I was talking with a pregnant friend last night– the Natalie’s are everywhere!!!– and she asked worriedly, “Does everything… you know, go back?” motioning around her stomach.
Ahhh, postpartum body changes. As if the truckload of hormones wasn’t doing enough to your brain, your body is also gonna be shapes for a while. As a white American woman whose had body image issues as long as I’ve been able to form memories, the post-birth body was just another thing adding to my truly WTF mental state the first few months. I’m by no means an outlier with that sentiment, so let’s talk about it.
You will gain more weight during your pregnancy than the approximately 6-9 lbs. your baby will likely come out weighing. A whole bunch of fluids and retained water come out during your hospital stay, too, but it’s unlikely you’re going home at your pre-pregnancy weight. Even if you do– yes, I know an actual human person who was at her pre-pregnancy weight two days after giving birth– your body is not going to look the same. I’ve read to expect that you’ll still look about five months pregnant after birth. Even if you had a snatched as hell body and your weight gain was “all baby!” your uterus has not yet contracted to it’s original size and your skin will take more than a day to not be a home for another person anymore.
You probably won’t care the first few weeks. There’s enough going on getting to know your brand new child that the state of your abdomen hopefully isn’t of much concern. Eventually, though, you might get a decent night’s sleep and take a real shower and find yourself naked in front of the bathroom mirror going, “Yikes.“ It happens. You’re not alone. If you had more than one baby at once, I have no further advice for you because I was in enough of a mental hell after only having one and being told for the entirety of my third trimester that I didn’t look very pregnant.
I think it was around three months postpartum that we got rid of our bathroom scale (gave it away for free to a rando on Instagram!) I wasn’t weighing myself daily, but whenever I would, the number was higher than I could imagine, and that would dictate my entire mood for the day. “The child has exited! I don’t have time to even eat that much! I’m drinking 1% of the beers I ever did pre-pregnancy! How am I not a lithe poolside nymph?!??!” As a loyal reader of this mind-blowingly insightful blog, you know my numero uno post-birth tip is to communicate with your partner, and I’m proud of myself for using my words and letting my husband in on my brain prison. “Is there a number that won’t make you hate yourself?” TOUCHE, DEAR. Bye bye, scale.
I accidentally packed my smallest pair of jeans on a weekend trip when my son was about 3.5 months old (I thought they were my maternity jeans! There is NO SHAME IN THE WEARING MATERNITY CLOTHES AFTER BIRTH GAME!) and I was shocked I could actually get them zipped. A few weeks later, I found I could wear all of my pre-pregnancy clothes without too much scandal. However, I know (I can just tell!) I’m not at my pre-pregnancy weight, and although the clothes technically fit, they don’t fit the same. Things are … lumpier? The places I gained weight in pregnancy are still squishier than I’d ideally want them to be. I’m not as confident sans clothing than I was before getting knocked up.
Is this because society has told me for three decades that women’s bodies go to hell once they have babies? Because I didn’t “bounce back” right away and have to slowly work at it daily like any other person wanting to change their body size would have to do anyway?
I follow a famous-ish personal trainer on Instagram who is engaged to a Super Bowl-winning quarterback; they just welcomed a daughter. She’s younger than most of the people I know who have recently become moms, and she was petite to begin with PLUS her literal job is to be fit as hell. On one hand, I’m like “get your life, girl” as she’s posting Instagram stories of her in the gym already or poolside with a crop top on. BUT. So many people are complimenting her in the comments about how great she looks just weeks out of the hospital. I feel she’s sending a wildly unnatural (and dangerous? problematic?) message to her younger followers who haven’t yet had children about what they should aspire to postpartum. Not that they can never go in the gym again or look even “better” post-baby, but it’s an unrealistic expectation that only fuels the already tenuous new mom narrative of getting right back into life as it was before baby arrived.
Most doctors won’t even clear you for exercise until six weeks postpartum. Even if you feel great, things are still healing internally. Where your placenta was attached to your uterus is allegedly a wound roughly the size of a dinner plate! In an ideal, not posed-for-Instagram life, I’d appreciate some transparency on what’s morphing it’s way back to her “normal” in her lower stomach area that’s being held up by high-waisted leggings (bless the inventor of those, they truly do suck up and in.)
I wish I had a pretty little thesis to wrap this whole thing up in a bow with, but everyone’s relationship to their own body and the space they take up physically and metaphorically in this world is messy and complex. As much as I tell myself, “OF COURSE your body looks different, you grew and birthed a HUMAN PERSON,” there are days where I’m just mean to myself. As much as I rationally know, “You’re doing a kick ass job and this kid is thriving and you’re taking care of your brain and that’s all so much more important than how your jeans fit,” there are still days where I think my bloated face means I’m a failure. So be kind to yourself. Unfollow people who make you feel certain ways. If you haven’t yet had a baby, please know that your body will change, and try with all your might to have grace for yourself when it does.