Sunday 21 October 2012

Feeling Like Myself Again

Back in the days when Ebony was nothing more than a bump under my t-shirt, I read a Best Friend’s Guide to pregnancy. The author stated that no matter whether you breast-fed, bottle-fed, went to twenty zumba classes a week, or never left the sofa, it would take nine whole months for your body to shrink back down after the birth.

I didn’t really think too much about it. Partly because it upset me to think of, and partly because I decided I didn’t like that particular author. Towards the end of the book, she talks about how some doctors will stitch women up tighter after delivery. She doesn’t talk about this in a horrified what-the-actual kind of way, more in a phew-now-your-husband-won’t-leave-you way, so clearly she is a hideous person who certainly shouldn’t be writing books for pregnant women. After I read this bit, I discounted the rest of the book too, and so forgot about the nine month bit.
After a few glasses of wine at a friend’s house last night, I noticed she had some weighing scales in the bathroom and so decided to be brave. I was surprised to discover I actually weigh a bit less than I did pre-pregnancy, and then I noticed in the mirror that I am looking a bit more like me again.
I remember at the very beginning of the pregnancy, when only the tiniest handful of people knew, how excited I was each time my body changed. My stomach became really hard, and even though I looked exactly the same, I only had to prod my stomach to remember changes were afoot. In the first trimester, as nature keeps your secret, most of the changes are hidden; morning sickness came and went before my friends even knew I was pregnant.
As you get into the second trimester, the changes speed up. All of a sudden, your secretly firm stomach is now bulging out into an obvious bump. I think I was about sixteen weeks pregnant when I was first offered a seat on the train, until that day I hadn’t realised I even looked pregnant. I was so shocked at the offer of a seat that I said no and tried not to cry. That’s probably the last time that man offers a seat to a pregnant/fat lady.
Once the bump appears, there’s no stopping it. Your knees are the first thing to disappear from view, followed swiftly by your feet. All of a sudden, your body seems to end where your bump begins.
My friends threw me a surprise baby shower when I was six months pregnant. My emotional rollercoaster (sponsored by pregnancy hormones) ensured that tears were shed as I (worryingly) slowly pieced together that it was a surprise baby shower. Everytime I waddled away from the table, I could see the shock on my life-long friends’ faces, I was huge. By this point I had forgotten what it felt like to be me. I had become a walrus. And not one of the stylish, happy, blooming walruses you sometimes see. No, I was a walrus who exclusively wore maternity yoga pants for pretty much the entire third trimester. I had given up on looking human, I just wanted to stop aching.
Giving birth is like an out of body experience; nature just takes over. It doesn’t feel like your body anymore, you don’t feel like you anymore as you follow in the footsteps of millions of women before you.
Then the baby arrives, and in the days after the birth you feel vague. You are overcome with feelings of love so strong you can’t find the words to explain it, with a primal need to protect this amazing person you made, and with an immense feeling of pride that you made and gave birth to the most special and perfect baby ever to have existed. You cry at everything, you are so exhausted you cannot think straight, and your body hurts. Everything below the waist... waist? saggy empty baby bump might be more accurate... feels sore from birth. You don’t feel like yourself emotionally or physically. You’re a Mum now, and all that matters is the baby so you ignore the aching and the healing.
You don’t notice that you continue to carry round a strangely saggy baby bump for a week or two, in fact you aren’t aware of it until months later when you watch videos of yourself looking after your newborn. None of your clothes fit, but that’s ok because all you want to wear is pyjamas anyway.
Soon the bump disappears, and you are just left with the stretched skin as a reminder that you once housed a new life. Your clothes still don’t fit, but that’s ok because you are breastfeeding so you need new tops anyway that are compatible with discrete feeding. You put your pretty floral dresses to the back of the wardrobe, and stock up on strappy tops. You watch your breasts change shape again as you settle into life as a breastfeeding mother. You buy new bras to fit. Then your body starts to shrink back. Your hips and ribs start to realign as they no longer need to accommodate a growing foetus. Your back size changes, and your new bras stop fitting. You become bitter and twisted, aiming a lot of hate towards the companies who sell nursing bras at extortionate prices knowing that women go through each and every possible bra size on their journey to motherhood and back. You wear ugly bras again.
You don’t exercise, you haven’t since you were twenty weeks pregnant and the aching started. You eat too many biscuits, but you’ve reduced to a packet a week instead of a packet a day now. You walk most places, but sometimes get lazy and take the bus. You carry your baby everywhere, and as she grows you can feel your right bicep growing. Wearing the baby in a carrier helps to realign your lower spine, and the aching stops, and your stomach muscles start to tighten again.
Then your little newborn is nine months old. And, as you look at yourself in the mirror, you realise you have reclaimed your body. You have a waist again, and hips. You are yourself again. You try on your old skirts, they fit! The dresses still don’t, but that’s because you’re still breastfeeding, and you’re not worried about that. The skirts will do for now.
It takes nine months for your body to grow a baby, and then another nine months to regrow you.

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