My Body After Baby Number 2
I’m in the middle of a body image crisis. It’s been 10 weeks since I gave birth to my second child, and before she was born I was so sure about how this whole postpartum recovery deal was going to go down. Wow, was I naïve! After the birth of my first child, when I was 19, my figure returned within weeks. Just like everyone told me, breastfeeding seemed to make all 17kgs of baby weight melt off. My recovery from the birth was slow as I’d had a physically traumatic birth, but a few walks around the block with the pram once I was able to seemed to be enough to get me back to my pre-baby weight of 50kg and looking like I’d never had a baby.
Now, I don’t say any of this to brag – of course at the time I was well pleased - but rather to show how high my expectations were for round 2.
While I was pregnant with my second child 5 years later, at 24, I wanted to make sure my body was in the best shape to have a better birth experience and recovery, so I ate really well and exercised daily, despite suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum from 8 weeks until delivery. I still ended up putting on about 15kg, but felt really confident that I’d prepared myself, both physically and habitually, to kick it easily after the birth. I worked hard to have a natural water birth this time, and was up and walking around straightaway and went home the same day. This heightened my confidence even more as there was such minimal recovery, so much so that I allowed myself the 6 weeks leading up to my postnatal check to take it easy and eat whatever I wanted. I’m only having 18 weeks of maternity leave, so I figured I deserved to relax a little and enjoy the time off.
My husband had managed to lose 20kg eating well and exercising with me while I was pregnant, but he had 4 weeks of paternity leave and joined me in lounging around the house. As much as I hate to say it, having an overweight husband with much worse eating habits than I did nothing to stop me on the slippery slope I had put myself on, but rather shoved me further. We sat at home and ate crap for those 4 weeks that he was home with me, and did a whole lot of watching Netflix and none of the daily walking I thought we’d be doing. By the time my 6 week check came up, I was 3kg less than I had been at 40 weeks pregnant, yet my daughter weighed almost 4kg at birth, plus the placenta and amniotic fluid – I had gained weight rather than losing it, despite breastfeeding.
After seeing so many inspiring progress shots from users throughout my pregnancy, I decided to start on a well-known, popular fitness program.
It was great at first, if not a little hard to fit in between looking after a newborn and keeping up with my eldest and his school, sport and millions of other activities, and living in a house of 7 it wasn’t practical to follow the eating guidelines (I know, excuses, right?). I was really enjoying the exercises, and felt a massive boost in confidence. By the third week I decided to brave the scales, so sure that my sweaty efforts had to have reaped at least some small reward. Lo and behold… I gained a whole fucking kilogram. You’d think that I’d be changing my diet ASAP after that epic disappointment, but honestly I felt deflated, and of course we then went away for four days with my husband’s parents. My husband gained all his weight living with his parents, and when I realised that my family had barely eaten a single vegetable or piece of fruit in 4 days, it wasn’t hard to see why.
When we came home I felt determined that I’d start eating cleaner and ramping up the exercise. That night, while I showered, my husband handed me our newborn to shower with me. As I held her, she nuzzled in for a feed under the warm running water, and it was such a beautiful moment that I asked my husband to grab his phone and take some photos for me to look back on. Later that night he showed me the pictures he had taken, and I didn’t know whether to launch the phone across the room or burst into tears. I have never particularly worried about my body, it always just looked normal to me, and I’m not a massively vain person, I rarely wear makeup and as a mum my hair never gets styled beyond a “mum bun”, but seeing those photos of myself looking like a completely different person was just devastating, and I have never felt so awful about my appearance. I asked my husband to delete them all right away – I couldn’t bear to see myself like that ever again.
I spent the rest of the night shocked by what I’d seen, and it wasn’t long before all my insecurities came bubbling to the surface and I just felt disgusting. My hair hasn’t been coloured since before my daughter was born and my grey hairs (at 24!) are peeking through, my brows and underarms haven’t been waxed in almost as long, my nails are screaming for a mani-pedi now that all those lovely nail-growing pregnancy hormones have disappeared, I’m a walking, leaking milk machine, and I recently broke a tooth just at the edge of my smile and had to have it pulled out. Like I said at the beginning – body image crisis!
The result of all this has been a complete downturn in my mood every time I shower, change or catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror, but worse than that it’s affected my relationship. I feel like I don’t want my husband to touch or look at me, because he used to at my body in such amazement, and after watching me give birth I feel like I don’t want to further tarnish the way he sees me. I have never worried about these sorts of things before, and I feel ridiculous writing them, but it’s the truth, and I write it because I know so many other women out there feel the same way.
I have less than 8 weeks until I go back to work full-time, and the wardrobe full of beautiful new work outfits (purchased while I was pregnant and blissfully unaware that they wouldn’t fit me) is motivating me to use that deadline to get fit. But despite how it might sound, this is not about looks. It’s about my health – I feel like crap physically, but it’s the mental effects of feeling way less than sexy that are so unhealthy and that I need to improve on. Hitting such a low has made me so excited to make some changes. I feel empowered just knowing that I am able to regain some control, and I feel truly motivated to become healthy and re-learn self-love for my daughter who breastfeeds and will one day see me as a role model, for my son who already looks up to me, for my relationship, and most of all, for myself.