.
I want to make it look effortless, but I’m also desperate for them to acknowledge how hard it is.
I want them to think I’m a natural mother but also realize how much I’ve had to learn.
I need to know they approve of my post-baby body, but I can’t stand for anyone to comment on it.
I don’t know what type of compliment would land well with me right now. But it doesn’t matter. What I realized through this reflection is that I need to spend a lot less time worrying about how I look and seem to others.
I need to put away the scale and just hold my baby, soaking in the way she looks at me. I need to stop worrying about the mess in my house and sit on the floor with my toddler, noticing the ways he grows and learns each day. I need to live in the little moments each day of feeling empowered, important, and sometimes even superhuman. I need to let others’ opinions, good or bad, bounce off me without a second thought. Instead, the only thing I’ll allow in will be the love I feel from my family.