Before pregnancy, my body was pretty much unchanged since puberty. One year I carried around an extra 30 pounds of beer and pizza weight during my senior year of college, but that is a small blip on the life of this body. If someone saved out my outdated 90s duds from high school I would surely be able to rock them. I'd look hideous in my high-waist intentionally-marbled acid-wash jeans (à la the original 90210), but they'd fit.
The past three years my body has seen more change than in my entire life. It swelled in pregnancy, I gave birth, I nursed. Then I did it all over again, right away. I'm not holding my physique to some impossible or industry-set standard. I'm holding it to the one I'm used to. My "pre-baby body." And I am having a hard time coming to grips with what's left.
I expected pregnancy and childbirth to do a number on my body, but I wasn't prepared for the full range of physical changes. Let's start with the top and work our way down. My breasts went from a small C to a full C before I even took a pregnancy test. My nursing bras, Double Ds, were probably too small. Now after breastfeeding two children for a total of two years, I have nothing. I wear a bra only to counter the concavity that is my chest. I am not talking about small breasts (which are great) or droopy breasts (which are expected). I am talking about what looks like a balloon animal a week after you brought it home from little Billy's circus theme birthday party. Deflated and misshapen. I had no idea that could happen. When the estrogen surged and the milk production began in my second pregnancy I was so happy to see my old friends once again. Sadly, they went missing shortly after weaning my daughter.
Then there is my stomach. The shape of my abdomen is something I can't even describe. The curves of my waist are gone and they are replaced by horizontal waves of extra skin. With dimples. Yes, my stomach may be relatively flat, but it's got dimples. They aren't as cute as the ones on my daughter's face.
Moving down, I am going to skip the entire vaginal area. Not because it's TMI but because I would need to bring in an anatomy expert to explain what is going on at the baby delivery site. What I will talk about? My periods. They are heavier than ever and the flow is so red it looks like something out of a low budget horror movie. Why does that happen exactly? Nothing like that ever happened in my "pre-baby body." It's all new and strange, yet I've been menstruating since I was 11. I constantly wonder, "is this normal?"
Even my non-physical body has changed. I can't eat chicken, which is a food I ate daily before getting pregnant. Now, just the sight of the animal makes me think of raw chicken and I gag instantaneously. I also crave dairy and I don't think I've had a straight-up glass of milk since I was eight years old. I'm not talking about pregnancy hormones which bring on far more intense, but temporary cravings or aversions.
My youngest is 20 months old. Those hormones are gone. These are permanent changes in my constitution. My skin is drier. My hair is thinner. My body temperature has been elevated on a permanent basis, which is the only change that works out well for me. Before having children I was always cold. Now I join the ranks of the normal body temperature creatures and I am free of that silly summer sweater I used to lug everywhere.
There is nothing left of my pre-baby body. In clothes, everything superficially looks the same. This mistakenly prompts people to remark "you look fantastic!" or "I can't believe you've had two kids!" It's always nice to receive a compliment but this one feels more like a jab. The truth? I am so uncomfortable with this new body. Other mothers tell me how lucky I am to look the way I do. What they see on the outside doesn't match what I feel on the inside. They assume I am confident, that I don't struggle somehow --- because I've dropped the baby weight? The truth is I am confident about very little since becoming a mother.
My pre-baby self was carefree and bold. I took risks, threw caution to the wind and turned all my regrets into valuable lessons. My post-baby self is full of self-doubt. Am I raising a good child? Am I doing the best I can for them? Even the superficial, "is this appropriate for a mother to wear/do/say?" Not wanting to make a single mistake for them, I second guess myself and compensate by researching every issue ad nauseam. I try to believe the fact that I care so much makes me a good mother, but I don't have the confidence that other mothers assign to me because of my waist size. I've been a little overweight. It's far easier to lose a few pounds than to be deathly insecure about the responsibility of molding other human beings.
The elusive "pre-baby" status doesn't just have to do with weight, yet that's all I ever hear people talking about. "I want to lose the baby weight," or "these extra 10 pounds are from my children." At most I will hear the occasional, "my feet went up a shoe size" or "I miss going out to restaurants," as if those two insider secrets encapsulate the many changes that come with motherhood. I think if more mothers talked about the real changes in their bodies or the many emotional adjustments, we wouldn't always be looking for our dress size as the tell-tale sign that we are the woman we were before having children. Maybe we'd ask celebrity moms real questions about how they are coping with the transitions and changes, rather than just getting tips from their trainers about ab work-outs.
The fact of the matter is my pre-baby self doesn't exist in any way, shape or form -- no matter how much use I get out of my old jeans.
(photo: SAJE/ Shutterstock)