Talking about weight is always a difficult subject and unfortunately talking about postpartum bodies is no different. Up until recently, it has never been a widely discussed (or accepted) topic. As I felt I needed to tackle some personal issues, I took my time and this has taken me around two months to write with it being nothing short of a challenge. I hoped by writing this, I could help not only myself but other women realise they are not totally alone when feeling like they’re living in someone else body.
It’s a stark reality check when you feel like staring into the eyes of a complete stranger. When you feel like you’re catching someone else’s reflection through a shop window. It’s like staring at someone you think you know, someone you met before in a brief fleeting moment but were never introduced to. They seem familiar. They copy all your actions, they share all your family and friends but to you, they’re unrecognisable. The stark truth is, it’s you and you no longer know you at all. This is the new you you’ll need to learn so much about.
It’s nothing short of a steep up hill struggle learning to accept a body you didn’t mentally prepare for. Let’s face it, between cots and car seats, you totally forgot to entertain the idea that your body would become unfamiliar and no longer be your own. You got whisked away thinking of your new life as a mother (or panicking about the birth) that postpartum you were at the bottom of the list. The reality check is a hard one. You have to stay in maternity clothes. You thought you’d no longer need them but you’ve reached a rather awful stage where your old clothes are still 4 sizes too small. It doesn’t take long before you hit a seemingly never-ending phase of being too big for old clothes and too small for your maternity clothes. THIS is the moment you will need to peel your self esteem out of the puddle of tears you’re floating in at the changing rooms at your local New Look and take some deep breathes: Remember: it won’t be this way forever.
Just when you think things could turn around because quite frankly you couldn’t feel any worse about the new version of you right now, you suddenly remember you have a boyfriend, a husband or a partner. Someone you (once upon a time) shared a close and intimate relationship with – (This is all providing you get 5 minutes peace to breathe of course!) Thoughts WILL enter your mind (despite the fact he probably witnessed you give birth): ‘I need to stay covered up, he absolutely cannot see me naked‘, ‘Oversized clothes should hide my body’, ‘I haven’t showered in days, has he noticed? Truth is he probably sees straight past all of that and sees just you but just how on earth are you supposed to feel comfortable or confident around him if you don’t even recognise yourself?! A swollen face, gorged bust, inflatable stomach – The aftermath of the surgery left me so swollen and it was like each little (or big) stretch mark became another haunting reminder of the limits to which my body has been pushed. Looking at myself I couldn’t see past this oversized version of me: this disproportionate woman clad with stretch marks and an over hanging stomach hiding a deep purple scar, deep down I didn’t want to accept that the once petite, size 10, slightly chubby round the edges gal who used to squeeze her non-boobs into a size 8 has left me. It just seemed so impossible. How was I supposed to bring myself to see our family and friends if I didn’t even feel or look like me? My preconceived (or lack of) ideas of how postpartum life would be really tripped me up at the first hurdle.
I guess I learnt the hard way that movies and social media don’t always help with the portrayal of having a baby. From pregnancy to labour to postpartum, I’ve come to the conclusion that it just can’t be summed up in a single photo or an hour and a half long Hollywood film. With celebrities social media accounts boasting their post-baby bodies with zero stretch marks or a petite frame rocking a petite bump can leave you feeling inferior and less than pleased about how you look. Whilst fully understanding that this image can be totally normal for some women and not for another, I have still hit the harsh reality head on that for me, my body does not look that way and I’ve faced a number of difficulties I would really rather have avoided.
As someone who has struggled on and off with body image since the teen years, not being able to recognise myself in a mirror has been a small dose of hell. With the whole idea of pregnancy and pregnancy related weight gain never bothering me, my mind always found the logical scientific reasoning behind being healthy and gaining weight to support my body through the process of growing a child. The common sense here far outweighed my somewhat irrational issues and helped my mind stay clear and make sense of my ever-changing body. As the first trimester of my pregnancy was too kind to me, I guess I became a little complacent. With barely any side effects, no sickness, very little dizziness, only mild fatigue and a hand full of food diversions, I gained very little extra weight. I realised quite quickly that compared to others and their horror stories, I had it fairly easy.
As my pregnancy progressed, everything remained steady. Little Rory was growing as expected with no signs of foetal issues. My health was in good shape and the only thing I suffered from was minor backache if sat at my office chair too long – nothing a lunch time stroll to get more food couldn’t fix! It wasn’t until week 34 when I began my maternity leave that things became a little difficult for me. Out of the blue I became incredibly itchy. My bump, shins and feet became unbearable to touch and often felt like they were burning. Mild panic broke out when I had gone looking for answers and came across the rare condition known as Obstetric Cholestasis: A liver disease that can develop during pregnancy, increasing the bile acid count to be much higher than it should be. It isn’t always serious but in severe cases, it can cause the development of jaundice and has, in some cases been linked to both premature and stillbirths. It affects around about 1 in 140 pregnancies and can be harmful to both you and your baby. If you do develop this, the only full cure is birth and will therefore be offered an induction usually somewhere between 37 and 38 weeks to help reduce any of the risks. Often medication can be given to help reduce the bile count but birth is much more effective.
Fortunately for me, after many (million) blood tests, my liver was fine but not long after this result I discovered I had developed a lovely little horrific side effect called PEP (Polymorphic eruption of pregnancy). This ruined my skin. Causing wide spread uncontrollable itching and spreading hives all over my newly grown stretch marks, my once smooth pale skin looked unrecognisable. Leaving scars over the worst effected areas, this added salt to the already searing wound, which just added to the explosive stretch marks that had erupted. I felt disgusting but little did I know I’d walk away with a much more permanent feature. Before Rory was finally born via C-section, I had never thought of the possibility of having to live with a scar. I have had moles removed in the past and have a handful of small scars but nothing that noticeable unless pointed out. I had braced myself that I’d have to live with stretch marks but let me tell you: no one in a million years could have mentally prepared me for a permanent scar, dealing with cut tissue, separated muscles or the wonderfully named ‘pouch’ that comes with the surgery. To add insult to serious injury, I came out of surgery unbelievably swollen and puffy. Looking back at photographs, I could barely open my eyes. On a first glance in the mirror after I got dressed for the first time post-op was literally horrifying. How the hell was I supposed to live with this over-hang of belly!? How are any of my clothes ever going to fit me!? And the more important ‘How the hell am I going to be able to get rid of this pouch when I can’t even walk let alone exercise!?’ My self-esteem hit a new depth. Should I have really been that self-centred about my appearance when I had just experienced the miracle of life resulting in a perfect healthy little boy? I’m not entirely sure.
So shall we look at some positive here? Although social media is regularly tarred as fuelling the national level of anxiety, I have recently found it to be my saving grace. Whilst I’ve been writing this there has been an epic explosion of body positivity filling up all of my social media feeds from some of my now favourite bloggers. As another taboo subject on the ever-lasting list of motherhood troubles, it pleases me very much that people of influence are bringing these subjects to light. I now don’t totally feel alone when wondering if I’m the only women ever to have discoloured stretched skin, the only woman to go from an hour glass to a square or the only woman to want to hide in a hole before getting a ‘tummy controlling’ swimsuit on. It’s been a million miles from easy but this has made it a little more possible that I may feel like myself again. I promise you if nothing else, this movement into loving your body will make you forget for a while that you no longer look like you but that deep down it really is you in there and you should feel the utmost pride for the life you have created and what your body has achieved.
It’s clearly no secret that pregnancy and giving birth can take an incredible amount of physical and mental strength so there is nothing more important than supporting each other through our pre and postpartum journeys. Please remember, no matter how you’re feeling, you don’t ever have to feel alone.
Love to all,
One Curious Mother.
Obstetric Cholestasis – http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/itching-obstetric-cholestasis-pregnant.aspx
PEP – http://www.bad.org.uk/shared/get-file.ashx?id=227&itemtype=document