Coming to terms with your body post baby can be tough.
People say well meaning things like, “Love your body, without it you wouldn’t have your little angels”. Or “Be grateful, people struggle to have children and would give anything to be in your place.” This one hurts. I love my children with every fibre of my being and I am grateful every single day for them (even the days of non stop tantrums and poo explosions). Feeling uncomfortable in my skin is in no way related to how I feel about them. I have friends that have struggled to have their children or are still struggling to conceive and my heart breaks watching the absolute agony they go through month after month waiting.
It may seem shallow, superficial and cosmetic, but I used to feel like my whole identity was wrapped up in how I looked, and what size pants I wore. I’d had this body my whole life, I felt comfortable in it. Good even. The changes happened so suddenly and so unexpectedly, I felt like I’d lost who I thought I was.
It began with my first son. I was small, and he was huge. My stomach stretched until I was sure it was going to explode and I could skip the whole birth situation altogether. Stretch marks etched themselves everywhere, almost overnight. My boobs, my bum, my entire belly, patches on my upper thighs, my hips. I didn’t recognise the body I looked down at anymore.
After Alex was born I fell in to the black hole of post natal depression and any hope of falling in love with my new body, vanished. The lead up to his birth was traumatic, the birth was tough and it took months before I could get up in the middle of the night to make a bottle without weeing myself. I felt completely let down by my body and ashamed of my mind, it’s thoughts and it’s failings.
By the time I met Brent, Alex was 4 and most of what was left of the baby weight had gone. The stretch marks however remained, and I hated them. I figured out how to strategically hide them as best I could, but he loved me regardless and I found myself a little less focused on the parts I didn’t like, and a little more at ease in my own skin.
Then came Cooper. While no new stretch marks appeared (not surprisingly, I have no idea where they’d have fit with all of the old ones!) my shape changed again completely.
Brent loved me before despite my stretch marks, but now? Stretch marks AND a saggy tummy, flappy arms and a big lumpy bum? How could he? *Cue many tears and many baggy hoodies.*
Insert witty heading about impending epiphany here.
Brent put on some weight recently following a shoulder injury that put a hold on his regular surfing and kickboxing. He is a boy, so of course he didn’t talk about how he felt about this (eye roll). Instead he began making jokes, putting himself down. I laughed along with him, but it was clear he was unhappy and it broke my heart a little every time.
When the jokes became more frequent, I decided I’d had enough.
I love who he is, and who I am when I am with him – I have never been happier. I adore our family and he gave me Cooper who expanded my heart in a way I didn’t know was possible. It doesn’t matter how tight his pants get, how messy his hair is or when the last time he shaved. He is Brent. The love of my life, amazing father and the best stepdad to AJ.
In the shouty way that is my standard when I have to talk about something I feel passionate about, I told him that we could size up in pants for now until we get this shoulder back in working order and we could find something new together to keep his waistline in check if that’s what he needed, but no more negativity.
I told him that there was to be no more putting down the person that I love most in the world.
He looked at me, shocked and we both laughed.
I have never been in the other side of this situation, and that night I finally understood how hating my body all this time had been affecting him.
I needed to take my own advice. And I did.
I began speaking to myself the way I would my best friend. If I looked in the mirror and hated the way my thighs looked, I changed my thought patterns from “ugh” to “girl, you look great and big thighs are BEAUTIFUL”. Yes it sounds cheesy. Yes I’m cringing writing it. Yes it helped. Sometimes you gotta fake it til you make it!
This attitude adjustment forced me to think of my relationship with my mother. There are parts of her body that she feels insecure about, but when I think of my mum, I don’t think of stretch marks, or bumpy bits. I think of a bright light of gentle kindness, arms that held me through every scraped knee, every best friend fight and every break up. A mum whose wise words get me through the toughest days, and whose strength brings me strength when I can’t find it in myself. I think of a strong, inspiring woman who I love with everything that I have. (Love you Mum.)
Every day, no matter what I put on or how messy my hair is, Alex, my little gentleman tells me I look beautiful. I hold back tears every time. He doesn’t see lines, or squishy bits. He sees his Mama and he loves me.
I also have a little girl in my life now. She is coming into her teenage years and watches my every move. She hears everything I say, she sees me do my hair in the mornings and has begun doing hers the same way, she asks questions when I do my makeup and laughs about eyebrow brushes existing.
She and the boys need to learn to love themselves exactly as they are, and kids learn best by example. When I don’t feel in love with my body, I remind myself to change my thoughts and my words. Not for me, but for them.
Lastly, I had to learn to give myself a bit of tough love.
Sometimes I still catch myself looking at my body and wishing it wasn’t so jiggly and it’s usually in the periods where I haven’t been eating well, or made an effort to take a walk and get some fresh air or jump around enough with Alex, or complete my quick “in between chores mum workout” set.
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when you’re a stay at home mum, (or any kind of mum). Working out doesn’t come close to featuring on the to do list but it needs to.
I decided that I wasn’t going to allow myself to complain about anything in my life that I was doing nothing about. So, if I want to whinge about feeling bloated, I have to earn it. I have to walk up the cliff, or dance around the lounge with the kids for half an hour or find an over the top happy aerobics instructor on youtube and complete her workout before any complaints can be made.
It has been the best deal I’ve ever made with myself and I apply it to everything. (Try it, it’ll change your life!)
I’ve read hundreds of posts online by mums talking about how they have learnt to accept their new bodies.. There is an entire social media community dedicated to mums sharing their new bodies and their stories of how they love their marks and their bumps and their journeys to overcoming their insecurities. My heart swells with pride and love for these mums. Before, I felt like who I was was so entangled in the shape of my body that I could never imagine getting to a stage where I would feel comfortable writing one myself.
Today I know that I am more than a flat tummy and unflappy arms. Whether I’m wearing size 6 jeans or size 12, I’m a mum who is finally finding her feet, a stepmum and a puppy mum. I am my dorky, too loud laugh, I am my terrible jokes that I laugh all the way through so no one ever understands. I am a friend, a car karaoke superstar and a way too anxious nature documentary watcher.
My new body and I are friends, and it feels good. ♥