Coping with Societal Expectations in the Postpartum Season

I Am Not Defined By My Weight - Part VIII Postpartum

This piece is Part 8 of a 9 Part Series called I Am Not Defined By My Weight, inspired by Rachel Hollis' book "Girl, wash your face". 

I’ve been trying to write this post for about two months now, and I don’t know why it’s been so hard.

It might be that I still consider myself in the postpartum season even though I think the medical field refers to postpartum as the 6 weeks after delivery.

Yet, as any woman who has given birth will tell you, the after-effects of labor do not disappear after 6 weeks.

We delight in the beauty of a butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty. – Maya Angelou
 
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This isn’t about the gory details of labor (maybe I’ll share that story in the future) this piece is about how my mind and body image were affected.

By now, if you’ve kept up with the previous posts about childhood, teenage years, college, and marriage, then you’ve seen that my self-worth has always been pretty low—until pregnancy. Something changed in pregnancy that allowed me to accept the season I was in and relish in it.

 
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Societal Expectations

Part of me wants to attribute it to our current culture. See, society doesn't expect a pregnant woman to be thin. They expect a beautiful round bump; they expect swollen limbs and potential acne. If anything, I think the women who are incredibly fit might get more negative attention than the average woman who gains 10-50 lbs.

But, as soon as that precious baby is born, society has a different expectation for you—how quickly can you look like you’ve never had a baby?

That societal expectation leads to pride in how quickly you can bounce back and look like you didn’t just push out a watermelon.  If you don’t bounce back quickly, then, shame sets in because our bodies still cling to those pesky pounds and lower belly pouch.

(I think my body forgot it doesn’t need the extra space anymore.)

Then, there’s the breastfeeding myth where everyone tells you that you’ll lose tons of weight if you breastfeed.

But let me tell you, that is not the case for everyone. I nursed my daughter for slightly over a year, and the weight didn’t easily shed off. I felt like a ravenous dog, always starving and looking for food. Sure my body was burning more calories, but I was also consuming more calories as well.

For the first few weeks after delivery, I saw the weight drop and it was glorious.  In a delirious state, I didn’t attribute the weight loss to all of the excess fluid that my body was retaining, but wishfully hoping it was the extra fat that had accumulated over the years.

About 20-30 pounds later, my weight loss became stagnant. In my pregnancy post, I told you I gained a lot of weight and after delivering my baby girl, about half of it shed off without extra effort.

The only thing glorious about my body was my big boobs I had prayed about my entire life.

Everything else was just—different, squishy, and weak.

A Different Body

I remember taking Natalie out for a jog on the track at 5 weeks postpartum and it felt like I had never run a day in my life.  All the hard work from the past 7 years was down the drain.

I instantly regretted taking it easy during my pregnancy, not running through the pain, and why had I allowed myself to gain so much weight!

That day on the track, those positive feelings of self-worth and self-love shattered. I was no longer in love with this body that a few weeks ago, had given life to our baby girl.

Some days I still look down at my squishy lower belly and try to suck it into no avail. I look at the stretch marks and remember the baby that was inside.

I don't want to have negative feelings about such a blessing. All of those changes were a direct result of having a child. They are a constant reminder that I am not God. My body is not perfect.

I have two choices.

  1. I can accept the trial set before me is mine to conquer and lean on God to get me through every step of the way.
  2. Or I can compare myself to the many women who seemed to bounce back without effort (I know this is a lie, it all takes work) and tear myself down, never seeing the hope right in front of me.

God Knows

Most days I want to take option 2. I compare myself to all the thinner mommas, stronger mommas, prettier mommas and it takes every ounce of strength I have to remind myself that God created every single thing about me.

He knew what my struggles would be and He wants to use them for His glory. So I can allow this trial to glorify the sin in this fallen world, or I can use this trial to glorify Him reminding myself that my salvation is not dependent on my fitness or weight.

Seems so simple yet so difficult to do.

It takes preaching to yourself on a daily basis.

I may not be made to be a fitness model or a mom who bounces back quickly, and that needs to be okay.

It isn’t about loving yourself (although I do believe that’s important),

In her book, Humble Roots Hannah Anderson put it best,

Simply learning to “love your body” will not free you from shame because, at times, your body will feel very unlovable. What will free you from shame is humility; what will free you from shame is accepting that you are not and were never meant to be divine. (p. 89)

5 Things to Preach to Yourself

  1. You were never meant to be divine. You will have imperfections, and they will be different than other women around you. Instead of focusing on what you wish you were, focus on how your imperfections can glorify God.
  2. Just because she seems perfect doesn’t mean she is. You were meant to carry your struggles, not hers. Don’t focus on anyone else but you.
  3. Your salvation is not dependent on your fitness level or weight, so don’t give it more power than it deserves.
  4. Slow progress is still progress. Every day that you work harder to be better is progress. It might not show on the scale or on the measuring tape, but for every extra donut or pizza you resist, progress is made in honing your discipline.
  5. Self-control / discipline is a muscle that you need to practice often. You can’t just wish or pray to have self-control. You need to work at it. Every choice is exercising that muscle. Every choice matters and helps with overall progress.

This is my attempt to glorify God through my trials. I hope these words brought you comfort and encouragement to continue the race set before you. If this post resonated with you, feel free to leave me a comment or email me. I would love to hear from you.

Until then, keep on pursuing Him.

- Cynthia