Bodies, pregnancy & birth: “Bouncing back”

Me & baby M, 6 days postpartum

On evening #2 postpartum I had a strange sensation & a thought. I was listening for M’s burp to come, but instead felt my own body shifting back to its previous order. It’s as if my intestines were settling down with a big sigh, my body literally re-ordering itself. I really started to think about what my postpartum body is, would be & should be. While society has come a ways in discussions of the postpartum period & postpartum bodies (both with humor & sincerity), we still have far to go.

So much of what we think about postpartum bodies has to do with weight. It’s no news that our culture is obsessed with women’s weights & for some f’d up reason, we’re almost more obsessed with weight after giving birth than at any other time in a woman’s life. At a time when we should be so proud of our bodies for building & sustaining life, we’re pressured (or allowing ourselves to feel pressured) to change our miracle makers. Women deserve a big ol’ break from the body (self-) talk postpartum, not new demands.

As if taking care of a newborn isn’t enough. As if recovering from birthing isn’t enough. As if reorganizing your innards isn’t enough. As if making breast milk isn’t enough. As if taking a damned shower isn’t enough.

But really, the weight issue is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s the socially accepted code for talking about women’s bodies. What we don’t talk about are all the other body issues that come with postpartum. Losing control over basic bodily functions. (If we’re honest, this includes not only peeing, but also pooping, farting, sweating & crying… Did I miss anything?) Dealing with new bodily functions we can’t control either. (I’m talking about you, leaky boobs!) Worrying about having (good) sex again. Having newborns, then babies, then toddlers, then children who still think of (& treat) our bodies as extensions of themselves. 

Postpartum body issues are about more than how we look to the outside world. And we don’t necessarily have a good way of talking about all this yet. Heck, no one talked to me about the health of my pelvic floor after I had my son over seven years ago, not even my midwife. And certainly no one warned me that I’d still feel “touched out” sometimes by my child seven years later.

In terms of bodily integrity, somehow, having a foreign body growing inside me for nine months has paled in comparison to postpartum (& motherhood, generally…). And it doesn’t help that the healing portion of the postpartum period lasts so long. Feeling bed-ridden for days & then housebound for weeks is hard, especially on the heels of an active pregnancy (heck, I was at work the day before I gave birth!). 

What I came to realize in those early days (as I sat around, nursing around the clock & try to catch fits of sleep here & there…) is that postpartum is such a contrast to the powerful experiences of pregnancy & birth. Suddenly, after growing a human child in my womb, after pushing that baby out with blood, sweat & tears (not to mention other bodily substances!), there I lay, needing help getting out of bed! 

We need & deserve help in the postpartum period. We need to heal & recover. We need to put our bodies’ energies (what little we have left, that is) toward nourishing ourselves & our new babies (& keeping us both alive!). We need to keep our sanity & put a check on those baby blues (not to mention dealing with full-blown postpartum depression). When my mom told me that no one stayed around to help her after she brought me & then my brother home from the hospital, I felt so sad & angry that new mothers have been (& continue to be) so underserved at such a vulnerable time. 

It’s obviously different for each woman, but if I’m honest, part of the reason the postpartum period is so hard is that it is, in some ways, a let down. After giving birth, we need help not only walking to the bathroom or getting dinner on the table… We need help feeling normal & important. We need support in so many ways.

Sure, I may be crazy in love with the new little person in my life, but it’s a bummer to feel so weak & out of control in those early weeks following birth. When my mother in law & husband brought me breakfast in bed the first few days after giving birth, I felt special. When my mom made me an herbal sitz bath, I felt loved. 

Mothers need to “bounce back” mentally before even getting back to a more-or-less functioning body. Fitting into my pre-pregnancy jeans is just not a priority, even if I am starting to work on being more physically active. Feeling some sort of normal is a priority. I’m lucky to have had the help of family getting there.

A few days postpartum, I sat in the bath admiring my soft belly. My uterus was still painfully shrinking back to its former size. My belly button was a weird inny-outy blob & my beautiful linea negra still adorned my strangely pigmented & deflated belly. My abdomen was a bit uneven, as if somehow my liver were now crooked. Or my small intestines we balled up on one side. My nipples were practically scabbed over & slathered in nipple cream. This is ok, I thought to myself. This body, today, is wonderful!

Now, 10 weeks later, I sometimes think that if I put baby girl down in the bassinet for her nap, I could exercise. Some days I do put her in the stroller for a proper walk. Most days I just hold her tight. I don’t need my body “back” right now. My body is all that it needs to be in this moment, even if that means I’m a human pillow for an hour or so.

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2 Comments

Filed under Breastfeeding, Feminism, Living, Mothering, pregnancy

2 responses to “Bodies, pregnancy & birth: “Bouncing back”

  1. Sha

    Beautiful! I love to remind women that the immediate post partum period is the first 3 months, but the extended pp period is as much as a year! A year, until your hormones regulate, a year until you feel like yourself again, a year until you are good at and confident with your “new normal”. Be kind and gentle with your body! It just worked and incredible miracle and deserves time to heal.

    • Thank you, Sha! I love your suggestion that we should give ourselves a year! I hadn’t thought of it before but it makes so much sense… 9 months gestation + 3 months for the 4th trimester = 1 year of recovery. Makes a ton of sense. (And makes our culture of no or short maternity leave in this country even more infuriating). We should start a trend of “postpartum living” for a year, preferably in a woman-centered retreat center! 😄

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