After Graham was born, I felt huge. It was the biggest I had ever been in my life.
This was almost 7 years ago, before I remembered my childhood/adolescent abuse. Before I remembered the decades of body shaming. Before I started my journey of healing. I was still carrying all of that shame deep down inside. So I didn’t understand why I couldn’t show my body grace. I had read all the articles about how my post-partum body would be different. But I wasn’t prepared for the reality of feeling completely ugly.
I had grown a human being inside of me. Fed him with my body. Carried him in my body. And evacuated him into a world of breathing air and nursing. I wanted to be okay with it. To embrace this new normal. Sagging skin and leaking breasts and staples and stretch marks. But I couldn’t.
I started to fear that Dave would never find me attractive again. We would never enjoy my body like he had. Because it was now hideous.
I now know it was sleep-deprivation talking. Hormones shifting almost daily. But it was mostly a past I couldn’t even recall that constantly whispered, “You are never pretty enough. Your body is never nice enough. No one will love you if you gain weight.”
Abuse has a way of following you around and popping up when you don’t expect it. I’m textbook with my body issues. But it doesn’t seem so obvious when you’re in the middle of it.
What didn’t help: “Your body will bounce back soon!” Why do people say that to a person who just completed a 40-week sprint, which instantly transformed to an 18-year marathon? It’s so odd to focus on someone’s weight at a time like that.
Plus, mine didn’t. My body didn’t bounce back. And it made me think that people were constantly critiquing my post-baby body. “He’s so cute! And your body will bounce back.” I heard it all the time. Along with aphorisms about how quickly he would grow and move away to college. I needed someone to say, “Rest. Nurse. Cut yourself lots of slack. Wear flowy tops. Don’t stress about your body.” But that’s the opposite of our culture.
I was standing in line at Walmart with a tiny Graham and counted 14 magazines telling me how celebrities had shed their baby weight in weeks. There’s nothing wrong with them doing that. But life’s a lot different when you have a nanny and a personal chef and a gym in your house.
I was living in a different world. We were in the middle of remodeling the kitchen in our little house. Our refrigerator was in the living room. Our stove was disconnected. I was living off microwave dinners while Dave was at work. Recovering from an emergency c-section. Definitely not good for the body or the soul. I knew my cart of turkey breast Lean Cuisine meals wasn’t in those celebrity tips. As a brand-new mom, I was seeing how post-partum obsession was at all socio-economic levels.
Please don’t misunderstand my heart on this. I’m not into reverse shaming either. If a woman is able to bounce back in a healthy way, I’ll be applauding her! But my genes aren’t configured that way. And when someone told me I’d lose more weight if I quit nursing, I nodded politely. Then someone else said I’d lose weight if I pumped more. I hated being big, but I knew nursing Graham was something I wouldn’t give up.
I’ve nursed a total of 4 years, and it only helped me lose weight with Bess. Because I was on an elimination diet. I ate air and drank water…that’s how it felt. But as soon as she was 19 months and I had to wean her for the trial in Colorado, my weight started coming back.
It’s been more than a year. In that year, I’ve added a pregnancy and the end of a pregnancy. If there’s anytime you should show yourself grace, it should be after losing children. Part of what makes post-partum easier is that you are cuddling a tiny human who desperately needs you. After you lose children, you have the stretch marks and leaking breasts and no baby to hide your sagging skin when you’re out in public. You are exposed. And people say, “Your body will bounce back.” When they should be saying, “I’m sorry that your life feels completely worthless at this moment. I’m sorry that you feel like you failed. I’m sorry that you won’t see your baby this side of eternity.”
One of my best friends recently lost her baby. Most likely from a virus. And she mentioned nonchalantly that she was bigger after her loss than she had been pregnant. And I texted without a second thought, “Your body will bounce back.” I should’ve paused and typed, “I know. A virus took your baby and your body doesn’t know what’s going on. It’s clueless. So your mind needs to remind your heart that you are strong and beautiful. Don’t even think about your weight and go buy bigger underwear.”
That’s what I did. I realized that I had bought bigger jeans from TJMaxx and bigger shirts from ThredUp. But I was still trying to wear smaller underwear. Which was a constant reminder that I was bigger. The biggest I’ve ever been. I took the kids to BigLots and bought my favorite underwear 2 sizes bigger. Then I told myself, “Your body isn’t bouncing back. And it doesn’t really matter. Not right now. What matters right now is feeling beautiful and comfortable in clothes that fit while you grieve.”
August 26th is our due date. There are so many things I’ve never experienced. Infertility. Delivering stillborn. Losing a child in infancy or childhood or when they’re in college and it never crosses your mind that something horrible could happen on a regular Thursday. But I have lost babies in my womb. Delivered too early. And the day I was supposed to deliver is almost here. And it will last 24 hours and be gone.
And I don’t have time to lament that I’m not as thin as I would like to be while I’m standing at that grave watching Graham release balloons. I won’t listen to the lies that it’s been 6 months and I should be smaller and happier. I lost most of my childhood to lies about myself. I won’t sacrifice my kids’ lives with the same. I’ll throw on a flowy top and mourn.
I won’t stop striving to be a strong mom. A healthy mom. A happy mom. But I give up on being a Size X Mom. I don’t have enough energy anymore to live that life. No one cares about my underwear size.
And I vow to never again tell a woman who just gave birth, or was robbed of the chance, that her body will bounce back. Because that’s one of the last things she needs to hear. I’ll give her a hug, buy her some decaf coffee, and rejoice or mourn…whichever the occasion requires.