Content note: this article mentions body image and disordered eating, and may be triggering for some readers.
I’m going to let you in on a secret.
If you came to my house you’d guess it immediately, as you tripped over a stray piece of lego or banged your shin on the leg of a tiny table and chairs set.
If you hopped in my car the seats would give it away.
If you trailed me at the supermarket you’d know from the trolley stacked with babybel cheeses and yoghurt pouches.
Yes, it’s true. I have two kids.
I don’t try to hide any of these things. They’re just a normal fact of life after babies. But while we’re fine with airing our (clean) laundry if it’s a load of washing that includes a rotation of impossibly tiny onesies, when it comes to postpartum bodies, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we were all trying to keep our kids a secret.
After my first little girl was born, I bounced back. I know, because so many people told me.
“You don’t even look like you’ve had a baby!”, one friend exclaimed. It was the ultimate compliment. After all, I’d been counting calories, considering whether I really needed that fifth olive in my sad salad. I’d been exercising obsessively, weighing myself regularly, trying on my old clothes hopefully, with one goal in mind: to look like myself, pre-baby.
I told myself that there was nothing wrong with wanting to reclaim the person I was before becoming a mum – and there is nothing wrong with that – except that that person isn’t defined by what size pants she fits into.
“ Why is ‘not looking like you’ve had a baby’ a compliment? I have had a baby. ”
My life looks nothing like it did pre-kids. I wouldn’t expect it to. So why is ‘not looking like you’ve had a baby’ a compliment? I have had a baby (two, now). And while I’m still the same person, I’m also unmistakeably changed forever. It makes sense that my body is too.
My youngest is now 18 months, and I have decidedly not bounced back. I know, because so many people tell me. I see it in the lingering glances of people I haven’t seen in a while. I hear the subtext in comments about ‘when you were so skinny!’ And sometimes people go for the more brazen ‘are you pregnant again?’ (Handy hint – this is never, ever, a wise move.)
And I’ll admit, while I wish it wasn’t, it’s incredibly challenging to choose to accept this, day in and day out. Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to just give in to the pressure and bounce back – if you can even call it that when the baby is no longer a baby. But I look at my two little girls, the whole entire beings that my body miraculously grew and birthed. The two little people that widened my ribs and pelvis, week by painful week, that stretched my skin to hold them and then to feed them, that have stolen my sleep for four years now, that have made my heart swell to hold the boundless love. And I want to live by example for them.
I am teaching them to take up space. I want them to feel sure in their worth, not bound to a size or shape as though that has any bearing on their value. And I want to eat ice creams with them on a sweltering January afternoon, salty fish and chips on the sand. I want them to look in the mirror and feel good about what they see, instead of zeroing in on imagined flaws. I want them to know that carrying them inside me was the best thing I’ve ever done. And I’m not interested in hiding it.