As women, we’re expected to have children, but heaven forbid we look like we’ve had them. Is society being unreasonable?12 min read

Postpartum body shaming is real

I did not come out of pregnancy without marks. In fact, I did not manage to navigate pregnancy in general with any grace. There are few times in life that I’ve felt worse than I did at the end of my pregnancy and immediately after the birth.

I gained 20 kgs (50 pounds) — most of it in the last trimester — and felt like a waddling ball. That’s the equivalent of an 8-year-old. Or two 4-year-olds. Take your pick.

I had so much swelling that at the end of the pregnancy the only shoes that my feet barely fit into were my husband’s Crocs. Shoes that usually wouldn’t stay on my feet even for a few steps were now a snug fit. I trampled all over my confidence in those foam clogs.

I gave up swimming about six weeks before the due date because I was merely bobbing in the water despite my best efforts to move forward. Even just trying to glide resulted in me steadily sinking as I travelled forward. It got to the point where I was barely able to turn around when I finally did make it to the end of the pool.

That kind of weight gain was just too much for my skin to handle and I now have more or less visible stretch marks on my arms, sideboobs, tummy, tush and thighs. Not to mention the c-section scar — although it has shrunk considerably and looks like it’ll eventually be practically invisible (just like the doctors promised, even though I didn’t want to believe them at the time).

I’m also squishier than I used to be. My tummy is poochy, and it might never completely go away, and that’s okay. This kangaroo-like poochiness is a beautiful reminder of who used to sleep there, growing safely inside me. Who’s now running around on her own legs and thriving as a little person.

I haven’t lost all the weight (yet) even though my kid is almost 18 months old, and I’m not going to stress about it. Oddly enough, I’m beginning to feel more like myself than I ever did before.

My body is no longer just a physical concept for me to obsess over for lack of self-esteem — it belongs to a tiny human for much bigger purposes like nourishment and comfort.”

— Jordan, Newly Wifed

Immediately after the birth, I was more sensitive and emotional about “being fat”, but then I was overly emotional about a lot of things. I was also excessively critical of myself in just about everything I did. As I’m writing this, I realise I should have cut myself some slack.

That post-partum haze where you burst into tears for no apparent reason (because you’re so tired because you feel like you’ve lost control of your own body, because breastfeeding is hard, because it hurts, because you’re still leaking, because your baby is so beautiful, because it’s Tuesday…) isn’t the time to think about how you’re measuring up to images in the media of women bouncing back from pregnancy like it ain’t no thang.

If you’re one of those women, who came out of pregnancy without a trace, good for you (you’re probably also one of those infuriating people who can eat whatever they want without gaining any weight). For those of us whom our children made a mark on, I say: wear those scars with pride. They make you beautiful because they tell the story of what you’ve achieved.

Don’t beat yourself up; you’re beautiful

Have dark circles under your eyes? That’s because you’re sacrificing your own sleep by being up most nights taking care of your little one.

Is there an undefined blob of flesh where your stomach used to be? Yeah well, you made a person, became a fully functioning biodome for them to grow in. How’s that for sacrifice? There will be plenty of time to deal with that blob later.

Is your hair all dirty and messy because you haven’t been able to have a shower since… what is today, Friday? Catching up on housework that’s been piling up since the baby was born is no mean feat. With the added amount of laundry to get through, more dishes than you’ve ever seen and a mountain of dirty diapers stinking up the bathroom — no matter how many times you take out the bin — is nothing short of a miracle.

Noticed new wrinkles and crows feet the last time you saw yourself in the mirror? That’s from all the new worry that was born with your child. You want to keep them safe and do right by them, but the world can be such a horrible place. Starting to understand your own parents a bit better now?

And honestly, your kid doesn’t care. When they look at you, they don’t see the extra pounds or the milk and poo stained clothes that don’t fit the way they should. There is only love in their eyes. They wake up in the middle of the night crying because they miss you and want to know that you’re still there. They learn how to walk because they know that you’ll be there to pick them up when they fall. They make a mess because you’ve given them this super exciting environment to play in. They dare to explore the world because of the encouragement you give them.

So don’t be so hard on yourself and finish that cake, you’re gonna need it.

I didn’t get through pregnancy gracefully

This was so not me (above). I saw these women at the maternity ward post-partum and I seethed at them silently every time I saw them cavorting past me in their hemp tops and colourful yoga pants because post-op (and with a uterine infection on the way) I was dragging myself around like a mummy without legs.

Right after having a baby shouldn’t be the time to think about hitting the gym. Trying to do too much too fast after pregnancy is just counterproductive, because your body needs time to heal, to literally pull itself together.

I lost almost half the weight I’d gained in the first days after my tenant vacated premises. It felt like the weight, and the swelling just fell through the floor, and I was left standing with a deflated bag wrapped around my skeleton.

The fourth trimester is and should be, all about your beautiful new baby.

The first three months of a baby’s life is an outside-the-uterus period of intense development, a biological bridge from fetal life to preparation for the real world. The fourth trimester has more in common with the nine months that came before than with the lifetime that follows. 

— Susan Brink, The Fourth Trimester: Understanding, Protecting, and Nurturing an Infant through the First Three Months

And as it turns out, I’m apparently pretty huggable, like a big teddy bear for my daughter. During the months since birth she’s used me as a napping surface, a lean-to when she needs a break, a jungle gym, a transportation device and a target to run at and throw herself on. I image I’m like a Fatboy to her.

Sometimes she’ll even bounce my tummy with her hands and watch it jiggle — it gives her such giggling fits that how can I resent having it?

Having a body that looks like it has borne children is not media sexy

Stretch marks, scars and post-baby tummies are something that we should fervently begin to get rid of as soon as we’ve plopped the kid out. At least that’s the message the world around us seems to be pushing.

The progression pictures from end-of-pregnancy to post-partum (as in how fast you got back to what you were before) are all the rage these days. But don’t these simply reinforce stereotypes that the value in women is only in being pretty? A quick Google search for “tummy after childbirth” turned up some of the following:

Fitness guru who lifted weights until 34 weeks pregnant shows off her figure just two days after giving birth to twin girls (above far left). Story from The Daily Mail.

Norwegian health and fitness blogger Caroline Berg Eriksen (above) posted pics of her flat tummy just 4 days after birth.

“How on earth can this be good? She does nothing for womankind except put us back at least 100 years,” tweeted a community member at Made for Mums.com.

And with headlines like “What else can I do to help regain my pre-pregnancy belly?” or “Your post-baby belly: why it’s changed and how to tone it” you can’t help but think that how you are — in your interim state of recovery — just isn’t good enough.

Add to this images of celebrities who look like they can have kids on the fly in between projects without breaking a sweat and any new mom is really confused.

Take the queen of announcement photos Beyoncé, who’s pregnancy snap was crowned Instagram’s most-liked picture in 2017 with 7.3 million likes (and still growing). A month after the birth of her twins, she again took to Instagram to announce the children had been born and was looking like her usual, fabulous self.

Beyoncé’s Instagram posts on July 14th 2017 (below) first has her posing with her 1-month-old twins (left) and then showing off her post-partum figure without practically a trace of pregnancy.

At least Kourtney Kardashian took OK! Magazine to task when they posted a heavily Photoshopped image of her post-partum. Kardashian said that she never spoke with OK! Magazine even though they ran an “exclusive interview”.

According to her, “They doctored and Photoshopped my body to make it look like I have already lost all the weight, which I have not”.

What if instead, we started to comprehend beauty as something we feel rather than something we see?

We would never judge a painting for “being too rectangular” and noting that it should have gone to the gym more, but instead focus on the content and the experience it gives us.

Why must we be obsessed with this image of women that is so narrow and that allows for no diversity regarding different people looking well… different. Different women experience pregnancy differently. Different women recover from pregnancy differently.

It doesn’t do anyone’s body image any good to be barraged by a constant stream of imagery that leaves us comparing ourselves unfavourably to fitness models, underwear models, swimsuit models, footballers wives and celebrities.

Having children leaves some kind of mark on us. It’s a different thing whether we’re courageous enough to admit it.

Hats off to Steph Rothstein, athlete and mother, who showed us what it was truthfully like for her.

By not sugarcoating pregnancy, birth and recovering from pregnancy we can all make a lot of women a lot happier, less stressed and better able to focus on their babies and allowing themselves time to recover post-partum.

There will be time enough to start working out again once the body has recovered, once your kid’s grown up a bit. The best exercise post-partum is lifting and carrying your baby around and any gentle exercise you feel up to. Babywearing is a great workout that gets progressively more challenging as you recover.

The obsession with looking a certain way is as detrimental to us as it is to our children. What kind of example do we want to set for those little lives that we are now responsible for as parents?


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