Upon the birth of my first child, I thought I was prepared for everything: sleepless nights, colic (escaped that – small favors and so on), diapers, even the possibility of postpartum depression.
What I wasn’t prepared for was my body.
It wasn’t just the way my post-pregnancy frame looked. It was how it felt. Everything was…gloopy. (Is gloopy a word?) Everything flopped. Skin rubbed against skin and was prickly and itchy. My breasts were…well, never mind.
NOTHING seemed to have been put back into the original places or at least the same basic form that they had been before that second line appeared on the stick.
And what about all that other stuff nobody really tells you about? Or perhaps I read about it and simply refused to acknowledge that any of it could ever be me. Not I…not the woman who gently rubbed shea butter on every square inch of skin for nine and a half long months. Not Miss Antioxidant-Rich Fruits Eater. Not the Pilates princess.
Well…yes me, actually. I was in for some, er, surprises. This just in from Nightmare Land: your pubes really CAN sweat, if there’s enough loose…stuff hanging toward them. (Ugh!) There is such a thing as stretch marks on calves.And as for my waist, it took a left at First Trimester and hasn’t been heard from since; I suspect it took off to Vegas to start an entirely new life in some fantasy land where bodies keep looking 17 forever. (Where do I sign?)
It sounds funny reading all this; it’s not as humorous when you feel like you’re not only no longer you on the inside – a transition you at least half-expected and probably to a degree, wanted – but your outside looks like, well, your mom’s. And while Mom is a lovely person, she just isn’t, at least in your opinion, the vibrant, dare I say sexual diva you fancied yourself to be prior to pregnancy. You always wanted to be like her, not look like her.
Take heart. Odds are, Mom has secrets she’ll never tell you. Somebody probably still does find her sexy…but most of all, over time, if she’s like a lucky percentage of women, she has discovered that SHE still finds herself and, yes, her forever-changed body sexy too. It’s not magic or even some trauma-induced self-delusion. Here’s how YOU can do it.
1. Touch yourself. Okay, I’m not getting dirty here. I mean, stop avoiding handling your tummy, putting on body cream, or washing in the luxurious way you used to. So you’re not some tight little teenybopper. You’re still worth touching. But you won’t believe that (no matter how much your husband or SO insists) unless you send yourself the subconscious message that your body, ALL of your body is worthy of attention. So do that. Pay attention to your whole body. Go back to your skin lotion, go back to slow, relaxing showers. Spritz your sexiest body spray. Touch yourself like you’re worth touching.
2. DON’T look on your stretch marks as “battle scars.” Is it just me? I’ve always hated that phrase. Neither “battle” nor “scar” is anything I want to associate with what is supposed to be one of the happiest times of my life. Look instead at these for what they are. Stretch marks. Normal. Natural. And you know who else has them? A percentage of post-pubescent teenage girls. Body builders. Beautiful people. You have them too and that’s okay.
3. Take your breasts back. Sometimes. If you’re breastfeeding, you probably feel like your breasts don’t even belong to you anymore. Sadly, this could mean that at night when Hubby wants his turn, you’re all tapped out (ha, see what I did there?) and you just can’t bear another touch. Plus, you look down at your former funbags which now pretty much just look like…bags. STOP RIGHT THERE. Your breasts are still lovely. I promise you. Even with the stretch marks. Even with the loss of volume. And guess what – they’re still yours. Reclaim them by getting a beautiful supportive bra – spend the extra cash, this crucial time is worth it. And when you’re all touched out, you are. Period. While in a positive frame of mind, have a talk with the hubby about this, and also remember that breastfeeding isn’t forever and that you will to an extent bounce back in this area just as with others.
4. Stop yelling at your body for not being supermodel material. Come on, nobody likes to see a grown panniculus* cry. (*You know…that hanging…stuff that used to be held up right around your bellybutton.) And here’s a secret: even Gisele probably cries in secret sometimes as she looks down at her nude glory. Stop the negative self-talk. “Fatty,” “ALL this loose stuff, gross!” and just plain “ugh” aren’t helping you. At all. Be gentle. Your self-talk should be just how you’d talk to a friend…and you’d never say these things to a friend.
5. Cuddle your beautiful body. Wear soft, silky, lovely clothing when you can. I get that you can’t go the dry-clean only or Prada route with baby barf on your shoulder, but you CAN find fun, soft, rewarding materials and styles. This goes for whatever you surround yourself with, too. Change up your bedding for something super-pretty and lovely-feeling. Add cuddly throw pillows to your bed and your couch and sink right in with a good book.
6. Nobody (and no body) can heal without rest. Believe it or not, some of the damage you’re seeing now – or for a lucky percentage, most of it – WILL bounce back over time, at least to an extent. But you can’t heal properly unless you’re rested. This goes for skin as much as for any other part of the body, so find a way. If you can afford it, hire a sitter once a week to simply nap or just sit and read. (I check out the local high schools and junior colleges for this.) Trade off with the hubby or with another parent. But do get your rest. You and your body both need it.
Remember: Not all of the changes you see immediately post-baby are permanent; they’ll improve over time. But in other ways it’s true that your body will never be the same. Know what, though? Your body is still a part of you. Take wonderful care of it. It’s the only body you have – and it IS beautiful.
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