Does motherhood change your body image?
Next time you're in the grocery checkout aisle, see how many tabloid covers mention baby bumps, or how fast some celebrity "got her body back!" Popular culture is obsessed with women's pregnant and post-pregnant bodies, and exhibits a strong preference that women get rid of all signs of pregnancy ASAP after birth.
That's something most mothers I know feel is important too. I get emails regularly from mothers wanting to know how soon they'll look like they did before they got pregnant. I've had patients bring their pre-pregnancy jeans to the delivery ward because they were sure that once the baby was born they'd slide right into them and be right back where they started. I also hear from women about how bad they feel that they didn't ever completely lose the baby weight. They feel disappointed in themselves that, unlike many celebrities, or their girlfriends, or that lady they saw with the baby at the beach, they didn't walk away from their pregnancy with flat abs and no stretch marks.
The hard reality is this: No woman exits pregnancy and enters motherhood unchanged. In fact, to say "motherhood changes everything" is a silly understatement. It changes the way you think, move, sleep, eat, work, play, and spend all of your time. It changes how you shop for groceries, drive your car, wear your hair, dress and talk on the phone. It changes your marriage, friendships and even your relationship to your pets. Since it changes all that, it only makes sense that it also changes your bodies. But I would argue that for most women, pregnancy has the potential to change your body for the better.
For most women, their relationship with their pregnant or post-partum body is complicated. There's the nausea, aches and back pains, growing belly and ever-widening hips, but there's also the marvel and wonder of knowing what's going on in there. After delivery, they have conflicted feelings about their poochie belly, stripey skin, leaky breasts and the fatigue that hangs on like a clingy toddler. But there's also a subcurrent of feelings I think most mothers don't give enough attention.
It's the recognition that your body has created a human—the most powerful, transformative and useful work it will ever do in your entire lifetime. The human you grow in your stretched out belly has the potential to be anyone—the the next great musician, doctor, philosopher, president, athlete, artist, plumber, author, mother...anyone. You made that happen with your excellent body.
That's the thing of it: Motherhood shouldn't be about trying to make your body be what it was before it did its most powerful work. It should be about what you do with that body for the rest of your life. We mothers need to band together to change the way we look at our post-pregnancy bodies. We need to make a new commitment to ourselves to take the best, most compassionate care of it we can.
And every day, no matter what it looks like, I want you to look yourself in the mirror and say: "Hey there, Hot Stuff – you're looking good today." Then, grab that baby and walk out the door knowing your body is magnificent.
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.