“Mom, can we go to the playground?”
“Not right now. Maybe later.”
“Mom, can we go for a walk?”
“Mommy is tired. Let’s go later.”
Later doesn’t come. And I’m not tired. I am afraid of being seen in the world after birthing three tiny humans. I am afraid because I don’t look how I did before, and the judgment is harsh; especially from myself.
Meeting My Postpartum Body
My three children have seven years between the oldest and youngest. The baby doesn’t even walk yet. My children are in a stage where their needs are great and I am there to fulfill them. I’ve tried to carve out time for needs of my own. Some months I am more successful than others. Mostly, I am perpetually anticipating what they need in order to keep the peace.
After my first child was born, I was aware of myself. I gained about 60lbs during pregnancy and lost about half of it postpartum. My body was very different from the one I had before bearing a child, but I wasn’t distracted much by it. We would take trips to the park, walk all the time, go to the zoo weekly, visit museums, and do all the things I could possibly make happen. I felt good. I was in my child’s world. It didn’t matter if I would run into someone I knew. It didn’t matter if I didn’t have time to shower. If an opportunity arose, we were going to take it. Children are only children once and I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss out on anything.
Mental Health and Guilt
My second pregnancy was hard. There were a myriad of difficulties, but in the end, the baby and I were healthy; for a while. It wasn’t long before I fought a postpartum depression (PPD) that I denied I had because I didn’t want to burden anyone with my struggle. When I finally confessed my thoughts to my husband, I got the help I needed. The guilt that I had deprived myself and my children of those first few years did not go away, though.
As I waded through the guilt, I took less time to attend to my needs. I was home with my children full time and every ounce of energy I had went to them. When I would find a free moment, I would usually nap. I was moving my body less and less. My body changed more. I avoided mirrors because if I didn’t see myself, the version of myself I had in my head was who I was. I would talk to friends or see acquaintances online talking about their weight loss “journey” after having babies. They all looked like they did before, or at least a lot more than I did. I convinced myself that I was failing because my body was still so different. I told myself I didn’t work hard enough, that I was a bad wife, that I was lazy, that I was a bad mom for not looking a certain way. My solution was to shut myself away so no one knew my secret.
We stopped going to parks. We stopped going for walks. We stopped doing everything. I tried to build a utopia under our one roof so we would not have to go into the world where someone would see me and my failure of a body. Then covid hit and made my plan easier.
There really wasn’t an “A-HA” moment when I realized what was really going on. I think the covid pandemic forced me to think about what was really important. I also had my third child during quarantine. I could die today, and I am certain that the people who are important to me would not say, “Tif was great. Well, until she gained all that weight, then she sucked.” I spent a lot of my teens, and 20’s using my appearance to define who I was. That no longer needed to be the case.
I learned some things:
– How I look could be the least interesting thing about me.
– The opinion someone, even someone I love, has about their own body isn’t necessarily the opinion they have about my body.
– I’m happier when I move my body.
– It’s not selfish to care about how I look.
Showing Up Unapologetically
With this new set of ideals, I have been able to show up in the world unapologetically. The beach has seen my belly, the playgrounds have seen my face, and the pavement outside of home has known my feet. I have also found a way to move my body in an act of care, not punishment. I would be lying if I said some days I don’t go out because I don’t like how I look. However, this journey isn’t about changing how I look. It’s about changing how I think. And I think I am doing just fine.