I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but I decided to wait until I had some perspective on it. Losing The Baby Weight. I write it with capitals for a good reason. It’s a divisive topic that unfortunately today comes with body shaming, unrealistic expectations and shattered self esteem. You’ll have to forgive me if I jump on my soap box over the course of this post, but there are some strong feelings here.
If any of you read the Daily Mail – and I freely admit it is my occasional guilty pleasure – you’ll have noticed how pregnant celebrities are put on ‘bump watch’. The media – and therefore the readers who buy into what they’re selling – dissect the shape, size and apparent acceptability of the bump long before the baby is born. Writers use subtly disparaging language, like ‘flaunts her baby bump’ – I’m sorry, what about the baby bump lead you to believe that she had any choice but to walk out of the house with it? ‘Heavily pregnant’ is another favourite. There was a time when heavily pregnant meant that a woman was just about to give birth (although that doesn’t lessen my distaste for the term at all – if you have ever been pregnant and someone has called you that, you’ll know it doesn’t make you feel good, no matter how it’s put). These days, heavily pregnant seems to refer to anyone whose bump is bigger than ‘average’ regardless of how far along she is, with average being defined by some warped society standard that we all seem to have gotten used to.
And that’s just during pregnancy. Once a woman has given birth to a baby, she is expected to drop that weight like a hot potato and prance round in a bikini with perfect abs 2 months later. Now, we all know this is unrealistic, but we see people in the public eye doing it and we start to believe that we’re failing if we don’t. How do they do it? Imagine if you had all the money in the world and didn’t have to take care of a newborn 24/7 – you’ve got nannies to do that. So you’re getting good sleep, which means you can exercise. You have a personal trainer who kicks your butt, a nutritionist who plans your meals and maybe even cooks them for you. You don’t have a day job at the moment – I mean hey, you’re on maternity leave – so with all that help, you’re able to spend a significant part of your day concentrating on yourself. You also don’t go out in public until you’ve got your body back, adding to the illusion that it happened by magic.
You’re not Every Mom, who has barely slept in 6 weeks, who is just about managing to take a shower every second day in between breastfeeding and screaming fits (baby, not Mom – ok, maybe Mom as well), who opens a bag of chips in desperation because she is starving and cooking has become this distant, ghost-like memory, much like easier times. I’m not basing this on conjecture either – Chrissy Teigen, Sports Illustrated model and TV presenter, recently gave an interview about how celebrities are able to get back into shape so quickly. It’s a different world and one that we are not part of. So surely then, we shouldn’t be judging ourselves by the same standards? And yet, we do, knowing how unrealistic they are and how we’re only going to feel like failures when we fall short.
I was lucky to have an easy pregnancy. I stuck to my healthy eating plan and exercised all the way up to 8 and a half months, at which point my doctor told me that my baby wasn’t growing quite as quickly as she should, and I should take it easy for the last month and let my body focus its energy on her growth (Note: this doesn’t mean that exercising while pregnant is bad – on the contrary, it’s very good for you. But every woman’s experience is unique and her body reacts differently, so it’s important to work closely with your doctor to have the healthiest pregnancy possible). After my c section, I was on 6 weeks enforced recovery and I was back in the gym almost 6 weeks to the day. I thought it would be fairly easy to get my fitness back since I was so fit before. Instead, I struggled immensely. I hadn’t gained that much weight, although – and this is important – that’s not necessarily because of the exercising. Of course it helps, but how much weight you put on is mostly luck of the draw. Alexis was a tiny 2.5kg at birth, but there is water retention, diet, health issues and genetics at play as well as your baby’s size. Basically, you can’t predict how much weight you will put on and it’s different for everyone – and there’s also not a whole lot you can do about it (although try not to eat ALL the pies – just some of them).
And so, I struggled. My body was weaker than it had ever been before. I couldn’t do a normal push up. I managed 10 crunches on my first day back – my stomach muscles felt like jelly. And my confidence and motivation bottomed out and crashed to the floor in spectacular fashion.
What was worse though was what was going on in my head – had, in fact, been going on for most of my pregnancy. I waged an enormous mental battle against putting on weight. I exercised to be healthy, of course, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t also because I was trying to minimise the physical impact of pregnancy. Yes, I realised that I was growing a baby inside me, but I was so uncomfortable in my own skin and I let it ruin the experience for me. I look back on it and it makes me sad. Instead of embracing what is the most natural of processes, I kept looking ahead to when I could get rid of the big belly and get on a treadmill.
For background, I’m not an obsessive person when it comes to exercise and weight. I like to stay fit and healthy and have a body that I’m comfortable in. But I also like cheese, wine, chicken mayo sandwiches and not exercising in favour of a good party the night before. I’m balanced and I’m proud of that. Why then, did I become the complete opposite during my pregnancy?
I felt external pressures, definitely. Not from friends or family, but from the world we live in. Social media, western standards, our culture of always comparing and never being satisfied – at the age of 36, I thought I was above that. I guess I wasn’t. I faced pressure from myself. I wanted to be a certain way, look a certain way, and pregnancy got in the way of that. I allowed insecurity to erase rationality.
10 months ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. We called her Alexis Malai – Malai means garland of flowers in Thai, a tribute to the place we got married and our favourite place in the world. I’m back to my pre-baby weight, but I’m not the same. My body is different – softer in some places, stronger in others. I bear a scar that will always tell my and Lexi’s story. What really is different though, is my perspective. When I look back on my experience, I am so proud of what my body did. Was it comfortable? No. Do I think I would enjoy a second pregnancy (note to husband: hypothetical for article purposes, don’t worry!)? Probably not. I don’t like the limitations. But if I could do it again, I would try very hard to do it differently.
I would be kinder to myself. I would not allow myself to get so caught up in the superficial while I was doing something so important. I would get up every morning, look at myself in the mirror and say, what matters is your little Bug growing healthy and strong. Everything else is noise. I would allow myself to enjoy the small things that I did like about pregnancy, like feeling her kick and hiccup, instead of wishing it away. I would focus on the end game, which ended up being the best thing I’ve ever done in this crazy world.
It’s hard to separate ourselves from the world around us. We’re human and we’re influenced by things often without realising it. My hope is that as women we can move away from the focus on the size of our baby bumps or so-and-so’s incredible weight loss, and instead celebrate how amazing we are for being able to do this in the first place.