“There is a direct link between the self-esteem of a child and the self-esteem of his or her parents – especially the mother’s.”
When I heard this, I wanted to cry. I had been a mother for all of seven weeks and was now at an informal workshop for parents of young children. While this information was meant to help moms build confidence in their children, all it did was stress me out. My self-esteem was at all-time low and hearing how this could affect my son was NOT helping. Becoming a mother had turned my world upside down in ways that I had never imagined possible, leaving me face-to-face with all my insecurities.
My body was one of them.
Growing up, I can’t say that I ever struggled with my body image more than your regular teenage girl. I watched friends mess around with the temptations of anorexia and I noticed younger girls get boob jobs, but I never experienced this desperation to change my own body. Sure, there were things about myself that I didn’t love, like my greater-than-average height and next-to-impossible to-find-shoes-for feet, but I was more of a “take me as I am” kind of girl.
I figured that God had made me the way I was for a specific reason and I knew that I was deeply loved by Him, therefore, I felt little need to go out of my way to impress others.
Now, I’m not saying that I never felt pressure to have that bikini body or the perfect hair, because I did. What I am saying is that through time I grew comfortable with my body. There are some things you really can’t do anything about (like my large feet), so I learned to accept who I was and find confidence in the parts of me that I did love. But then I got pregnant and things started to change. My body was put through the wringer. I watched as my hour glass figure disappeared and was replaced by a gigantic belly balanced out by the extra padding on my butt. I was horrified by the deep stretch marks that appeared on my breasts and the incredible swelling that made my already large feet so big that I could only wear one pair of shoes for four months. And then, to top it all off, I had to get the baby out, and that doesn’t happen without creating even more damage. I thought that once the pregnancy ended, I would get my old body back and feel confident again.
I was wrong. At least when I was pregnant, my belly was toned. Now it was all mushy and floppy. The stretch marks that I thought I got away without suddenly made an appearance on my hips and thighs while the ones on my breasts were worsened by the new task of milk production. Despite losing the baby belly, I stuck to my now very baggy pregnancy tops and dresses because my pre-pregnancy ones didn’t look right anymore. I might have had no problem giving birth almost entirely nude in front of strangers, but now I was too embarrassed to go for my 6 week gynecological check-up.
My body no longer felt like my own now that I had a baby attached to it 24/7, using it for his own needs. I felt strange and detached and for the first time ever, I considered the benefits of plastic surgery. I would never put the kind of expectations I have for myself on other women. Isn’t that true for all of us? We all know about the stretch marks and the weight gain and the saggy boobs and we encourage fellow mothers knowing that this is all normal. I mean, you grew a person! Of course it’s going to change your body! There’s no way we’d expect another mom to lose the baby weight in two months (if at all), yet we expect such things of ourselves.
We tell other moms to embrace and celebrate their new bodies, while we secretly hate on our own. In addition to our own inner critics, we have to deal with the images projected at us by the rest of the world. It is no secret that our society reveres the “skinny” girls and either ignores or criticises the rest. You would think there would be grace for the woman carrying another human (or two or three) in her body, but unfortunately, there is very little.
Pinterest is full of advice on how to have a “belly-only” pregnancy. Magazines all praise Heidi Klum for getting her bikini body back within just a few weeks. “Follow this diet,” they tell you; “do this exercise routine,” while the rest of us exhausted moms reach for the chocolate. The reality is, pregnancy is like puberty. You go through a million different emotional, physical and psychological changes and you come out of it a new person. And it doesn’t happen gradually either. You go from pregnant to not pregnant in the blink of an eye. And just like that awkward twelve year old phase, you go through that awkward post-pregnancy phase where nothing fits, every part of you is floppy and things seem somewhat disproportional.
So yes, it’s totally okay to feel strange for a while; completely normal to feel detached. Just like it takes time to get used to your teenage body, it takes time to grow comfortable in your post-pregnancy body. I eventually decided to just give myself a break – to stop comparing my body to other moms’ bodies and to start treating myself with the same grace that I give to others. I decided to give my body the time it deserves to recover. I started to embrace my new body shape and buy clothes that complimented it. I realised that my body is AMAZING. It grew and fully sustained an actual human being for nine whole months, and continues to feed and grow that boy six months later.
My stretch marks and flabby tummy might not be “pretty,” but they are proof of my body’s strength and capabilities.
Today I can confidently say that I am proud of my body. My body is different now, but it is strong and it is beautiful in all its imperfections.