In my experience there are few things that test your confidence, self esteem and self worth more than having a baby. I found and still find myself struggling at times with body image and sense of self during pregnancy and after having my young son, Owen. I can’t say I’ve always been particularly strong in the confidence department, but it was something I actively worked at and was improving upon daily, that is until pregnancy happened.
All days I would look in the mirror and love my baby bump that is now our beautiful Owen, but as I scanned the remainder of my body the joy and love I felt soon turned to shame, disappointment and even sadness. The cute baby belly only went so far, but the swollen feet and hands, the extra weight evenly dispersed across my body, my changing hips, growing stretchmarks and increasing discomfort were all too great to go unnoticed. Pregnancy is truly beautiful and amazing, and I knew that, but the changes were often so great that I would find myself overwhelmed and doubtful that my self esteem could handle this trip into motherhood.
After reaching the end of my long hard pregnancy filled with endless problems and complications, my self esteem was at an all time low. My discomfort was high, and increasing was my fear of the upcoming labour and the aftermath that was sure to follow. I knew everything would be different, my life would be changed in a blink of an eye, but when that labour started and ended, when my baby boy was born, the very last thing I was thinking about was my body or my confidence. In one moment my world changed for the better and the negative background noise faded away for days while I just basked in the glow of my sweet Owen. This is proof to me that all those worries about body image are pointless and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Your perfect, or not so perfect body, does not make you or break you. You are a beautiful individual no matter what, and your worth goes far beyond your pant size or the number on the scale. Unfortunately, even the best of us struggle with this concept and during harder times in life the weight of the world can make us doubt our own importance, our unique beauty, our incredible minds and our perfect souls. This storm-cloud of negativity came creeping back only a couple weeks after we had brought our baby Owen home, when the sleepless nights and extreme exhaustion were overwhelming, and when I realized just how much my body had changed as I struggled to find anything in my wardrobe that fit me. Baby bellys were cute, but empty baby bellys were not nearly the same. I remember my pregnancy clothes being just too big and not flattering to my new babyless body, yet my old clothes were far too small. I was uncomfortable in everything I put on, not only by my appearance, but physically everything was too tight or too baggy and I was unable to relax. Even though I had walked out of the hospital almost 20 lbs lighter, I realized I still had much work to do. Luckily I was breast feeding and I found the weight began to easily fall off during the next couple months, which is nice, but it still didn’t bring back the old me or my old clothes, and I knew that eventually that would plateau too. I found as I fell further in love with my baby boy and into the role of parenting, my personal time and interests were pushed to the wayside. This is very normal. It seemed as my confidence on one side grew (in my parenting skills), on the other side my sense of self and self love diminished from lack of person time. I was now bombarded with the fear that I was beginning to lose myself not only in body, but also my individual person as well. It was strange, being a mother gave me strength and confidence in many aspects of my life, stronger in ways than it had ever been, but I learned that if I refused to remember my loves and interests outside of my son and mothering, that I would eventually lose myself and self esteem all together. There is a delicate balance to life and happiness, and when children come into play it’s even more difficult to balance. It’s true, you will almost always put your children first, it’s not something you have to think about, you just do it. Just remember to carve out a few minutes or an hour as often as you can to nuture your soul, your self and your happiness. Read a book, soak in the tub, do something crafty or go for a walk, do anything you would have done pre-baby, just do something a little special for you. In order to keep your mind and body growing as strong as your baby, you need to nuture and love yourself too.
After all these realizations, and very low points, I started to make a point of focussing on me whenever possible. In the beginning is was very difficult with a fussy, mommas boy for a son. I was lucky if I could write some short blog posts every couple weeks, but I stayed diligent and gave myself a few minutes me time whenever possible. This usually happened during our little ones naptime. I always hear nap when your baby naps and I couldn’t agree more. You will need your strength. Typically I’d spend 15-30 minutes writing and then nap with baby for the remainder of nap time. Some weeks I’d write through one entire nap time and sleep the full duration of the others. It completely depends on you and your needs, just be sure to stick with it. After I found my groove, and baby and I learned each others tricks and routines a little better, I was able to try some more me things. I joined a ladies golf league once a week, and my parents sit my little grump for a few hours. I hosted my sister-in-laws bridal shower so I could do all the pinteresty, crafty, art stuff I love and accomplished this during naptimes, family visits (people come for the baby so take advantage of the hands-free time), and during baby daddy bonding time. I figured it out, and even though there are still days my best laided plans are foiled by a grumpy boy, a boy who now rarely naps, I’m making sure the me I love is still present. I’m no longer losing me, instead I’m evolving and becoming a better version of myself. No longer am I just Bee with my interests and hobbies, I’m also a parent, a mother, a unique individual, and a woman with a purpose far beyond my wildest dreams.
Now that I started to feel better about my person, I began to focus on my body image issues as well. I continue to eat well and exercise, the two best things you can do to regain your pre-baby body. It’s amazing what healthy food and daily walks can do, throw in a yoga sessions at home that you find on youtube and you’re off to the races. But lets be honest the whole process takes time and patience, and after four months everything I have read is true. Be patient, it took nine months for your body to develop, change and create a baby, don’t expect it to change back overnight, expect the process to return of your old body to take equally as long, and if it’s never quite the same again, who cares… you made a baby. Over time I have realized there will always be the rude people who will judge you based solely on your appearance; they will comment on how quickly you should lose the baby weight, or if you have changed since having the baby, if you look differently than before, or are not bouncing back as quickly as they would expect you to. I find my interests and beliefs even evolved and adapted when becoming a mother, your life is inexplicably different and you will be different in so many ways because of it, not just in appearance. I am so much different than before and that is not a bad thing. Not everyone will understand that you can change so drastically and be happy, and they don’t have to. As long as you’re happy with you and the changes, that’s all that matters. Please remember that the nay-sayers don’t matter, they clearly have no tact, no grace, and have definitely never had a baby, because once you have you will only be supportive to those who have endured the same struggle. If they’ve had a baby, well shame on them, because anyone who would bring you down or make you feel anything less than perfect after what you’ve accomplished is not worthy of your time. I know being confident it today’s society can be challenging, but please keep your head up. Surround yourself with supportive people, look in the mirror and notice all the beautiful pieces of yourself looking back at you, and most importantly look at the little one you have created and remember how lucky you are. There are many who would give everything to be able to take part in the wonderment of pregnancy and motherhood and will never get the chance. Be grateful for gifts, your evolution, motherhood, and all the beautiful gifts you are sure to experience because of it. You are incredible, you are beautiful, you are strong and being a mother only makes you even greater version of those things. Never Forget That.
The next time you look down at the perfect, precious, little baby you created, remember you were once that same baby many years ago. You were perfection, innocent, sweet, unique, beautiful in every way, and guess what, you still are. That will never change. We all begin beautiful in mind and body, perfection in our own right, and you need to remember that you will continue to remain that way every day of your life.
May your love of self soar, you only see the incredible beauty that is you, and may you fall deeper in love with your little one and the gift of motherhood.