This started as a simple social post on my Instagram page, @WhatAboutMamas. But I quickly realized I have a lot more to say about this than I initially thought. So let me just start by saying, despite what you see on your Instagram, it’s totally normal not to bounce back physically after childbirth. Not right away, and not ever.
Most of what you see on social media is highlight reel. Just check what’s being posted under #postpartumbody.
I’m so glad one one my best friends warned me it’s normal not to bounce back.
In fact, she told me I would be looking 6 months pregnant after giving birth. And she was right.
Thing is, unless you specifically seek them out, you don’t see a lot of images like this on social media. I actually don’t remember seeing a single one during my entire pregnancy.
They’re definitely out there, I just wasn’t following any of the “real motherhood” style accounts that I do now. So all the feeds I saw were more of a curated highlight reel. Which I’m not judging at all. My private personal account only shares some of my favorite moments and memories, too.
I’m embarrassed to admit, I’m guilty of this myself.
And I’ll be honest: I didn’t post one photo of myself after giving birth unless the angle was just right, things were cropped perfectly, or my outfit was strategically chosen to cover up my extra “flub.”
I’ll be even more honest: I posted my own bounce back pic two months after giving birth because I thought I looked pretty darn good given the circumstances. I wasn’t 100% back to feeling like myself, but I thought it was good enough. And I was eager for some of that sweet validation from friends telling me how great I looked.
But then I remembered, the entire point of starting this motherhood self-care blog was because I wanted other women to feel validated by the togetherness of the motherhood experience. Not alone or isolated or somehow less than, if they didn’t look like that pic I posted in month two. Because us women are already comparing ourselves to each other enough.
So if you’re one of the lucky women whose body did bounce back immediately after giving birth, that’s great! I’m genuinely happy for you. Either you were blessed by winning the genetic lottery or you worked really hard to get back there so quickly.
I also recognize that doesn’t automatically mean everything has been easy for you. Because we all have our own challenges. And if you look more like me instead, I just want you to know: This is totally normal and you are not alone.
Dealing with my postpartum body image felt so complicated.
I struggled with my weight, size, and appearance for months after giving birth. I simply did not feel like myself. I’ve had a high metabolism for most of my life. I haven’t had a very hard time maintaining a pretty lean physique through regular exercise and a “healthy-ish” diet.
I also carried my pregnancy weight mostly in my stomach, which is definitely just my body’s natural response to pregnancy. But I have to say I gave myself credit for that, too. Especially when people would compliment me and say “Wow, you’re all belly.” I thought yes! I’m doing this pregnancy thing so well. (Eye roll.)
Anyway, after pretty quickly shedding about half the weight I gained during pregnancy, the remaining 15 pounds stayed on no matter what I seemed to do. I was back to eating the healthy-ish way I ate before getting pregnant. I was gradually getting back to working out moderately and going for walks with the baby most days.
My expectations did not meet reality.
Again, I think part of the struggle for me was feeling like things weren’t going the way I expected. Yes, I knew I would retain weight for a while, but shouldn’t it be gone by a few months postpartum? Shouldn’t working out and eating the way I was before be making more of a difference? Why did I see so many cute moms pushing strollers in tight yoga pants when I just felt like a slob?
Then I made the ambitious mistake of suggesting we take some professional family pictures when my husband’s family was in town, only to feel so disappointed and frumpy when I saw the final images. I definitely didn’t feel beautiful or happy or glowing or any of the other things we’re led to believe we’ll feel as new moms who just experienced the miracle of childbirth.
I took steps to become healthier.
After that, I ended up getting so frustrated by feeling stuck with my weight loss, I joined a nutrition program, which my mom and sister were both seeing positive results from. It was fun to do together as a family and motivate each other to make healthier choices with our food and retrain my mind to be more conscious about how I was fueling my body.
What I realized was most of the foods I thought were healthy, really weren’t. And unfortunately, so many of the food labels out there are totally misleading.
In less than two months on the program, I was able to get back down to my prepregnancy size and weight. Which I was happy about. It’s a size I feel good in. It’s a size I feel confident in. And most of all, it’s a size I feel healthy in. So I’m proud of myself for meeting that goal.
But I want to stress that that doesn’t have to be everyone’s goal. And that’s exactly why I’m not posting an “after” pic here. I’m also not here to recommend anyone join a specific weight loss program. Because my journey is not your journey. And my goals are not your goals.
Moral of the story is to love yourself, whatever you look like today.
And now as I write this, I wish I had a tidier end to the story. I look back and wonder if it was the right thing to do to put so much pressure on myself to bounce back quickly and feel genuinely torn about it. I know I definitely don’t have all the answers. On one hand, I did what made me feel good physically and mentally by learning to eat healthier and educating myself about food.
On the other hand, I reject the idea that a woman’s body has to look the same or be the same after giving birth as it did before. Mine definitely still does not. I am working slowly to rebuild my muscle and strengthen my body through physical therapy and short postpartum-specific workouts.
I also genuinely see beauty when I look at women of all sizes and shapes. So all I can do is hope each of us finds what makes her feel good, and confident, and healthy during this new season of our lives. Whatever that may be.
At the end of the day, a single solitary post on one lonely little blog from my little corner of the universe isn’t going to change the way the the world views beauty standards. But what it can do is help other moms realize: if you have complicated feelings about your postpartum body image, or are still waiting to bounce back, you aren’t alone.
I only hope you are able to give yourself more love and grace than I was able to give myself.
Wait, one more thing!
While you’re here, feel free to check out my little self care gift shop if you want to treat yourself or pamper a friend with something special today. You deserve it, mama. Your purchases keep this blog running, support mama-owned businesses, and mean more than you will ever know.
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