God knows I have been trying to find what I want to say in this blog since about January or February, but the mental block has been real. Maybe my post-partum brain wasn't capable of the kind of coherence that would do it justice, but now I'm done with it floating around my brain and just need to let the words out. Over the last year, I've had a lot of conversations with other mums about how they view themselves and the world since having a baby and it has yielded some interesting thoughts.
I recently saw childbirth described as like being hit by a truck. I had a think about that and I'm not sure that's too far off in some ways. Your body certainly isn't ever the same, and the levels of trauma experienced can be extreme, so even if that is quite a dramatic analogy, birth itself can often be dramatic. No matter how much reading, moisturising or meditating you do, you can never totally prepare yourself for what will happen to your body when you have a baby.
In a lot of ways, I consider myself to have escaped relatively unscathed, but I would be lying if I said there hadn't been some changes. For a start, my boobs aren't quite what they were, which as someone who has always been very lucky in that area was a bit of a shock. I don't really know what we expect though - something that suddenly becomes several times its original weight overnight for a period of months is never going to go back to exactly how it was before without some help.(Something the media would do well to take note of, thanks). However, I musn't be too harsh on the girls - they have fed a baby for over 10 months and have a long, long way to go before they can be tucked into my socks, so that's always a positive. I was also lucky enough to avoid getting any stretch marks, which I know some women suffer with, but then others own like tiger stripes with pride, as is their prerogative. In my case I have the little shelf above my caesarian scar as well as the scar itself which will always be there, as well as a little more when I sit down thanks to the skin on my stomach being a bit stretched. But, although those aren't exactly attractive features in my body, like the women who own their stretch marks, I own and strangely love my scar as it is a permanent reminder of where and when Jack came out. The other things I am working to accept.
The side effects continue: having a large baby (and possibly an epidural) has resulted in an ongoing lower back problem which physio has helped, but not solved. Not ideal when you are lifting a 23lb 10 month old regularly!
These changes can be hard to swallow on a bad day when you look at your partner and see that they haven't gone through the same.
Credit: Motherhood Comics
For me it is a daunting thing writing about how my body has changed here for fear that people might read it and think "ughhh" or view me in a different, less attractive light to before. However, that fear also brings out a defiance in the same way as someone telling me it was TMI when I mentioned Jack had "come out of the sunroof" during a discussion about him being a big baby. That was literally all I said, I didn't mention the word VAGINA (ooooh, scary) or anything even vaguely graphic and yet got that reaction. Mate, you want TMI? (Rubs hands together in glee). Being made to feel that I have to censor my experiences for fear of making others uncomfortable is another thing that is wrong, especially when it comes to birth trauma which can be a contributor to Post Partum Depression. I'm not saying I want to share every detail with everyone, but being made to feel that a small comment is too much information (particularly by a man) is just another example of how we are made to feel that childbirth and the aftermath is purely a female "problem". When so much of what happens to your body is so out of your control, it really calls for support and acceptance, not criticism if we are frank about our experiences.
The images that we see in the media of women "bouncing back" (I am coming to hate that phrase) do not help us.
We are expected to be slim with a nice neat bump in pregnancy (if ASOS "maternity" models who incidentally are not pregnant, but regular models with fake bumps - FFS - are anything to go by). Then you must fully surrender your body to your baby and be a glowing success at breastfeeding to prove your perfect mum status. Then of course we all just lose all the weight with everything going back to the same place (but not too quickly or else you're vain and selfish), and if you don't manage that then "She's let herself go". Sorry not sorry, but that just isn't fucking possible. We cannot go through all of that and come out the same. Not to mention the fact that pregnancy affects all of us differently.
Additionally, for those who don't know, breastfeeding (which some women do for beyond a year) can mean that your body holds onto extra weight and you cannot lose that until you wean. A well known example of this is Serena Williams, who has openly spoken about dropping 10lb in the space of a week when she first weaned, showing that the myth that breastfeeding helps you lose weight is just not the case for everyone. For our sanity as much as anything else, we all need to feel that we can go at our own pace.
Comments about the size of my bump (small one minute then carrying twins the next), being called fatty in work scenarios by people who should really know better and a comment 9 months post partum that I hadn't "lost my figure" shows that the scrutiny just does not end.
Finding your place and your way in a world that has frankly ludicrous expectations of how you should look when you've had a child is made all the more daunting and difficult if what we constantly see in the media is women with no sign of a bump within 5 minutes of giving birth.I know that there is more focus these days on body positivity, but there is still a long way to go. I now totally understand why women have plastic surgery. How can we ever be taught to love and appreciate our bodies for what they are when we are constantly told that the ideal is slim, perky boobs, a butt like a shelf and no tummy? It is enough to have the entire female population (mothers or not) defiantly screaming "BULLSHIT!!" at the top of their lungs, because this ideal also affects those who have not had babies. However, those of us who have should not be expected to be the devoted Mum who never puts herself first but yet somehow always looks perfect, with the "perfect" figure. Yet this impossible contradiction is conveniently glossed over by the media.
I'm extremely lucky in that I have a very supportive partner who makes it very clear that the changes to my body have not made one difference to how he views me. If anything I think he's a bit more in awe of me than he was before. Not all women are so lucky though, and although I think it is important for women to learn to love and accept themselves as they are, it should also be on men to be there to support and reaffirm that view that self acceptance is important. Now that isn't me saying that women should rely on a man's opinion of them to enable them to love themselves, but it is me saying it shouldn't just be on us to reinforce the idea that if we are not perfect, perky beings we are still worthy of love. Especially not when we put our bodies through so much because we are the only ones who can. Now for God's sake would someone please tell the Daily Mail that?!