Yesterday I caught a glimpse of my 4-week postpartum self in the mirror before wrapping a towel around my body. It caused an explosion of hot tears, and hatred for myself. I told myself to stop being vain and pulled on a clean t-shirt. It fit terribly. Everything was lumpy, droopy, and pulled in the wrong places. Even the arm-holes were tight. Tears continued, and I began pulling my pre-pregnancy clothes out of my closet, throwing them into a pile on the floor. With most of the hangers empty I somehow felt better — like I was closing the door on a part of my life that no longer existed, and wasn't going to try and squeeze myself back into.
No one really prepares you for the process of seeing, accepting, and loving your postpartum body. As women we are getting better about being vulnerable with one another, but it can still be a lonely, dark, isolating, emotional, and painful path to walk. I'm exceedingly grateful for those that are candid of their postpartum experiences, and who lend honest, listening ears for me to talk about mine without judgment. Women need women.
Without the support I've had, I don't want to think about the dark place I'd be — but ultimately this is one of those things you have to come to terms with on your own. It's a laborious soul-work of one — similar to preparing for labor.
My husband is an incredibly supportive person, and patiently listens to me trash my appearance (and watches me sob on the couch), while telling me he loves me and I'm beautiful. Despite his incredible powers of taking most of the night shifts with this little lady of ours and juggling work (and let's be honest — my depressive and anxious moods), he truly doesn't understand what it's like to have a postpartum body.
In my dark moments when my mind is overwhelmed, I don't believe that he thinks I'm beautiful, or that he could love someone that looks and feels the way I do now. I want nothing more than to be close to him, but I also have an equally — and sometimes larger — instinct to hide. From him, others, and myself. I am incredibly self conscious of my entire body, especially my stomach, thighs, and breasts, and don't want him to see them post-baby. After all, this isn't what he signed up for — this person I am now mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically — it's not who he married. And that adds another layer to my guilt because I want so desperately to be able to love him, help him, make him feel noticed and supported through having this newborn child in his life too. How do I that when I can't do that for myself?
Then there's my beautiful, strong, healthy, quirky little girl that just arrived into this messy world. Sometimes when I'm holding her, my postpartum hormones and fragile mental state get the best of me and the tears don't stop coming. I look at her sweet little face and her eyes look at mine with concern, brow furrowed. And I want nothing more than to be normal and healthy again. To be strong. To be a woman who can teach her to be kind, confident, and fearless— in all her forms. It's hard to do that when you're not sure who you are anymore.
When I look in the mirror I don't look healthy to myself. I don't look taken care of. I don't look like or feel like me. I am overwrought with guilt, shame, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, high levels of anxiety, and deep places of depression. My past coping mechanisms don't feel very possible right now. And although I've picked up my pen to write a few times since baby entered the world, it seems she's suddenly starving as I put ink to paper.
I've seen the 4th Trimester Body Project, and body-positive blogs of women embracing their changed shape and proudly flaunting their #tigerstripes. And I know there's no going back to what my body used to be, but I'm not at that embracing stage yet. Or at the being ok with it stage. Or the liking my body stage. And I think just as we sometimes mourn the loss of our teens, twenties, singleness (or whatever) while still being grateful for moving forward and acknowledging the "new good" in transition, I'm in the mourning stage of my prebaby appearance and feeling more than a little lost in my new identity. That doesn't mean I'm any less grateful for this amazing little human or the feat my body went through in growing and birthing a baby. But have I embraced the extra 52 pounds on my frame yet? Or the real fact my clothes don't fit? Or that from the belly down I'm covered in deep stripes that I hear never go away?
No, I haven't come to a good place with any of that yet, and frankly I don't want my body to look like it went through a war. I don't want tiger stripes or droopy, deflated boobs. I don't want the indentations riddling the once smooth skin on my stomach. I don't want the back-fat rolls, or larger butt. Not that there's anything wrong with any of it, but I've felt like since I got pregnant I've been in someone else's body. And I still feel like a hostage that is looking for a way to escape. But I can't, because despite how much this doesn't feel like me — it is me. Right now I can't see past any of that and I'm scared who this new me is and what it will look like. I dread the first shopping trip when I need to relearn what fits this shape. But I cling to a prayer a friend said for me over the phone recently: That I would be a lioness, and grow stronger with what my body just accomplished. That I would be fearless.
I hope someday, with time, this new body and I will get along just fine — war scars and all. Until then, instead of pressuring myself to bounce back, or love my current shape, I'm going to try to be kind and gentle to myself — which may be the hardest thing of all. It's the phrase I keep returning to and the one that seems to trigger an emotional catch in my chest and put a balm of care and tenderness over my mind. And that's OK with me.
As a side, check out this awesome post "How to Talk About Your Wife's Body After Pregnancy" by Brett Ortler.