When you have a baby, your body isn’t your own. It becomes the property of doctors, your husband/partner, family members, and anyone who has an interest in the baby. This is even more true if you have help making the baby (meaning fertility treatment, not some kind of special night party!), or if you have complications during pregnancy or labour. Plus, your body very literally becomes the property of the little life you’re growing inside.
Once the baby is here, your body is yours a little bit again. Except your stomach now resembles a deflated balloon, and your little creature may claim your chest area as theirs for the next few months. In those early days you’re completely at the whim of this small child and feeling mad with sleep deprivation. I remember reading a baby book which was asking me what kind of baby I had: I remember thinking “I don’t even know who the child is myself yet! We have a stranger living with us!’
It’s common for women to read that it took 9 months to grow the baby, so don’t stress if it takes as long to lose the weight. This is comforting on the one hand, but on the other hand there’s enough change already without looking down and not recognising yourself. Kate Middleton was awesome when she left the hospital with George – her dress showed how much weight she still carried, even though she had her blow dry. When she left with Charlotte I felt equally sad for her and annoyed: she looked perfect. No other new mother could even compete! But I bet she was thinking ‘what the hell am I doing in these heels, don’t they know I pushed a human out five hours ago? Glad my hair is up to your standards Daily Mail, now excuse me while I get home before my boobs leak all over my couture dress..’.
When I came out of hospital I looked like I was 6 months pregnant still, but suddenly people weren’t interested in my stomach anymore It was enough to walk up to our bedroom each day, let alone leaving the house: it felt like it was impossible I’d ever run again! Then over the next few days, I was healing and by day 5 I was able to walk to the pub with friends (I feel it was a good choice of destination for our first trip).
Looking back, I’d say that there were a couple of things that I did during pregnancy that really helped on the other side:
- Keeping up with some kind of exercise meant that the weight didn’t stick around for as long as it might have done, and helped with the recovery as I wrote about here.
- Watched my diet. Thanks to gestational diabetes, I couldn’t eat as much cake as I had planned to during pregnancy – there was definitely no ‘eating for two’! Or if there was, it was followed by a biiiiig walk.
I was also definitely lucky not to have a complicated birth. The more I hear about ‘natural birth’ the more unnatural it seems: almost all of my friends have had some kind of intervention and have taken longer to recover than I have with my operation!
A month after Baby B was born we started going for long walks each day. This was both to give us something to do, and if I couldn’t run, I was damn well going to walk. 5 weeks after, when my dad & step-mother arrived from Sydney I was so excited that I ran down the street like an 8 year old. It felt great – flying through the air like I used to! And then I got a stitch, and my legs ached all evening. Hmmmm.
By week 7 I was starting to run again, and now that we’re at week 12 I’m almost back to normal. Comparatively I know that I’m lucky to be able to say that after three months, and whilst I wouldn’t swap it, there is an element to all this that I want to raise…
And that is that it’s not all about how you look. Yes, I’d prefer not to look down and see a crepe paper stomach, or more orange peel legs, which are the two parting gifts I’m left with. But it’s just as much about how you feel. Your hormones are going mad, you’re adjusting to a new identity as someone’s parent, you’re trying to work out how you can cook the dinner, and you want to enjoy the little person you’re getting to know. In amongst all this, you’re also getting to know your post-birth body: what its new limits and abilities are. It doesn’t matter that people say you look good: you’re learning where your new weaknesses are and it takes a while to get used to them.
Reading that it takes 9 months to grow a baby so it may take 9 months before you feel back to normal is helpful as it sets kind and realistic expectations. Personally I have also enjoyed taking a more proactive approach. Breast feeding does help, and as soon as we could, Baby B and I were walking everywhere. It wasn’t running, but I was able to enjoy the things I love about running still: being outside, feeling the fresh air, feeling like I’m doing something good for myself, and now for Baby B. So whilst there’s still a way to go with the actual weight and my figure, I feel better for being able to do something that resembles who I was before. It feels familiar and new at the same time, and the best part is I get to share it with my new little sidekick.
Of course, this is just my experience, and I’ve always been independent and impatient! My approach has been to try and be kind to myself, and to work within my new limitations. It seems to be working so far – but the most important thing I’ve learned since Baby B came along is that every plan is good in theory, but the reality is so different!