Motherhood Chronicles

The myth of the ‘postpartum bounceback’

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been called fat while obviously pregnant? Me. I have. The rage from this unwanted commentary on my body still makes my heart race. Because, truthfully, a small part of me agreed.

Was worried I was gaining too much while growing a life. That I was taking up more space than I should. Than I wanted to. 

The irony is not lost on me. That of all the times it is culturally appropriate and necessary for a healthy pregnancy to gain weight, there are still limitations. “You’re carrying it well,” my co-workers praised me. “I totally blew up with my first pregnancy,” they admitted. As if it was a competition. 

The mental gymnastics required of women is exhausting. We are inundated with messages to lose weight, stay slim, have large breasts and a robust bottom (but small waistline), and yet when expecting a baby, the opposite becomes true. Our expansion is measured carefully at every doctor’s appointment, an indication of how well we are adapting to the new role of mother. 

The world after giving birth is no less forgiving. ‘Postpartum bounceback’ is a phrase used indiscriminately, as if there was any going back. Stretch marks, hair loss, and leaky breasts aside, there is no returning to the shape of our hearts before welcoming new life through the portals of our bodies. The pressure women feel to go back to work, back to their pre-pregnancy wardrobe, social life, and way of inhabiting the world is harmful.

And powerful.

Because these messages don’t begin when we’re pregnant. It starts so early. The brainwashing so persistent we don’t even realize how often we are checking ourselves in the mirror, scanning our bodies for flaws, stepping on the scale. 

And it’s not just women. I suspect that the need to objectify women’s bodies stems from a deep insecurity within the masculine, too. Who are judged by their appearances and status, their ability to be alpha, dominant, providers, conquerors. How the need to control what cannot be controlled gets projected onto our wild, precious lives. 

Here is the truth: Our bodies are spirit containers. Your body, no matter its shape, size, color, physical ability, gender, or age, is extraordinary. A masterpiece of beauty and miracle. Awe-inspiring. A being to celebrate with the deepest gratitude and appreciation. No matter its current form of ease or dis-ease. 

After my father was hospitalized for a massive heart attack, the doctors and nurses worked for days to save him. Hooked his body up to a machine that pumped his heart, circulated mechanical air through his lungs, dialyzed his kidneys. And it still wasn’t enough. IVs for hydration, medication to control the rhythm and rate, labs to detect and correct any imbalances. Staff working around the clock to do what our bodies do on a normal day, effortlessly. 

Our breath, hardly a conscious thought. The electrical power of our hearts, underestimated at every turn. I could go on and on. It was truly an epiphany. 

I cannot turn the tide of the social shame we feel around our bodies. There is not enough rage in the world to banish insecurity or our addiction to comparison. But I can start with me. With grace and compassion, learning how to celebrate this amazing, life-giving body of mine. Even when my hair falls out. When the crinkles around my eyes deepen, when the number on the scale isn’t what I want it to be. 

When the fever rises. When the back aches. When there are more gray hairs than we have time to pluck. When the pregnancy doesn’t result in a baby. When our brain loses its memory. How can we celebrate it all, anyway? Our bodies, serving us the best way they know how. Spirit boxes whose walls and limbs and lymph will eventually just be spirit, once more. 

P.S. I listened to Beautiful Chorus while composing this essay, specifically, the songs “I am Perfect as I am,” “My body” and “I am Safe.” I highly recommend their entire discography for grounding, healing, affirming music for body and soul.

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