My Postpartum Body, Myself
How I became squishy, leaky, and happy all at once.
Three months ago, I had my second baby. I carried her for exactly nine months, grew her strong, then pushed her out fast and hard. And here we are: she is she, and I am living alone in my body again.
After my son (now three) was born, I felt weirdly invisible for a while. For most of my adult life, I had been relying heavily on what some would call my erotic capital to make me feel good about myself. The term is a relatively new one to me, but I’ve been familiar with the idea for a while. Basically, I’ve given a lot of value to the idea that I’m physically attractive. To dudes, mostly.
Now, I’ve never come out and said that so bluntly until now, and it’s still embarrassing for me to admit, but I’ve felt “pretty,” and I’ve liked it.
When I became pregnant, that erotic capital turned into “adorable pregnant lady capital.” I got cute clothes to show off my round belly, and people all over the city would ask, “When are you due?” “Do you know if it’s a boy or girl?” “Is this your first child?” A stranger in a bar even said to me, “You just look SO BEAUTIFUL.” Though I was veering away from our culture’s ideal beauty standards (which, yes, are narrow: size-ist, sexist, racist, pretty much all the -ists), I still felt valued for how I looked. And that made me feel good.
Then I had my son. The round belly deflated, the giant leaky milk boobs grew in, and somehow my ass and thighs seemed to get even bigger. I felt icky. I felt like men didn’t notice me, and I felt unattractive. I sank into a few months of postpartum depression, which hinged more on the fact that I was severely sleep deprived and having an identity crisis, but feeling unattractive played its small part. I felt like my body, which for my whole life held a certain value in our culture, was suddenly worthless.
Of course, while I was feeling that way, I was continuing to GROW A HUMAN. Over the course of his first six months, my son, whom I nursed exclusively, grew nine pounds. All of that weight, all of that little body was something that I single-handedly (or double-boobedly) supplied the raw materials for. Astounding.
Still, I couldn’t wait until I was back to my usual size. I felt like the first year postpartum was a limbo for my body until it resumed its prior shape. A big squishy limbo. And once it did go back to its prior dimensions, I felt pretty much back to my normal and desired level of attractiveness.
However, things are different this time around. After being depressed, even for a short time, I became terrified that depression would happen again. So after I came out of the murky depths a couple years ago, I started doing some work so that I could perhaps avoid postpartum depression should I have another baby.
And now that the second baby is here, I have discovered that the work I did to avoid depression is having the added benefit of a completely different view of my postpartum body.
First a friend told me about the concept of Radical Self Love (which sounds like it involves LOTS of masturbating, but probably doesn’t have to) and I bought into the notion that loving who you are — exactly as you are — is a form of activism. As in, our culture exacerbates our insecurities and convinces us that our bodies are gross. Advertisers play on those insecurities to make us buy stuff. BUT, when we love ourselves exactly as we are, we don’t NEED the stuff. Take that, The Man!
Next, my mom led me to the book You Can Heal Your Life. I read it, did some self-searching, and came to truly believe the notion that all of our problems stem from a lack of self-love. With this in mind, I practiced saying in the mirror, “I love you exactly as you are.” It was hard at first, but I kept working at it, and I started to know that believing it was the key to deep happiness.
Then this past winter I went on a prenatal yoga retreat. And yeah, I may have, you know, said hi to God and got reacquainted with my spiritual center. But the retreat solidified the idea that I am complete exactly as I am. That, and that loving myself is the beginning of loving everyone else and knowing that deep down we are all the same.
Ultimately, I realized that postpartum me is still me. It’s not the “potentially thinner” me, it’s not me waiting to “get my body back.” It’s me, it’s fully me, and it’s a me who can love herself fully.
Before, I had been valuing my body based on what other people may or may not have thought of it. In our culture that’s not surprising — take a quick peek at any magazine rack or “news site” clickbait and you’ll see: Valuable Woman = Sexy Body. But the fact that I still fell for this lie after being a body-positive feminist for 20 years? Well, it made me angry. So angry that I am determined to love my body even more.
So you know what? I’m three months postpartum. I’m squishy and leaky (and not just from the boobs, people!) I have dark eye bags, spider veins, cellulite. My full, thick pregnancy hair is starting to fall out. My B.O. is such that… well.. it smells like I’m growing onions in my armpits. But I love myself. And when I love myself I can’t help it: I. Feel. BEAUTIFUL.
Who knows how long my body will be this new and glorious shape. Whatever form my body takes can be entirely independent of how I feel about myself.
In our culture, that is truly a radical notion.
[If you like what you’ve read, please share it with other people so they can enjoy it too. The sooner we all start loving ourselves, the stronger we will be.]