When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I couldn't wait for my belly to be big enough to show off to the world. As the months progressed, I marveled at the way my body was changing and celebrated the appearance and continued growth of my baby bump. But the celebration over my body came to an end once my baby was born, upon realizing my postpartum body didn't look the way I had come to expect it would.
Suddenly, I stopped considering the changes it had endured to be a thing of beauty, despite the fact that it had nurtured and birthed my precious baby. Based on images that were filling my inbox, newsfeed, parenting books, and a number of other resources for new moms, my body now seemed flawed. I wasn't seeing stretch marks, extra weight, dimples, or sagging on the bodies of other postpartum moms like I was seeing on my own. Even the grocery store checkout was lined with images of celebrities cradling their newborn babies against postpartum bodies that looked exactly like they had nine months prior — flawless, thin . . . perfect.
No one had mentioned that I'd still be wearing maternity clothes weeks, even months after giving birth. I wasn't informed that stretch marks might not just line my abdomen, but my breasts, thighs, and even butt. And as time went on, perhaps the biggest shock of all was that my breasts became so flat, so deflated, that they basically looked like a pair of socks full of rocks hanging halfway down my midsection. As far as I could tell, the only acceptable postpartum body was one that looked like it had never had a baby, because I hadn't been informed that these things were completely normal.
I remember standing in front of a dressing room mirror less than a week after giving birth, trying desperately to quiet my sobs and slow the stream of tears running down my cheeks. I was naked, except for my far-from-sexy postpartum underwear that was lined with the world's largest maxi pad. In that moment, the sight of my body, along with a stack of clothes three sizes up from my pre-pregnancy size left me feeling devastated.
But as time went on and I started spending time with other new moms, I realized that I was basing my expectations on impossible and completely unrealistic cultural standards. My mom friends weren't the moms I saw on TV, in magazines, or online. These were real moms with real bodies branded by stretch marks, who carried not just their babies, but baby weight too; moms whose stomachs weren't flat and likely wouldn't be ever again; moms who looked like me.
Despite what our culture was trying to sell me — the lies it was trying to get me to believe — I realized that my body was normal, though still imperfect in my eyes. It turned out that I was the only one who expected my body to look like it had before I had birthed a living human being. My husband didn't expect me to bounce back to the shape and size I had been before, nor did my friends, family, or basically anyone else I knew in real life.
My postbaby body doesn't look the way I expected it to and it never will. It doesn't look like the mom bods I see in photos. Even though this sometimes leads to a sigh of disappointment when I see myself in the mirror, I've grown to truly love this body that has now housed more than one baby. It has grown those babies. It has fed those babies. It has rocked them and snuggled them and been a continuous source of comfort for them. This body is real. It is good. It is loved by my children. And because of all that, I've given myself permission to love it back. This body is mine and it has served me and my children well.
I'll never understand why we fail to tell pregnant women and new moms the truth about postpartum bodies. I wish I'd been prepared for what I'd see when I looked in the mirror after my baby was born. I wish the weight gain and stretch marks and everything else about postpartum bodies would be normalized because that's what those things are. Normal. There's nothing wrong with my body, and if I'd realized that sooner, it might have saved me a lot of tears and self-loathing. It took time, but I now recognize that the postpartum body I once considered flawed is nothing short of fierce.