Updated: Apr 6, 2020
I want to be very careful with this because I know when I look at other mums who say they feel big or don't love X part of their body that I reflect and compare myself. If your journey looks different please don't think any less of yourself. We all have our own journey and some paths may be similar and others totally different. Don't forget that we are all at different stages with our postpartum health - physical and mental. I have chosen to share my picture from 6 weeks postpartum for a number of reasons; I want to remind other mums that what you see with a t-shirt on isn't necessarily the full picture and all bodies are different; my photos from earlier than 6 weeks are still very raw for me and they show more angles with less clothing; I am not ready to share the 'after' photos because I don't think I am at my end point yet; this is the picture that was taken at the stage I was at when I realised how important my physical health is to my journey into motherhood and therefore fits this blog most.
I gained 20kg in my pregnancy and didn't exercise besides the odd walk, a few pregnancy yoga classes, or choosing the stairs instead of the lift at work. My midwife had no concern about this and neither did I. I have never been a 'number on the scales' person - I actually don't own any scales. I'm usually vaguely aware of how much I weigh but if I feel good and my clothes fit then the scales are irrelevant to me. Pregnancy was no different. I knew the 'normal' weight gain was between 10-15kg but it didn't bother me that I was outside of that range because my pēpi was testing healthy on all measurements. Post birth I struggled with the extra weight and extra squishiness and I had to put in the mahi with my nutrition and exercise. I wasn't so naive that I thought baby would come out and I'd go back to how I was but there was nothing that would have prepared me for the leaky, squishy, weak body I ended up with.
Your body might not function the same as before for a while, or ever. Your clothes may not fit the same and your new shape may require a whole different wardrobe and style. If that sounds like a good excuse to go shopping then think again, . You might think high-waisted will be the way to go but discover the first time you put something on that your puku folds at the same point as a low waisted pair of pants despite nothing digging in to cause 'the pouch' anyway so you may as well just wear low waisted so at least you only have to hide that roll. Your waist may be non-existent, changed by the extra cushioning and stretching over the last 9 months. Elastic waist-bands might seem like a good comfortable option but you might discover they just dig in to all your squishy bits and make you look and feel like a cross between a marshmallow and a rolled roast. On days you don't have to leave the house and can stay in your sarong or dressing gown it all seems fine but the minute you have to put clothes on all the realisations about your new body flood in and it can be pretty emotional for a while. I expected a little bit of squish and to be bigger but I had no idea that online shopping would be impossible. Not only did I have no idea what size I was I didn’t know how to dress this new shape without accentuating all the non-flattering bits.
For the first 3 months after my son was born I would see the way other mums posted about their weight loss and self love after birth and feel like I was ungrateful or missing out on something. I think it's great that some people can love their bodies straight away in whatever form, that just wasn't me. Don't get me wrong, I was super proud that my body had just birthed a 9 pound (4.08kg) baby with no pain relief and carried and grew him for 9 months, but that didn't mean I wanted to wear tight clothes and crop tops or post bikini pics straight away. Everybody will give you unsolicited advice so here goes mine - a reminder to EAT, you need it for your milk! Smoothies were my saviour because pre-packed frozen fruits make it so quick and topping it off with greek/plain yoghurt and water means you're guaranteed something healthy in your day. As I gained more time I started to pre-chop big fruits (watermelon, rockmelon, honeydew melon, and pineapple) in containers in the fridge and it makes it so much easier to just reach for those instead of chippies and chocolate, also helps with the toilet situation if you're still in the stages where that terrifies you.
It would be easy to say "get over it you just had a baby" but it is about more than that for me and I know plenty of Māmā who feel the same. Physical and mental health are apart of your overall hauora remember - Te Whare Tapa Whā. If you feel that working on one element will help you then go for it! For me it was a bit of a "fake it 'til you make it" situation with loving my body after birth. I posted on social media when I had small successes. I wanted to love my body the way everyone else did so I thought I needed to do what everyone else did and post about it. Kāore, that only further instills the unrealistic postpartum expectations for others and makes them feel self-conscious and like a failure when they don't 'snap back'. We all have our insecurities and struggles but after birth worrying about how we look should be the least of our worries.
It might sound like I'm trying to blame my negative self image on others but that isn't the case either. I wanted to get back into it for my overall health to strengthen all elements of Te Whare Tapa Whā but I knew I needed to be careful so I didn't do any irreversible damage. At 5 weeks postpartum I started with short walks and the occasional kanikani (which doubled as a settling tool for my son - mum win). At 7 weeks I went back to the gym. I am no stranger to the gym. I used to weight train 6 times a week so I felt like I knew what I was doing. I had given that up years ago when a blood clot was discovered in my shoulder, but the 3 years of knowledge I accumulated wasn't lost overnight. That didn't necessarily transfer into confidence in the gym. I was right back in that "Is everyone looking at me?" mindset. I remember thinking "I wish I could just tell them I've just had a baby". I found myself in massively oversized t-shirts hiding in the back of the room, constantly checking my milk wasn't leaking everywhere, and doing my pelvic floor exercises 20,000 times to make sure I wasn't leaking anything else either. Tip: If you're lacking motivation but you know you'll feel better after some exercise, remember the gym has uninterrupted showers! I started with bodyweight and slow cardio and worked my way up to weighted exercise and I am slowly increasing the intensity in my cardio. I am proud to say that at 4 months postpartum I have now finally been brave enough to train lower body. The thought of wetting myself when I squatted down had put me off previously. I think it's important for me to mention that I have fluctuated with my weight since giving birth, partly because muscle weighs more than fat and partly because life happens. Currently I have more muscle tone and I am able to move in the ways I want to. Weight isn't everything and neither is how we look - how we feel is the most important thing.
Whether you had a vaginal birth or a caesarean section, your body will be fragile for some time after birth. I failed to recognise that fragility would look different on different days. Some days it means fuelling your body with good greens and fresh fruits, on other days it means snacking on chippies because you need it for your mental health. We do what we have to. Some days that means heading to the gym and leaving baby with Dad or at the gym childcare centre, or maybe it just means a quick walk, or a movie on the couch while your pēpi cluster feeds - do what works for you on that day, but don't be afraid to do the opposite the next day if you need it. There is absolutely noone who can pressure you into doing anything with your body that you don't want to do. You are beautiful no matter what and you should do what makes YOU feel good. If you don't want to share your body, don't. If you don't want to exercise, don't. If you don't want to eat fruit and vegetables, don't. Whether that applies for a day, a week, a month or however long you need, so long as it makes you happy. The happier you are, the happier your pēpi is, and that is what is most important.