It’s hard being pregnant. Labor is hard. Giving birth is hard. And you know what? Postpartum is hard too, especially the way we talk about postpartum bodies.
Only a week or two after Lucy’s birth, a couple well-meaning relatives told me that I didn’t even look like I’d had a baby. They meant to say that I looked healthy and that they were impressed that I was up and about, but their words hurt. As I looked down at my tiny little girl, I felt territorial. I wanted to claim her. I wanted everyone to know that this is my baby. I grew every inch, every cell of her perfect body inside of mine. I felt her growth in morning sickness, back aches, tiny kicks, and exhaustion. My body labored with her and partnered with my husband and God to bring her into this world. I wanted the all of that work to show.
I’ve noticed the phrase “get your body back” come up everywhere. New mothers use it. Advertisements for exercise or diet programs use it. They insist that your belly and thighs, stretched out and deflated, are not the real you. You should use special oils or lotions to fade scars. Start your exercise regimen. Eat less. Because this post-birth body is like some evil twin that you must vanquish and subdue. The faster you look like your pre-pregnant self, the better you are. Erase all evidence that you spent nine months growing a tiny human and you are now continuing to nourish that human with nothing but your own body.
I can’t “get my body back” after having Lucy though, because I never lost it in the first place.
This body of mine, which may seem a little overweight or a little stretched out to some is the same body that ran the 400 meter dash at the State Track Meet in high school. This is the same body that has climbed mountains and ridden bikes and cradled babies and lifted toddlers. This body has worked and loved and brought me so much joy. This body has carried and birthed two beautiful babies.
I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t exercise and keep our bodies healthy and strong. In fact, I think those things are essential. I’m just suggesting that we change the way we think about our bodies and about health. Exercise and healthy eating should be motivated by love and a desire to care for these incredible bodies that God has graciously given to us, not by a desire to attain a visual goal: to match the impossible images plastered on our magazines and flashing on our computer screens.
I believe that we should exercise to feel good–not “feel good” as in feeling good about ourselves because we fit the cultural ideal for a beautiful body, but “feel good” as in the feeling deep in your muscles and bones that lifts your mood and energizes you and makes you more capable of being the very best mother, wife, friend, daughter, sister, human that you can be. This is my goal. This is what I’m striving for as I adjust to being a mother of two. I am trying for real love for my body. I’m trying to find energy, peace, and joy through exercise and healthy eating instead of asking a scale to quantify my self-worth.
“And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.” Doctrine and Covenants 89:18-20