I had actually forgotten about this issue, but recently, I introduced myself to someone in a workout class. This person was much younger than me–nowhere near thinking about having kids, and someone whose friends are also nowhere near thinking about having kids. I happened to mention that I had two children, and she raised her eyebrows and said in an upbeat, admiring tone, ¨wow, I never would have known that you had kids from looking at your body!¨
Okay, that felt good, even if it wasn´t completely accurate, but I also felt kind of ashamed. Like having given birth was some kind of embarrassing stigma I had overcome. It reminded me of someone I knew who was an amazing athlete, a super fit boxer, and she told me, ¨you know, up until two years ago, I was a hundred pounds overweight and couldn´t even walk up the stairs.¨ I mean, that was a super inspirational story, and she was proud of it, as I think she should be, but I didn´t want to feel that way about having kids. Like me being pregnant was the before picture in a weight loss ad.
Anyway, this kind and friendly young person, totally meaning well, asked me the kind of thing I would have asked, too: ¨So, how long did it take you to lose the baby weight?¨ And I was transported right back to those bad old days when I tortured myself with how long it would take me to ¨lose the baby weight.¨
I don´t know how I forgot about those long, long months obsessing about ¨getting my body back¨ (who took it?), because like the 45% of Americans who worry about their weight some or all of the time (this is just a sample of the fascinating information ´m getting from my T.H. Chan School of Public Health nutrition course), I thought about my weight…let´s see…
- constantly while I was pregnant the first time
- and constantly for the first 12 or 14 months after I had my first baby.
With a ruler, the day I came home from the hospital, I created, I admit, a line graph in my journal on which I recorded my weight loss as the weeks and months went by.
Maybe I was just trying to have control over something during a time when everything seemed threatening and relentless, but it was kind of a narrow-lipped, self-disrespecting thing to do.
But then something changed before I was pregnant the second time. I definitely didn´t make any self-judging charts or give in to the old-timey, misogynistic cultural miasma that made me believe it was important to carefully monitor how much I weighed while I was coping with a newborn, losing my mind from sleep deprivation, waking up at night wondering how I was going to go back to work, and painstakingly filling miniature ziploc bags with breast milk.
What happened was that my friend had her baby. I went to visit her, and remembering the remark that I wanted every visiting friend, library baby club acquaintance, or person I passed in the aisles of Giant to say to me, I greeted her with, ¨you look amazing! You´ve already lost so much weight.¨
She snuggled the blanket around her newborn, and very kindly, but with some serious Minnesota steel, ¨I just had a baby. How I look is just however my body needs to look right now.¨
I, reader of bell hooks and denouncer of dress codes, got schooled in some serious third-wave feminism. I told pretty much everyone I knew (mostly library baby club acquaintances and people in the aisles of Giant) that story, nodding sagely at my friend´s wisdom.
So with my second pregnancy, I vaguely paid attention to my weight at all those doctor´s visits, bought a temporary athleisure wardrobe for my postpartum year, and slept about as much as I had frantically worked out after my first baby was born. I´m not going to pretend that solved all my problems, but I definitely didn´t obsess about gaining or losing weight, and that was way better.
So that encounter that the young person that I mentioned? Granted, we were in a workout class. The context was exercise. But isn´t it kind of wacko that it´s accepted in our culture that the first question someone would ask you upon learning that you have safely shepherded two human beings into existence is how fast you stopped being fat?
I really mean no disrespect to her. I would have and probably did say the exact same thing to ten women when I was at her life stage. I also really like people who are blunt and direct. But at the same time, I´d be so happy if the culture surrounding pregnancy and baby-having changed for the better. I´d like to get to a place where we help women feel positive about and heal their bodies after they deliver babies, where we have empathy and respect for the changes our incredible bodies can go through.