My Postpartum Body

DISCLAIMER – In no way am I advocating that there should be any pressure to lose baby weight and return to your ‘before’. This is simply an honest account of my journey and feelings. I really wanted to share my story in an attempt to show that all is not always as it seems, and while someone might look ok in clothes or appear to be back to how they were, they are still potentially dealing with body confidence issues. I am also very aware that a lot of people have it much worse than myself!

My postpartum body is kind of a tale of two halves. Weight wise, I was lucky. I gained just over 2 stone during my 39 weeks of pregnancy; a combination of being naturally slight and perhaps, more key, being heavily diet restricted due to having Gestational Diabetes. I am fully aware that on the weight side of things, I was in a very good position to be able to return to my pre pregnancy weight. When I spoke to other mums towards the end of pregnancy, I realised that my weight gain was overall on the lower side. But what wasn’t on the lower side was the size of my bump in relation to my frame; I was ‘all bump’ but the consequences of carrying so low and frontal have left me with damage to my stomach that I have struggled to accept.

Day before birth

I knew that I was likely to get stretch marks as all the women in my family, although slim, struggled with them too. But at 28 weeks, with no sign of them and with rigorous bio oil application (sometimes 3 times a day) I was lulled into a false sense of security. From here on in, they exploded out, covering my stomach up past my belly button. I pushed it to the back of my mind; it was a small price to pay to finally have our longed for baby. That being said, my 30 year old self now eye rolled my 20 year old self for getting a giant stomach tattoo that I knew was stretching out and going to look less than desirable in a few months time.

The stretching of the stomach piece was well underway here (30 weeks)

Fast forward to Post birth, I vividly remember looking at myself fully naked in the mirror for the first time and feeling disappointed at how pregnant I still looked. By no means had I expected it to all go, but I didn’t expect to stay looking so pregnant for quite so long. The scales were saying all the right things; I’d lost just over a stone within the first week of giving birth, but even up to 8 weeks postpartum, I still had a very visible bump. I bought lots of baggy shirts, thick leggings (forget about jeans, I couldn’t bare the sensation of tough fabric against my section scar) and control underwear. To the outside world I probably looked ok, but inside I felt like a wobbly, scarred mess.

2 weeks postpartum

At 5 weeks, I started trying to wear a control belt around the house. It felt good to feel ‘held in’ but I found it bulky and awkward to sit in; so would try and wear it whilst doing jobs and pottering around. I’m not convinced that it actually made any difference to me physically, but mentally I suppose it made me feel proactive that I was doing ‘something’ towards rectifying my new perceived ‘problem’.

5 weeks pp

By 3 months postpartum, I ironically looked like my 3 month pregnant self. And it was from here that I realised how damaged the skin was on my stomach. As the bump shrank, the skin loosened and I became more and more aware of the crumpled folds that had appeared (particularly from profile), and how distorted my tattoo was from the stretching. I tried to do gentle ab workouts (recommended for post section) and couldn’t, my core was too weak and my incision site, although healed to look at, still felt tender.

3 months PP (wearing compression leggings!)

In lieu of targeted ab exercise, I made a conscious effort to walk more, and to try and hold my stomach in and keep my shoulders back to improve my posture.  I started to be able to breathe in and hold the stomach muscles (not for very long) by around 4 months post birth. I started wearing jeans again (and just tucked my new ‘mum tum’ into high waisted underwear). It felt liberating even being able to wear jeans again after living in leggings and yoga pants for so long.

I’m now 6 months post birth, and to be honest, not convinced that the appearance of my stomach is going to get significantly better from here on in; certainly not ‘better enough’ in my own eyes to wear a bikini confidently (although I hope in time I will). The skin is damaged and scarred, paper thin and loose, and no amount of miracle lotions or exercise are going to eradicate that

My stomach now, 6 months postpartum

What a difference clothes make!

So right now I’m working on trying to learn to love my new body, saggy, scarred stomach and all. A body that gave me my beautiful son, a body that endured years of gruelling fertility treatments. I’m learning to focus on the positive parts of myself, to be kinder. I’m trying to look in the mirror naked more, apply my moisturiser without wincing and remember that this is a new version of myself; a better version in many ways, whose body now tells a story of what I have been through. I want Maxon to grow up hearing me speak positively about myself, I want him to know that it’s ok to not be perfect and that’s only going to happen if I set the right tone by being nicer to myself and embracing this new, postpartum body.

My Pregnancy

So I always assumed that once we actually got pregnant (after 3 years and 4 cycles of IVF), that I’d be able to relax, but the start of my pregnancy was terrifying and miserable. The week before Christmas 2017, I was hospitalised after developing OHSS (Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome, a reaction to the IVF medication, which I’ll go through in more detail in a separate IVF Post). I was given an early scan at just over 6 weeks pregnant on Christmas eve whilst in hospital to confirm viability, only to be told that the pregnancy sac was empty, it looked to be a ‘blighted ovum’ and I would likely have an early miscarriage. We were heartbroken and spent all of Christmas and New Year holed away on our own, grieving and wondering when and if we’d be able to face another cycle.

6 week scan showing an empty sac

When I hadn’t naturally passed the pregnancy by the 8th January, we were given a repeat scan before any medical intervention and lo and behold, to everyone’s amazement, there was a very definite baby and heartbeat. We were astounded, the consultants were amazed. It took us days to get our heads around it. I suppose this start to everything was a huge factor in the anxiety I felt so strongly in the first and second trimesters.

And then there was a baby

My pregnancy was classed as high risk and very closely monitored from the onset. I had additional scans prior to the typical 12 week scan. And my life at that point was simply a case of getting through the day and counting the time down to when I could next see a heartbeat and be reassured. I regularly went to bed at 8pm, not through exhaustion, but so I could get the day over with and move on to the next.

I thought getting to 12 weeks would make me relax but no, it was all just a countdown exercise of getting to the next ‘stage’ and assuming it would get less stressful. It didn’t. I had a very small amount of spotting 3 days before our 12 week scan during a weekend when my husband was working. I was wracked with anxiety. I barely moved from the settee, the fear of going to the toilet and seeing blood was crippling. But sure enough, it passed and we were relieved to see a healthy baby at the scan.

We found out that I had low Papp-A levels off the back of the 12 week blood tests. I was told that this may be associated with several issues; such as having a low birth weight baby due to placenta problems, an increased chance of an early birth and an increased risk of pre-eclampsia. I was devastated. I was told that I’d be given extra scans (which I would have had any way with it being an IVF pregnancy). So now in my head, I was doubly high risk and utterly convinced that something would go wrong.

I felt Maxon move from 17 weeks, which I thought might reassure me, but nope, I then just stressed that he wasn’t moving enough. Looking back, I struggled massively with the fact that I was pregnant after so long. It all seemed very surreal, like it was happening to someone else; and I was waiting for it to come crashing down around me.

Finding out the gender at 17 weeks was a huge step for us in the pregnancy feeling real. We needed to have some control after having had none for so many years and knowing more about this baby seemed to help that. I’d felt very strongly from day 1 that we would have a boy so was not at all surprised when the sonographer announced it. To be honest, we would have been happy with a baby goat by this point but I’ll never forget the look on my husbands face being told he was going to have a son.

Bumping at 18 weeks
Chubs at 20 weeks

I ticked along for the next month and started to relax a little. At 26 weeks, I was tested for Gestational Diabetes after some sugar in my urine sample. By this point I’d gained only a stone in weight, and having started out with a BMI of 20 and in good health, did not think for a second that I’d have it. I have no family history of diabetes, have never been overweight…I just didn’t fit the profile. So when my fasting test showed elevated blood sugar levels I thought it was maybe just a one off, so had the test repeated a week later only to be told that I did in fact have GD and I needed to start finger prick testing and controlling my diet.

Telling a pregnant woman she can’t have sugar is CRUEL. I was definitely angry when I turned up to my diet review appointment (poor nurse!). Over the next few weeks I learned that pretty much any interesting carbs would cause my levels to spike. So for 14 weeks, I lived on porridge for breakfast (no honey or anything exciting to jazz it up), a ham pitta for lunch (forget about sauces) and protein and veg on an evening.  The highlight of my day was being able to have 3 apple slices with a spoon of peanut butter. It was bloody miserable but I knew I had to be careful; my babies health could be compromised if I wasn’t.

Party bump at 26 weeks…and the last time I wore heels!

Diet restrictions aside, once I was finally able to accept that this was happening to me (from around 28 weeks); I started to enjoy my pregnancy. I loved feeling Maxon wriggle and I began to feel a pride in my body that I hadn’t known possible. The bigger my bump got, the more real it felt so with that in mind, I really didn’t mind my body changing (even when the dreaded stretch marks made their appearance!).

32 week bump

The 3rd trimester was a real turning point for me. I felt great. Yes, I was starting to struggle to sleep and my lower back ached but I was lucky to feel pretty much myself otherwise. The final month was tough going in the heat but I managed to make it through to 39 weeks still feeling pretty good. I had scans every 2 weeks, all was looking well and I began to look forward to, rather than fear, the scans.

38 week bump

My bump was ENORMOUS at the end and, looking back, I don’t know how I managed to do anything. But there I was, in my final weeks, bleaching skirting boards and repainting rooms; I became completely obsessive about cleanliness in the house and my poor husband was barely allowed to breathe. I nested BIG TIME.

There are times now when I actually miss being pregnant (needless to say, those times are not when I’ve got a glass of wine in my hand). I miss stroking my bump and feeling the little jabs trying to discern which body part it was. I miss staring down trying to imagine what it was going to feel like to hold him; it felt equal amounts scary and exciting. I’m so pleased I took thousands of photos and videos and spent so much time appreciating the feeling, as it really is incredible to look back on.

Writing this all out really does highlight to me that I probably should have reached out for help, and if anyone out there is reading this and struggling with pregnancy anxiety, please know that you are not alone, and there is help available through your GP. I’d like to say that if we were lucky enough to have another child in the future that I wouldn’t struggle in the same way, but there really are no guarantees and in some ways, I think our IVF journey has changed me in a way that can’t be reversed. But anxiety aside, I will always look back on my pregnancy as one of the most incredible years of my life, and I still feel, to this day, incredibly lucky to have had the experience.