My Post-Partum Body, A Year Later

We don't talk about the realities of post-partum bodies enough.  There's a strong narrative that once you have your baby, you do a bunch of work and "go back" to your pre-pregnancy body.  With kegels and push-ups, some grit, and "no excuses" (Thank-you-not-really, Maria Kang), you can get back your body, and by extension, your sexuality and attractiveness and sense-of-self. 

Well, sorry, but that's a big, ol' NOPE.  There is no "snapping back".  These changes are forever. Your body went through a gigantic transformation.  No sense in pretending it didn't happen.

The thing is: I think you can reclaim your body, and by extension, your sexuality and attractiveness and sense-of-self WITHOUT a whole big weight loss "journey."  In fact, I think it's vital that you do.

My post-partum body, 1 year later. - superbalancedlife.com

My post-partum body, 1 year later. - superbalancedlife.com

A year ago, I showed what my post-partum body looked like, a month after birth.  The above picture was taken about a year after that.  Honestly, they're not much different.

My post-partum body, 1 year later - superbalancedlife.com

My post-partum body, 1 year later - superbalancedlife.com

I guess my stretch marks have faded, but I still have the "mummy tummy" and the same hips and big arms.  So what's different?  My head.

To be honest, I put off this post for a couple days because I was actually a little disappointed about the pictures.  A teeny part of myself wanted this to be a Before and After kind of scenario, because we're conditioned to believe that that is the triumph: visible, tangible transformation.  But the bigger win is what's been going on in my brain. 

To be even more candid -- as I compared the photos from a year ago to now, my thought process has gone something like this: "Oh man, it's not that different.  Shit.  And I've gone back to CrossFit, but it's obviously not working, and maybe I should be watching what I eat... OH WAIT A SECOND STOP RIGHT THERE.  Am I doing these things to "fix" what I look like, or to feel good in my body?  I am doing this to feel good in my body.  Eating well, moving my body in ways I like and feel good, sleeping as much as I can, and making time for self-care, those things are the goal in and of themselves."

Taking care of myself is its own reward.  I feel good; so much better than I have in a long time.  I feel motivated and engaged and happy.

So as much as I've been conditioned to see no physical change at all as a bad thing, I don't really think it is.  The life I'm living is sustainable.  I'm not driving myself crazy being consumed by a weight loss struggle.  Today, I ate a salad for lunch, but I also ate oatmeal with dark chocolate chips for breakfast.  *shrug*

This is what success looks like for me: total self-acceptance and making choices that support my strength, health, and life, and also acknowledging how amazing it is that my body has sustained and given life.  It will never be what it was before my kid.  I don't have the time or energy to do the work I did to make it that way.  But I am finding what time and effort I can to make sure I'm the best me that I can be NOW, and that's what really counts.

Dressing Myself Post-Partum: An Update

Wow, it's been awhile.  Taking care of a tiny human really does take up the lion's share of one's time and energy.  Back in May, I posted about struggling to dress my post-partum body.  It was the biggest self-esteem issue I'd struggled with since giving birth.  I'm happy to report that I took on that challenge like it was my own damn summer Olympics, and I'm pretty stoked about my new look.

I'm sharing some pictures and ideas here, so that if you or some rad lady you know is working through this too, it might help:

  • For awhile (maybe indefinitely, but at least awhile) after giving birth, you're probably going to be an apple shape.  Embrace it!  Now is the time for tops and dresses with killer drape, but more form-fitting pants and leggings, and banishing ruthless waistbands.
Superbalancedlife.com - Dressing my Post-Partum Body

Superbalancedlife.com - Dressing my Post-Partum Body

  • Go up a size (or two, or four!) and don't stress.  I'm a size up in pants and I give zero fucks.  My tummy is slowly getting smaller actually, as I nurse and return to exercise, but I'm giving it plenty of time, and honestly, it's fine.  I have embraced it.
  • Wear things with a lot of stretch that can accommodate your fluctuating shape.  You will change a lot.  I love jersey dresses for their versatility.  If you get some in solids, you can wear them with different layers and accessories to make different combinations.  This photo below was taken when I was ~3 months post-partum, and have more of a tummy than I do now.  I like that it worked for me then, but also works for me now.
superbalancedlife.com - Dressing my Post-Partum Body

superbalancedlife.com - Dressing my Post-Partum Body

  • Make sure everything works for nursing.  When I go to work, I don't have to worry so much about this (private pumping room, a godsend!  I can just take my top off, put on my hands-free pumping bra - an amazing invention - and not stress about it).  However, out and and about, I love Milk Nursingwear's tops and dresses.  They make it so easy to nurse discretely.  I hate nursing covers in principle and execution, but I'm not an exhibitionist either.
  • Capsule Wardrobe.  I can't say this enough.  I have 3 pairs of stretchy jeans, 2 cardigans, a bunch of tops, and a couple dresses that are on HEAVY rotation.  It makes a difference.  I can mix and match because everything goes with everything else, I have less laundry to do, and it's all machine washable in case baby spits up.
superbalancedlife.com - Dressing my Post-Partum Body

superbalancedlife.com - Dressing my Post-Partum Body

  • Most of all, acknowledge that you've been through a major journey lady.  You made a whole human being, and carried it for 9 whole months.  And now you have to care for that cute little nugget!  Be proud you're getting yourself dressed at all!

Dressing Myself Post-Partum

In the weeks after birth, I mostly felt fucking great about my body.  I made and pushed out a whole human, all by myself!  And my body was a champ about labor, birth, and breastfeeding.  I got lucky on all of those things.  But now?  Well.  Now is kind of surprising to me.

I lost a bunch of post-pregnancy fluid and the shape of my pregnant body relatively quickly.  My doula told me on her follow-up visit that I actually needed to eat more because I went back to a smaller body so quickly, and she was concerned about my milk supply with breastfeeding.  And it's true: breastfeeding makes you ravenous.  I had never felt hunger in such an immediate way until I started breastfeeding.

So it was all going okay during maternity leave as I adjusted to a non-pregnant, post-partum, healing, breastfeeding body.  I did the 40 days of confinement (well, for the most part, until I got stir-crazy and went out for 2-hour jaunts just to clear my head).  I started taking longer walks with the baby.  I went back to yoga.  Everything was fine until I went back to work.

Going back to work meant I was around adult people most of the week.  It also meant I needed to look professional.  And that made my leggings + tunic top + messy bun look a thing of the past.  I needed to wear adult person clothes, and that's where my post-partum body feels come in.

So: I obviously gained weight during pregnancy.  I'll be honest and tell you that my total weight gain was 36 lbs.  I lost around 23 lbs in the first weeks after pregnancy.  I have no idea what my weight is now, because I don't own a scale anymore (best decision ever, btw).  Weight isn't really important to me; what's putting my head through the ringer these days is the shape of my body.

I have always been an hourglass shape, at least from the front.  My boobs are kinda smallish, and my booty is bangin' so from the side, I'm a little more pear-ish I guess.  But anyway, after 34 years of dressing my body, I had it down:

  • Fit & flare styles to emphasize my smaller waist
  • Belts, for the same reason
  • Shorter hemlines, because I clock in at 5'1", so I get swallowed in long stuff
  • Necklines that emphasize my shoulders.  I have great shoulders.  Halter tops?  Yes plz.

Well, none of that looks quite right anymore.  I have a post-partum belly - loose skin, fading stretch marks, and extra fat for breastfeeding.  Dresses and fitted shirts don't hit that small waist point quite right.

My thighs have some stretchies too, and along with my upper arms, have gained some pregnancy weight.  Not a whole lot - I've always had big arms and thighs - but I've lost the tone I gained through CrossFit.  That means I'm not confident showing those areas.

Shorter hemlines are okay, but I'm a little more modest, because of the aforementioned thighs + I just had a baby so I'm just more wary about that area, I guess?  And there's the whole chub rub issue with skirts and dresses.

So all that to say that my old clothes are still in storage, and I'm going to have to be choosy about which ones I bring out, i.e. the more blousy tops and looser fitting dresses are cool, but the super fitted stuff will have to wait.

It's disorienting, having a new shape.  I knew the weight gain and stretch marks and extra fat for breastfeeding were going to happen, but I didn't quite understand that the shape of my body would be different.  I'd prepared for bigger, but not multidimensional. 

It's just one of the ways my life has radically changed since having a baby.  There's nothing like becoming a parent for the first time.  I can't say that enough.  It is a stark shift.  It takes some getting used to.

But hopefully, little by little, I'm getting there.

Melissa McCarthy on People Magazine

Melissa McCarthy on People Magazine

And in the meantime, I've decided my totem for this process is Melissa McCarthy.  She's a working mom, proud fat lady, and maker of my for real new favorite clothing line, Seven7

I may have to think of my body differently, but I can take this on as a creative challenge: how to dress this new body.  And that feels better.