After two vaginal births, I had an emergency C-section with my third son. It was terrifying. The last thing I remember is bright lights in the operating room and the next thing I knew, I was holding my baby. I had been terrified of ever having a C-section and my worst fears had come true. I was numb. The day after my surgery, I was able to take a shower. I could hardly stand up, the pain was so severe. The nurses had told me not to try to shower alone because I was a fall risk. My husband offered to help me and it was the most humiliating moment of my life. I felt so disgusting. I was in the shower having him help me because I couldn’t even lift my arms to wash my hair. I was so embarrassed for him to even look at me. My body had been ripped apart. I didn’t want to look the way that I did. I wanted to be pregnant again. At least then, I felt normal. This person was someone that I didn’t even recognize.
As the days passed, things got easier. I started to feel better, but my body wasn’t bouncing back the way that I had expected. Maybe it was the C-section, the fact that it was my third baby, or it could just be that I was older. Things weren’t the same. I beat myself up because of the way that my stomach was hanging. I resented the stretch marks that striped my belly and sides. I was fighting a monster, and it was all inside of me. And that is so unfair. Why did I think that 10 days post-op, I was going to look like I had at 21? That was never going to happen. That ship had long since sailed, and I was left with a new boat. This new boat was seaworthy and it was safe and I was commandeering this ship and I needed to do it with a positive attitude.
But that is so much easier said than done. It feels like everywhere you turn there is someone telling you how to lose the baby weight. The MLM huns come running with their wraps and shakes and mystery pills. Ads start showing up in your social media feeds for diets and workout plans that promise to help you shed the pounds quickly. And then you are bombarded with images of postpartum bellies that look nothing like yours. The captions usually mention something about ‘bouncing back.’ Just say no. It is just going to make you feel worse about an already extremely delicate situation.
And you know what? It really sucks when a celebrity posts an Instagram story five days after giving birth and they look like a baby never left their body, and they discuss their perceived body flaws. Yes, it’s their right to do so, but it doesn’t mean we internalize it any less. And more often than not, that’s not the real world. Instead, you’re probably leaking breast milk through your pads, maybe still wearing the stretchy, mesh underwear from the hospital and crying in the middle of the night rocking your baby because you are physically and emotionally exhausted. All of that is normal and it is perfectly OK. And the postpartum body is not only OK, it’s really beautiful.
And although some of the images that we see are problematically unrealistic, some celebs give us a dose of reality that we really need to see. Katy Perry threw it all out in an Instagram story in August of 2020, sporting the waist-high undies and a breast pump bra. Moms everywhere felt a connection to Perry because she we’ve been there.
Model Ashley Graham showed the world her stretch marks. And women all over the world looked at those purple lines and felt a sense of peace knowing that even someone known for their beauty and grace is has these marks and is proudly showcasing them. It’s such a valuable perspective, especially for those of us who may be struggling to adjust to our body’s changes.
Amy Schumer, never one to take herself too seriously, proudly sported her granny panties while taking son, Gene, out for a stroll. And she looked like a badass doing it. We can laugh, because it’s hilarious, but also it’s relatable and normalizes embracing our postpartum body.
Carly Waddell used her Instagram platform as a way to normalize difficulties breastfeeding. For many women, it just isn’t going to work. And she let those moms know that she has the same struggles and that it would be OK.
In publicly acknowledging these parts of their journey, they are empowering women to love themselves and to realize that a postpartum body is beautiful. They have been in the same place we have. They wore those mesh underwear and sat on the heavenly ice packs hours after bringing a baby into the world. They gained weight because they indulged in root beer floats and chili cheese fries, and because gaining weight during pregnancy is normal and healthy. And we should love them for it! They are keeping it real. They may have all the cash in the world, but that baby is still going to spit up on them and have explosive diapers. And their boobs are going to droop. It’s a fact of life.
We need to do our best to ignore the messages that we are inundated with on a daily basis. Diet culture tells you to lose weight, to get back to that pre-baby body. Diet culture tells you that your pre-baby body was better, more worthy than your postpartum body. They want you to instantly slap on a waist trainer and try some supplements and start giving them your hard-earned money.
What about a postpartum body is bad? Sure, things are often little looser, softer and hanging a little lower, but you don’t owe it to anyone to change that. Take care of yourself, and your baby. God knows you don’t have time for the rest of this bullshit.
It took me a minute, but I had to change my thinking. I had to look in the mirror and tell myself that I was strong. My body had grown a human. A 10lb 5oz bundle of love from a teeny tiny group of cells. That baby stretched my body, but he also stretched my heart. I’ll take that hanging skin and embrace it, if that means I can love that beautiful child for the rest of my life. A few stretch marks pale in comparison to the eternal wonder that comes with motherhood, and that’s assuming you don’t wish to embrace your stretch marks which is a movement we can all support.
If Spanx make you feel better, wear them. If you want to live your days in sweats, go for it! And for God’s sake, don’t let any of this stop you from putting on the swimsuit. You grew a human being in your body! And you are nurturing that baby and helping them to develop and to become a decent person. Give yourself some credit and some love. And stop comparing yourself to other women. Your body is your own temple; don’t try to size it up against someone else’s. Treat it well. Nourish it both physically and mentally. Take care of you, and love yourself, because you are worthy — no matter what the new you looks like.