Guest post: "Birth changes your body - and the way you see it - forever"
Pregnancy changes our understanding of our physicality - but there is no right or wrong way to relate to your post-partum body, says Bev Turner
Bev Turner will be speaking on our ‘Postnatal: body, baby, life’ panel at Babyfest on 24 September - grab your ticket for just £25 or two for £45
LBC presenter & ante-natal educator
Posted on: Wed 14-Sep-16 16:39:41
(57 comments )
It was the kangaroo pouch that took me by surprise: the extraordinarily saggy space left by my hour-old baby son. I was in the shower, trying to process the cataclysmic event that had just taken place and felt the crepey, heavy, tired, droopy rucksack where my strong stomach used to be. “Christ alive,” I thought, “Nobody told me about that…will it ever go back?”
Perhaps, for you, it was the toll taken on your precious lady-parts; the way your hair fell out in clumps once you finished breastfeeding; the stretch marks striating your thighs; or downsizing your bras to accommodate the not-quite-so-perky boobs. Whatever changes pregnancy and birth wrought on your body, the chances are, it – and the way you see it – has never been the same again.
For some, the ravages of the journey can be difficult to accept, especially at a time when you feel guilty for contemplating anything other than the wellbeing of your offspring. You might briefly wonder whether you’ll ever look hot in heels again - only to feel bad for indulging in such narcissism when your baby needs you. We women are very hard on ourselves. For others, the early weeks pass in a haze of doubt, bliss or shock, and the last thing on your mind is when you might get back into your skinny jeans. As with every stage of pregnancy, birth and motherhood, we are all different and there is no right or wrong way to relate to your post-partum body.
Men will never know how weird it is to find your feet grow in pregnancy and never shrink back, or to go through drawer-fulls of bras when your rib cage expands by several inches, only to narrow a year later.
But we are united by a greater understanding of our physicality in a way that men will never understand. They will never know how weird it is to find your feet grow in pregnancy and never shrink back, or to go through drawer-fulls of bras when your rib cage expands by several inches, only to narrow a year later. Without being blessed by the effects of pregnancy hormone relaxin, men won’t feel their hips and pelvis widen. In a particularly misogynistic practice, some cultures tightly bind women’s hips for the first eight weeks after birth in order to render wives ‘slender’ once again. In the US, there’s a growing trend for pricey elasticated belts that mimic this scientifically-dubious technique.
It’s no coincidence that such products are popular at a time when celebrities and picture editors conspire to dictate what we ‘should’ be aspiring to. As soon as the celebrity baby arrives, mum is papped ‘stepping out’ in tight trousers and wedge heels. Yes, some are genetically blessed (I have never gazed at a picture with more intense fascination than that of model Abbey Clancey in a bikini 10 weeks after giving birth – to her second child). But most are completely knackered behind the sunglasses; holding in their stomachs so tight that they may pass out and worried their pelvic floor won’t hold up in front of the paparazzi. Those whose appearance is their living may have been in the gym since week two post-delivery, shunning cake and coffee for sushi and green juice. But don’t envy them – feel a tad sorry that they aren’t able to feast on carrot cake and lattes at 10am for a few months at least.
One of the many wisdoms of becoming a mother is reflecting on the absurdity of the ‘body issues’ of our youth. How crazy that we agonised about whether our boobs were too big or too small to pull that boy we fancied, when they now sustain and soothe a screaming baby. How funny that we worried about whether our bums were too big when the real love of our lives is a giggling two-year-old who couldn’t care less.
And yet, of course, no teenage girl will believe these truths until she too is a mother - and even then, this knowledge can be difficult to cling onto when we wistfully remember the bodies of our youth. What we can hope for is to feel ‘happy enough’ in our skin to get dressed and undressed each day without sorrow and regret. And to recognise that whatever bits are flappier, flabbier or frumpier, they all contributed in their own way to doing something amazing.
By Bev Turner
Is binding really a mysogynistic practice? Aren't women allowed to want their body back after birth? Becoming a mother doesn't mean necessarily mean giving up a nice body forever!Along the pressure of being back to pre pregnancy body now there's the pressure of being happy with flappy bits!you can't win
I'm not sure how I feel about what you've written. I'll give it done thought.
I think many women's desire and the pressure they feel to get back to their pre-pregnancy bodies isn't wistful. Try "all encompassing" thanks to the pressure to bounce back and the huge amount of fat shaming that goes on in our culture
I'm a bit fed up of these so called empowering epiphanies that are also all over social media, with women bleating on about how in love with their tiger stripes they are and what majestic vessels their bodies are, as though they are the first women ever to give birth and ponder their body image after.
There is a massive pressure to snap back after a baby. I really felt it!
The media fetishize female celebs who get back in shape very quickly after giving birth. And its got worse and worse over the last few years.
As someone who has struggled with their weight and fitness all her life, I loved being pregnant. For the first time my body felt useful and capable - valued (by me) for its purpose rather than its appearance.
A couple of years on and the struggles are back, this time accompanied by a CS overhang and the misery of multiple miscarriages which has reduced that glow of usefulness. But I'll never forget that feeling and hopefully it will return one day.
What I found incredibly liberating was that once I'd had a child, and my child loved me, loved my body, loved to stick her face in my squashy tummy, or to laugh at my wobbly legs, I found I no longer cared what anyone else thought. My child loved my body and that was that. I no longer needed to have a flat tummy, or to weigh a certain amount because my child loved me exactly as I was and that was all that mattered. That IS all that matters.
I loved being pregnant, I felt super confident and quite beautiful. Of course I had days where I felt massive, but mainly I enjoyed my body. After I gave birth, I was amazed at what my body had done! It grew and carried a baby for nine months, went into labour and pushed out a baby with no assistance. A baby who I love more than anything in the world. And then, it fed him for six months. My tummy isn't flat anymore, my boobs aren't perky and I even have back fat. But on my down days I remember what I did, my body made me a mother and there's no greater gift than that.
I fucking hate that tiger stripe shit. I hated my post pregnancy body and I'm still very ashamed of my c section ruined stomach and my wrecked boobs. I went from zero body issues to never wanting to go swimming again. I hate going swimming.
Of course my children love me. They say often how beautiful I am especially when I dress up a bit. Makes no difference to my shame.
I don't mind mine, I will happily wear a bikini. Yes it's not as toned and I have a CS over hang, but I don't care. It's worth it, I'm still the same dress size and probably more comfortable than I was prior to my children.
Breasts used to be a pleasure zone. Exclusively breast-fed my baby for as long as it was feasible, and when she started solids still breastfed in the evenings for comfort. I used to come from work, missed my baby all day, breasts full, and night feeding was quality time for both of us. Breasts are no longer pleasure zone. They're just functional. I can never see them the way I used to pre-baby.
Selfishly, I'm so happy to read some other women who have CS overhang. I really hate that bit of my body now.
However I am in awe of my body as it carried 3 babies, including a set of twins. I still remember looking at DTs just after they were born and thinking "holy crap! I grew both of you!"
I don't want to be skinny or perfect,and I care a lot less about my looks than I used to, but I would like to be able to wear some of my old clothes though
'Happy enough?' You really think that's the best I can hope for?
Fuck. That. Shit. I may be female but I'm comfortable in my skin thanks very much. When I look at my post-baby pot belly I always think of that bit in pulp fiction where she says she wants a pot belly because they're cute
Crap like this adds to the pressure, it doesn't reduce it. By assuming every woman struggles with body image you minimise those who have struggles by making them 'normal' and sideline those of us who don't.
This OP reminds me of that awful book 'Life after Birth' by Kate Figes
You don't have to resign yourself to having an awful body just because you've had a baby.
batteries has said everything I thought but far more eloquently than I could have expressed.
I can identify with some of this, but there seems to be a wiff of an implication that unless you experience motherhood, as a woman you will be stuck in a shallow self-obsessed perpetual adolescence?...
[shrug] my body is in better shape after kids than before.
Sure, it's amazing that I carried and birthed 2 babies but it hasn't changed that much - was in my normal clothes pretty quickly.
I don't think anyone can tell I've had children.
Same here rightsforwomen. I mean, Jennifer Lawrence I ain't, but then I never was.
I felt that my body had done an amazing thing, I still have that wonder.
But my body did go back to normal without extreme measures and I was quite relaxed about it by the end of breastfeeding and still am.
Wow. What an amazingly sad piece. You sound like its a rite if passage to feel sad, guilty, fat, unattractive. You're normalising those feelings. So you're not 'normal' if you don't feel those things? I never felt that stuff. My friends, sisters, friends wives, and on the whole most people haven't gone through so mush angst. Maybe it's self absorption to go through so much agony over normal feelings afterwards. Are you trying to make people feel bad? Or just writing a load of shit?
Apologies, I forgot to fit patronising in there.
I completely disagree with this article. There is nothing wrong in not liking your less firm boobs or not embracing your stretchmarks. I gave birth naturally but tore quite badly. My labia is consequently very large on one side. Do I love it? No. My body is no where near as beautiful as it was before IMO. Still good now, but not what it was. Can't I acknowledge that and do what I can to improve it in my view, without resorting to self-loathing at the same time? You seem to imply that there is only two extreme points of view. Self hatred or all embracing acceptance of the inevitable. Actually there's a large area in between. Its as if you're saying only the 'mother' is the acceptable view of one self. Actually pregnancy and birth made me a mother but I also remain 'myself' the version of me before motherhood, and as my children get older, and independant, I rely on that version of self more and more.
I thus see no reason why wishing to retain the physical version of myself before the changes of motherhood is wrong. Yeah my body did something amazing, but I didn't intend to offer it up as a complete sacrifice on the altar of motherhood. And why should I?
"we wistfully remember the bodies of our youth. What we can hope for is to feel ‘happy enough’ in our skin to get dressed and undressed each day without sorrow and regret"
What defeatist crap
If you hate your body, do something to change it. After the birth of DC2, I was 10 kg overweight with my tummy resting on my legs when I sat. Stomach muscles had let go and I was told physio might not work.
I hit the gym, started running (late 30s), and lost the weight. Tummy went back in with exercise. Now mid-40s, I still do regular low intensity exercise and watch what I eat. The weight is still off and I easily wear pre-DC clothes.
If you're not happy with your body shape, do something about it. That would be the motivational speech I would like to see at BabyFest, not this person who tells women to accept their bloated bodies and try not to feel sorrow & regret.