When I was pregnant with my first baby, a friend cautioned me, “listen, right after birth you’re going to look like a deflated balloon and you’ll think you’re doomed to look that way forever, but trust me: it isn’t permanent”. She was right (on both fronts: yes, I looked like a deflated balloon, and yes, it went away). As my due date with my second approached, I readied myself for the changes ahead, assuming they would also be short-lived. Maybe subsequent pregnancies have a cumulative effect on the body, or it is the fact that this was a “geriatric” pregnancy, but it seems this time around, things weren’t bouncing back so quickly.
And it really bummed me out.
At a time when body positivity messaging is omnipresent and self-acceptance inspiration is finally mainstream, I’m struggling to admit that I miss my pre-baby body.
Years ago, magazines and tabloid sites were full of horrible sanctimonious criticism of celebrities and who got their post-baby body back the quickest. It felt awful to watch the physical toll of motherhood be reduced to such pettiness. And sure, that commentary still exists, but there’s also a brilliant and powerful body-positive counterculture, stunning women who wear their stretch marks like beautiful badges of honor. If these responses to post-pregnancy body imagery are on opposite ends of a spectrum, I struggled with where to put myself. It prompted me to ask some uncomfortable questions: Was I a lesser feminist for missing how my clothes fit before I had children? Was I shallow for wanting to devote some of my very limited time trying to claw back a bit of my old self? How much of my motivations are rooted in health versus vanity? And, at my deepest, most insecure self, I wondered whether “good” mothers still care about their appearance or is that also sacrificed at the altar of motherhood?
Beauty, as they say, is skin deep. The changes that I readied myself for were swift. Soon after delivery, I went from pregnancy glow to oh no. In a matter of days, my forehead looked like a blotchy spray tan gone bad. After scrubbing it raw with a washcloth and then eventually turning to concealer, I sought out the help of a dermatologist who said the culprit is likely pregnancy mask, ie., melasma. For some, melasma can be caused by a myriad of factors and is chronic. For others, it will disappear on its own months after pregnancy, along with the line running down one’s stomach in pregnancy, linea nigra, another hallmark of pregnancy hyperpigmentation. Time is the deciding factor in whether or not it is chronic. Short of getting in a time machine and seeing what the future holds for my skin, I just try to ignore it. You read that right: I literally try to ignore the upper third of my face when looking in the mirror. Instead, I gaze upon the plump, perfect little faces of my children, so full of promise and collagen.
I thoroughly enjoyed two pregnancy’s worth of bombshell hair but know that it is a good time, not a long time. After giving birth, 40 weeks of good hair days went down the drain (literally), like a ginkgo tree dropping its leaves.
Hairstylist and salon owner Jason Lee explains that hair has a natural life cycle which includes both a growth stage (anogen phase) and a shedding phase (exogen phase). “Pregnant women experience a continual anogen phase where they describe their hair feeling thicker and fuller and growing longer than usual”, Lee says. While nothing can speed up how quickly hair grows, I can’t pull off the cool mom top knot, so I invested in a very, very good haircut that doesn’t make me feel like I’ve given up. It feels, I don’t know, almost French? With the hair situation under control, imagine my delight when my eyelashes and eyebrows started falling out, too. I don’t wear a lot of makeup and feel oddly naked without lashes and brows.
The cause of this is the exogen/anogen cycle back on its bullshit. Ashley Woodroffe founded Extra Goodie lash serum after her own experience of motherhood set her on a path for clean ingredients. “Eyebrows and lashes go through the same type of growth cycles and can also be impacted by the new balance of hormones that comes with having a baby,” she explains. Aging compounds this, as growth phases naturally decrease and the diameter of hair shafts shrinks. With a lens on clean, non-synthetic ingredients, Woodroffe created a serum to give hair follicles the nutrients they need to yield thicker, longer lashes. Would age eventually rob us all of our lashes and brows, with motherhood simply fast-tracking the process? Maybe, but this feels like a very low-stakes, potentially high-return situation. Gimme the serums, please and thank you.
In addition to once having fairly good if not low-maintenance skin and hair, I used to enjoy the metabolism of a hummingbird. Two children later, my once-athletic build now looks like Mr. Burns: rounded back and shoulders, in a permanent hunch. I saw a chiropractor and acupuncturist with a focus on perinatal care, Dr Aliya Visram, who assured me this is common, albeit uncomfortable. “Pregnancy strains joints and shifts one’s center of gravity, causing rounded shoulders, a tucked-in pelvis (or flat bum) and a hunched neck”, she explains. Then of course, after the baby arrives, the hunching continues as we feed, hold, change and wear them.
My posture is a hill that I’m willing to die on. I feel like my joints are made of concrete when I’m sedentary and exercise is the cornerstone of my postpartum mental health. I’ve resolved to move my body, in any way that I can, every day. It won’t exactly wind back the clock, but it goes a long way for boosting my mood. Plus, I want to role model an active lifestyle to my kids.
Ah, right. My kids. The family that I wanted so badly that I feel guilty for wanting to replace one lost hair on my head because I love them so fiercely. There is no hiding that motherhood has impacted every part of my life, including what I see in the mirror. Mirrors, however, don’t always tell the truth. I met Karmen LaMer, founder of The Tight Clinic. We both had cancer as young women and talked about the dichotomy of never being more grateful for your body and health, whilst also being accurately aware of bodies inevitably change (and not always in ways that we like). She points to Forma as a very effective treatment to rebuild collagen, which she credits with replenishing her own skin after cancer treatment. “I exhausted EVERY technology, the risk of complications from some are scary as fuck. For Forma, there’s no pain, no downtime and no risk – effective as rebuilding collagen anywhere in the body, particularly for firming the face and tightening tummy tissue after pregnancy,” says LeMer. FORMA EVERY INCH OF ME, I was thinking as she spoke. She delivers her dose of optimism with a chaser of realism. Sure, some treatments can help with some things here or there, but she’s often left asking women what’s really behind their motivations for certain treatments or procedures. She sadly sees many women who have developed dysphoric relationships with their appearance. She would rather turn away potential customers than perpetuate unhealthy self-imagery. “This industry is happy to take women’s money and promise them results they can’t deliver. I have integrity and am honest about what a treatment can and can’t do”, explains LaMer.
When it comes down to it, am I losing sleep over a thinner ponytail or curvier body? Heck no. I don’t have any of that to spare (no, literally, I need every minute of sleep I can get). I’ve decided to enter the next phase grateful for the miraculous work that my body’s done, and with a heaping dose of reality about what changes will unearth pieces of the old me. If I thought it was so horrible to see celebrities’ bodies picked apart for how they look on the beach after having a baby, why would I ever do that to myself? Now more than ever, I see that getting to know my postpartum body is a perfect metaphor for motherhood: being uncomfortable and never more confident at the same time.
Image: Brat Co / Stockys.com
What is the fourth trimester anyway? No, it’s not an extra three months of pregnancy (praise be). The fourth trimester is defined as the 12-week period after the birth of your baby, and is definitely more taxing on your body and mind than pregnancy itself. It’s a time when you are adjusting to being a first-time (or second-, or third-time) mom and your baby is adjusting to the fact that they are an actual person. There isn’t much talk about how difficult this trimester is on new moms, probably because the new baby is way more interesting to people than the woman sitting on ice packs and walking sideways.
There Will Be Oh So Many Tears
Tears from the baby, tears from mom, probably even tears from dad. Remember those hormones that made you cry at every dog commercial during pregnancy? Those are now being flushed out of your body at an alarming rate, making you somehow even more emotional than you were during pregnancy. Even if you aren’t really a touchy-feely person, prepare yourself for some big emotions as your body tries to regulate itself. 70-80% of moms experience these postpartum blues, including you non-sensitive types. Not to mention, sleep deprivation will make anyone want to cry.
There’s A Weird Combination Of No Sleep And Lots Of Sleep
When I say lots of sleep, I mean your newborn. Newborns average around 16 to 17 hours of sleep a day. So why do you hear that new parents are sleep deprived when the baby is only awake for 8 hours max a day? Probably because your baby uses torture tactics like waking up every hour to eat, and you’ll be too paranoid to sleep anyway. Most have day/night confusion as well, which basically means they’re ready to party at midnight. Fortunately, with lots of light during the minimal amount of time they’re awake during the day, this issue should resolve itself over time. While your baby is snoozing away endlessly during the day, watch all the Netflix (unless you’re napping) and don’t feel guilty about it. Your baby has no clue and the mental escape is needed.
There Is No Sense Of Routine And No Rules
There are zero rules or routine in the 4th trimester, which may make your head spin if you’re a control freak. It’s sort of like the airport, where you can get a sh*tty glass of red wine at 9am for $25 and not be judged. Similarly, in the 4th trimester (partially due to the ’round-the-clock sleeping/not sleeping), do whatever you want and don’t you dare clean. Snacks that require cutting? Forget about it. Even reheating all those homemade freezer meals you ambitiously made while 39 weeks pregnant may feel like a stretch. Let yourself be lazy AF.
Recovery Takes A Long Time
Your day or two hospital stay is not a good indicator of how long you’ll actually be recovering from the birth for. You’ll probably be hobbling out the hospital doors at one mile per hour with an adult diaper on (friendly reminder to wear the baggiest sweatpants you own). You’ll likely be bleeding for a month or two, and taking some form of painkillers around the clock for weeks. For some reason, another thing that people don’t talk about enough is the fact that you’ll experience contractions after giving birth. Yep, you heard that right. Your uterus is trying to shrink itself from two pounds to two ounces, and does so by pretending like you’re in labor again for a couple of days after birth. Usually they’re not nearly as bad as regular contractions, but they may take you by surprise.
The bottom line is that it’s important to take care of yourself during the 4th trimester as well. It’s not selfish, it’s necessary.
Breastfeeding May Be Natural, But It Definitely Isn’t Always Easy
Did you ever go to a breastfeeding class offered by your hospital while pregnant? If so, you may have seen a video of a day-old newborn baby naturally finding its mom’s breast and learning how to feed on its own. The reality will look more like two nurses and your partner squishing your boob just right while simultaneously opening your baby’s mouth and slamming it into you. Yet even with all that effort, your nipples still bleed.
A mom’s milk supply takes a couple days to come in as well, so new moms get to worry if their baby is starving every time they cry until the next check-up. When it does come in, you may produce so much that you give yourself mastitis, or you may not produce enough. Sometimes it gets better (usually by the end of the 4th trimester), and sometimes it doesn’t (formula is totally cool too). If you are agonizing over the decision, remember that you have no clue which of your coworkers were formula fed vs. breastfed and it would be really weird if you did.
Feeling Isolated and Totally Overwhelmed is Normal
Some moms hate the newborn stage, or at best are totally overwhelmed for weeks and feel guilty AF for it. So if you know someone in the 4th trimester, can we make a pact to ask about how mom is doing first? And maybe bring a meal or clean the house while you’re at it? That would be great.
If you are in the thick of it, remember it’s a stage that will pass. You will eventually form a bond that is absolutely unlike anything you’ve experienced, like a weird “I’d kill for you” type of bond. On the other hand, if you love the newborn stage, don’t feel any shame in taking in those newborn snuggles and not sharing your babe with anyone else.
Don’t feel any obligation to anyone or anything besides you and your baby during this time. Fortunately, your body and mind have a funny way of blocking it all out so you probably won’t remember much of the hazing anyway. It does get better, and seemingly out of nowhere they’ll turn into this funny, smart toddler that you couldn’t picture life without.
If you’ve been under a rock the last few days (same tbh), you may have missed the sh*tstorm surrounding a commercial showing the reality of postpartum recovery. The controversy started when a commercial by Frida, a company specializing in postpartum products designed for babies and new moms, was banned from airing during the Oscars, which were broadcast this past Sunday. There’s no nudity in the ad, but according to Today.com, the “Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences guidelines state that advertisements of ‘political candidates/positions, religious or faith-based messages/positions, guns, gun shows, ammunition, feminine hygiene products, adult diapers, condoms or hemorrhoid remedies’ are not permitted during the broadcast.”
So, what is the actual commercial? If you’re at work and can’t click play, the ad in question shows a new mom carefully getting out of bed so she can quietly pee—a real effort when you’ve pushed a baby out less than 24 hours prior. You see the mesh undies (the stretchy, soft, amazing miracle that makes actually wearing underwear after giving birth tolerable), the big hospital pad (which you need whether you have a C-section or natural birth because of all the blood and shedding of your lining), and the peri-bottle used to keep things clean (i.e. washing off blood and pee since dabbing with toilet paper isn’t very tolerable). It’s kind of delicate, a little sad, a little awe-inspiring, and shouldn’t be offensive to, well, anyone. It’s just a natural part of the process that, honestly, more people should know about.
Here’s the Frida ad in full if you want to see what I’m talking about.
Most people would put this ad in the same bucket with feminine hygiene products, which are apparently also a “no-no” during the broadcast if you didn’t read that long list of unapproved concepts above. So, the question isn’t really why this was banned, the bigger question is why something that happens every day to millions of women is seen as sensitive. Andrea Barrica, the founder of o.school, a judgment-free media platform to learn about sexuality and pleasure, told Betches, “It’s not the first time we’re seeing a brand that puts women’s health at the front and center get censored. This happens over and over again, yet we see, for example, solutions for erectile dysfunction ads on TV and magazines, no problem. As a society, men’s health gets a pass, a green light. Women’s health? Not so much.”
She continues, “Frida Mom’s postpartum ad was an accurate and honest portrayal of what it’s like to care for yourself after giving birth, and it’s a huge shame that this portrayal is something we feel needs to be hidden. For postpartum care showing a real postpartum body to be lumped in the same group as ads of guns and politics is something you’d think we’d move past by now. I hope in the future we can use this a lesson and learn how to be better.” Well f*cking said.
I’m also over here loling that condoms are also considered offensive by the network that brings us The Bachelor every week, where women vie to sleep with a man they just met on national television. This is the network that should, in all honestly, be sponsored by condoms and feminine hygiene products.
Additionally, I find it hilarious that this and other feminine hygiene ads are banned considering the Academy awarded an Oscar last year to the documentary Period. End of Sentence., a short film the subject of which was feminine hygiene and periods in the third world. So, it’s cool and artsy as a documentary, but very not cool if we’re telling every day women about the products that can make their lives easier? Got it.
Being a new mom, commercials like this are a breath of fresh air. Not because it’s graphic (it’s not), but, rather, because ads like this don’t hide what birth and recovery are: messy. It’s not pretty, it’s not filtered, perfectly Instagrammed pics of beautiful, glowing moms with happy infants and adoring husbands. It’s getting up at 3am to carefully pee and change out mesh undies, or readjusting the bandages on your C-section incision, or figuring out how to clean a breast pump with one eye open. It’s sh*t and spilled milk and blood and sweat and a lot of tears. And, honestly, we need to stop hiding it. If someone wants a child, they should know as much as possible about every aspect of it.
Call me crazy, but maybe KNOWING more about pregnancy, birth, and postpartum recovery would help people feel prepared for bringing a baby into the world.
Images: Joshua Reddekopp / Unsplash
“Oh, he definitely could have fit through that tiny vagina, he’s so small.” Words I feel like I have strangely heard before. However, this time it’s coming from the most low-key hilarious doctors a girl could have as they rip my son out of my bleeding stomach during my planned C-section. Drugged up and awaiting my baby’s arrival, I’ve listened to the two of them talk about sushi, beer, my tidy, hairless lady parts, and the Mets—all entertaining, but not as wonderful as the sound of my son’s first cries. There’s nothing in the world like it. I know he’s going to be worth every bit of the hell my body is going to experience in the days, weeks, months, and years to come, and he is.
As pregnant women, we tend to think the relief from an alien invasion of our body is over the second that baby is out of us. It’s the end of running home from the grocery store to puke in the driveway, sneaking hotdogs and Italian combo grinders on the DL, and praying every time you get on the scale that this is the last pound you’re going to gain.
Suddenly, all that is over and you can drink a Bud heavy and have sex like you just got out of prison without worrying you are going to injure the baby, and yasss you can see and touch your toes. Time to start modeling. We think our body is our own again. Think again. It may be our own, but it will never be the same.
There are so many changes in store post-delivering a baby that women don’t talk about or realize until it happens to them and they’re on WebMD and an internet chat at 4am where fake doctors respond to desperate mothers’ questions 9 months later with the reassuring answer “Sounds like you should contact your doctor”. No sh*t.
That’s clearly not going to help you, so here are a few things to expect post-giving birth that you don’t need to call your doctor about or check a stagnant postpartum forum for.
1. Boob Issues
You’re going to have boob issues; just know that. People always talk about the joys and pains of nursing and their nipple problems, especially when you don’t want or need to hear those details. But they rarely talk about the pain of not nursing right out the gate.
The second I got pregnant I knew I wasn’t going to nurse because I was fantasizing about having a glass of wine as soon as the baby crowned. And I also knew I was too selfish to be bothered with pumping anything aside from my fist while watching Jersey Shore with that wine that I waited nine months for.
While I totally advocate for and support breastfeeding, it was never in my motherhood plans. However, if someone had told me that the pain of my breast milk coming in and not being released would be the only reason for me to take the Percocet prescribed to me—that I refused to take even for my C-section pain—I would have probably nursed everyone in the neighborhood’s kids along with mine.
It was some of the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. For about 10 days, there was no relief in sight. My doctor suggested that I induce a day’s worth of diarrhea by drinking magnesium citrate, which would dehydrate me and dry up my milk. While dropping a quick five pounds in a day sounded tempting, instead, I suffered the pain, iced my chest, wrapped them up in tape, drugged myself, and waited it out. Lesson learned: the pain from not nursing is your body’s primitive way of saying get your sh*t together, this kid needs your milk.
2. Blood And Discharge
Blood, blood and more blood. Oh, the good old lochia—the vaginal discharge after giving birth—containing blood, mucus, and uterine tissue, aka, the delivery of the second twin you didn’t know was sharing your uterus with your newborn. I seriously could have named and christened mine and got more money and gifts. What my body passed in the weeks after my baby was traumatizing.
My desire and hope to feel sexy again was shattered not only by this, but also by the adult diaper that I needed to wear for 4 weeks postpartum. However, the silver lining I found in that nonstop hemorrhaging was that the king sized pads I came home from the hospital with came in handy down the road when my period became a regular massacre every month post-baby (and still is 9 years later). And when I ran out of them, I hit up my sister after her baby’s birth. It was like finding gold in her bathroom closet. These elephant pads also are useful for long car trips and situations where you might not be able to pee for a long time, can’t hold it, or might pee your pants if you cough—which yes, are post-baby consolation prizes as well.
3. Your Body Parts Will Grow
No one tells you that when your body parts grow during pregnancy, there’s a good chance that some of them never go back to pre-baby size. Thankfully, I can’t speak about this in relation to the havoc wreaked on vaginas during childbirth, but I am pretty sure stitching mine back together isn’t on my bucket list with the other things involving my vagina.
Hopefully, your stomach will be something that does eventually go back to size, but that doesn’t mean your swollen feet will. My petite size 5’s went up to a 5.5/6, which I don’t really mind because now I can find shoes at Marshall’s, an impossible feat for anyone under a size 7. However, if you’re already a size 9 and are moving on up to a 10, blame the baby. I was lucky to now not only love my son for everything he is, but because he gave me a good shoe size, and more importantly, an ass that celebrities pay for.
During my pregnancy, I was concerned that I started to grow out back rather than the front, which happens for some due to all the sitting on your ass on the couch eating ice cream watching Bravo, but I learned post-delivery that this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I took that gain and added some squats, then bam, there was the butt that luckily became trendy the year my son was born thanks to the Kardashians.
4. Your Hair May Not
While some body parts may get bigger and possibly better, like your boobs and your butt, expect that some do not. One of these is your hair. You may have to say goodbye to the long luscious locks that prenatals gave you as your hormones go haywire. You’ll start collecting your old friends out of the shower drain, talking to them, and analyzing them as you decide to play the game of lining up only washing your hair when you have actual plans and which days of the week you could compromise losing 85 more strands for a good blowout.
All in all, remember that hormones don’t just affect your hair, they run your life. So most importantly, be aware of that and that everything you are experiencing post-baby is a result of what your body just endured sharing it with your little
monster ball of sunshine for nine months. God made women responsible for giving birth because he knows we can handle it and don’t call out over a head cold like men.
So when your C-section scar has a stomach of its own (in addition to your stomach’s stomach), and your hemorrhoids prevent you from doing the really good type of sex, look at your baby and remember that they’re worth all of it. The best you can do is drink the bottle of wine that it takes to go to sleep some nights and cherish every moment with them because they grow so fast and chances are you would do it all over again just to share this crazy life with them.
Images: Ignacio Campo / Unsplash; Giphy (4)