How I learned to love my postpartum body
Yes, the rumors are true — I have, at long last, discovered the secret to everlasting peace with my postpartum body.
You could say that I've never had what one could call a healthy relationship with my body.
In high school, I lived on a diet of apples and cookie dough Slim-Fast bars (yes, they are a real thing) and I absorbed a heavy dose of self-berating body comments from the adult females in my life. After I had my first daughter, I was lucky (?) enough to have some pretty severe complications that left me hospitalized and losing weight faster than you could say rampant infection, but when kids #2 through #3 came along, I had long entered into "overweight mom body" territory.
I struggled greatly after having each of my kids, alternating between beating myself up about my weight gain and exercising like crazy. Each time I had a baby I swore I wouldn't gain a lot and that the weight would "fall off" with breastfeeding this time like it was supposed to before. And each time, I did and it didn't.
But oddly enough, when I became pregnant with our fourth child, when I was still over the weight I wanted to be and when I still gained 50 pounds, I found myself at a crossroads of sorts when it came time to face my postpartum self in the mirror.
At six weeks post-birth, I was nowhere near my pre-pregnancy weight. In fact, I had somehow even managed to gain weight since my three-week checkup, a most depressing accomplishment. But instead of beating myself up about my weight gain, this time around, I had the experience of three other kids — and a lot more insight into how my body worked — to fall back on.
When I looked into the mirror, I realized that I had two choices. I could either choose the path I had gone down before, the one where I complained constantly about my body, insisted that my husband stop calling me beautiful because it was obvious I was too fat and lusted over food that I was convinced was "off-limits," or I could choose the path of acceptance.
I could accept, that after 28 years in this body, I knew it pretty well. I knew that I wasn't going to magically transform into one of those women that never show any signs of having a baby (and they do exist, of course. "Real" moms can look like supermodels just as much as us mere mortals... ). I was always going to be the woman with the body I have always had — the one that tends to gain weight in my arms and my stomach, the one that is shaped the opposite of what a woman's body is "supposed" to look like, with broad shoulders and narrow hips.
I could accept that I had been down this road before. I had felt gross and huge and wasted months of my previous babies' lives in depression simply because of my weight. But eventually, with a lot of hard work, the weight did come off. And it would again.
I could accept that I had always viewed exercise as work and eating healthy as punishment, lusting over cookies and muffins that I would sneakily eat in the Starbucks drive-thru, instead of the self-care and treat to myself that working out and eating healthy could be.
And I could accept, at long last, that beating my body down with bad food and despairing thoughts and relentless demands never did me any good — and that maybe, just maybe, being kind to myself, seeing the beauty in a body that had borne four children and moving forward to treat it well would get me a lot further to where I wanted to be. Or, in other words, it was OK to be fat and happy, even if I wasn't happy with being fat because the reason I was fat actually was a pretty happy one indeed.
Makes sense, right?