If you were to look up my bum in the dictionary, you’d most likely find it under D (for ‘dimply’) rather than F (for ‘firm’). Most days, I’m totally fine with that.
Some days, I’m not.
After I had my first child, I bounced back relatively quickly (second degree tear aside). I had loads of energy, despite the lack of sleep. I slid back into my pre-pregnancy jeans about four months postpartum, which I thought was pretty good. And because the pregnancy gods smiled upon me, the lovely, glowy pregnancy skin stuck around, none of it tainted with a single stretch mark.
Enter baby number two. I thought I knew what sleep deprivation was. I didn’t have a damn clue. Pre-pregnancy jeans? I’m sure they’re in my wardrobe. Somewhere. My hair is still falling out at a rather alarming rate, my face is speckled with pimples, and stretch marks reach around my soft hips and saggy tummy.
Which brings us back to my self-esteem. It’s hidden somewhere in the depths of my wardrobe, along with those elusive pre-pregnancy jeans. I still feel like I had a baby six days ago, not six months ago. Because I don’t sleep, I need to eat loads to keep up with the endless breastfeeding and a toddler with a real zeal for life.
Because I’m a young-ish mum, I feel particular pressure to look just as I did before babies. Time is on my side! I should bounce back no problem! So when I find, six months later, that I still carry all the physical hallmarks of a new mum, I conclude there’s a massive problem that needs to be resolved immediately.
It’s a totally illogical form of existence, but we all do it: measure ourselves now against who we used to be. This is completely unreasonable. After you give birth, after you start raising a child, after you change your whole way of living, you are not the same person. Not mentally, not emotionally, not physically.
We automatically adjust our mindsets to the new tiny person in our lives. We don’t think twice about putting their needs ahead of our own, sleep be damned. Crying freely (and often) because of, well, anything is now the norm. So why is the new size of our bums (thighs, tummy, hips, your choice) less acceptable?
I am a secret online forum reader. I often read a first-time mum comment in sheer horror at the prospect of a stretch mark or two. Stretch marks? I think. Just wait until you see your new vagina. What made us live in fear of these things?
The attitude of ‘Take my eyes but not my supple skin!’ is not only unrealistic, it’s exhausting. And quite frankly, when we’re putting in a full day between the hours of 7PM and 7AM, we should be finding ways to conserve energy, not expend it.
We worry about the seriously warped body image traps society and the media thrust upon highly impressionable young girls, but the same thing is happening to new mums. The endless lotions, exercise regimes and diets promising a reduction in the appearance of stretch marks, body fat or whatever else you’re trying to erase from your new body are peddled to us on a daily basis. And we allow it to consume us. Make us feel like we have to be just the way we once were to be ourselves again.
But we’ll never be those women again. And we shouldn’t want to. Having children can only improve us. Carrying a baby, giving birth to it and nurturing it physically and emotionally makes us more resilient, more selfless, more loving beings. Nature is helping us to improve ourselves from the inside out.
When I feel like I may never button my jeans again (or wear trousers involving a button), I run my fingers across my stretch marks and saggy tummy. And I think of how lucky I am to have them. Because without them, I wouldn’t have my babies. My family. My new life.
Let’s not focus on bouncing back. No one wants to go backwards in life. Let’s leap forward into a future where we strive to be excellent parents and strong women. Where we enjoy our lives and remember the gifts we’ve been given. Even if those gifts stretched the shit out of us and gave us new vaginas.