Lately I’ve been dealing with something new to me. It’s a challenge that I am working to overcome and one that I am not used to dealing with. It all started when I was scrolling my Instagram one day, just six weeks before I had my son. I saw a cute girl who had just had a baby! She wasn’t perfectly glamorous. The picture she posted on Instagram in the hospital was very authentic. She wasn’t wearing makeup and actually looked like she had just given birth to a baby. It was so refreshing! I was grateful to be following her!!
As the weeks went on, I watched how her post partum body change. Her belly started tightening up, she was losing baby weight she had gained in pregnancy, and she looked so fresh! By three weeks post partum she shared an enthusiastic post about fitting back into her pre-pregnancy jeans! I trusted the image she was sharing because I had been touched by her authenticity after having a baby. Slowly I was nearing the birth of my son, and I was actually feeling hopeful about my post partum body.
Then I had my son. I worked very hard to be kind to myself when I went home looking 20 weeks pregnant. I worked hard to be kind to myself when I only fit comfortably into pajamas for two weeks. I worked hard to be kind to myself when I finally put jeans on…and they didn’t fit. I worked hard to be kind to myself when I was still wearing maternity jeans at my post partum check-up (7 weeks after giving birth to my son). But then something snapped. Something hit me.
At about eight weeks post partum, I spiraled into a poisonous slump of comparison. I’ve never felt anything quite so strong and discouraging as I felt looking at mom after mom on Instagram and then looking in the mirror. I have never been so unappreciative of my reflection. Never mind that I grew a big baby boy for nine months. Never mind that I brought him to this world through a labor of love. Never mind that it took my body nine months to stretch and grow to accommodate that boy. Never mind that my body is STILL providing food for my growing baby. Somehow I ignored all of that and despised the girl in the mirror for not being in the physical shape I wanted her to be in.
And it only got worse! Every time I couldn’t do something, every time I saw a picture from the past, every time I tried on those jeans again. It was like an illness!! I have NEVER experienced anything like that.
I was never the girl who talked bad about herself to people. I’ve never been self-deprecating. I’ve always had a healthy self esteem and self confidence. And suddenly after the greatest physical feat of my entire life, I was being harder on myself than ever before!
It didn’t take long for me to realize I desperately needed a change. The first thing I did was remind myself that everyone is different. The “perfect” moms I saw on the internet were built differently than me. Stretch marks are genetic. Some women get them , some women don’t! Their bodies before pregnancy were different than mine, so naturally their post partum bodies would be different too!
Next, I reminded myself that I am not better or worse than the people I see online. We are all unique and different.
Third, I gave myself a break. I reminded myself of all the things I had gone through in my post partum journey so far INCLUDING having my physical activity limited due to healing from labor and then having my gall bladder removed a few weeks later.
Next, I looked at myself in the mirror and tried to say three nice things. This was harder than I thought it would be. It was hard to look past my belly that is so covered in stretch marks that I look like a tiger. It was hard to look past the saggy skin and cellulite. It was hard looking at the scars from my gall bladder surgery, that dimple my skin in strange places. It was hard to look past the bags and dark circles under my eyes from long nights up with the baby. It was hard to look past the spots on my hair line where my hair is falling out and new hair is coming in (yeah, that’s a real thing after pregnancy). It was all hard. But as I looked deeper I noticed the good things.
Finally, I remembered the Serenity Prayer I learned while working at a rehabilitation center in the mountains: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I made a plan to do what I could and accept the rest. I don’t have a magic solution to give you. I don’t have some intense diet or fitness plan to present. I simply adopted the philosophy of eating a little less and doing a little more. Sometimes eating less means just eating less junk. In other words, choosing good snacks over bad ones. Sometimes doing a little more means walking a little further or doing yoga for a few extra minutes. Through it all, I try to make sure I treat myself positively. When I’m exercising, instead of being angry that I can’t do all I used to be able to do, I remind myself that I’m doing more than sitting on the couch all day.
A few other things I have done to help my confidence and reduce comparison are:
- Keeping a better sleep schedule.
- Developing a routine and completing chores daily.
- Wearing clothes I feel good in, instead of trying to force my body into clothing I wore before I had a baby.
- I got a hair cut! You’d be amazed what a fresh new do can do!
- Exercise daily. Even if it’s only a walk! I get up and get moving.
- Eat smarter. I try to fuel my body instead of indulging it.
- Get ready every day. I got lazy after having a baby, and it’s been very positive to get completely ready every day, even if I don’t need to be anywhere.
- Yoga!! Maybe I sound like a hippy, but yoga has helped me physically (because it’s a dang good work out) and mentally by allowing me to be present and find a good head space. I’ve been doing 30 Days of Yoga on YouTube.
- Limit my social media usage on days when I am feeling more vulnerable or susceptible to comparison.
Here’s the thing. As people, but especially as women, we become hyper-critical of our outward appearance. But we aren’t doing ourselves any favors to compare our bodies to others. The fact is, if we are unsatisfied with our bodies in the present, who says we will accept them in the future? I have resolved to love my body, to take care of it so I can keep having babies, to get in shape so I can chase around my children and grandchildren forever, and to appreciate where I am presently. It’s not always easy, and I still have days where I am discouraged, but I know that my body is a gift from God, and He will consecrate my efforts.
One last thought. Yesterday I joined my husband, brother, and his friend for a game of Spikeball in the yard. It is the first time I’ve played all summer. When our game was over, I realized that my efforts are paying off and that I’m in better shape than the negative voice in my head says I am.
You’re doing much better than you think you are.
Thanks for reading, and God bless you and yours!
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