Maybe The Problem Isn’t Failure To Love Myself

I’ll be twenty nine years old next month.  Five months postpartum with our second tiny miracle. Before my husband and I decided to try and bring our offspring into this world, I can say with confidence I genuinely loved myself.  Loved myself in the way Dove commercials, inspirational Instagram quotes, and your mom tell you to love yourself.  By the ripe age of twenty six, I was happy with the skin I was in.  Most days. 🙂

The thing is, it was a really long road getting there.  You could argue a twenty six year long road.  In middle school I finally accepted the fact that my round face was not the ideal canvas to put short hair on.  Longer hair suits me. I was forced to come to peace with the fact I will never be an American Idol, after singing, “Hello, Mrs. Marsh” one time in choir class warranted several looks of horror from my classmates. FINE, I’ll stick with sports. In high school I finally accepted the fact that my breasts were done growing, and this was it. There was no holding out for one last growth spurt.  I better love them in all their barely a B cup glory.  In college I finally came to terms with the fact that my butt was not going anywhere, and this round goodness was here to stay.  Pants are sometimes still difficult to buy, but lucky for me big ole booties are back in.  Thanks a lot, Nicki Minaj. Chalk one up in the win column for this girl. It wasn’t till recently that I finally accepted the fact that my nose will never, ever photograph well. From any angle. But it’s all good – it fits me.  And if I’m going to be bare boned honest, some days I’m still working on the fact that no matter how in shape and fit I am, my thighs will always be a little thicker. And by thicker, I surely mean strong.

I’m not complaining about any of the above. I am not in a place where I strive for the kinds of perfection magazines, television, and celebrities tell me I should aspire to.  It took twenty six years for me to evolve into a place I love, and I’m happy here.  Most days. 🙂

Then I had children.  In nineteen months I had carried and birthed two exceptionally wonderful children. Healthy pregnancies, and healthy babies.  Between pregnancy and postpartum recovery my body, like all women’s bodies, went through an awful lot.  Stretched hips, fired up sciatica, feet changing size, hair loss, dark spots on my face, swollen extremities, larger breasts that then deflated back down, a perky butt that had fallen right off, and abs that were hidden under a glorious little mom pooch.  Weight was redistributed into different areas, and at the end of those nineteen months, the old me that I worked twenty six years on and grew to really love was no longer who I saw in the mirror.

Cue the well intended postpartum advice.

“You have to embrace and love this body – it gave you your beautiful baby!”

“Be proud of those stretch marks and mom pooch – they are your battle scars!”

“You just need to love yourself. Your body is amazing!”

It makes sense. It makes great sense. I myself have given that advice a time or two. And it sounds so simple. You just love yourself – that’s it.  But it’s taken me two trips around the child merry-go-round to realize that it can be incredibly frustrating to feel like if I didn’t immediately love this new body I was looking at, it somehow equated to me not being grateful for what it gave me.  My body IS amazing.  I AM proud of what it went through and what it has given me. I WOULD do it a million times over to get my sweet little babes out of it. And I DO love myself.  The problem is, in less than two years the “myself” I’m used to seeing, the one I worked on for twenty six years to love, went through repeated monumental changes and she had all but vanished.

It wasn’t me caving into the pressures of getting my pre-pregnancy body back – I don’t care that I don’t look like Kristen Cavallari.  It wasn’t me feeling like I needed to bounce back immediately so my husband would think I was still beautiful – he did anyway.  It wasn’t me trying to shed any evidence that I had carried children – I’m proud of what I went through. At the end of the day, I just wanted to identify with the person I had finally grown to fully love.  Some of those qualities that shaped her. I wanted to wear my old jeans not because it meant I had lost the weight, but because those jeans have been my favorite for years.  I wanted to workout not just to shed weight, but because I loved how perky my butt once was and I missed it. I wanted to shed some weight not because I think I’m overweight or unworthy in my current form, but because I’ve been an athlete my entire life and I wanted that strength back.

The road to becoming a mom is without a doubt one of the most life-altering, world-changing, OH-MY-SHIT, experiences we will ever go through. Friendships change. Marriage dynamics change. Our personal time. How we are able to recharge. Our social life. How we sleep. And the college degree worthy amount of information we must learn on the job. All changes that happen simultaneously. Immediately. So let’s let new moms breathe for a minute or two.  Let’s let them get acquainted with what their days and bodies now look like instead of shaming them into thinking self-love should happen over night.

When it takes so many women quite a significant amount of time to fully and whole-heartedly love themselves, why do we expect new moms to love and embrace all these new changes immediately? Maybe the problem isn’t failure to love myself, maybe its just giving me a few minutes to breathe and get used to this new “myself”.

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The Compliments I Wish More New Moms Received

It used to mildly annoy me. Then for awhile it frustrated me. And now, after having it shoved down our throats repeatedly, it kind of pisses me off.

Olivia Wilde looks incredible just three months after baby! Claire Danes was on the red carpet in a size zero just one month postpartum! I’m pretty sure Kristin Cavallari wore her skinny jeans on the way home from the hospital. And I’m almost certain Gisele Bundchen gave birth during a pilates class and finished her exercises once she delivered. These headlines are everywhere, and every day it’s a new mom that is applauded for an even better version of her body than she had before pregnancy, and she achieved it in no time.

WE GET IT. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WE GET IT.

I’m not on a media crusade here, I’ll leave that to the much more competent, much more influential people out there with the platforms to make a difference. And after really evaluating why it infuriates me like it does, it’s not even that I’m on a jealously rooted rant. (OK, a tiny part of me is jealous). Honestly, it just really makes me sad. It’s sad to feel like the only compliment our new moms receive these days has to do with how quickly they can make themselves look like they never carried and birthed a baby in the first place.

Now please understand I’m not knocking women who, whether through unwavering dedication and hard work or the jackpot of genetics, bounce back quickly. Being healthy and taking care of ourselves should be a priority, and it should definitely be acknowledged.

My problem is, there’s so much more our focus should be on when speaking about women who just gave birth. There is never a shortage of the, “you look great!”s, and “wow, it melted right off you!”s. So much so, they often feel artificial and insincere – its just something people say to new moms whether they genuinely mean it or not. While I know I got them, I don’t remember a single one. The compliments I DO remember, however, had absolutely nothing to do with my physical appearance.

I specifically remember the text I got from a dear friend (who, at the time, I didn’t even know really followed my motherhood journey). Out of the blue, she let me know how fantastic of a mother I was and how she hoped to be “a quarter of the mom that I already am”. I specifically remember the conversation I had with my husband, where he told me one of the biggest reasons he was excited to see our family grow again was because of me, because I was “such an amazing mother”. I specifically remember the conversation I had with my grandmother about how she was so impressed with all the experiences I was trying to give Tayler and all that I was exposing her to. I remember the compliments about breastfeeding, about patience, and about how hard I was working around the clock to give Tayler everything she needed. Those words all stuck with me and helped build me up because they acknowledged the kinds of qualities I think really matter to new moms. The qualities our focus should be on when speaking to new moms. Those were the compliments that reminded me my energy was being spent in the right places.

I imagine Us Weekly would have to shut down if they changed their focus. I’m not sure the headline “Olivia Wilde is an avid baby wearer!” would sell any copies. But for those of us who are around your every day new mom, the ones who don’t have night nannies, who make their own meals on a budget, and who try and squeeze in a jog or some squats when they find a free 20 minutes and their energy isn’t completely zapped – acknowledge something more than just her physical appearance. Let her know you’re in awe of how natural she is in her new role. Tell her you respect how hard she works at work and then comes home and works with that same tenacity. Let her know that despite the few hours of broken sleep she got, you admire how she’s able to keep her patience and provide lovingly for her infant all day long. Reach out to tell her you revere the fact that she has the confidence to go against the grain, knowing what she is doing is best for her and her baby.

A new mom has so much more going on in her life than only worrying about how far she is from her pre-baby pant size. Not only that, but many women love their new motherly shape and don’t want to look like they did before children. We need to acknowledge that fact and change the conversation so our new moms can focus on the things that matter and be reassured their priorities are in the right order. Compliment her heart, soul, and fierce love for her babies. Those are the qualities that are raising exceptional little people – not the inches around her waist.

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