The journey of being a new mom has really challenged my sense of self-image. To say it has been a roller-coaster would be an understatement. When I was pregnant, I really enjoyed my new body. Physically, I felt great most of the time and mentally, I found it liberating to dismiss my insecurities about not being skinny enough and instead, to celebrate my growing belly. I actually found that I had more wardrobe options with my baby belly (I could now wear items that fit more snugly around the tummy area) and had fun adapting my clothes to my new new shape. It helped that I often received compliments on how I looked from my friends and co-workers which boosted my self-esteem. My positive self-image reached its peak when I gave birth to Leah naturally like I had hoped and planned. I was in such awe of what my God-given body could accomplish and the miracle that was created in my womb. But once that high passed, the roller-coaster started its steep descent.
The first blow to my self-image was the soreness and pain I felt “down below”. Every time I sat up to breastfeed or walked over to the bathroom to pee, I felt like I would never be the same down there (don’t even talk to me about sex!). Not only that, I quickly realized that I wasn’t just dealing with an issue of comfort but also control! I was shocked to find that I had trouble controlling my pee which was both distressing and embarrassing. My boobs were painfully engorged, my nipples were sore and incredibly sensitive and the whole breastfeeding thing, while amazing, was hard to mentally adjust to.
Next, postpartum PUPPPS brought on massive hives all over my legs, belly and arms that could not be controlled despite my best efforts. This angry, red rash was unbelievably itchy and my relentless scratching resulted in bleeding, scabs, and awful stretch marks. Oh yeah, the stretch marks! Now that my belly was gone, I could see my stretch marks clearly and what a sight they were. I was prepared to throw out all my bikinis and secretly wondered if I would ever hit the beach again.
In terms of losing my belly bump (belly flab), it was a very long process… year long to be exact. While I knew that it wouldn’t happen right away, I still felt so frustrated when I found myself wearing maternity pants for many months after Leah was born (they really should call them maternity AND postpartum clothes)! Yoga pants, sweatshirts and hoodies were my wardrobe staples. I thought that the breastfeeding would help things but I wasn’t seeing the results that I had hoped for. I was even more frustrated with myself when I saw the mommies in my Mommy Group shedding the pounds and back to their normal wardrobe far quicker than I was.
A good mommy friend of mine warned me not to try on my pre-maternity jeans before Leah turned one, but I ignored her good advice and tried to stuff myself into them. At the six month mark, they weren’t even close to fitting, and at the eight month mark, still no luck. Another major beating to my self esteem. I knew I had to do something to help me feel better about myself and I couldn’t find the time to go to yoga class with Leah exclusively breastfeeding. I decided to finally invest in a few pairs of regular pants that fit my new body instead of waiting for my body magically return to its pre-pregnancy state.
Before returning to work, I also decided to start wearing my contacts more often and to spend a bit of time on myself in terms of putting on makeup and refreshing my work wardrobe. By accepting the reality that my body had changed and embracing my new shape, I finally found some peace and happiness in my new look. The extra effort seemed to pay off and with every comment and compliment (I treasured each one immensely), my positive sense of self slowly started to return. Now don’t get me wrong, I know that my identity is a whole lot more than just how I look physically, but I have to confess that the journey of my physical body from pregnancy to postpartum also made a significant impression on my mental sense of self. Being a parent ushers you into many new experiences, a new understanding of yourself, and taking stock of your physical self is a natural part of that process.
I think my positive self-image finally came full circle when I stopped breastfeeding. Leah was 1.5 years old and we were finally able to wean her to my great relief. As much as I loved breastfeeding and spending that quiet time with her, I was relieved to have my body back. I have to admit, I’ll never think of my boobs the same way again, but at least for now, I don’t have to share them with anybody else. Clayton, stay away, these girls are mine!