I was visiting with a pregnant friend today and we were talking about the unfortunate task we both recently faced (given the season): maternity/post-partum bathing suit shopping.
While it is true that bathing suit shopping is usually a task that most of us don't look forward to with glee, I think it might be extra taxing emotionally when pregnant and/or recently post partum. Facing your body during this time of life is challenging. I know there are a lot of blog posts and memes going around encouraging women to embrace their new bodies - to celebrate every stretch mark as a tiger stripe - something that you earned but I want to put voice to the flip side of that coin: to the side that acknowledges that this time of life is a struggle.
Don't get me wrong, I want women to fully love themselves very much and to see their new bodies as these amazing temples (afterall, your body was the first home your children ever had! how incredible is that??) but I also want to give you (and myself) permission to feel your feelings. This change is HARD. It's hard to accept your "new" body (i put that in quotes because nothing is permanent and your new body is NOT how you have to look forever). It is hard to look in the mirror after having a baby and see that nothing is quite how you remember it to be. Things look different, you don't feel like you anymore. At least, I didn't feel like me either time (and at three months post partum after the second baby, I still don't).
Before having kids, I had gotten to a place where I was pretty happy with how I looked. I remember that feeling vividly. In fact, I still have the tiny little skirt I wore when I met Ryan hanging in my closet. And now? Well, right now at this moment I'm two or three sizes bigger than that and not really thrilled to step onto the beach.
I want to be clear here: being a certain size does not make someone valuable or beautiful. My being two or three sizes bigger than what I once was is NOT why I am unhappy - I am unhappy because of the feeling I have about the way I look at the moment. There are millions of women who are my current size and larger and who are breathtaking. This isn't about being "fat" this is about how I feel right now in this stage of life. Women are lovely at any size they feel lovely at and we should embrace ALL sizes of people (men AND women) as gorgeous.
Anyway, today my friend and I lamented this phase and realized that in part it was because we were set up for some disappointment. It seems that while you are pregnant everyone tells you that when you breastfeed the weight will just fall right off of you. I want to say on the official record that this is not accurate information for most women. For some, if not most of us, weight clings to your body for the first six months that you are exclusively nursing. Your body wants the fat to make milk for your baby. It's beautiful in the abstract, it really is. But when you are sleep deprived, hormonal and stressed out you might find yourself wishing you could just look how you want to. And that's okay.
I think it's okay to want something different for yourself. It's not okay to think self destructive or negative thoughts and it's not okay to pressure yourself to some unrealistic standard, but it is okay to say, "I want this to change" and to use that thought to motivate yourself. But don't allow motivation to bring disappointment. This is a gradual thing, I've learned. Give yourself a break.
In the meantime, this summer I am going to try to focus on playing with my lovely son in the waves. On building sand castles and giving him salty-lipped kisses. I'm going to focus on finding a few blissful moments to take a walk with my husband and to hold onto my daughter as she breathes in her first breaths of ocean air. Those are the things I am going to pay attention to, not whether my belly is still swollen from pregnancy or not. And while I might have a moment or two of insecurity about some svelte woman sauntering down the sand, I will remind myself that I can be that woman too one day if I want to - only I can be even better than her because I will have my lovely family with me too...and that really and truly does make it all worth it.