In the Middle of Things

My friend Jennifer recently asked when I was going to update this blog again, and the answer I had at the time was, "Unknown, because I'm not certain what I have to say?"

Everything in my head pertaining to fitness and health is kind of a big scribble right now.  And rather than hide and say nothing, I'm going to try to unpack it.  It's going to be messy.  But it's where I'm at, and the truth, they tell me, is powerful.

So here it goes: I'm struggling with post-partum body issues.  I thought that I'd made my peace with my post-partum shape, but as it turns out, that was more a surface-level peace, because clothes shopping was really triggering, along with the gym, and seeing pictures of myself, and on and on.  I was okay as long as I didn't think about it.  But that can't really work long-term.

The culturally expected thing to do about that is to try to lose weight and get in shape.  Before I dismissed that entirely, I wanted to do a deep dive into what that might look like.

I thought about going Paleo again, because I'd had success with it in the past.  For a moment, I even considered Keto, because the results reported by friends have been crazy.  But my partner's friend is having to do a very low-carb diet in order to reverse his diagnosis of Type II diabetes, and after watching him do it, my partner reported back that it takes a whole lot of planning, energy, and willpower -- to do the research on what foods you can eat, read labels, ask lots of questions about ingredients, and default to the safe things at restaurants.

I think that back in 2012-2013 I had that kind of time and energy.  I was also skating 3x per week and didn't have much else going on other than that.  I didn't have a kid.  I had a lot of time.  I don't have those things now.  It's worth noting that I do meal plan and prep on the weekends, and I've been pretty good at making plant-forward, healthy breakfasts and lunches this year.  I feel good about that.  But taking it to the next level, committing to another Whole30, or Keto, or even a pretty primal set-up takes a lot of resources -- resources I don't have at the moment.

The reason I don't have those resources is that I'm working on a pretty big project right now, and I've shelved nearly everything else in order to work on it.  I'm also a working parent with a very clever, sweet, feisty two year old.  So time and energy and effort are limited.  I'm lucky if I can get to CrossFit two times a week at this point.

That's the other part of it, by the way: I don't have a lot of time for exercise right now either.  I used to make it to CrossFit at least 3x per week.  I'm struggling to do that now with the daycare schedule.  The times don't line up quite right, and every time I have to leave CrossFit early, I feel really shitty about it.  It seems rude?  I don't know.  Everyone is super understanding at the gym, but I feel terrible about it. 

And then I have to rush through traffic to get to my kid on time, because the gym is further from her daycare than my work is.  So my compromise has been to work out at work's exercise room on Wednesdays when I have to pick her up.  I'm lucky enough to have a partner who retrieves kiddo on Mondays and Fridays, so I can hit CrossFit then, and that will have to be good enough for now. 

I feel like a huge traitor for even having these feelings at all.  I've worked so hard to be body positive, to make peace with my body as it exists, right now.  A lot of the time, I feel pretty okay about it.  But the weight I've gained around my middle from having a baby has literally changed my shape.  I used to be more of an hourglass, and now I'm more of an apple. 

I know that this is part of the wild changes of life, of pregnancy and childbirth, of being a mama.  I know that my body will never be the same, and I wouldn't want it to be, because I have her, and she is everything.

MamaKiddo.jpg

Still, it would really help if clothes fit better/differently, and if gaining the weight hadn't shifted me solidly into plus size clothes.  I think being on the edge of straight sizes can be challenging in this very particular way: because it feels like straight size clothes should be in reach.  But they're just out of reach.  And you think, oh hey, if I dieted, maybe all that would be accessible to me.

I'm not trying at all to equate that mental gymnastics with the very real oppression and discrimination fat people face every day.  I recognize the thin privilege I do have in being a big size 14/small size 16.  I still have access to a lot of things that larger people do not.  And maybe it's stupid to even care about this at all.

But there's still that horrible small whispering voice in the back of my head, saying "If only.  If only."

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.