I knew I would put weight on when I was pregnant, and that my body would change. I might get stretch marks, end up with a C section scar, my stomach might never be quite as flat again (although honestly mine was never totally flat anyway).
I thought I was prepared, but I completely underestimated how much it would impact me.
I had a really difficult pregnancy. I struggled badly with my mental health (thank you hormones!). I ended up putting a lot of weight, partly due to medication I was put on.
I had bad stretch marks, and on top of that I had something called PUPPP. It’s basically an allergic reaction to the hormones my baby gave off (I know, sad right?). It caused a painful hive like reaction, within stretch marks. I spent the last couple of months in such agony, dealing with a constant burning, itch (to the point that I was going to be induced early if Pickle hadn’t been premature).
I think most women know about the changes that might occur. It’s a pretty common saying that we’re ‘eating for two’ and jokes are often made about how much women eat during pregnancy. It’s somewhat normalised, and is something we see in the media. I now personally think that perhaps we make light of it too much. I am all for finding the humour in things, I think it’s an important life skill to be able to find the humour in difficult things, but only if we are actually also facing them.
The thing that isn’t at all normalised, is how women look after pregnancy, and how hard that can be for them. Some people are incredibly lucky and don’t get impacted too badly. Maybe they didn’t put on too much weight, get stretch marks, or they have good skin elasticity, so they ‘bounce back’ pretty quickly. For most I don’t think that is true, and certainly not for me.
I’d never seen how a woman looked right after having a baby. Obviously I knew I might look a bit bigger because the baby that had been in there suddenly, well, wasn’t anymore, but I was so not prepared for it. Honestly, I resembled a blob post pregnancy. The excess weight felt like blubber to me, and of course the majority was seriously localised to my stomach. Although I did put on a fair bit of weight, I know that I’m not the only person who was shocked by how they looked postpartum, regardless of how much weight was gained.
Initially I tried not to think about it too much. The focus was on looking after my baby, but there was no hiding from the fact that I felt awful about myself. I’d been told by friends who’d had babies not to worry, that I’d be surprised how much of it was water weight that I’d sweat off. They were true to an extent, I lost a fair bit of water weight, but I was still left with a lot of excess weight, and my stomach loose and sagging.
I imagine the fact that I was also a single parent at that point didn’t help. I had no partner to say ‘you’re still beautiful to me’ or to tell me it was all part of having our lovely bundle of joy. I was left thinking ‘no one is ever going to find me attractive again’ and feeling like the most horrifically unappealing person ever.
So, I began to eat healthily. I couldn’t exercise because I had a traumatic birth and episiotomy (ouch), so my stitches were healing. Then I had major surgery and was healing from that for around 10 weeks.
Eating healthily seemed great. I joined weight watchers and their point system was massively helpful. I would weigh myself semi regularly, and I was proud of myself. However, that very quickly didn’t feel like it was good enough. The thought of being that big, having such angry looking stretch marks, excess skin on my stomach, being so awfully disgusting as I was in my own head, was really hard for me, and things took a turn for the worse.
I found myself not eating enough weight watchers points (calories) a couple of times, by accident. That was really bad for me, I ended up noticing ‘hey, I can function on less food’ and subconsciously I began to cut points. Initially it was just a point or two, but after a month I realised I’d got to the point where at least half the week I was only eating around 50% of what I should. The rest of the time I was eating about 75%. I was weighing myself daily, and every day that I realised I’d eaten less I would feel fantastically proud of myself. The less I had eaten the prouder I felt. I was regularly only eating a piece of bread for lunch, or skipping lunch if I could. My dinners consisted of 90% vegetables, with barely anything else.
I noticed that it was a problem, and tried to say something to my Mum, but I wasn’t able to fully speak up about how much of a problem it was because I was losing weight fast, and I kind of loved it.
A couple of weeks later my Mum took on board what I was saying, how much weight I’d been losing and she spoke to me about it. It was also becoming increasingly obvious because I was struggling physically. I had no energy, I could barely find the energy I needed to entertain my baby because I didn’t have enough sustenance, my memory was badly impacted, and I constantly felt like I was about to get ill.
I’ve always struggled with some body dysmorphia and self confidence issues, as a young teen it nearly crossed over into eating disorder territory. I have friends with eating disorders, and I’ve seen their battles. I have a good understanding of how tough they are. 50% of me thought ‘I’ve got a handle on this, I’ll do it till I get back to my weight pre-pregnancy and then stop’ but the other 50% knew damn well it was a slippery slope, I already struggled with seeing myself as bigger than I was before I got pregnant, so how was I ever going to see myself as an ‘ok’ weight afterwards?
I approached my perinatal key worker, and admitted that I had a problem. She was great, and really helpful. We talked about whether a referral to an eating disorder clinic was a good idea straight away, and decided to try to manage it ourselves first.
I realised I wanted to be ok more than I wanted to be thin. So I started trying to eat enough. The next few days were hell, I ate even less than before because it was suddenly the focal point. I would put Pickle to bed and cry at the thought of eating more, because it meant I would stay looking ‘vile’. I would also cry because I wanted to eat enough, but couldn’t. It was such a conflicting place to be in mentally.
After a few days I found my strength and determination, I began pushing to eat more and although it was a gradual process, I’ve now been eating the right amount of calories for about 4/5 weeks. I still have to try really hard to not cut them, there’s always a niggling voice in the back of my mind saying ‘psst, you know if you cut a few calories, here you could lose faster’ but I keep telling that voice to fuck right off, and reminding myself that being healthy for myself, and most importantly my daughter, comes way before me being thin.
One thing really bothers me. when I spoke up about the eating difficulties I was having. I found out that it’s actually really fucking common. Postpartum eating disorders and unhealthy relationships with food are a very real thing. Many women find themselves in a situation like I did after giving birth. The chances are increased if you’ve had problems with eating or body dysmorphia in the past.
So why are we not talking about it?
I’m really lucky that I got out of it as quickly as I did. I’m now 5 months postpartum and am only just start to feel better about myself, I’m finally seeing the changes. My scars are fading, I’ve lost a lot of the weight, my stomach has lifted back up a lot. I’m still not back to how I was before, and it is hard. I know that I would never ever look at another woman and think that she was disgusting. So I try hard to find the same compassion for myself.
If you’re struggling with eating and self-image postpartum, I urge you to reach out. You are not alone. You have my utmost sympathy, you are going through so many changes and it is crazy difficult. I know restricting food may seem the quick and easy solution to your worries but it isn’t, I hope you can speak up.
Your excess weight, your stretch marks and c-section scars, the sagging or loose skin on your stomach, is fucking beautiful. You are beautiful. They’re your reminders that you did something incredibly tough and incredibly wonderful.
Anyone who has been through it, if you feel up to it let’s speak up. Normalise the fact that we look so different postpartum. Let’s do our best to make sure other women don’t feel so isolated and alone through one of the most difficult things they’ll ever do.