At 38 weeks pregnant as a first-time mom, I am anticipating the most profound transition of my life: entering motherhood.
Over the past nine months of pregnancy, I’ve practiced celebrating my body as it has radically changed to accommodate new life. While I’ve been comfortable showing off a “cute” pregnant belly, other physical changes like a melasma mustache, new cellulite, and swollen ankles have taken more of an effort to embrace. But why? Sadly, I realize I have internalized the societal messages about acceptable female body image, even in a vulnerable and unique time like pregnancy. Recognizing this empowers me to reconsider the false messaging we are fed as women and to seek what is true.
The truth is, it’s all normal, it’s all beautiful, and it’s all a gift — every physical, mental and emotional change that comes with pregnancy and motherhood.
If pregnancy isn’t a safe place for a woman’s body to be free from society’s expectations and judgments, then the postpartum phase definitely isn’t. Women are expected to “bounce back” quickly, lose the “baby weight,” and jump into those pre-pregnancy jeans as soon as possible.
But are we ever really the same?
Furthermore, huge gaps in postpartum care still exist. It is still the norm that women are given an arbitrary benchmark of six weeks to return to pre-baby activities, many times without a proper physical evaluation. Growing and birthing a human places significant strain on the body, often resulting in injury or trauma. So why then, is it acceptable to think that pre-baby activities can be resumed without a progressive plan for restoring a woman’s foundation of health?
As I am close to entering the postpartum phase as a first-time mom, I’ve made the conscious decision that I will not adhere to an arbitrary timeline for postpartum healing. For a while, I will do nothing but rest and care for my baby. I won’t jump full force back into the activities I did before pregnancy and I won’t go at it alone. I will work with my doctors and a pelvic floor specialist and follow an individualized and progressive plan to return to the activities I enjoy. I will listen to my body, give it time, and let it lead me to restoration.
I will slow down, give myself grace as I learn my new role as a mother and focus on other parts of myself, beyond the physical. I will nourish and move my body because I want to, not because I have to. I will ask for help when I need it. I will set boundaries and say ‘no’ to protect my mental health and the well-being of my family. I will embrace and celebrate the new version of myself instead of idolizing my past self. I won’t measure my worth as a mother by my ability to care for my baby AND myself — maybe I won’t appear “put together” and that’s ok. I will remember that this is a season of life that won’t last forever, both the really hard moments and the blissful ones.