After Little Bit was born, I could tell my body had changed. It took a while for my abdominal muscles to regain their strength, and even then my stomach drooped lower than it had before baby. I was nauseated my entire pregnancy, and never gained that much weight during (NO this does NOT make me lucky). But after I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety, some of the medications I tried resulted in rapid weight gain. And most of that weight didn’t come back off when I switched meds.
The end result is that I’m now about one dress size larger than I was pre-baby, and I’m in absolutely no hurry to change that.
Here’s why I’m not trying to get my pre-baby body back.
Reason #1: Weight loss does not fix everything.
Society would tell me that what I really need is a good diet and exercise plan. That I need to buckle down and lose the baby weight. And the implication is always that I’ll be happier if I do this. Even that weight loss will make me a better mom.
As Your Fat Friend writes, this is the magical thinking of weight loss:
“The size of a body was never just the size of a body. Thinness was a door that opened to a world of happy marriages, perfect children, enviable careers, meteoric ascents. It was a divine healing fantasy: all the wrongs in their lives would be righted by endless self-flagellation, and the mantra of the penitent.Calories in, calories out. Thinness was a mark of morality. It meant earning a happy, full, unblemished life.”
It was freaking hard to maintain a body positive attitude after Little Bit was born. My depression and anxiety were at their worst, and I was struggling with increasingly worse chronic pain and fatigue. Plus, I was suddenly responsible for this whole other person, who couldn’t tell me anything about what they needed.
I needed something I could control.
It would have been easy to fall back on a diet, because they offer a really awesome sense of control. But in reality, a diet wouldn’t have made anything better. Restrictive eating and forced exercise wouldn’t have given me what I really needed: a chance to heal from the trauma of childbirth and becoming a mother, and reassurance that I was a good mom.
Reason #2: A pregnant body is not a bad body.
The importance society places on getting your pre-baby body back implies something else, and this is something that I NEVER hear people talk about. Why is it so important to erase (as quickly as possible!) all sign that your body has grown, carried, and birthed another human being?
This tells me that there is something deeply shameful about the pregnant body, or anything resembling the pregnant body. One of the most offensive questions a person can ask a non-pregnant womxn is “When are you due?” Just like any other larger or differently-shaped body, we’re encouraged to cover and hide the pregnant body.
I’m not going to go into the full reasoning for this here. It involves a long history of the erasure and control of womxn’s bodies, and is deeply enmeshed with systems of sexism, racism, classism, and ableism. For now, I’ll leave it at this: the pregnant body is seen as somehow wrong.
And this is pure, unadulterated bullshit.
Pregnancy is one possible function of the human body. It’s a natural part of life. When you’re pregnant, you’re literally growing another human being, and that’s pretty damn cool. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being left with some bodily evidence that you did this really amazing thing!
That brings me to my next point…
Reason #3: Every part of my body tells a story.
There’s the scar on my knee from when I fainted as a kid, and the scars under my breasts from the reduction I got when I was 17. The scar across my lower abdomen shows where I was cut open twice: first to correct an issue with my urinary tract when I was a toddler, and again almost 30 years later when Little Bit was born.
My shoulders and upper arms are dotted with hundreds of freckles from a sunburn I got as a kid. My aunt let my sister and me play in her pool without sunblock at noon on a very sunny day. It was so bad that we both missed our annual Girl Scouts overnight trip. I was covered in oozing blisters, and had to spend a couple of days bandaged and miserable in front of the TV.
I have a tattoo on my hip that I’ve never been quite happy with. I originally had it done not long after my 18th birthday, and when I was in college the boyfriend of a friend designed a cover-up for me. I spent six hours in a local shop with the woman who is still one of my best friends, laughing and smoking, getting a tattoo that probably should have taken less than half that time. This was long before I had learned about cleanliness standards, and I’m probably lucky all I ended up with was a bad tattoo.
I have three tattoos that match with friends, and not one that I’ve gotten alone. During the worst of my postpartum depression I added four tattoos to remind myself that everything is going to be okay.
I have my mom’s short stubby toes and stick-straight hair (which saw several bad perms in the early 2000’s). I wear it short and colored purple because I can’t stand to look too normal. My kid ended up with my nose.
And my belly, full and jiggly, is crossed with stretch marks from years of weight cycling. It sags down over my pubic bone in a way that society would tell me is unattractive. But it reminds me that this is the belly that carried my child for nine months. It cradled and protected her until she was ready to come out. Now, at 18 months old, she gleefully points to my belly then smacks her own and runs away giggling.
My body tells the story of my life, and that makes it beautiful.
Reason #4: My value as a mother is not determined by the shape, weight, or size of my body.
There’s a lot of disagreement over what makes a good mother, but I’m positive that it doesn’t include being a certain weight or size (despite all the contrary implications I’ve already mentioned). I would not be a better mother if I lost 20 or 50 or 100 pounds. I don’t even think I would be a better mother if my chronic illnesses were suddenly cured.
My worth as a mother comes in the way I make sure she is taken care of, even when I’m not able to do it. It comes in my determination to pass along the values in which I most believe, including body positivity and the power of intuitive eating. I find my value at 4am almost every morning, when I crawl into bed with her to sooth away whatever woke her up.
My value as a mother is not dependent on weight or size, because it is based entirely in the eyes of my child. And she gives exactly zero shits about what I weigh. She cares that I am a warm lap to sit on, a ready audience for her giggling antics, and a consistent presence that promises safety.
To her, I am warm and squishy, mommy-shaped, and beautiful. So I am not trying to get my pre-baby body back, because I don’t want to teach her that she’s wrong.
I don’t want to teach her that she’s wrong about the beauty of my body, because that would ultimately call into question the beauty of her own body. And I want my child to grow up knowing that her value as a person is not determined by her shape or size.
And THAT is why I’m not trying to get my pre-baby body back.