I got pregnant on purpose both times. I went in with eyes wide open, ready to embrace the experience. I knew that my body would likely never be the same. I didn’t give it much thought, though. It was sort of in the back of my mind, along with labour. A fact of pregnancy but surely not all that important. After all, what mother wouldn’t undergo a little discomfort for her children?
I’ve never really been the sort of person to obsess about my appearance. I spend exactly 10 minutes on my hair most days, which is about how long it takes to brush it in the morning and wash it in the evening. I have some cute clothes, but not a lot, and I don’t spend much money on my wardrobe. My workplace is very casual, and my co-workers are predominantly male. I’ve never had much reason to dress up on a daily basis, even before my clothes were constantly covered in spit-up and drool.
Because of all that I was pretty sideswiped when I was pregnant with Hannah and I totally freaked out about my changing physique. As I packed away my regular clothes and started wearing maternity pants I felt out of control and panicked. I felt like I was losing myself, like I would never be the same person again. Part of it was large-scale anxiety about becoming a mother, but an equally large part was vanity. My body image took a big hit.
For me pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding have been exercises in letting go. My body is no longer my own while my babies are laying claim to it. I can’t sleep when I want, I can’t go to the bathroom by myself, I can’t eat whatever I want without thinking of the little people depending on me. Drinking wine, eating brie, being confident that you won’t start leaking milk at an inopportune moment – these become things of the past, at least temporarily.
This is as it should be, I’m not trying to whine or suggest that I would rather bypass the experience. I am lucky to have been able to carry and nurse these little ones. I know many women would give their eye teeth for that. All the same, it’s been an experience that has stretched me, both literally and figuratively.
I have friends who have responded very differently. Who loved the changes that childbearing brought to their bodies. The curves, the attention, the feel of the baby in their belly. And I know others felt new-found confidence in their physical selves, that they did this great thing. That they gave birth to and nurtured their little ones. I think it’s great that they found such power in themselves.
I also know people who’ve had things go wrong. Who ended up having emergency C-sections, or who were unable to breastfeed in spite of all their efforts. Some of them have felt a sense of failure, as if their bodies let them down. I’m not suggesting anyone should feel this way, but I know it happens. It happened to me, too, after Hannah’s preterm delivery and my struggle to breastfeed her. I am one of many women who are simply delighted to be mothers, but don’t particularly enjoy pregnancy or childbirth. Or who struggle with the aftermath when things don’t go exactly as we wished.
After giving birth to Hannah at 34 weeks I was so lucky to carry Jacob to term. But also I learned first-hand that the physical impact of pregnancy is greater when you have a bigger baby. I had heard stories of celebrity moms scheduling early C-sections to reduce the wear and tear on their bodies, and I’d always written it off. But I got stretch marks when I went to term, and my body didn’t bounce back as quickly to its pre-pregnancy proportions. I would never endanger my health or the health of my baby for vanity, but that doesn’t mean that I have to like my ‘mommy tummy’.
I am now nearly 4 months postpartum, and I fit into almost all of my ‘regular’ clothes. It’s taken longer, but I am slowly regaining my normal proportions. But I still look with envy at the photos of myself before my kiddos came along. I am permanently marked from carrying them. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, don’t get me wrong. But it’s still something I struggle with. When I look in the mirror, will I ever see just Amber again? Or will it always be Mama? And can I make my peace with that?
PS – Can you believe the drama in Ottawa? I have no words, which is why I just subjected you to my shameless and tedious self analysis. You know that I’m glued to the news, though.