An Ode to My Postpartum Body: A guest post

Today’s post is from Emily, who writes about parenting, education, and hilarious miscellany at her WordPress-recommended blog The Waiting. Her story needs no other introduction.

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I remember the exact moment my body became postpartum.

All that day it had been swollen with baby. For my entire pregnancy I had felt a kinship with my midsection and the growing person it contained; it was me and not me at the same time, and I loved that feeling because while it was complicated, I knew that no one was expecting me to wrap my brain around it. I was off the hook because the universe is big. My relationship with my baby was ethereal and complex but since she was anchored to my very (very) tangible body, I had a handle on the depth of what was happening. All I had to do was look down.

(Or crave an entire thing of cream cheese.)

On labor day, my body had its own agenda. I essentially sat back and let it do what it was engineered to do. It had grown a person that was fit for the world, and after only forty-five minutes of pushing, my body delivered her.

Time doesn’t seem powerful or big enough to contain minutes where a person can go from being a fetus to a person who’s out in the world, but it does, and in that moment that my daughter vacated my uterus I couldn’t have known what was in store for me. In the seconds before I even saw her face, I saw my pelvis. The fluorescent lights glared at rolls of loose flesh and dared me to hate them, to feel disgusted and overwhelmed at the challenge ahead of me to get rid of any indication that I had ever grown a person. My pale waxy stomach was etched with red stretch marks that had only appeared in the last month of my pregnancy. They were severe and raw and made me remember standing in a Gap fitting room when I was eleven and crying over the stretch marks that accosted my thighs. I had dreaded their arrival in those prepartum days, and they were even uglier when my body didn’t contain a baby.

I saw my body in that moment when it delivered my daughter, and I wanted to hate it. It would have been so easy to hate it. I was used to those feelings of disdain. They were what I knew.

But I didn’t have the energy or the motivation for that hate.

Seconds after I saw my body, I looked at the person it created. She was so much smaller than I expected. Her face was angry and shriveled because she had only just been pushed out of the original comfort zone. Her naked body was placed against my naked body and she started rooting for my breast, and I felt pride that my daughter knew what to do. The nonverbal exchange between us was overwhelming. How could I hate the body that created this tiny little thing that knew me?

Throughout the first year of her life, I looked at myself naked in the mirror and felt so conflicted. My fallback was to feel disgust at the overweight mass and swollen breasts. I wanted to scorn the pounds that I had gained and to resent the bags that appeared below my eyes. Some days I would reflect on my lack of motivation to put on makeup and feel sorry for myself. It’s an easy thing to do, especially when you see moms who have clearly put  in more work than you have at regaining their pre-baby bodies. It’s easy to feel ashamed.

But the thing about time is that it contains moments when a person goes from being a fetus to a baby, and it also contains years where a person can go from hating their body for what it looks like to loving it for what it has created. My daughter did that for me. I look at myself now, the mother of a one-and-a-half-year-old, and I see the excess weight. I see the hair that could use a trim and I notice the stains on my teeth from all the coffee I’ve drunk just to stay awake since she’s been born. And I love it. I love that my daughter knows that this body is her mother. I love that she looks at it and beyond it every single day. I love that she calls out “Mama!” every morning from her crib – sometimes angrily – and knows exactly who she wants to see. She doesn’t see less-than. She sees me, a person who is more than the sum of her parts.

Being a mother taught me to love my body and what it can do. As the mother to a girl, it is my job to love myself and this body I have because I am my daughter’s first teacher and I want her to know that the body she has is the perfect one for her. That job is one of the most freeing ones I’ve ever had.

There will be people who try to convince her that what she is is not good enough or pretty enough. It’s my duty to make sure that she does not lead their chorus. I’ll start by always loving myself and my amazing postpartum body.

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55 responses to “An Ode to My Postpartum Body: A guest post

  1. Beautifully written. C may not realize it yet (or during her teenage years), but she’s lucky to have a mother with such a positive outlook about her apperance.

    • Thanks! It’s a day-to-day struggle to fight the urge to come down on myself because of the way I look, but she is fantastic motivation to stay grounded and positive.

  2. The whole post is amazing, but your last line is poetry. It needs to be laminated and hung on my wall. No child or woman should lead that chorus, and yet even at 35 I still find myself still doing it.

    • I do too. It’s a struggle to not fall back on my old belief that I’m not worth looking at or even knowing if I don’t weigh a certain amount or wear a certain size. But that’s why I’m grateful that I have a girl. I want to give her the best of me, and that me should always have pride for my body.

  3. Emily, you know I love this piece. I think my favorite part is when you bravely list what you could obsess over. In my own life, I feel like naming those things kind of takes away their scary, y’know? And I love thinking that, whatever mind games I play with myself now, it might actually get easier when I have a small person to be a good example for, instead of just loving myself for my own sake (although that’s more than worthwhile, too). Thanks you again for guest posting here!

    • I totally know what you mean. Before I had my daughter, my obsession with my weight and what size I wore took up a tremendous amount of real estate in my mind, to the extent that I would actually have bad days or weeks if I felt like I was “fat” or whatever. If anything, having a child kind of puts all that in perspective. I don’t have time to obsess over these things anymore, and even if I did, I couldn’t rationalize because kids notice their parents’ insecurities. I know that I will make a ton of mistakes with my daughter, but I really don’t want to teach her by example to arbitrarily nitpick herself. That’s a dangerous road to start on.

      Thanks again, Jennie, for inviting me to post here! I don’t mind saying that this piece means a lot to me, and the fact that I got to share it here is such an honor and privilege.

    • It’s really a shame that a woman’s body is primarily viewed as sexual in 2013. It kills me that Facebook won’t allow women to post breastfeeding photos because they are supposedly risque or sexual.

  4. Reblogged this on The Waiting and commented:
    The fabulous Jennie Saia who pens the equally fabulous blog Tip of My Tongue invited me to share my thoughts on my post-pregnancy body image. I love this post, and I’d be thrilled if you checked it out. Thanks!

  5. Love this. It is a struggle all mothers go through, even the ones who have appeared to regain their pre-pregnancy body. Because the fact of the matter is, even if you lost all the weight, evidence of growing babies always remains. It’s not always easy to love those remains, but they are the markings of the most important thing we have ever done in our lives. Things that carry that much weight are never easy or always pretty. Amazing post, friend. And you are definitely one beautiful mama, inside and out.

    • I cooooooonstantly have to remind myself that even if someone looks like they’ve lost the weight, life isn’t any easier for them than it is for me. There is this one mom who takes her kids to the same B&N storytime that I take C to, and I got unduly fixated on her because she looks so beautiful and well-kept, but I have to remind myself that deep down, she’s got her issues just like I have mine. I think that when I make those realizations, I become a whole lot more comfortable with myself. Thank you for your kind words per the usual, Mrs. Kels. You are an amazing mother yourself, one who I hope to emulate.

      • Aw. You are the sweetest. I’ll give you my secret. Procrastinate folding laundry. If you house is full of baskets of clean laundry and no one can ever find what they want to wear, you will have successfully emulated yourself after me. Because the laundry battle is pretty much 85% of my existence.

  6. What a lovely post! Our bodies are so amazing and it is important to give them credit. It can be hard though to navigate through all the negative messaging out there. Even just a glance at my son is good medicine for that.

  7. Thank you for this, for writing about a beautiful postbaby body. I like how you phrased the critical thoughts as a “fallback,” because a fallback is the easy thing, and often the safe thing to do. It’s not safe in this case. Beautiful, and something I’ll remember to read if and when I have a baby.

  8. Hi Em – I was just commenting yesterday on a friend’s FB photo how pretty she looked and her comment was that all she saw was wrinkles. Although we men help to create the “definition of beauty”, women are much harder on themselves than they need to be (my opinion). Show me a confident woman who’s comfortable with her own sexuality and knows how to toss around banter and I’ll show you a gorgeous woman that men are attracted to! When I look at my wife I see a cute face and the girl I fell in love with when we were 16….and she sees wrinkles.

    • Hey Rob! My husband does the same thing. He tells me how beautiful I am and more often than not, I toss his comments aside or convince myself that he only said that because he had some ulterior motive. This has got to be so frustrating for him and it can’t be good for us as a couple either. Just keep telling her she’s beautiful. She is listening, even if it’s hard to believe your message.

  9. “That job is one of the most freeing ones I’ve ever had.” Bravo, Emily! I don’t have children yet, but I’ve thought about this concept for a while – you must love your own body if you’re going to teach your daughter to love hers. What a good mommy you are!

  10. Really beautiful post, Emily! You captured so many of the thoughts I’ve had about this very thing… admittedly, 17 years later, I’m a little less patient with my bod. But, as a new mother, and in those early years… I truly felt like an Olympic athlete!

    Jen, I have subscribed 3x to this blog and it keeps dropping me. I just hit follow again, and got a notification that I am indeed stalking you. Let’s hope your blog doesn’t reject me again. Love what you have to say. 😉

    • I’m thrilled to be stalked by you! That has happened to me with other bloggers, too, so I promise not become forlorn… and I’m so glad to have you ’round these parts.

    • Hey Dawn! It is still a struggle to remember each day that my body is OK the way it is. Bad habits die hard and I know they’ll resurface a lot if/ when I have another baby or my life changes. But self-love is my new mantra. It’s so much healthier.

  11. Of course I love your brilliant post, my precious Emily. I will add my own two or three cents to this topic. My body felt magical when I was pregnant, adjusting and adapting like crazy to meet my babies’s needs. And after I had my babies I always thought I looked GREAT! U ntil I tried to put on clothes and realized I would be returning to the land of elastic waist pants for awhile, but my whole being was so focused on my perfect new baby, my appearance wasn’t very important to me. Being a mother teaches us that love transcends a person’s physical appearance, and is much more enduring. I still have many stretch marks. My skin is kind of dented in and thin in those spots. I wear them proudly. Love you!

  12. Emily, your way with words is always so consistently spot on, you’re the Miss Universe of scribes. C is very lucky to be the daughter of such a wonderfully articulate mom.

  13. Love this post and the voice and body that penned it. It’s so easy to be resentful of what our body is post-pregnancy, but we need to remember the many many miracles that our body underwent to get there. Both mama and baby are inspired creations.

  14. Emily you are fabulous. I loved this. Raising two daughters myself… It is a challenge. My girls are built completely different. One petite and struggles to keep lbs on; the other tall and very ” built” . Both extraordinarily beautiful inside and out– it’s hard to watch them compare themselves.
    Setting an example of self acceptance and love is hard– well done Emily.
    Little C is a lucky girl.

  15. Pingback: Body & Mind after Baby: 16 weeks postpartum | lisa laughs·

  16. “it is my job to love myself and this body I have because I am my daughter’s first teacher and I want her to know that the body she has is the perfect one for her…There will be people who try to convince her that what she is is not good enough or pretty enough. It’s my duty to make sure that she does not lead their chorus. I’ll start by always loving myself and my amazing postpartum body.” You are a fantastic mom in every sense of the word. I adore your wisdom, and love that a young girl is going to be raised smart and strong by her fabulous mama. Every female should be so lucky. 🙂

  17. I love this post. My son is 10 months old and I am trying so hard to get my body back. And by back I mean, I want to fit into my clothes. But somwhere along the way with 2 kids I lost my body and time! Thanks for posting!

  18. Hello! Beautiful post – I am glad you are talking about this, it’s so important and inspiring. I started a blog called Life After Birth (www.thelifeafterbirth.com) and was wondering if you would consider writing something that I could share with my readers. Life After Birth is a postpartum story-sharing site. I would of course link back to your wonderful blog. Thanks for all you do!

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