It was two days post-birth and I remember staring into the mirror for the first time since the arrival of our son. I had avoided the mirror until that point, which is easy to do when your whole world is upside down and your vision is blurred by sleep deprivation, diapers, cries, snugs and fluids.
This was a body that had just did (what felt like) the impossible. This was a body that had once run a half marathon. This was a body that has carried me to many countries, through many adventures. This was a body that had allowed me to move freely, and powerfully in any direction I chose. This was a body that has been loved, by myself and my partner.
But just two days after giving birth, this body was a stranger.
It was stretched, swollen, ripped and aching. It was soft, dimply and bulging. It was sore, tired and needed like never before.
I quickly covered up, and went on with caring for this new little human only to return to that mirror weeks later. Yes, weeks.
In those weeks I sat in shallow baths soaking in epsom salts & lavender oil. I took short walks around the block. I sat on ice packs. I wore maternity clothes because that was what was comfortable. And then the mythical 6 week mark rolled around, the time when “they” say you should feel normal again, when you can return to regular scheduled programming, when you can get back to your movement routine, when your healing journey should be coming to an end. And I returned to the mirror for a status update.
But as I stared back cautiously once again I didn’t see the pre-baby me, I didn’t see the pregnant me, and I didn’t see the 2-day post birth me. The person I was looking at was not quite a stranger, not quite a friend. It was strikingly obvious that the 6 week magical milestone was a sham and I needed to put in the work to re-acquaint myself, to love myself and to really care for myself again.
And for those about to take on this postpartum journey… this is how I’ve started the journey of returning to my body after baby.
Rubs & Cracks
After 7 hours of labour, no drugs and a vacuum delivery I felt like I had just completed back to back triathlons with minimal training. While I credit my continued fitness to my relatively seamless delivery, it really took it out of me. I woke up on Day 2 post-birth and every muscle (including ones I didn’t know I had) SCREAMED. My joints ached, my limbs felt heavy and lifting our sweet like 8lb boy seemed like a feat. Needless to say, I needed to some help to re-align this bod of mine.
Up first, massage. As soon as I was able to escape for a 45 minute session I did. This magical rub down helped ease the tension from breastfeeding, loosen up my lower back and hips from the strain of delivery, and bring a sense of relaxation to an otherwise stressful time. So if you were waiting for permission to book a massage post-baby consider this it. BOOK IT.
Next, a chiropractic assessment. About 2 months in I was experiencing some weird neck, hip and rib pain. A few twists and cracks later I felt leaps and bounds better, fun fact I had 5 popped ribs from my final weeks of pregnancy when our sweet little boy insisted on repeatedly kicking my rib cage. If you are skeptical, do yourself a favour and just book an assessment- your practitioner will only go as far as you’re comfortable and it could be what stands between you and less pain. I’d choose less pain over and over.
I don’t know what I weighed before baby, while carrying baby, or even after baby (one more point for midwifery as they don’t place an unhealthy focus on weight or weight gain during pregnancy) so fitness/exercise/movement has never been about maintaining a certain weight. Movement has always been about how it makes me FEEL, and never have I ever appreciated the benefits of daily movement more than I have in my post-partum life. Sure it helps tone up that softness, perhaps shed some of LBs, but most importantly it turns me from an over anxious bear of a woman into a happy, calm(er), pleasant human who can take on the day’s frustrations with more ease. Sometimes that movement is a long walk with the dogs, sometimes it is a Mommy & Me fitness class, and sometimes it is a solo workout that reminds me of my badass pre-baby days. Whatever it is, it works. I am stronger for it, physically and mentally.
I was three days into motherhood, sore, swollen and generally uncomfortable which was all exasperated by the complete lack of FRESH AIR. “They” say to take it easy, to nest and bond with your little one, and to avoid any physical activity, but one (and this one, as in me) can only ‘take it easy’ for so long. So I strapped on the baby carrier (after watching a how-to YouTube video of course), and waddled by way around the block. Sure I had to come home to sit on an ice pack, sure it was maybe 300m, but it made a world of difference for my overly hormonal, achy mind and body.
Since, I have found the number one way for me to connect with this body of mine is to get outside. There is a lot of sitting involved in new mommy-hood, sitting and feeding, sitting and snuggling, sitting and “playing”, sitting and visiting, sitting and eating. Explore new routes around the neighbourhood, walk to the grocery store, find some green space (which is coming, FINALLY), and really any excuse to breathe air that is not manufactured in some way. This was a lot easier to do when it wasn’t – 1000 degrees outside and the air threatened to freeze you from the inside out, but when it is safe to do so I prioritize at least one awake-time with our little man OUTSIDE.
Just a few short months before the arrival of our son I wrote a blog post about breaking up with social media, and here I am promoting social media … but hear me out.
When I jumped back on the social media train after baby (the peer pressure to post photos of our ADORABLE little human was too much to bear, I caved!), I did a giant purge. I unfollowed and blocked anyone who didn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and I followed new accounts. I followed inspiring/hilarious/sarcastic mamas, postpartum fitness experts, breastfeeding experts, postpartum body positivity champions, feeding littles experts, and quickly my feed grew into what felt like a community. Now, I find so much comfort in the inspiring stories, the normalized experiences, and the humorous posts about motherhood, that when I have days when my dimply, stretched tummy or my new chin start to nag at me, or I’ve asked myself Am I doing this right? A million times in one day – I turn to this little community for a boost.
Social media can suck you dry, but it can also fill you up.
Clothes that Fit
I wore maternity clothes or stretchy clothes for weeks after delivery, until I worked up the courage to try on some of my pre-baby wardrobe. Surprise, surprise – nothing fit.
Now, I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I immediately panicked, and maybe shed a few tears, but then I went shopping. I reminded myself that it took 10 months for my body to change, and while some of that change is permanent, the rest of it will come in time (and weeks is not enough time!). Buying clothes that fit my body NOW made all the difference for my confidence, and my self love journey. Eventually, I was able to tuck that mini wardrobe away for another time and slowly ease myself back into that pre-baby wardrobe, but instead of spending months longing for a body that wasn’t mine I gave myself permission to do what it needed to do to recover.
I am almost 7 months postpartum, and when I return to the mirror (despite months of doing all the things I’ve shared above) I don’t always see the powerful, magical, inspiring body for what it is. Sometimes, my vision is clouded by frustration, longing, grief, and disappointment. Sometimes, I want to throw on a moomoo and hide all the lumps and bumps. Sometimes, I want to get dressed in the bathroom so my husband doesn’t have to see this roll of loose, stretched skin. Sometimes I want to burn all the bathing suits that now only accentuate my mod bod. Sometimes, I forget.
I forget that this body is a FORCE. It forget that it grew a human, FROM SCRATCH. I forget that it now feeds said human multiple times a day, allowing him to grow into a giant, rolly (not so) little human. I forget that this body is loved, appreciated, and desired by my husband, before, then and now. I forget to be patient.
But patience is exactly what I need. This is not the first lag of the journey to body love, it is it just one chapter. Practice patience, and practice likely won’t make perfect… but it will make progress.