I had somehow forgotten about this issue. It came back when I recently introduced myself to someone in a workout class. Let’s call her Ariana. Ariana was younger and at a different life stage: nowhere near having kids. When I mentioned that I had two children, she raised her eyebrows. “Wow,” she said, in an upbeat, admiring tone, “I never would have known you had kids from looking at your body!”
Okay, that felt good (even if it wasn’t completely accurate), but I also felt…ashamed. As if having given birth was an embarrassing stigma I had heroically overcome. I thought of a friend, Jen, who I knew as a strong athlete, a svelte boxer with unbelievable stamina. One time over some kettlebells, Jen had casually said. “You know, until two years ago, I was a hundred pounds overweight. I couldn’t even walk up the stairs.¨
She was proud of her turnaround into a healthy lifestyle, deservedly, but I didn’t want to feel that way about having kids–like the pregnant me was the “before” picture in a weight loss ad.
Anyway, back to Ariana: friendly, well-meaning, super fit. She asked me what I used to ask people, too.
“So, how long did it take you to lose the baby weight?”
And boom, I was transported back to after my first delivery, when I tortured myself with my postpartum obsession to “lose the baby weight.”
I don’t know how I forgot about those long, long months of depressed obsession. I was so worried about “getting my body back.” (Who took it?) Like the 45% of Americans who worry about their weight some/all of the time (a sample of what I’m getting from the nutrition course I’m taking), I used to think about my weight…let´s see…
- constantly during my first pregnancy
- constantly for the first year of my first child’s life.
Let me confess something I still can’t believe I did. On the day I came home from the hospital, during one of those precious hours when my newborn baby was sleeping, I spent my time drawing a line graph in my journal so I could chart my weight loss in the first three months postpartum.
I was hungry for control over something. At that time, everything seemed threatening and relentless. Lack of sleep made most of my awake time feel like a strange, ominous nightmare. But still, looking back, making that chart was a narrow-lipped, self-disrespecting thing to do.
But before I became pregnant with my second child, something changed.
I didn’t make any charts. I didn’t give in to the cultural miasma of misogyny. No longer did I devote thought-hours to monitoring my weight. I prioritized (in about this order) caring for my newborn, aggressive sleeping, waking up at night to worry about work, and the painstaking filling of mini Ziploc bags with breast milk.
What changed? It was a remark from my friend Carrie. I went to visit her and her newborn. Remembering the remark I wanted every library baby club acquaintance or person encountered 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 baby, and said–kindly, but with some serious Minnesota steel, “I just had a baby. However I look is 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 that story of wisdom to everyone I knew (which was mostly library baby club acquaintances and people in the aisles of Giant).
During my second pregnancy, I knew what I weighed only when I went to prenatal visits. I kept working out, because I enjoyed it (and it was my #1 cure for all day morning sickness).
After that delivery, I ordered a new wardrobe of athleisure clothes for my postpartum year. I slept as much as I had frantically worked out after my first baby was born. I’m not saying that solved all my problems, but I definitely didn’t obsess about my weight, and I didn’t get as depressed and anxious. Way better outcomes.
Thinking back to that conversation with Ariana that sparked all these memories, I realized I had been saying the exact same thing to other women when I was in her shoes. Even worse, like Ariana probably did, I thought I was giving them a compliment. I thought I was being nice.
Now this culture we have seems wacko to me. How did we get to where, upon learning that someone has shepherded two humans into existence, the first question we ask is,
“So, how fast did you stop being fat?”
I’d really like it if the culture surrounding pregnancy and baby-having could change. Maybe someday our expectation of women in their postpartum year or so could be, wow. Or, how can I, your boss/elected official/medical professional help you? For now, I try to counteract my earlier bad karma by helping the next generation of people who have babies set reasonable, rewarding health and fitness goals and giving them the tools to reach them.