Pregnancy and childbirth bring a lot of changes to a mother’s life. This goes without saying. Your body changes. Your family increases by one. Your brain changes. Your heart changes.
I found, that with these changes, something else happened: people felt like they could comment on my body.
I know. Pregnant women are beautiful. And there is something so exciting about a woman on the verge of becoming a new mother. I find myself smiling at pregnant moms or moms with newborns. And I enjoyed being smiled at when it was me with the large belly or the wee baby in a sling.
The reaction is automatic. I want to say: “You look GREAT!”
Some better things to say would be: “How are you feeling?” “You seem so happy/calm/excited!” “How about this weather?” Even “That’s a cute shirt.
I also felt beautiful when I was pregnant. And in many ways I loved hearing “You look great.” But it also somewhat diminished how I felt. I felt vital and strong and happy and nervous. I loved my taut belly and my growing breasts. I secretly hated the stretch marks that took my once smooth, white belly and zigged it through with dark purple.
And people did say I looked great. And one family member good-naturedly told me my butt was getting big. (Which actually really hurt my feelings, despite the fact that I enjoyed my bigger butt.) But comments on butts aside, I liked hearing how good I looked.
But the postpartum period is problematic. Look at how we treat celebrities. We all marvel at how quickly they get their “pre-baby bodies back.” No one needs to say that it is unrealistic to expect anyone to present with washboard abs mere weeks after delivering. And even if I know intellectually that that is an impossible standard and that surely no small amount of photoshopping or working out or dieting or styling helped achieve that enviable postpartum look, it doesn’t change the fact that women’s bodies are routinely objectified.
(click link at the top to read blog on mothering.com)
I love my baby. But I was unprepared for how childbirth would change my body.
I thought I was pretty well prepared for the birth of my son. I had loads of friends with kids, I was an aunt, I’d attended a prenatal course, read (bits) of the many books recommended to me. And yet I discovered afterward that I was completely unprepared for the physical changes my body went through in pregnancy and the recovery that would follow. Obviously giving birth is one of the most extreme things your body can ever go through. So why was the aftermath also such a shock?
(Click link at top to read this op ed piece on nytimes.com)
I often see or hear of women pushing themselves to return to normal as quickly as possible after birth. In a hurry to get their life and body back they jump into a myriad of activities at warp speed, often just days after giving birth. Riding on the birth and baby high, pumped full of adrenaline yet restless from the last few weeks of pregnancy, particularly if they felt like a watched pot, these women fill their schedule, attack their house, and find new projects determined to not be slowed down, impatiently trying to control and master this new version of normal. These women are often viewed with admiration and awe and the media highlights celebrities that are back to their prepregnant weight by 6 weeks or were spotted out jogging at 3 weeks or were back on the set of their TV show at 10 days. This is held up as the epitome of a strong woman, give birth, bounce back, conquer world. After all, women in China squat in a rice field, push their baby out and throw them on their back then return to work, right? It’s as though we’ve forgotten to celebrate. We’ve forgotten how important it is to rest after a hard work and enjoy the fruit of our labors. We’ve forgotten that while pregnancy and childbirth may not be an illness our bodies still need to recover from the taxing physical and emotional demands of the endeavor. Pregnancy, labor and childbirth may be a normal part of life but it is anything but easy. The change a woman’s body goes through are massive to say nothing of the emotional journey as well. Ignoring this reality can have serious consequences for our bodies, our emotional health, our breastfeeding relationship with our baby, our mothering, and our families. Do not underestimate the potential for damage if we neglect our postpartum healing. (click link above to read a fantastic blog about postpartum recovery)
More about Postpartum Recovery in the Postpartum section.
The Arizona artist was using Kickstarter to fund a book project; she hoped to publish a volume of images showing the natural beauty of mothers’ nude and semi-nude bodies. Her crowdfunding campaign was extremely successful — raising nearly three times its goal amount — and now, the book is here. The Bodies of Mothers: A Beautiful Body Project, featuring portraits and accompanying personal stories, will be published on Mother’s Day. (click link to read on Huffington Post and go get the book!)