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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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
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.