Want to see what a new mother’s belly looks like, 12 weeks post-birth? The editor Annie Ridout reveals hers here, in an attempt to normalise the scars of pregnancy. And she shares her honest feelings about not ‘snapping back into shape’…
After giving birth to my firstborn (a daughter, three years ago), I felt good in my skin. I was surprised by how bulging my belly was initially, but about a week later it had shrunk down. Having spent three days in labour, barely eating, I’d lost any extra weight from the rest of my body so felt fairly trim.
This time, my birth was induced and over within 10 hours. I reached the postnatal ward and devoured the (probably disgusting, tasted like heaven) shepherd’s pie they offered me. And the apple crumble. I was starving – giving birth does take it out of you somewhat – and needed sustenance to help my body produce milk for my baby.
I returned home and continued to eat whatever I wanted. I was enjoying sugar to an almost obsessive degree. Hot chocolate, bars of chocolate, cake: whatever I could get my hands on I would eat. I kept telling myself that my body needed it to keep producing that breast milk. Anyway, I’d been through pregnancy and childbirth and deserved a treat. Or ten.
Only, eating like this didn’t leave me feeling hugely positive about my body.
I’m now 12 weeks postpartum and eating more healthily – the odd cake or pastry, but not numerous sugary treats every day – and getting back in to running and pilates. But my body isn’t changing as fast as I’d like. And, unfortunately, I don’t have much patience when it comes to my body and fitness levels.
My belly – 12 weeks after giving birth…
When I think back to my post-birth body the first time round, I remember being delighted at the way I seemed to return to my pre-birth physique with little effort. Though this is probably not what happened at all; I’m most likely completely deluded and forgetting plenty of mornings when my clothes didn’t fit and I was fed up with the saggy skin and fat that wouldn’t shift.
Of course, what matters most – and what the common response to this post will be – is: you grew and birthed a baby; give yourself a break. And that’s what I’d say to any new mum feeling similarly. But it doesn’t make me love that I can’t find clothes to fit, or no longer enjoy walking around naked.
This isn’t about self-imposed body negativity; it’s about the pressure society puts on mums to ‘snap back into shape’ immediately after birth.
It’s about the fact that I felt better after my first birth, because I was thinner.
It’s about the celebrities who elect for early c-sections to avoid putting on too much weight. And who flaunt their flat bellies mere weeks after birthing a baby.
It’s about the magazines and websites that publish those pictures.
It’s about the way we judge a new mum as “lazy” if she isn’t back in her skinny jeans a few weeks post-birth.
It’s about being bombarded with ‘diet advice’ just after giving birth.
It’s about the guilt associated with eating certain foods.
It’s about congratulating new mums for not looking like they’ve given birth.
It’s about the media/fashion industry’s insistence that thin equals beautiful.
It’s about the fear instilled in us that putting on weight will make us unattractive to our partners.
It’s about feeling less sexual when we have the scars of pregnancy and childbirth.
It’s about the patriarchy dictating how women should look in order to fit in.
It’s about our mothers and sisters and friends and colleagues probably all feeling the same. Even if they say they don’t.
It’s about the Instagram accounts dedicated to gruelling post-birth exercise regimes.
It’s about the women who are so quick to share a photo of their six-pack just three weeks postpartum.
It’s about the women who daren’t reveal their stomach for fear of being judged.
It’s mostly about those women, the ones I just mentioned. This is for you. You’re not alone – so many of us feel like you do: judged, negative about our bodies, lacking in confidence. You’re not alone. I’m not alone. We’re in it together. And hopefully, one day, society will be in it with us…
We’ll celebrate post-birth bodies. We’ll hand a new mum the cake and not secretly think: “maybe she should be sticking to salad.” We’ll post photos of the stretch marks, rolls and flab and be PROUD. We’ll be told by strangers how amazing we look, with our muffin tops. We’ll whip our saggy breasts out to feed our babes and rejoice at how amazing our bodies are for producing babies and milk.
I wish I wasn’t so disappointed with my post-birth body because it has produced the two greatest loves of my life. My babies make my world complete. They are beautiful and perfectly imperfect. I hope that by the time my children have their own babies things will be different. Let’s work towards achieving that.
Main image by Emily Gray Photography