“Thanks, assholes. You all told me what to expect during pregnancy and what to do with the baby, but nobody told me what to do with my body!” That was the first thing my friend told me after having her first baby. Being the last in our group of friends to give birth, she thought she had all the mommy experts around her to give her a heads up on every little gadget and sleep technique we knew. The best books go through every week of pregnancy from expectations to health scenarios. The books about babies teach you how to cradle the bundle of joy and what to expect at each doctor visit. It’s not all as glamorous as people sometimes make it out to be, and the most unglamorous part is the mother’s body.
The mother’s body, the place where love sprouts into a miracle, takes on a new shape and purpose, consuming her emotions, sleep, peace, and time. This body undergoes so much transformation and stress that it is literally left to heal over a long period of time. In my experience, and many I have heard from, no one sits you down and says “Ok, this is the stuff that will ooze out for 2-4 weeks. You may lock yourself in the bathroom staring at your body, uttering ugly words, but don’t do that because this is what we will do to prepare and cope…”. Of course, you may have that one friend who walks out of the hospital a size smaller than when she began the pregnancy and whistling Disney tunes, but those are the lucky ladies we won’t discuss here. Please do not compare yourself with her or anyone else because that will lead you directly into depression.
The best way to cope with the changes taking place is to consciously love your body with every little bit of energy you have left. It may seem like an easy thing to say you love your body, but as I came to realize over the years, it takes a lot more work than expected. To love your body means to acknowledge the changes, examine the scars, protect your mind, and physically embrace your being. To love your physical being, you have to mentally prepare from the inside-out like you were birthing love this time. To love your body, you must understand self-love and manifest that love all around you.
Please do not compare yourself with her or anyone else…
When I gave birth to my first and only little angel, I was a certified HOT MESS ?. Looking back at that time, 5 years ago, I remember doing something very bizarre. I had ignored my body, I refused to look at my C-section scar beyond the bare minimum of making sure the stitches did not get infected. I remember taking my first shower with my eyes closed shut, running my loofah across this body I refused to touch. I avoided seeing myself in the mirror, afraid I would catch a glimpse of this vessel that carried my daughter for 9 months. How could I be disgusted and afraid of this body that went to war for me? Personal care from that point on was mechanical: do what I had to do not to bleed all over everything, not to smell, and eat enough to produce enough milk to feed my baby. I was ungrateful to my body and treated it like a burden.
My story may be a little dramatic for others looking in, but to most mothers it is the reality of postpartum bodies. What I wish I was taught was the spiritual place of being present in my body to appreciate, care for, and honor it as the most important part of creating a human being. I believe the first step would have been to examine this newly transformed temple of mine, inch by inch, scar by scar. If I could go back, I would run my fingers across the C-section scar, pause, and admire its strength. A baby exited from this line, a baby safely came into this world through this tiny line. I would take some time to think about that, be present in that revelation, and be inspired by my body’s physical strength. I wish I went back, so I can run my fingers across the stretch marks and marvel at the rapid (or not so rapid) shrinking of my belly that once housed a human. I would thank my breasts for the blessings it provided my child instead of cursing them for the pain and embarrassing leakage.
After examining and marveling at all that has manifested on my body, I would audibly acknowledge and appreciate it. Silly? I do not believe so. Try telling your body every morning, out loud, that you appreciate what it has done for you. Be grateful for what it has given you and tell it how thankful you are. Tell your body you love it, every bit of it, no matter how flawed it may look in comparison to what you think it should look like. Tell your body you accept it and will care for it beyond what is necessary to keep it alive. Mothers will talk to their babies with loving and caring words and soon see the small smile and the calm that their soothing motherly voices bring to their children. Those words also soothe your body and help it heal.
I was ungrateful to my body and treated it like a burden.
Take yourself beyond self-care, ask for a break from motherhood, and escape to the bathroom. Take a long warm bath and try to relax. If a bath isn’t in the books for you, remember to create a bedtime routine that you can shorten when crammed for time. Look at your tired face and thank it for being so beautiful and resilient, acknowledge its state, and promise to provide it more time when you have a handle on this motherhood thing. Do something that makes you feel sexy! After my daughter’s birth, I tried to join gyms countless times, but every time I tried to work out on my own, I felt silly. I didn’t know where to start with a fitness routine and I constantly felt like people were staring at me and judging me. I gave up quick! It wasn’t until my daughter was 2 years old that I discovered kickboxing. I joined a local club and became addicted with the classes. I felt empowered, sexy, and eventually strong! The mix of cardio, strength training, and kickboxing really helped me feel and look amazing. Yoga, Zumba, and Cycling are also great alternatives to the boring solo gym routine. Joining a class will help you feel your greatest within usually a 1 hour window guided by a pro.
You must also remember that your body does not begin and end in the physical form, but also in your mental state. It took me almost a year to be ok with leaving my daughter with a caretaker for a few hours. The first time I left my daughter with my mom and took a ride to Babies R Us with my dad to pick up some necessities, I was shaking uncontrollably. My anxiety had returned and I was worried beyond sense. My dad told me to “relax,” the single most triggering word to someone suffering from anxiety. I insisted we go back to get her and bring her with us on the errand. He looked at me like I had lost my mind. My mind began to produce imaginary scenarios where my daughter was crying for me so hard she stopped breathing! The thought of abandoning my child to run an errand for her was physically debilitating. I had not focused on my mind and mental well-being and it had manifested its disease onto my body.
So, take care of your mind because your mental state produces physical footprints on your body. If you suspect you are suffering from postpartum depression or unable to get yourself out of a negative, anxiety-driven rut, seek professional help. Talk to your doctor about what you are experiencing and try a drug-free method before resorting to medications as well.
Lastly, fathers: please remember to smack that A$$ when your wife walks by like you used to before the baby came. Your wife is still as sexy as when you met her, help her realize that. Open lines of communication so she feels safe to voice her concerns and doubts with herself in a positive environment. Some things she will say will not make sense to you or may sound bizarre, listen anyway and offer encouragement, love, and appreciation for the mother of your child.
Feature Image: The Beautiful Body Project | Jade Beall