Just hours after having my daughter, almost 20 months ago, I remember looking in the mirror at myself in the hospital bathroom. I knew I would still “look pregnant” but what I saw still shocked me. Stretch marks, which were barely noticeable and hiding under my giant belly just hours before, had deepened and darkened when my stomach shrunk down from delivering her. They were deep and purple and front and center – 6 of them in vertical lines. You could run your hands over them and feel the indentation in the skin. They were scars.
I was horrified, but the emotion took a quick backseat as we were dealing with the effects of a traumatic birth and our daughter in the NICU. Stretch marks were the least of my worries. And there are creams for that, right?
Turns out, not really. At least that’s what the dermatologist tells me. And my doctor. And everyone else that has deep scarring on their skin. Give them time, they told me. They will lighten!
Time. I am 20 months from the first time I saw those stretch marks. Each month that passes from the moment that I gave birth to her, I get more and more discouraged, feel more like a failure, that my body looks so, drastically different now.
They said that my body would remember. That my body would go back after time. The posts told me with their “9 months in, 9 months out” images that “slow and steady” the weight would come off with hard work.
Hard work? In those early days? When was I supposed to fit that in? Between the debilitating bouts of anxiety and depression? As we trial and error-ed medication to get me stable? On the days recovering from little sleep, a baby who broke all the rules and my own recovery after a high-risk pregnancy, bed-rest and a traumatic birth? During her 40 minute naps where I was trying to pump and take a breath? Was I supposed to be hard at work then?
Instead of losing weight while nursing, I gained. I had never heard of that before. A few months Post Partum I saw a number on the scale I had not ever seen. I had significant milk supply issues, so my body, fighting to feed my baby, must have held on to every last calorie.
I remember taking “progress pictures” 6 weeks postpartum, then weeks later, horrified to realized I actually looked worse in the later picture.
Those were the early days, though. I was told it was normal to take a year. I still had time. “You just had a baby!” they said.
But what about on her first birthday, when I looked at the pictures and wanted to sob. I was supposed to have lost it by then, right? The stretch marks were lighter, the fog of post partum depression and anxiety had lifted. I thought this would be it. My body would return to “normal”. I was active that summer working out and walking.
I felt a lot of shame looking at other Moms with their defined bodies. I would calculate when their baby was born to see just how off I was and if there was still time for me.
20 months Postpartum. I am almost two years from the day I gave birth. I am currently heavier than I was 2 weeks after giving birth to my daughter..
I have read all the things about our bodies not going anywhere, the deep gratitude for the gift of carrying a life, the uplifting posts about body appreciation and OF COURSE, my sweet girl is worth every pound and every stretch mark. I know Postpartum body image is a complex issue, but when I look at the bodies of those around me, I feel alone in this space.
For the past few months, I have been more consistent than ever working out and exercising. I do not diet, but I have been more mindful of what I have been eating than I was previously. I enjoy life and due to backgrounds of disordered eating patterns, know I cannot restrict myself and I don’t WANT to spend this one precious life obsessing over whether I will enjoy the birthday cake.
So, if with normal eating and consistent exercise, what if this is where my body has chosen to live?
What do I do if this is my body’s new home?
The place it stays even though I move it regularly and feed it the way I did when I maintained a much lower weight?
What if that new home is 15 pounds heavier than I was before my baby?
What if my body didn’t remember?
At what point do I quit striving to get that number down, the pants to fit and the muscle definition to show again?
What I have come to realize is that what it would take for my body to return to where it was before likely involves restriction and obsession.
Could I lose those 15 pounds if I monitored every calorie or counted macros, worked out for an hour and said no to desserts always?
Probably. I probably could.
But is that what I want to do at this stage in my life? When every moment of nap time is treasured and there’s 10 million things to be done and relationships to nurture and words to be written and dinner to be cooked with love? I enjoy my 30 minute workouts that are fun and make me love exercise again. Instead of spending some of her nap time working out, could I be spending it all? Pushing myself to the point of exhaustion? I could.
Instead of sharing dessert with my husband when my daughter goes down, could I be eating ice chips and frozen fruit? I could.
But at what cost? Am I, at 31, more concerned about this weight than I am about living and enjoying this life, this healthy, beautiful life God has given me, or forcing my body to shrink back down to where it was before?
There are certainly some habits I could tweak. The handfuls of chocolate chips that are mindless, the frantic snacking from Mila’s leftovers during the day instead of making myself filling meals…of course I can fine tune some of my rhythms and habits. And if those little mindful changes cause me to lose the weight, that’s one thing. But restriction and obsession? That’s another.
So If my body lives here now, how far am I willing to go to change it?
I realize this essay, if you will, is more questions than answers as I wrestle and grapple with these questions in real time, not yet at a place of arrival.
My husband reminds me of the challenges these past two years have brought with my mental health, families that don’t live nearby for help, the pandemic, among other things. He reminds me I haven’t been lazy or haven’t done anything wrong and that I am beautiful. Of course he does.
It’s just that this is where my body is telling me it wants to live, and I don’t feel at home here.
And I am struggling.
The post-partum period has been interesting for me, because I feel pressure from two different timelines. The first timeline is how I should look XX months after having her, and then the other one is getting back down to my pre-pregnancy weight in time to, Lord willing, have more children and put on even more weight.
And time moves forward, but my body stays the same.
So for now, still at war with my body, I will fight for peace. Peace that I know is different from that goal number on the scale and peace that does not fluctuate with water-retention or cupcakes or whether it’s morning or night.
I want to spend less time zooming in on my body in pictures, comparing old pictures to new ones, wondering if people are noticing how different I look and doing algebra to see how much weight someone lost in how much time. I want to spend less time of this precious life at war with where my body has chosen to live after giving me such an amazing gift.
As a Mom to a daughter, I am committed to working through the complexity of my emotions here as I fight for that peace. As I wrestle with these feelings, I am going to re-read an awesome book, “Breaking Free from Body Shame” by Jess Connolly, consistently remind myself who I am in Christ, surround myself with loving and supportive friends who cheer me on and couldn’t care less what I look like, and learn to truly be at peace with this body so I can model that for my daughter.
So I will fight. I will fight by dancing around with my daughter on my hip and be grateful for the way it supports her just so.
I’ll fight it by taking pictures with my daughter and looking more at her sweet face than the perceived chins on mine.
I’ll fight it by letting the squishy-ness of my stomach feel good against her cheeks.
I’ll fight it by *trying* to bite my tongue when my husband takes, yet another, horribly angled picture of us.
I’ll fight it by choosing movement because it makes my body feel good, not because it will change it.
I’ll fight it by digging into the Word, spending less time scrolling (why is this SUCH a struggle?), and trying to appreciate all this body has done for me, at every size it’s been.
I will fight for the peace, but I just hope I start feeling at home here.