Looking back, I’ve never been completely happy with my body. Even though I consistently exercised and was in decent enough shape to keep up with my recreational sports, I have always had a running list of the things I wished for: slimmer arms, pointier chin, flatter abs … you name it. Growing up, the beauty expectations displayed in the media were so deeply ingrained that this wish list became endless and virtually unattainable. For a long time, I had enough confidence to get by, with the help of carefully picked out clothes, makeup and self pep talk. However it wasn’t until my body went through a complete transformation throughout pregnancy did I learn to truly appreciate my body as it is, in its ever changing state.
After becoming pregnant, I immediately found myself in the deep end of fatigue and nausea. In the midst of a looming brain fog, I was also dealing with anxiety about the pregnancy. Therefore, we decided to keep things under wraps for awhile. I admit I became a little overly obsessed with the secret-keeping. The voice of my inner critic took advantage of my vulnerable state, and I began feeling extremely self-conscious about the way I looked. I made every attempt to conceal the pregnancy, by wearing baggy clothes and going to the washroom on a separate floor at work to throw up so my colleagues wouldn’t find out. I would try on a bunch of clothes before going out and constantly wondered if it was obvious I was pregnant and if I looked fat. Thankfully, after a couple of ultrasound appointments, we could start sharing the news with our friends and family. That was a huge relief! Instead of tip-toeing around everyone, I could finally be my (nauseous) self and openly share the spectrum of emotions I was experiencing.
The cloud of nausea finally passed once I entered the second trimester. This was when I started to embrace my “new” body. For the first time in my life, an expanding waistline was a source of joy and pride. I wasn’t fat; I was growing a human being! I didn’t need to hide anymore. The cherry on top was that I was on the receiving end of kindness and generosity from others, such as being offered seats on public transit and having lunch picked up for me. Since I wasn’t barfing every other hour, I started doing prenatal exercises which increased my overall mental well-being. There were other sources of discomfort, but the fact that my bump was growing was the ultimate remedy for my anxiety. During our babymoon in Hawaii, I even wore a bikini to the beach and proudly displayed my bump. I lived by the words of “If you can’t cover it up, why not flaunt it”. There may have been some stares, mostly of intrigue, but negative thoughts never came up in my mind. In a way, I felt liberated from the all the unnecessary doubt and noise that used got in the way of my self love.
As the due date approached, I continued attending my weekly exercise classes and diligently applied all sorts of belly oil with the promise of preventing stretch marks, as if these battle scars could be that easily erased. I was mentally preparing myself for the postpartum life and feeling ready as ever. It was bittersweet bidding goodbye to my bump but I was ready to get back to my old self. Others promised me that what was to come would be even more exciting and transformation. The visions of me pushing a stroller and dressing my baby up in cute outfits fueled my anticipation for this new chapter of my life.
Fast-forward to the birth. I ended up having an emergency Caesarian section. After the surgery, I was confined to the hospital bed for a few days. My lower back and abdomen were in pain and I could barely sit up. I needed help with everything from retrieving my baby for a feed every couple of hours to getting my food from the bedside table. After I got the catheter out, I relied on the assistance from the nurse or my husband to use the washroom. The first few days was a whirlwind. Nurses, doctors, social workers and family came by throughout the day to check on the baby and to educate us on all the need-to-know’s about the baby. To be honest, I barely had the time to process what I had just been through, let alone absorb the flood of information. The nights were filled with the newborn’s cry for warmth and comfort. Suddenly my husband and I found ourselves in survival mode, functioning on one to two hours of sleep at a time.
One morning while I sat the side of the hospital bed having breakfast, I fumbled and dropped my utensils on the floor. That was the moment I cracked. I started sobbing uncontrollably. I have never felt so powerless and out of control. There I was, dressed in nothing but a light hospital gown and an oversize mesh underwear, in pain and incapable of complete simple tasks such as going to the toilet or getting my own food.
After I got home, I desperately wanted to change into something comfortable but realized that the clothes I had prepared for myself didn’t fit. The sight of myself in the mirror was disappointing. My belly was still inflated and I still looked pregnant. My husband ended up lending me some of his old shirts for me to wear. I was scared to look at the scar for several days, fearing that it may trigger remaining feelings from the birth. I felt like a complete wreck, like a zombie lumbering through the days.
Weeks went by, but I just couldn’t shake the baby blues, the waterworks, the anxiety and the exhaustion. My physical state did not help – my back and lower abdomen were still aching from the surgery and daily marathon of breastfeeding. It was difficult even walking up and down the stairs of my house, let alone carrying the car seat and baby out the door. I craved personal space but some days the energy it took to go out was more than I could spare. The nursing sessions were long in the early days and I got into the habit of browsing social media. The images of other moms, looking amazing and doing fun things outdoors with their babies, populated my feeds. I felt depressed. I wished that I could spend more time with my baby and take her out for strolls. One night I was browsing through old photos on my phone while nursing in the middle of the night. I came across my pre-pregnancy photos and my eyes watered. I thought, how beautiful and healthy she looked and she didn’t even know it.
Looking back, those days felt like a blur of darkness but I am slowly gaining clarity. Now at six months postpartum, I am happy to be healing well and feeling stronger physically. It feels so refreshing to be able to take my little one out for long walks to the park and climb the stairs without huffing and puffing. Finally I can hold and cuddle my growing 15 plus pound of joy in my arms for as long as I wanted.
Health is what allows you to hold the people you love and to do what you enjoy doing in order to live the life you want. Even though I still have a tummy, stretch marks and a scar, but I have never been more grateful for and in awe of my body. I am deeply appreciative for the strength of this body that I am given and the life is has created.
I recently came across the term Matrescence, a process where women become mothers and form their new identity. It is “the most significant change” they will experience and that’s why it’s important to be. I truly believe that embracing and loving your body in all its wonders is an important part of that journey. Let’s honor our bodies – the vessels that allow us to experience new adventures, endure physical and mental trials, to grow and strengthen through time and to provide life.
Love your body, as it is and what it will become.