My Postpartum Body Image

I have a secret: I love my baby daughter and the endless happiness she brings into our lives, but I hate my postpartum body.

Any woman who has carried a child knows that weight gain during pregnancy is inevitable because putting on those pounds is for the health of your baby. But for some women (myself included) it can take an unexpected toll on your body and mind, especially those pesky postpartum pounds. In fact it’s safe to say that my postpartum weight loss journey has been a bitch of an uphill climb all the way.

And it seems that I’m not alone because the top five Google search terms from women in the United States when completing this phrase “How to _______________ during pregnancy” are:

  1. Prevent stretch marks
  2. Lose weight
  3. Have sex
  4. Avoid stretch marks
  5. Stay fit

NY Times Pregnancy Infographic

Honestly, I was not all that surprised that 4 out of 5 of these search terms had to do with weight and appearance during pregnancy.

Why?

Because I was one of those pregnant women obsessively Googling similar terms myself, and pouring through tons of online forum posts from other women about their weight gain/loss with their pregnancies. Some women were shockingly candid about their weight struggles while others seemed to use the forums as a way to “backdoor brag” about their minimal weight gain or their unprecedented weight loss after giving birth.

36 weeks pregnant and struggling with the weight I'd put on.
36 weeks pregnant and SERIOUSLY struggling with the weight I’d put on.

One moment I would feel comforted by one woman’s experience or honesty, and the next my hopes (and self esteem) were dashed to read that someone had taught exercise classes throughout their pregnancy and only gained 15 pounds. My emotions were on a bigger rollercoaster than my hormones and I was usually left feeling like some sort of big fat failure for letting my weight get out of control while pregnant with my first baby. (By the way, I had gained 40 pounds total, a number that I’m still uncomfortable admitting out loud.)

A practical breakdown of the necessary weight gain during pregnancy. Source: Mayo Clinic
A practical breakdown of the necessary weight gain during pregnancy. Source: Mayo Clinic

What was even worse were the comments from perfect strangers. I remember visiting a Target dressing room at 37 weeks preggo and literally being being fat shamed by the tiny grandma working the counter. All she wanted to do was tell my fiancé how huge she thought I was and warn him that our baby is going to be a big one. It was all I could do to keep myself from screaming “Hey lady I could go into labor any day, that’s why I look like this!” But instead, I quietly cried behind the door of my changing room unable to look at my enormity in the mirror (For the record, I would have replaced the word “lady” with another more aggressive option). My wonderful fiancé did his best to console me after I finally emerged from the dressing room with my self esteem dragging around my ankles, but all I wanted to do was get out of there and hide myself away as soon as possible.

The truth is that a lot of factors are taken into account when doctors calculate what a “healthy” weight gain is for their preggo patients. Existing medical conditions, your height, and your weight before getting pregnant are just a few of the things they look at, and even then, many doctors will tell you to listen to your body rather than focus on the number of pounds gained.

Yet I, as many other women tend to do, still chose to focus on the number I saw on the scale instead of looking at the bigger picture. I would exhaustively go through other women’s bump photos and blog posts comparing my weight gain with someone else’s, but that was dangerous behavior. At least, for me it was. That’s because I have been battling with body dimorphic disorder and anorexia since I was about 13, and even after I wrestled with my demons, I couldn’t stop comparing myself to other women. This image sums up how that felt:

How disordered body image messes with your head.
How disordered body image messes with your head.

Was I eating a healthy diet filled with lean proteins, water, whole grains, and vegetables while pregnant? Yes, (for the most part) but occasionally I would indulge in frozen yogurt, or gummy bears. Was I getting moderate physical activity on a daily basis such as yoga, walking, and weight lifting? Yes, but every once in a while I would skip a day (or four) because I was just too tired and swollen to exercise. It took me a long while to realize that the weight my body was putting on was necessary for my growing daughter, and as long as I maintained somewhat healthy habits, that was ok.

My 2nd & 3rd Trimester Weight Gain:

After our daughter was born I looked down at the squishy pink mass of stomach that once housed a baby and almost started sobbing. Oh hell, who am I kidding? I cried a lot (I blame my hormones that were on the fritz) because I felt overwhelmed by the amount of work I was going to have to do to get my body back. Then I’d look into my daughter’s sweet face and all of those thoughts melted away. All I want to do is love this little girl more than I ever loved myself.

Our little princess.
Our little princess.

Eventually, I got to a place emotionally where I was able to stop myself from entering in another Google search about pregnancy and postpartum weight loss. I knew that this sort of comparison browsing is exactly what got me in trouble with my eating disorder years ago. Logically I know that every woman and every pregnancy is different.

It’s been hard, really hard. I’m not going to lie. I still want to read post pregnancy weight loss stories and compare myself to the seemingly perfect bloggers out there who track their fitness and take flawless pictures. I’ll be the first to admit it, I’m jealous of those women and their incredible ability to bounce back like Taylor Swift after a bad breakup.  I have to remind myself that comparing my weight gain/loss to these other women is not healthy.

4 days postpartum (the scariest picture I've ever posted online).
4 days postpartum (the scariest picture I’ve ever posted online).

If I’m hungry after a cluster breastfeeding session, then I have a snack and I move on without beating myself up. I get out and walk the neighborhood whenever I can, but I don’t push my body into something that it’s not ready for. I lift free weights and continue to struggle through yoga routines despite my almost-comical lack of balance. If I’ve run a bunch of errands and only have the energy for a short walk around the block with little Madeline, then I try to take a longer walk the next day. I am constantly reminding myself that as long as my little girl is happy and healthy, then everything is good.

4 weeks postpartum and my weight loss has seriously plateaued.
4 weeks postpartum and my weight loss has seriously plateaued.

Above all the most important thing that fuels my quest for body acceptance quest is that I don’t want to pass these awful demons off to my daughter. I never, ever  want her to look at herself in the mirror and call herself “fat” or berate herself based on something as superficial as weight. I want to protect her from the emotional shame that comes with a lifelong fight against her body or the physical repercussions that can come with eating disorders. Ultimately, that means I need to change my behavior and the conversation I have with myself, which is a lot easier said than done. I have to actively fight against my instinct to whinge about how “fat I feel” or who “I wished I looked like” because even though Madeline is an infant, she is absorbing everything we do every day. She is learning from the example I set, so I need to be teaching myself healthy habits (both mental and physical) now.

8 weeks postpartum.
8 weeks postpartum.

But despite all my best efforts and the body-shaming-ban I’ve tried to uphold, I still hate my postpartum body. I miss the little gap between my thighs that kept me from worrying about chafing (a problem I constantly have to deal with now), I loath the lumpy-cottage-cheese-like appearance of my upper arms and I almost cry whenever I look down at my sagging stomach skin. Trying on clothes is a painful exercise in humiliation. I run away from the lense of a camera like the cheerleader in a slasher flick. I feel like the former fat girl I was in high school (that I tried so hard to banish to the out limits of my memory) is back along with all the emotionally scaring comments I’d gotten during those years.

On the rare occasion I do take stock of my reflection in the mirror, I try to tell myself that this capable body just birthed a beautiful baby girl who has made me fall in love in a way I never knew was possible. It’s a constant battle and I still have my bad days, but every single day I am reminded of how grateful I am that I was able to carry her.

Mommy's little snuggle bug :)
Mommy’s little snuggle bug :)

A couple of videos & Blogs I found (really) helpful during my pregnancy weight gain:

  1. Blog post: How I Lost The 60 Pounds I Gained During Pregnancy
  2. Blog post: Pregnancy Weight Gain – The Ultimate Comparison Trap
  3. Blog Post: Happily Gaining Weight
  4. Blog post: Why I’m Not Blogging About My Pregnancy Weight Gain
  5. video: How Your Body Changes During Pregnancy
  6. video: DIY Pregnancy: Make An Empathy Bump

Photo credit: nataliej via Flickr

3 Comments

  1. I could have written most of this this myself. I was the same – searching #30weekspregnant hashtags and wondering why my bump wasn’t as big as most peoples but then simulteanously wondering why it was bigger than others. It wasn’t always healthy.

    From a complete outsider perspective, I think your pregnancy weight gain and body looked totally normal and your postpartum figure is the same. Thank you for being brave enough to post it – most people who post their days after baby photos are the ones who gained 15 pounds!

    I’m guessing that woman at Target was more commenting on your belly size, not really your weight, although I wasn’t there and can’t say for sure. As someone who has told friends how “big” they were while pregnant in the past but meant it to mean that their bellies were healthfully growing, not that they were fat, I have now realized after being pregnant myself that I should never have commented at all.

    Keep writing things like this and sharing your journey – you will get back to your pre pregnancy weight and body and you will look back at this post and be glad you helped others in the same position. I know I wrote a post like this as well.

    Nicole

    PS. I am so glad that my blog about pregnancy weight helped you and thank you for sharing it here!

    June 29, 2016
    • Caerley Hill said:

      I’m so flattered that you wrote this and read my blog post!! Your blog and your journey as a mother is a story I loved reading throughout my pregnancy and I initially connected so much with your writing when you so candidly wrote about your own relationship with your body as a mom (also LOVED your post about making fitness work as a working mom!). 🙂

      June 30, 2016
      • Aw thanks!!! I’m glad that it helped!

        July 1, 2016

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