On the list of offensive comments new moms are used to hearing, most of them stay on the offensive list. But there’s one that has taken on a whole new meaning – in a good way – as we ring in my baby’s first birthday.
Get Your Body Back!
I remember being asked how I was going to lose the baby weight when I was still pregnant, as if that should have been a focus of mine in the weeks leading up to childbirth.
I remember my belly bump pictures attracting online consultants to message me on the basis that motherhood and body wrapping go hand in hand, as if it was assumed my postpartum shape would need help.
I remember getting home from the hospital, browsing Facebook to pass the time spent nursing, and being invited to join workout groups to help me “fit back in those pre-pregnancy jeans!” As if that should have been a goal of mine when my stitches were still healing.
It never offended me too deeply. I knew it was never personal, more than it was classic American culture at work. I simply responded how I wanted to respond in those moments, and never thought anything more of it.
In those early months, health already was my focus – just not in terms of how our society likes to promote it. Then, it was about my mental health. Adjusting to the emotions of new motherhood. Getting to know this tiny human I just created. I could’ve cared less about stretch mark creams or pre-pregnancy jeans. There was an unexpected confidence that grew out of this chapter because by respecting what I knew my body needed most, I was putting value on my body’s worth rather than its mere image.
That’s precisely why these early comments are often offensive. The assumption that we need to get our body back as soon as we get home from the hospital is so heavily promoted as this normal thing that we expect mothers to do regardless of where they might be in recovery. Recovery is just this quiet thing we don’t talk about, as is mental health. But, we love to focus on the baby weight. We’re really good at that.
Then, in time, I recovered fully. And my body was running on empty. I was getting dizzy, struggling to sleep, struggling to wake. My heart was randomly racing, and I felt weak and achey more than I felt strong and empowered. Stress and anxiety were taking a toll on my body physically. Focusing on my mental health was no longer enough, as motherhood was now pouring into my physical health. I needed to focus on both, as they were both important for different reasons.
I just wanted my body back. Not in a way that could fit back in my pre-pregnancy jeans – if that happens, bonus, because one less thing to buy – but in a way that didn’t leave me struggling from one hour to the next. I wanted to exercise not for my appearance but so that I could feel strong. I wanted to eat healthy not for a pretty Instagram post but so that I could feel energized.
Suddenly, getting my body back took on positive meaning. It had nothing to do with hiding the fact – the very proud fact – that I gave birth and become a mother. It had everything to do with acknowledging the toll that motherhood has taken on my body, and wanting to do what I can to nurture it so that I can better nurture my child.
It’s about ownership of what my body has been through and taking charge of what I need to do to be my best self. For some people, that looks like religiously joining those workout programs from early on, body wrapping and trying protein shakes for breakfast. And that’s great if that is what makes them feel their best.
For me, it is a journey that started at four months postpartum, not four weeks postpartum. It is not marked by one particular program or secret, more than it is an ever-changing mix of attempts – some successful, some not – to prioritize the gold standard of motherhood: self-care.
Moms, it’s okay to want your body back. It’s just not okay for anyone else to tell you when, how and why you should do it. Your body, your temple, your time. Maybe a better phrase would be to “take your body back.”
To tell a mom she needs to “get” her body back is passive. It implies that someone else has the power to give it to her, which allows other people to define what her body should be like. To “take” your body back is assertive. It implies that WE have the power when it comes to our bodies – and we get to define what that looks like.