I had a baby seven months ago, and I probably haven’t lost any weight since. I say ‘probably’, because I won’t weigh myself. I don’t remember the last time I did.
I wasn’t a beautiful, pregnant woman. When I was pregnant with my twins, we took regular photos to document the pregnancy and my growing stomach, but we didn’t this time around. This baby barely had a place to sleep 24 hours before she arrived, so it was unlikely we were ever going to manage weekly photo updates.
But I also didn’t particularly want photos taken.
My body doesn’t suit Insta-worthy images of a delicate bump swelling above a bikini bottom as its wearer gazes thoughtfully out to sea. There was no joyous pregnancy announcement featuring the exposed abdomens of my children and me. I was fat before I got pregnant, I stayed fat once I was pregnant, and I’m still fat now. I was not a blossoming flower to be celebrated.
There have been times when I have been slimmer. I was most successful at losing weight when I obsessively limited what I would eat and how much. Diet and exercise became my entire focus. I read constantly about food and exercise and theories on which diet is most effective. Three children later, I can’t devote myself in that way: I am tired and preoccupied and when everyone is finally asleep I don’t have the energy to hack at a celeriac or grate cauliflower rice. When your concept of eating is based entirely on all or nothing, it feels impossible to occupy a space in between.
My baby was born on our bathroom floor, caught by my husband after a labour that progressed faster than anticipated. It was the most incredible experience of my entire life. After, I sat on the floor, naked, cradling this little girl, wrapped in blood-stained towels while we waited for the paramedics to arrive. She was quiet, but healthy, and I couldn’t stop gazing at her, stroking her little face, touching her delicate hands. We don’t have a single photo of that moment because I was too embarrassed of how I looked, too afraid to look back and see my sagging breasts and floppy arms.
I’m so angry with myself for that. A once-in-a-lifetime image lost because of my own self-consciousness.
The truth is that my preoccupation with my fatness dominates almost every single moment of every day. I read birth stories and feel jealous of women with lanky legs and thin arms cradling their new-born infants in birthing pools. I see other breastfeeding mums in cute little outfits, and feel ashamed that my body is best suited to a sack. I read a blog where the writer described summer dressing as being ‘so easy’: you just toss on a pair of shorts and a top and go. Summer dressing is exhausting for me. Does this dress fall below the knee? Are my upper arms covered? Do I have a clean vest top to wear underneath this other top, so I can be sure there won’t be a sliver of stomach peeking out? I won’t even sleep in pyjama shorts because I can’t bear the feeling of my thighs touching.
It isn’t a matter of adjusting to a post-baby body, or snapping back to the body I had before. I have nothing to reclaim.
I wonder how much time I spend mentally berating myself for this failing, this body that can grow and sustain a baby, that can race a child on a scooter, that can hunt for dinosaurs in the forest or give a comforting cuddle before bed. This incredible body, which has done so much for me, and which I hate because it takes up too much space.