Making Peace

I live in early motherhood. I don’t know when the last time was that I slept through the night, or visited the washroom on my own. There are Cheerios scattered on my kitchen floor and stickers in random spots on my walls. Things that I never would have imagined doing before I had children are now second nature to me – smelling a baby’s bottom to see if it’s dirty, breastfeeding my toddler while he sits on the potty, making 3 different lunches for 2 different children.

My daughter Hannah is just over five, and my son Jacob is nearing 20 months. Between the two of them I have been continuously pregnant or breastfeeding since July, 2004. That’s almost six years. In many ways, my body has not been my own. During pregnancy, I very literally shared space with my babies, and after they were born that didn’t change much. They still wanted me, they still needed me, and I did my best to be there for them.

I have deeply ambivalent feelings about this loss of control over my physical self. On the one hand, I am very grateful to have had this experience of birthing and breastfeeding my children. It is an amazing gift. They are amazing gifts. On the other hand, it hasn’t all been super-fun. I didn’t enjoy pregnancy much, between the nausea and the extreme emotions and the constant nosebleeds I got. I don’t really like its physical aftermath, either. And sometimes I really just want some time and space to myself, which isn’t always possible when you have these two little people underfoot.

My body hasn’t always worked with me on this childbearing journey, either. Hannah was born at 34 weeks, when I was suddenly thrown into labour because of an amniotic fluid infection. Following her birth, I hemorrhaged severely and required surgery and a blood transfusion. Breastfeeding was a challenge with a premature baby, and I was unable to pump enough milk while she was in the NICU. My earliest days of parenting felt like one massive betrayal on the part of my body. It was as if it could get nothing right.

Things went better the second time around. I delivered a few days before my due date, in an uneventful birth. Breastfeeding went well right from the beginning. But I didn’t bounce back as quickly after Jacob’s birth. In fact, I’m not sure I ever really will. I am older, he was bigger, and when everything’s stretched out like that it doesn’t always unstretch so well.

All the same, I am finally beginning to reclaim myself. Jacob is old enough that he’s fine when I take more time away from him. So I do. I have signed up for my first yoga class in 5 years. I am getting out to meet up with friends or to speak without my little shadow. I like the freedom, even as I lament the fact that my baby’s growing, or that I may never wear those pants again. Always, the ambivalence.

I am learning the reality of my body following its nurturing years. It is older, it is larger, and it is not quite the same shape. It likely never will be. I am not always happy about that, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. My children are worth the physical toll that they took. And so I am slowly making my peace. I am learning to embrace myself as I am now, Amber the mother of small children. I am no longer the person I was, and my body shows it. And that’s as it should be. It is OK. I am OK. Mostly.

What about you? Are you able to embrace your post-baby self, or is it a struggle for you? How has your maternal physique changed your view of yourself? I’d love to hear all about it.

The inspiration for this post came from the Body Image Carnival hosted by the super-cool Melodie at Breastfeeding Moms Unite and Maman a Droit. I can’t wait to read all the other posts the week of April 12-18. I hear there will also be product reviews, a giveaway and links to research and resources pertaining to body image, so make sure to drop by and check it out!

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  1. Lauralee Epplin Moss says:

    Thank you for this! I have the same feelings. I love that I care for my babies and breastfeed them, but when am I going to get my body back? It is quite a pot of feelings, with different ones brewing to the top on different days. I feel so much better just reading this, that I'm not alone.

  2. Karen Edna Munro says:

    It's funny how you read these sorts of things and think yes, I agree with that, mm hmm, mm hmm… And then you suddenly read one bit and it's EXACTLY your experience. Spot on. For me it's the stickers on the walls… On my kitchen wall, we have foam stickers which spell out "stidermans" which are a remnant from when my son was 5 and trying to spell Spiderman. Also, our TV bench is covered in bits and pieces of all manner of miscellaneous sticky characters. (Sigh.)

  3. Victoria Louise says:

    Yup once again AMber you- hit the nail on the head- I have been preggo- bf for ummmm 7 + years ( YIKES!!) and there are moments when I wonder if I will ever feel that I am Victoria as opposed to MUmmy- work helps with that i guess-but then kate gives me a hug and all is forgotten! ( and BTW B/f on the potty that is almost as impresive as cecily bf in the can WHILE MOVING ( not driving tho) =)

  4. Well first of all, I never lost the first ten pounds I gained with my first pregnancy, added another 24 with my second pregnancy….lost it all while on 11 months of maternity leave….only to gain it all back when I went back to work (if you are keeping track, I weigh about 30 pounds more than I did pre-children). To lose all the weight while on maternity leave I was walking for 40 minutes a day plus doing yoga and pilates once a day….all while maintaining enough calories to breastfeed. I just don’t have the time to do that now. That is my biggest reality of the changes in my body, weight doesn’t just fall off and stay off like it did when I was 25. I finally had to give in and buy a new, bigger wardrobe for work, now that’s depressing! I already had a closet full of clothes that fit the pre-baby me. Now that it’s spring, I’m making an effort to get out and walk more and I keep reminding myself how much I love yoga but just can’t seem to get up early enough to get in a good stretch these days. But I’m glad you are getting out and taking that class – enjoy! I may have to find an evening class myself…
    .-= Tanya´s last post ..Easter Weekend shenanigans =-.

  5. The first 2 paragraphs I’ve written almost word for word about myself in the past. Substituting your kids with mine, of course. My body hasn’t really been mine for almost 7 years now. With 3 full term pregnancies and then breastfeeding the younger 2. My youngest still is breastfeeding and while I know I’ll miss it when she stops, most days I’m just done with it all. But I wait for her to feel the same and in the meantime, I’m just stuck.

    By the way, love the new look.
    .-= C @ Kid Things´s last post ..So He Won’t Grow Up To Be A Baseball Player =-.

  6. I’m still struggling with all the body changes going on! I was a pretty average weight when I got pregnant and gained 30+ healthy pounds. I loved my pregnant self and generally felt pretty ok. Deflated post baby self is another issue! The problem I’m having that at only seven months PP my body keeps turning the tables on me. It’s like I don’t have any control of this thing around me or what’s happening, whose body is this?! I sure don’t recognize it. I expected to have to fight to lose the weight and instead am now 10 pounds *underweight*. I realize this is a wonderful thing but all these changes happening so quickly are a lot to adjust to. My confidence is shot because when I look in the mirror I barely recognize that woman with the skinny back and stretch-mark belly. I suppose I’ll get used to it eventually, right?
    .-= the Grumbles´s last post ..happy easter, friends =-.

  7. I have twin skin. Gained no weight at all during the first trimester of my twin pregnancy, then 65 pounds in about 5 months. With a short trunk, the skin stretched beyond belief and, creams or no creams, I have the marks to prove it (as well as a sad belly button). When my daughter was 3, she asked what those marks were called. I told her. Then she said, “They’re silver rainbows, Mommy!” My own revisionist.
    .-= Ironic Mom´s last post ..Cleaning Tips I’ve Googled Since Having Twins =-.

  8. My body is nearly back to its pre-pregnancies shape. (don’t hate me.) But like you said, my body is still not my own. Between breastfeeding the little one and the two big ones crawling on, poking and pulling on me, I get very “touched out.” It’s annoying for me and means no fun for the hubby, kwim?

    I think getting away from the kids once in awhile is really important. I need that time to not be touched, interrupted and demanded of. I think you’ll find the yoga class restorative not just to your body, but to your mind/spirit too.

  9. I seem to have an extra 5-10 pounds on me these days, concentrated right around my middle! It’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but makes all my pants fit funny, which can get me a bit down.
    I think it is fantastic that you are finding time for yoga. Pre-pregnancy I loved yoga, and particularly enjoyed pre- natal yoga. Once my son was born we did some mom and baby yoga, but I haven’t done any on my own lately. It is something I really want to start up again.

  10. Yeah, this is a big one. Was just discussing this with a friend recently in the context of “how do we approach our womanhood now that we aren’t planning on having more children?” For years it was trying to conceive, pregnancy, nursing then all over again and now that part of my life is slowly ending. My baby is 6 months (today!) so I still have a way to go to get to where you are but I’m already feeling it. Looking at my life and physical body in a different way and wanting to find a new framework other than “mother of small children”. “Hmmm, so this is how it is” is what I think when I look in the mirror. But I also feel mighty powerful when I look at my motherhood battle scars. A c-section scar followed by a Vbac with a large baby – I’ve got evidence in all ways possible. I’m okay with it too. Mostly.
    .-= AmberDusick´s last post ..Wee Houses Wrap Skirt =-.

  11. My body has done some pretty awesome things, so I feel bad feeling bad about it, but the truth is, I do. My day to day weight is now the same as it was during my first pregnancy. I don’t recognize myself and nothing fits. I blame being back at work full time and losing the constant exercise one gets while being home with two tiny people, but the truth is, I just need to shut my mouth and move my ass. Then I’ll feel like the woman I want to be, as I’m happy to say that I am already the mother I want to be.

  12. As you know, I’m on a quest to get into better physical shape. Part of that is losing weight, but it’s more about having more energy to be able to keep up with my 22 month old son and be the parent I really want to be – modeling a healthy, active lifestyle as a counter-offensive to the soon-to-come deluge of advertising for video games and junk food. Any time I’m feeling down about my physical self and the can’t-get-into-them clothes languishing in my closet, I look at my son and think, “Yeah, but look! Just look at what my body can do.” It’s a very empowering thing to look at an entire human being that I grew and nourished from my body. The saggy stomach and jiggly bits don’t bother me at all from that perspective. 🙂
    .-= Alexis´s last post ..What I’m Doing – Fit by Forty: Background =-.

  13. Your sentiment is often so spot on with my thoughts (you just say it better!) Yes, I am so different physically. I doubt I will ever walk into another nightclub and turn guys’ heads 😉 I have jiggles in strange places that make me alternately roll my eyes and fume. Sometimes I resent the constant pull on my time and mental capacities. But I wouldn’t change anything at all. I am absolutely in love with life!
    .-= Dionna @ Code Name: Mama´s last post ..Guilty as Charged =-.

  14. oh gosh, i am in so deep on this whole body image thing. i am a good chunk of pounds heavier than what i think of as my “normal weight” when not pregnant. i am struggling so hard with finding the motivation to exercise and eat better while also trying to be loving towards my body even thought it doesn’t look exactly how i would most like it to. right now i am losing that loving battle. losing hard.
    .-= robin´s last post ..taking note =-.

  15. I sighed deeply reading this post… I can relate to your feelings and am so glad you share them. Part of my post-partum depression was from my feelings of my body betraying me badly, and part of it was that I felt a stranger in the unfamiliar flesh, and part of it was the constant demands on me that came from the baby — sleep deprevation, engorgement, all the noises and smells and textures and other demands were so foreign and scary! Even now, 13 years later, I get a little bit scared thinking about it. Those first few weeks of motherhood were the most traumatic weeks of my life!

    My body is a little wider than it was pre pregnancy (actually almost 25 pounds wider) and everything is “less-stretchy” as you so poetically put it. BUT I should note, the friends of mine that have chosen not to follow the path of parenting are also a little wider and less stretchy, so it may mostly come with being in the 30’s. It’s just that the pregnancy accelerated that change into a briefer time?

    I love my babies so much. I am actually glad I wasn’t warned too accurately what was involved, otherwise I may have chickened out bringing these wonderful little people into my world.
    .-= *pol´s last post ..whatcha think of my new look for Spring? =-.

  16. I remember quite vividly looking in the mirror after my first baby was born (I was 27) and thinking “well, my body has peaked. It’s never going to be the same again.” It was a strange feeling realising that it wasn’t age but pregnancy that meant it was all downhill from there.

    Now, after 5+ years of pregnancy and nursing back-to-back, I’ve entered my 30’s. Now I also have gray hair, wrinkles, sagging skin and that chronically exhausted look to contend with.

    I am mostly ok with the changes to my body. I have a bigger issue with the other casualties of motherhood: a better wardrobe, getting my hair done more often, clothes that don’t have peanut butter smears on the thighs and shoulders two minutes after getting dressed – you know, the things that might hopefully distract people from seeing the circles under my eyes? Looking less tired/frazzled might help me feel less tired and frazzled too.
    .-= BluebirdMama aka @childbearing´s last post ..Wondering About Waldorf =-.

  17. Well we adopted so in a sense my body has remained my own. The downside is he’s not part of my body the same way a baby born-to is; although he is a major clingon (which is good)! It is the key distinction between birth and adoption: the body-body connection. That said, I’m seeing and feeling the ravages of time on my body so am thankful in a way that I didn’t have to endure pregnancy – I don’t think my body would have reacted well. To be clear, had I been in my 20s or 30s, I would have loved to experience pregnancy & breastfeeding but after that, the body starts to take its own beating.

  18. Betty-Ann Anderson Manghi says:

    i am so with you amber

  19. My (only) wee guy will be 7 at his next birthday and I’m only just feeling now that I’m on any kind of track back to ‘me’ aka the one that’s not defined by being someone’s mother or somebody else’s wife. It has coincided with finally losing some extra pounds though I should add that my issues only briefly touch on post-baby shape. It has been an annoyance to realise I’m wider/ribs have sprung more than pre-baby (bye bye beautiful clothes).
    Although I’ve not been too concerned with how much heavier/saggier I’ve become, in the last 12 months I’ve got a handle on my weight and eating sensibly to maintain it with enough energy for the day-to-day (approximately at the same weight I was when I came to Canada 8 years ago). I’m now into my forties so dealing with all the aging and body weight issues are part and parcel of heading toward 50! Becoming a little more streamlined has helped with energy levels and given me more pride in what I wear (being able to wear fitting clothes not covered in food or spit is a huge milestone).
    I think getting back to a less motherly shape has come at the same time as trying to (re)develop my own personality again. In the next 12 months I hope to carve out something else “out of the home” for me to do in, around and in spite of the family (or I will descend into total drooling madness). Like a lot of the other comments, I am completely in awe about what my body managed. I have never been so satisfied with my shape as when I was in the last two weeks of pregnancy (and I’m completely gobsmacked it managed to get thru delivery … ). I don’t think I could focus on either weight loss/wardrobe/personal development while I was with the Wee Guy 24/7 – my independence is slowly developing in tandem with his ie. school, playdates, out of school activities and so on. I just didn’t have the headspace and even now I’m finding it a little too crowded.
    I feel that motherhood for me has been a hugely accelerated period of growth, I’ve been (almost) keeping pace with my child as he grows, but without his benefit of a newly hotwired brain and boundless energy to achieve it. In some ways I resent being compelled to do so much so quickly with so little free choice, but on the other hand it is totally amazing! Keeping pace with my child has also meant that weight/body change seems more permanent now too.
    .-= pomomama aka ebbandflo´s last post ..Friday forte: the spring break edition =-.

  20. First off, I just started to laugh at “smelling a baby’s bottom”. I used to be HORRIFIED (and yes in CAPS) when I saw someone so that. I would practically gag. I was never ever going to do that. Now I can’t even count how many times I’ve sniffed a bum.

    I have wanted to go to an actual yoga class for forever. My husband (although great in many ways) is a reluctant parent though so I think I will have to wait on that dream for another year.

    My post-baby body is not one I love that much to be honest. I learned the hard way that while a model-thin woman may be able to have two c-sections that are unnoticeable, if you cut into the guts of an overweight tummy you are left with a very obvious bulge. I doubt it will ever go away unless I had more stomach surgery and really who wants that? I’ll just have to be happy with whatever help a stomach crunch can provide…and spanx when necessary.
    .-= Marilyn @ A Lot of Loves´s last post ..Losing the Preschool-age Nap =-.

  21. Ditto on the c-section in an overweight tummy. And no matter how much I read about fat acceptance and how much I try not to judge other people on their looks, I have trouble thinking kindly about this body. I always suspected that when I was young my attractiveness was quite superficial and wouldn’t age well. Turns out I was right. I don’t think about it as connected to my children, though, so I don’t feel the least bit resentful that part of it is from carrying them around inside. And it’s true, aging even without bearing children ain’t no picnic. It’s an ongoing battle — it seems such a silly thing to spend so much time obsessing on. And yet…
    .-= allison´s last post ..****************Happy Easter in images =-.

  22. cypress sun says:

    oh my…i just spent the day tossing clothes in to a give-away box thinking about how hot i used to be. i never thought that, of course. i just thought i was average. now i feel a lot like spongebob. i’m hopeful still…because as we slowly wean, i’ve noticed that it is becoming a bit easier to soften the square-ish shape i have become!

  23. I’ve made peace with my post-children body, and then became completely frustrated by it – more than once in fact. It’s like a roller coaster! Right now I’m in a not great place about feeling good. I feel so tired. Forever tired – 8.5 years into parenting and I want some sleep already! The 2yo seems like he’s sleeping good every now and then and then another cold or virus of some type hits the house and it all starts over again.
    .-= Laurie´s last post ..Chicken Pox and Other Fun =-.

  24. This is the kind of post that makes me wish I could give you a real hug.
    About the body issue, my body shows every sign of several pregnancies, c-section, breastfeeding, post pregnancy loss sickness … but also of age, cooking (in my youth I used to wear rubber gloves to chop onions, but keep it a secret), gardening … life. Finding peace is the only way to go about it.
    I’m so, so pleased that you signed up for yoga classes!
    .-= Francesca´s last post ..Easter by the fire =-.

  25. I know what you mean about ambivalent feelings.

    I was really sick during my second pregnancy, and at one point, my husband mentioned being disappointed that I didn’t seem excited about being pregnant. “I’m excited about having a BABY, not about being pregnant!” Being excited about nausea, nosebleeds and exhaustion was really not my thing. The baby though, he is perfect. Noisy, but perfect.
    .-= Lady M´s last post ..A Holiday Where You Get Candy =-.

  26. Sometimes you just describe my life.

    I am not happy with my post boy body. But I am working on both accepting it and slowly changing it.
    .-= Capital Mom´s last post ..Easter candy =-.

  27. I try to avoid the mirror in my bathroom when I get out of the shower. But the few times I happen to glance at myself I try to remember when my body was smoother and scar free. I’ve learned to love the marks I have received throughout my pregnancy (including my c-section). They’re my marks of honor and I’m proud to see them because they are a reminder that I did have a wonderful, happy baby boy. No one can take that memory away from me.
    .-= Sara´s last post ..We survived the bug =-.

  28. I definitely feel like I am still sharing my body with Baby even though he is 9 months old! He has no boundaries when it comes to investigating mommy, other than ones I impose, and I try not to impose too many. He loves exploring my face with his hands, and I figure it is probably worth a few scratches for all he’s learning that way.
    .-= Maman A Droit´s last post ..Making Peace With Our Bodies =-.

  29. I can really relate to this post. Shortly after the birth of my third child I wrote about how my weight has always been something I could control. When life or mothering stresses me out, it’s tempting to whip my body into submission as a way of wielding control. For me it’s not just the lack of control over my physical self but an issue of control in general. Due to my faith tradition (Catholic) I’ve found solace in recognizing that there are a lot of things that are now in my power to change. My body shifts with pregnancy. My labor may be long or short. My kids will throw tantrums. My children will wean when they are ready. I cannot shield them from pain. But I can put them into God’s care. I can relinquish control and appreciate my body and embrace the changes motherhood brings as signs that I’m doing what I’m designed to do: to be a wife and mother.

    At any rate, I’m sorry for rambling. Thank you for your honest post.
    .-= Kate @ Momopoly´s last post ..Words Whispered in a Mother’s Hurting Heart =-.

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