Updated: Sep 20, 2021
Oof. Just the phrase gives me mixed emotions of pride and a tinge of sad nostalgia for my body pre-children. It's been said before there is no manual for parenthood, and if there is advanced warning in society on how much your body changes during pregnancy and post-children, I must not have been tuned in at all. Growing up I was pretty lean and played softball and basketball for over a decade. My hormones kicked in in 7th grade, and they grew me a well endowed chest I was never interested in having. I would wrestle with minimizing my chest's appearance through sports bras and tank tops until, well, current day if I'm being honest. I never wanted that kind of attention, but that can be a post for a different day!
My husband and I waited until we felt emotionally and financially stable enough to embark on the parenthood journey. But, in the cruel trick of biology, the longer you wait the harder it is to conceive, carry your baby to full term, and recover from the havoc of water retention and chaotic hormones. With our first son, Levi, I gained 18 pounds, was able to do Body Pump classes at the gym up until I was 7 months pregnant, and walk 2-3 miles on off days with our dog. The worst change in body after Levi was the impact of the pitocin used to help him along. To their credit, our provider let him go 10 days overdue, despite my "geriatric maternal age". But when they thought the amniotic fluid was looking lower, they decided we should induce. I had no swelling during this pregnancy, but post labor the pitocin gathered in my legs and swelled up around my knee. This combined with the weird shit ligaments do when you‘re pregnant (and perhaps a former bout of Lyme) made my knee way more painful than any other part of my body or even during the labor. It took drinking gallons of water and about 8 months until I was able to go up and down the stairs again without a limp or pain.
During breastfeeding my weight came off pretty easily, and with one baby and despite being an executive director of an organization with a growing team and budget and a multi-million dollar fundraising campaign and construction project, I was able to put our son in the ergo and go for walks and hikes, though of course now the gym was out. We got pregnant with another son and unfortunately lost him heading into the second trimester, and the weight I gained there did not come off. Perhaps due to postpartum depression, combined with a pregnancy and no breastfeeding. During my pregnancy with my daughter, I again gained about 18 pounds which came off quickly again after breastfeeding, but then began to creep up as my sleep was broken 2-4 times per night, loss of any time to work out or go for walks between full-time work and daycare pick up and drop off plus of course parenting.
There's a little bit of horror that sets in when your post-pregnancy clothes from your first child don't fit, let alone the size you generally were your whole life. If I thought my chest was large then, with 3 pregnancies and breastfeeding for now 4 out of the past 5 years, I have felt like my wearing any type of bathing suit is me inadvertantly trying out for a Hustler spread. Although it might not be true, I am so self conscious that at the lake I feel like other moms are thinking "ugh, so inappropriate". But honestly one style will make it look like I've got a giant floatation device on top of my chest, while the other I suppose just embraces it and is moderately easier to breath and get around. I've hated how I've looked in photos, and my husband has mastered the art of the "from above" photo. I also cannot stand the advice out there in literature or even social media "make sure you take time to rest or do even 15 minutes of exercise or yoga a day while your baby naps, you need to take care of you. Let the dishes and laundry pile up." Well I don't know who they're talking to, but fruit flies or a dirty kitchen gives me terrible anxiety, and I need to make presentations at work and look like a professional so I kind of need my laundry to be clean.
The best advice I've gotten around this is "your body does not belong to you while your children are this young, it belongs to them." Now that feels better. This is merely a moment in time, and allows me to feel the reality of my body being a vessel for two little miracles. Truly, to grow your own children with your own body and by breastfeeding and/or formula and skin to skin which gives them all of the antibodies, nutrition, and social-emotional foundation through the first 6 months of their life is something I never thought possible. And if people are judging at the beach, that speaks to them, or the work I still need to do on my self esteem. We hiked the Mount Dorr ladder trail this past weekend and my body was so happy to be challenged, I was sore and inspired to start working out a little as possible with the kids sleeping through the night more and on a pretty good routine with work and school/child care. But, I've let go of the expectations of my pre-pregnancy look, and I'll keep trying to better embrace my "Mom Bod":)