My life forever changed 6 years ago, when I birthed my first sweet baby girl.
My body did as well.
With it, came the constant barrage of mixed messages our culture aims at women with postpartum bodies:
Embrace your tiger stripes!
But don’t let yourself go!
You now have more to love!
But don’t eat too many sweets—they’ll just add more to those love handles.
And so, the past 6 years, I’ve teeter tottered between two extremes–that fine line between apathy and acceptance.
I said I accepted my new body as it was, but, really, I was just apathetic. Except for a short fitness challenge I hosted in early 2013, I’ve spent the better part of the past 3 1/2 years not caring for my body.
But here lately I’ve begun questioning myself: Is it possible to truly love your post-babies body without succumbing to the temptation to just let it go?
Is there really no use trying to get back into shape when you can never go back to the figure you had in your twenties?
It’s true that my body (and, most likely, your body) will never be the same, but, maybe, just maybe, could it be better?
Before kids, I was always that thin girl. You know the one. I could eat anything I wanted and not gain weight. And honestly, I never even weighed myself or gave thought to my figure until I went from thin to very skinny.
No, I never had an eating disorder. (Really, I didn’t.) But when I lost 15 pounds during a bout with mono in my early 20s, people started noticing. And if I’m painstakingly honest, I reveled in the attention. I didn’t want to lose more weight, but I surely didn’t want to gain it either.
To regain my strength after that sickness, I started exercising. I was also very active in my job as a traveling ESL teacher. I literally walked school hallways all day and came home and did aerobics videos at night.
But looking back, I probably wasn’t very healthy. At 5 feet, 5 1/2 inches tall, my size 2 clothing swallowed me, and I took a nail and bore extra holes in my belts, so I wouldn’t have to buy new ones. My diet, sadly, mainly consisted of low fat, processed junk.
I kept the weight off for about 7 years.
I gained exactly what my doctor suggested during my first pregnancy. Because I was underweight, she instructed me to gain about 40 pounds.
And at 27, my skin and tummy bounced back. Baby Girl #1 didn’t even leave one stretch mark, and I was donning my pre-pregnancy wardrobe two weeks later.
I went through an extremely stressful season when she was about a year old, and I gained 10 pounds in two weeks. But then I actually looked healthy.
It took longer to lose the baby weight after Baby Girl #2. A whole year in fact. And then I got pregnant with Baby Girl #3.
Life was crazy during my pregnancy with my third. I was starting a business, and I was mothering two age 3 and under. I didn’t exercise. At all.
I gained 50 pounds, and my previous stretch-mark-free belly became riddled with them.
(My husband likes to remind me that, in some other cultures, stretch marks are revered, and the fatter, the sexier. I haven’t always bought it.)
My third pregnancy ensured that my body would never, ever be the same.
Since I never had really had to try to lose weight, I was at a loss for how to start. And, more than anything, I was scared that I actually would try–and would fail.
Earlier this summer, I finally got to the point where I realized it was now or never.
Either I could really, truly let myself go at age 33, or I could pull up my bootstraps and at least try to get back in shape.
I started a morning workout class about a month ago, and, to my utter shock, I LOVE rising at 5:30 a.m. to exercise! Around the same time, I started the Whole 30. Because we already eat a mostly whole foods, unprocessed diet, I’ve found this gentle detox/system reset surprisingly simple.
Have I lost weight?
I actually haven’t weighed myself a whole lot because I didn’t want that to be the focus.
As my friend Megan wrote recently, strong is the new skinny.
I’m finally at the point where I don’t want to be skinny again. I want to be strong.
The biggest difference I’ve noticed?
Exercising my body lifts my mood, renews my energy and, truly, makes me a better wife, mom, homemaker and even blogger.
How do we know if we are accepting or just plain apathetic about our postpartum bodies?
Oh how I’ve asked myself this question so.many.times! Here is what I’ve come up with:
Apathy says: “I have a diastasis. It will never heal, and I will always look pregnant.”
Acceptance says: “My tummy may never look the exact same way again, but I can heal my core and make it strong.”
Apathy says: “I have stretch marks. I might as well not even try using any kind of cream or lotion to try to smooth them.”
Acceptance says: “I may never get rid of these stretch marks, but I can at least soften and scent my body with my favorite lotion.”
Apathy says: “I can never let my husband see my scarred body. We must be intimate in the dark.”
Acceptance says: “I’ve earned those marks, and my husband thinks they are beautiful. Mothering his children has only added to our love.”
Apathy says: “I must hide behind my fat rolls. They will always be there, and there is nothing I can do about it.”
Acceptance says: “I may never be skinny, but I can become strong. I can exercise, eat healthy foods and embrace a newfound energy that is not defined by how much I weigh.”
There’s a fine line between apathy and acceptance.
And sometimes we tell ourselves we accept our postpartum bodies as is in an excuse to be apathetic.
I want to find the balance. I want to be truthful with myself and others. I want to accept the fact that my body is altered but not lie in apathy and self-pity about it.
I want to do what I can to make my body beautiful without making it an obsession. And embrace this new season of tiger-striped strength.
Some of my fellow bloggers have also broached this subject, and I love what they had to share:
I’m Not Losing Weight (and It’s Okay) (No, Really) @ Megan Tietz/Sorta Crunchy
Style Crisis: How to Dress a Body You (Sorta) Don’t Love @ Megan Tietz/Sorta Crunchy
On Postpartum Weight Loss @ Modern Alternative Mama
Do you struggle with the fine line between apathy and acceptance when it comes to the postpartum body? Do you accept your body–or are you apathetic about it?
Heather @ My Overflowing Cup
What an apt description. You put into words what I have always struggled with. Thank you for your honesty. I love your friend’s “strong is the new skinny.” I think that being strong, healthy, and physically fit is so important. I have been very lax as of late as far as exercise goes. I tend to get frustrated when my body doesn’t change the way I expect it to with consistent work outs. What we all need to do is focus on the fact that we are becoming strong – not skinny. Thanks so much for sharing your heart with an issue that all women struggle with.
Oh my goodness I love this post so much I could cry. Baby 3 os six months old and I feel like I just can’t get it together. Our diet is pretty rubbish because I don’t seem to have time to cook anything that isn’t processed. I just turned 30 and have made a commitment to swim once a week. Not much but it’s a start and achievable at this stage. Our cloth diapers sit in the corner looking at me because I don’t have the energy for them. Every room in the house is a half finished project. Reading this post helps to remind me that I’m not alone and that it will get easier. Thank you so much x
Give yourself some grace!6 months is very young–and baby is your 3rd to boot! It’s a huge difference from the first time around! I have a post on how I will sometimes take breaks from cloth diapers–even though I wrote a book about them: https://thehumbledhomemaker.com/2013/11/why-i-took-a-break-from-using-cloth-diapers-and-how-i-got-back-on-board.html
You are SO not alone!
Really great post! I am starting to look at ways to heal the diastasis and make myself strong again.
Thanks, Lizzy! Fit2B is a great resource for diastasis healing!
Fit2B is a great resource for diastasis healing!
After 8 babies, I’m gonna confess that I’m in the apathetic camp. I want to be strong, but it’s hard because I want to see weight loss and when there is none, I give up. “Only” 30 pounds might as well be 100. Thanks for the encouragement.
Steph, I SO know where you are! And my weight loss is going at a snail’s pace it feels! And I so get 30 might as well being 100! That is honestly how I feel.
Kelly @ New Leaf Wellness
Love this! Thanks so much for sharing! I don’t care if my body will never look the same as it did when I was 21. I’ve carried and birthed three healthy babies. I’m so much more confident now!!
Yes–birthing alone makes us strong,I think!!
Loved this post!! I also agree with the brilliance of your friend’s statement; strong IS the new skinny! Bravo! My post-partum body and I have become good friends over the years. The first few pregnancies came close together, so I barely had the time or mental capacity to breathe it all in enough to get my thoughts clear. After baby 3 in 3 years, we hit a marital crisis which brought us closer than ever, and we started working out together. I returned to my pre-baby weight! Again, the same success was won after my fourth baby was born, but shorty after baby #5 came our son (baby #4) developed a rare auto-immune disorder, which sent me into survival mode for the better part of two years. Now, after having given birth to baby #6, I am finally in the mindset to again add in my regular workouts, which I love, but couldn’t mentally even fathom adding in. Thankfully my eating has never been too poor, but the workouts make me feel strong and able-bodied! Who doesn’t love that?! But, even so, the weight loss is slow going, but I’m okay with that. My goal isn’t to get to a certain size or certain weight, but to feel good, to live healthy, and to experience vitality. That’s what it’s all about =0). God bless!
My weight loss is going slow as well–but it’s getting strong that counts!
This is something I’ve struggled with. When I look at myself it’s hard to believe my husband when he says he loves me more now after 8 babies than when we were first married. One thing that does help is when I’m proactive about eating right and exercising. I’m slowly coming to accept that my body will never be the same, but of course, I wouldn’t really want to go back because that would mean giving up my 8 beautiful children.
And I know those 8 beautiful children are so worth it!!
Beautiful post and strong point about apathy vs acceptance. I love my body after bearing four children in five years (losing one at four months pregnancy). Though, there is one point that I simply want to embrace that is made to seem “bad” in this post, that is, my stretch marks. Like a man who has gone to battle, my body is covered with the scars of bearing my children. That meant it stretched, it ached, and with pain God brought them into the light after stressing my body for nine long months. My stretch marks, I bear them proudly, and do not try to cover them with creams. I DO however, use coconut oil as moisturizer, because I want my hubby to feel softness when we touch. Thanks for sharing, your posts are so encouraging and helpful. I post them again and again on FB for others to be encouraged.
Thanks for sharing my posts, Julia! And I didn’t intend to make them sound bad–just that we get mixed messages about them, and I know I don’t always embrace mine. I think you should definitely embrace yours!!
What a great post!
My 2nd baby is 3 months and I’m shocked at how pouchy my tummy is. It def sucked in quicker with 1. It is distasis – I want to work out but it’s just so dang hot in Miami it’s hard to get outside. Then hubby comes home at 6 at night so it’s dinner, baths, bedtime and take a breath for 2 hours before climbing into bed myself… We’re on an extremely tight budget now so I can’t pay for a gym membership – which stinks. I like yoga and aerobics.