I’ve wanted to write this post for a little over 3 years. To be precise, when my son, Max, was just one month old.
I’ve hesitated because any issues regarding body image can often be perceived in a negative way but I feel that as a women, specifically as a mum, I have the right to share my experiences regarding my own body issues.
Just 3 weeks after Max was born, I was on the metro, which was very busy on this particular day. It was my first time in a crowded, public place without my son after I had given birth and I was dressed comfortably in some black trousers and a loose black vest. As I stood in the crowded carriage, a lady made eye contact with me as I scanned through the people. As our eyes met, she stood up from her seat and signaled for me to come and sit where she had been sitting. I stared at her confused, wondering why this kind stranger was randomly offering me her seat. And then it became clear as she directed her eyes to my stomach. In that moment I was shocked, confused but most importantly, mortified. She thought I was pregnant. I quickly but politely declined and turned the other way, looking on to a busy Sheikh Zayed Road as I played the scenario back through my head. Although the lady had the best intention, which I appreciated, it had never crossed my mind that I looked pregnant. Along with everything related to mortherhood, I hadn’t known what to expect after giving birth. My clothes didn’t fit me and my body didn’t feel normal and like most new mums, my confidence was low. For that whole day I continued to replay that moment back in my head. I looked at my belly in the mirror and hung up the clothes I was wearing firmly in the very back of my wardrobe, making a mental note to never wear them any time in the near future. I told my husband when I got home, almost hesitantly as I was embarrassed. He assured me that I looked great and that I should give myself a break. I couldn’t help but look in front of the mirror at my belly. As I stood sideways and looked at my reflection, a number of things stood out to me. My boobs were huge and were being supported by a nursing bra which also had breastfeeding pads inside the cups to absorb leakage because I had oversupply and you can never be too safe, my belly was indeed big and my face looked tired. That one incident made me look at evrything differently. I no longer saw a tough woman that had grown a baby inside her body for the last 9 months I saw someone who no longer recognised the body that she stood in. My hormones were all over the place and I found it hard to accept the changes that were taking place to me.
I’ve never had any kind of shame over my body or the way I look. Of course, I have insecurities but over the years I’ve come to accept and be happy with myself. I grew up quite naturally slim, which was the result of a fast metabolism. I ate well and never followed any diets. I’m definitely not partial to some fries and pizza, because, well, I’m human. After I had Max I breastfed exclusively, and I was losing a lot of my baby weight as a result. We’re expats so I was alone at home every day as my husband worked full time so between feeds, changing nappies and trying to stay alive, I tried to eat regularly to keep up with the hunger that breastfeeding left me with. Some days when Max was extra clingy, I would prepare food for myself with one hand while I held him in the other. It’s tough, just like any new mum knows.
Not even one week after metro-gate, I experienced another situation which left me feeling insecure about my postpartum body. I had some relatives visiting and we went for lunch with a friend of theirs who I had just met. We ordered our food as we indulged in some chit-chat. I was halfway through my falafel wrap when Max woke up from a nap wanting a feed. I picked him up and made my way towards a quiet area to feed him. On my return, the guest who I had only met a mere 45 minutes earlier was quick to tell me that my trousers were “hanging off me” and that I was too skinny. Unlike the lady who offered me her seat on the metro, I wasn’t in the slightest bit appreciative of this comment. Shocked and lost for words, I stared blankly at this stranger as I tried to form a sentence and filter it before I vocalized my thoughts. All that I managed to utter was something about me breastfeeding around the clock, trying to make/eat enough food to satisfy my hunger. What I really wanted to say was, “Oh, I’m skinny am I? Well please excuse me while I try to navigate my way through the most overwhelming period of my life, while I’m alone for 8 hours everyday with a newborn hanging off my boob, all while trying to eat regularly and maintain some kind of general hygiene that meets basic standards”. But I didn’t. What was almost upsetting as the comment itself was that this particular lady was a also a mother.
I went home and again, stared at my body in the mirror. This time, not looking at my postpartum bump, but instead at my bum and the gap between my lower back and the waistband of my jeans. I was feeling more insecure than I ever had before. There was a feeling of hopelessness as both contrasting experiences ran through my mind. My clothes didn’t fit me like they used to and my body was different. I didn’t have time to go out and buy new clothes so I wore what was the most comfortable. It got me thinking, “Can we ever win?”.
Unfortunately, in today’s age of social media, which brings another batch of pressures, it often feels like we will never win. I instantly unfollowed someone on Instagram a few months who posted a photo of herself one month after giving birth, exposing an extremely toned torso with the caption, “one month postpartum #postbabybodygoals”. I unfollowed because I’m sick of people posting these images which project an unrealistic ideal of what a woman’s body should look like after they’ve grown a human inside them for 9 months. I’m tired of these images that often are the result of intense workout routines, often assisted by personal trainers, which are a luxury to most new mums. We are all different and as a result so our bodies, shapes and metabolisms. It’s unreal how people feel the right to vocalise their opinions on another woman’s body after they have grown a human inside of them for 9 months, not to mention the period that follows.
The message I want to give to mothers is that you’re just fine, exactly how you are. Don’t listen to every opinion that comes your way because you’ll never win!