All too often we hear about aspiring to being the size and shape we once were. This is particularly true after you've had a baby and 'getting back to your pre-baby body' is something that people want to achieve. It’s almost a badge of honour that people are proud to be able to claim. I may sound bitter because it’s not something that happened for me but I'm honestly not. I am happy for those people who 'snap back' but that's not the case for a lot of women and I don’t think we should feel bad if that doesn’t happen (easier said than done, I know). Even though my weight returned to almost what it was before pregnancy, my body shape had changed forever. Clothes that fitted me at this weight before made me feel terribly low - trying my non maternity jeans on was such a mistake...in fact this partly prompted a significant declutter (more on that another time). Forget holding on to things in the hope that I’d fit in to them again one day, I wanted them and that pressure out of my life! I wanted to find a way of accepting how I now was and a way to boost my confidence which wasn’t about body weight or shape.
The badge of honour
I just wanted a bit of balance. I was intrigued as to where this overriding trend came from (I would say that I have seen more of a shift over the past couple of years and people are talking more about celebrating the female body – particularly after having children – just as it is). But there is still this trend in the media and society that those who get their ‘pre-baby body’ back are to be envied, to be congratulated on working so hard. There’s a lot of pressure on women from all angles, and sorry to be sexist, but men’s bodies just don’t change when they have children! A lot remains unchanged for them – particularly if they return back to work after a short paternity leave and fall in to a life with a semblance of normality 9-5.
Seeing my body as I wanted my child to see his
There was something else at play – whilst speaking to myself rather unkindly about my new appearance in the early days, I held the mirror up to ask myself how I’d feel if Rufus was to be talking about his body in this way – his body so precious and wonderful that it was galling to imagine it being referred to as anything else. I felt that I needed to set an example to him. Kate Winslet has been quoted as saying ‘as a child I never heard one woman say to me ‘I love my body’. Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend – no one woman has ever said ‘I am so proud of my body’’. I can’t think of many who would disagree with this – society almost conditions us to find fault with what we have. Isn’t this our opportunity to raise a generation who are comfortable with who and how they are? How was I going to get there? Was it just telling myself that I was enough as I was? Whilst I really wanted to believe that, I felt it would be at a superficial level so deeply ingrained were a lot of my beliefs about my body and its imperfections. Would I truly, honestly believe that in my heart?
Wanting to be kind
About 6 weeks after having Rufus I was slightly horrified by the still spongy appearance of my tummy. The body benefits of breastfeeding seemed to be slowing - my tummy wasn’t shrinking at the pace it was. I realised that it might never return to how it was before - I’d always thought that I’d probably need to ‘work’ to get it back in shape. I was conflicted - at times I’m ashamed to say I felt disgust at my body. I’d squeeze my extra middle and feel disheartened at how it had lost any tone it once had. So it was right what everyone says - having a baby really does change your body forever. But I really wanted to love my body for what it had done and how it now was. I started to look in to post natal body image, I wanted to hear stories of hope but instead was met with countless blogs and Instagram accounts which were all about diet and exercise regimes to get you back to your pre baby body. Before and after photos, meal plans and low calorie lunches filled my screen as women worked themselves ‘back in to shape’. Hashtags such as #postbabybody are still overwhelmingly filled with images that demonstrate a quest for change rather than acceptance. Now, before having Rufus, I assumed that this is just what you had to do. But actually I wanted to find a way of accepting who and how I was now...I didn’t want to be back to how I was pre baby because that would mean I wouldn’t have had Rufus. I wanted to feel proud of my body, show it some love and give myself a break. Plus I couldn’t face exercising like mad for the foreseeable, I’d only just started to be able to put one foot in front of the other and manage a trip to the supermarket without feeling like pelvic floor exercises were required at all times! That, and my penchant for a daily slice of cake with my tea meant a diet wasn’t on the agenda either.
The power of clever dressing
One day I happened to put on some gym leggings - out of necessity as my maternity jeans and leggings were awaiting the laundry fairy to scoop them up (this was Johnny...he was making sure Rufus and I were clothed pretty much every day, so he was allowed a day off once in a while ;)) So the gym leggings - my first non maternity item I was able to wear comfortably since having Rufus and the extra support made me feel….well almost a million dollars! I headed out of the house that day with a spring in my step. I still had a rounded tummy, but I was ok with that – even proud of it, as people would coo over Rufus and I’d think...I made him! (Even now, I love telling him how he once lived in my tummy…something I marvel at more 2 years later than I did at the time). I didn’t want to be sporting a pre baby body. But I also didn’t want to feel cut in half by clothing (immensely uncomfortable not to mention unflattering) and whilst maternity clothes were still a wonderful comfort, I wanted to start to be able to wear some non-maternity items. This was the start of my mission to just find clothes that dressed my body in a way that accommodated, flattered and skimmed over my new tummy. Two years on, it’s still a work in progress but I’m learning the shapes, styles and fabrics of clothing that flatter my new body. And this has been the way I’ve accepted my body – post baby or not - and importantly, started to love it, rather than try to change it. I really think we need to focus on moving forward, not looking back to how we once were.