About a year after my daughter was born, we took a family vacation to the beach. I LOVE the beach and was so excited about the vacation itself, but I was NOT excited about wearing a swimsuit for the first time since her birth. I’d had a much harder time losing my pregnancy weight than I ever thought I would and I found that a black one-piece swimsuit was the only thing I was remotely comfortable in (how “mom” of me…)
Over the course of the vacation, I found myself compulsively checking out every other woman on the beach, especially other moms. But why? What was I looking for? After a lot of reflection, it hit me. I was looking for another mom who was just like me. Someone who was dealing with the same post-baby pounds. Surely I wasn’t the only person on this beach who was heavier after having a kid, but that’s what it felt like at the time.
Our bodies change in so many ways after pregnancy and weight gain isn’t the only struggle. But regardless of our individual issues, in my experience women just don’t talk about the changes that much, except to encourage each other that we’ll get back to our original bodies eventually. Whether or not that’s true (and I’m not sure it is) how should we cope in the meantime?
The intention of this series is to shine a light on these struggles and help women feel less alone in their journeys with their new postpartum bodies. And since I wouldn’t ask any woman to share things in this series that I wouldn’t share myself, I’d better start with me!
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family and your lifestyle.
I’m 33 and married, I have an almost 2-year-old daughter and I’m pregnant with my second. We live outside of New York City in Jersey City, NJ. I’m a registered dietitian and former full-time office job worker who is now trying to create a better work/life balance by running my own business (ha!) Healthy eating and home cooked meals are a priority for me, but I find fitness to be a challenge. I like yoga and hiking but I’m definitely not an exercise fanatic.
Tell us about your relationship with food and your body pre-baby.
I had a pretty positive body image and a very normal relationship with food pre-baby, which I think is part of why not returning to my original shape hit me so hard. I have always been relatively thin, which I credit equally to genetics and the healthy attitude towards food and my body I was fortunate to grow up with. That’s not to say I’ve never gained weight…over the course of my 20s I grew a couple of pant sizes, but honestly it didn’t bother me too much. I mostly attributed it to the nice meals and bottles of wine my husband and I would split together, which wasn’t something I was willing to give up! My first pregnancy also revealed that I have hypothyroidism, so maybe that had something to do with my pre-pregnancy weight gain as well.
And now? How would you describe the changes you’ve experienced in your body after having a baby?
The pregnancy left me with an umbilical hernia, which was really frustrating and had to be surgically corrected at 10 months postpartum. Until I recovered from the surgery, I couldn’t exercise and I pretty much always had that feeling of being nine months pregnant and really needing to sit down…only I wasn’t pregnant. It made everyday tasks like carrying my daughter and even chopping firm vegetables really difficult. That issue is pretty much resolved, but now have a super fun U-shaped scar under my navel from the surgery – another reason I don’t love the idea of wearing a bikini again.
Mainly, though, my postpartum body issue is that I still LOOKED pregnant. The pounds that won’t budge are firmly located on my belly. Breastfeeding didn’t help at all, as I had believed it would. In fact, I think breastfeeding exclusively made me hold on to the weight. I really want to say that I wouldn’t have cared about the number on the scale being higher than it was pre-pregnancy so long as the pounds were anywhere other than my belly, but I think that’s easy to say considering it wasn’t actually my situation. I was honestly looking forward to being pregnant again so I wouldn’t have to deal with only looking pregnant, but once I deliver this kid I imagine I’ll be facing the same issue.
What about changes to your schedule and the stresses of being a parent? How do you think these changes have impacted your body?
I went back to work full-time when my daughter was exactly three months old. With trying to juggle my new life as a working parent, pumping at work, my hernia and the stresses of buying our first home and moving all going on at the same time, I barely had enough time to eat a moderately healthy diet and I certainly wasn’t exercising. But I think it was harder for me close to a year later when many of those stresses had resolved but the weight still wouldn’t budge and I STILL looked pregnant. At that point, I was following a pretty healthy diet and exercising moderately, so I started to wonder if I’d really look pregnant for the rest of my life…
How did you/do you cope with the changes?
Up until after my surgery, I tried not to worry about it at all. There was no way I was going to have the time or energy to implement some kind of radical diet and I couldn’t exercise anyway. Even if I hadn’t had the hernia, I really don’t believe postpartum women should have to put themselves through that. After the surgery, I started a modest home strength training program which definitely improved the way my body functioned, but still no changes to my actual shape! And especially knowing I wanted to conceive again, I guess my coping method is not to worry or do too much about it until after I’m done breastfeeding my last kid, whenever that is. Even then, I know I won’t take any radical measures. For now, I just dress around it with loose tops and such.
Would you share a few pictures of yourself post-baby and tell us how you feel about them?
This is a picture from the beach trip I mentioned above. It’s super cute, but I can’t help thinking I look like a beached whale…
This picture is from just a few months ago and it happened to be taken right before I got pregnant again. I love the picture and this dress, it was really flattering and I’m sure I’ll be holding on to it for awhile!
What do you want to share with other postpartum women?
I really wish we could get to a place where culturally, it’s just a non-issue if and when you’re living in a different body post-baby. But just like every other women’s issue (like working outside the home and breastfeeding in public) the change is just going to have to start with women who are in the thick of it themselves…
So, don that swimsuit and hit the beach. Talk openly about how you’re okay with your new size to normalize it and help other women feel the same. Don’t even look at those “body after baby” pieces in celebrity rags. Quip back at anyone who asks whether you’re pregnant that it’s not an appropriate question. And treat yourself to a new wardrobe if you can – I firmly believe that our money is much better spent on clothing that makes us feel great rather than fad diets that are destined to fail.