Coping with Societal Expectations in the Postpartum Season

Coping with Societal Expectations in the Postpartum Season

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.

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In Sickness and In Health: Self-worth in Marriage

I am Not Defined By My Weight - Part VI Marriage

This piece is Part 6 of a 9 Part Series called I Am Not Defined By My Weight, inspired by Rachel Hollis' book "Girl, wash your face". 

Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have, and as I previously mentioned, mine was not the best. It was my mentality regarding weight that influenced my self-worth. I did not love who I was, and because I did not love myself, I could not accept my husbands love either (not in a real sense anyway). My negative self-worth created challenges in the beginning of my relationship and eventually reared it's ugly head after I had my daughter.

In the Beginning

My weight-loss journey started during my college years when I was required to lose weight to join/serve in the Air Force. When most people were gaining their freshman 15, I was losing it, plus more! I had about 25 – 30 lbs to lose to wear the uniform and it took me about a year to lose it.

Unfortunately, losing the weight did not solve the more significant issue at hand—emotional eating and food addiction. I rode the weight-loss train all throughout college, through my first duty assignment, up to current day (1.5 years postpartum).

In the beginning, I would do almost anything to lose the weight.

Severely restrict calories…

Sweat it out in the sauna for hours on end…

Spend hours on cardio machines…

I'd even binge and purge every once in a while...

The sauna and elliptical were not long-term solutions to my weight loss, and so, I would quickly gain back any weight I lost.

All it took was a stressful event, heartbreak, or a random craving that would send me over the edge into a binge fest of all foods unhealthy.

When He Becomes Your Motivation

When my husband and I first started dating, I finally found the motivation to lose the weight and keep it off (or at least I tried). My boyfriend was 30 lbs lighter than I was and I hated it!  I started learning about clean eating, strength training, and how moderation was vital to keeping my weight in check. A year and a half into our relationship, we got engaged.

This put a deadline for when I needed to reach that magical weight.

I signed up for a myfitnesspal account and started tracking my weight and calories. For the next 14 months, my weight would decline with a few small increases here and there.

Then, on February 21, 2015, 12 days before our wedding, I weighed in at my lowest ever—168 lbs. I was only slightly heavier than my future hubby and figured it was adequate enough for us have a “happily-ever-after" kind of marriage.

During this time period, I believed his love for me was conditional. I thought the key to a happy (and sexy) marriage was to be similar in weight.

Then, six months into our marriage, I went through a really rough season at work. I was thrust into a toxic work environment in which I had very little time to take care of myself.

I started eating my emotions and gained 15 lbs in 3 months, damaging all progress I had made.

I felt unworthy of my husband's love and ashamed of my body.

How could I ever be intimate with him when I despised every single part of me?

Soon after, the Air Force gave my husband and me orders that would send us overseas to live as husband and wife, for the first time ever.

2014 to 2015 - Engagement Period(general weight-loss trend); mid 2015 - Beginning of 2016 - Tough season at work resulting in massive weight-gain; 2016 - 2017 - Pregnancy; 2017 - 2018 - Postpartum Period.

2014 to 2015 - Engagement Period(general weight-loss trend); mid 2015 - Beginning of 2016 - Tough season at work resulting in massive weight-gain; 2016 - 2017 - Pregnancy; 2017 - 2018 - Postpartum Period.

Finally Together as Husband and Wife

Up until this point, we hadn’t lived together, so I “controlled” what food was kept in my house, and what I eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was a whole new ball game to take into consideration another person's food preferences when it came to preparing meals.

My husband loves carbs, processed foods, and sugar-laden breakfast items. I, also, enjoy all those things but have no form of self-control to keep myself from eating everything in sight.

In the first few years of our relationship, he didn't understand the addictive feeling I had when I would see a dozen donuts sitting on the counter, or a bag of Salt and Vinegar chips in the cupboard. It was easy for him to have a portion and put the rest away for later, whereas I could not stop eating once I started.

If we had donuts left in the house, all I could think about were those donuts. It was an obsession. As if those were the last donuts on the planet and I needed to have them right then and there. If there was an open bag of Salt and Vinegar chips, you can bet I would demolish them in one sitting.

So when we started living together, deciding what foods to keep in the house was a huge challenge.

Marriage is not a dictatorship. I did not have full authority to decide what foods we kept in the house and neither did my husband.

Should I stop buying the unhealthy foods and make my husband suffer? Or do I suck it up and force myself to have self-control?

I didn’t think it’s was fair to make him suffer because I couldn’t control myself, but it also wasn’t fair for him to keep my kryptonite around and force me to lean on my own strength.

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Finding Balance

Initially, I catered to his needs and forced myself to develop self-control, and that FAILED miserably.

You guys, at certain points, I started sneaking food while he wasn’t around because I didn’t want him to judge me. In reality, I was projecting my emotions onto him.

Did he want me to binge on all those bad foods—no! But he didn’t love me any less if I did.

I was the only one judging myself, but instead of admitting that, I convinced myself that he was the one I should be hiding from.

I started having breakdowns of feeling like such a failure. I would focus on the fact that I neededto lose 50+ lbs and the gravity of that number just wore me down.

I felt like I was drowning.

I started to believe I would never lose the weight.

I would never be smaller than my husband.

I would never be happy, and if I was never happy, couldmy marriage succeed?

My poor husband was dealing with a woman with polarized self-esteem (aka E^3). One minute, I was motivated to lose the weight and would make progress, and then the next minute, I would slip up and suddenly start sabotaging everything I had achieved.

And he couldn’t say a thing. If he opened his mouth, I would take it as a personal attack.

I wouldn’t let him be my cheerleader, because every time he tried to encourage me, all I could hear was the enemy telling me my husband did not think I was beautiful.

The enemy was out to get our marriage.

He wanted me to believe that our marriage was dependent on the number on the scale, and if that number were too high, my husband would leave me.

Love is Patient

My husband was/is exceptionally patient with me. He has seen me at my heaviest and at my lightest. He has learned how to bring me back to earth when I find myself in the pits of no hope. He has had to be open and honest about how my actions/self-worth affect our marriage and has had to deal with the unfortunate consequences of telling me the truth.

Truth hurts.

He has reminded me time and time again, that his love is not conditional. He loves me regardless of the number on the scale. He has also reminded me that he wants a healthy wife, a wife who, God-willing, is able to live a long and happy life.

We do not hate our bodies for what they are; we hate them for what they are not. We hate them for not being godlike. We hate them for being imperfect. We hate them for being limited. And like the man and woman in the garden, instead of rejecting the pride that tells us we could be like God, we reject our bodies that tell us we cannot. 
— Anderson, Hannah. Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul (p. 88). Moody Publishers. 

Every day has been a struggle to learn how to love myself.  Every day has been a reminder that I cannot do this alone. I am reminded that in my weakness I am strong and God uses these opportunities to mold me into the woman He wants me to become.

I have learned that my husband is not my savior, God is, and the only way I can ever hope to achieve a happy and healthy life/marriage is to lean on the one who created it.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
— 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10 ESV
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Practical Ways to Help You Find Balance

>> Compromise – Find ways to compromise on what foods to allow in your house and what foods to not allow. I learned that I had self-control with specific items. Instead of telling my husband no chips in the house, I asked him to buy only the kinds I knew I was indifferent about. Instead of purchasing Salt and Vinegar chips every time, we would just buy it once every few months.

>> Out of sight, out of mind – Like I said earlier, my husband loves donuts. So now, the few times he buys them, I asked him to place them in the microwave. This way they arent in my face, forcing myself to practice self-control every time I walk into the kitchen.

>> Maintain open and honest communication – My husband tried to motivate me, but he didn't understand why I couldn't accept his advice. Any time he tried to help, it just made me more upset. Sometimes the only people we are open to receiving advice from are people who have walked in our shoes. It took me awhile to explain that to my husband, but when I finally let him know, he knew how to communicate with me.

>> Admit you are weak – the hardest part of this journey was admitting that I am weak and cannot do it alone. I needed accountability partners. I needed God. It is because of my weakness that I have seen God work in my life, so I rejoice in my struggles because here is where I have found my savior.

Grace In The Postpartum Season

It’s almost been a year and a half since I had my first child and I have yet to achieve and maintain my pre-pregnancy weight. I hit that pre-pregnancy weight once and then, life got in the way and I gained a few pounds back.

I didn’t really think about it while I was pregnant because I loved being pregnant. For one, I no longer had to suck in my stomach for pictures. Instead, I highlighted the big belly. My boobs were bigger and I just felt amazing, beautiful and powerful. Yes, I was at my biggest, but there is something special, something different about carrying life inside of you.

I also didn’t focus too much on the scale. The only time I really thought about it was right before a doctor’s appointment.

Then, after Natalie was born, everything was different.

My postpartum body was different.

My feelings towards that same body that carried life were now different.

First, I could no longer hold my pee for very long. Once I had to go, I HAD TO GO. And try doing jumping jacks…. yea, not happening.

I could no longer suck in my stomach either... You know, when you stand in front of the mirror sucking it in to see how skinny you can get?

And that dag on lower belly pouch!

What once brought awe and admiration now brought disgust and shame.

I started to believe that in order to have a joyful and happy life, I needed to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight… my pre-pregnancy body.

But that was all a lie.

We Need Grace

In truth, I don’t need to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight to find joy. Instead, I need to give myself grace.

God designed every aspect of our body. He designed the hair on our head, the color of our eyes, even the size of our boobs! Trust me – as a child, I prayed for bigger boobs and that obviously was not in Gods plan.

Just as He designed our individual gifts, He knew what our specific trials would be. Instead of allowing the suffering to be in vain, He used it for His glory and His purpose. There is hope in those trials. There is hope in our suffering. There is hope when we look at our bodies and see how imperfect they are.

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
— Romans 5:3-5

He knows our struggles, even the struggles we have yet to encounter. He knows how we will react and despite everything, He promises to be there with us.

He is not the one who put the stipulation to only gain 15 lbs in pregnancy. He is not the one who said anything greater than a size 12 is too big. He is not the one who said my body is not enough.

I am.

God has just asked us to glorify him through the caring of our body.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
— 1 Corinthians 10:31

Our Humanity

Have you ever thought about some of the reasons why we hate ourselves?

Is it the evidence of humanity? The evidence that we are not God? That’s exactly why we hate our bodies because we see how imperfect they are. And it kills us.

But He gives us grace. He loves us no matter what. He’s called us to love him, and in doing so, to love his creation - which includes us.

So when you look down and see that lower belly that won’t go away. Know that God still loves you. He’s still there in the midst of your self-loath. He wants you to run to him so he can comfort you. He knows that it’s hard here on earth and he has a present for us when we join him.

When we step on the scale and see that atrocious number. Know that it’s just a number. It does not define who we are.

God defines us.

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God Strong

He knew you would struggle to lose weight. He knew that you were going to hate that scale. But he hasn’t left. He calls us to him every time. We alone are not enough, but He is. He is in the midst of this trial. He is using this time to mold you like a lump of clay that has yet to be formed. Every opportunity is another opportunity for him to create the beautiful masterpiece he has envisioned.

Even Paul struggled with some of his physical imperfections.

…Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
— 2 Corinthians: 7-10

He was given a thorn in his flesh, a tool Satan used to torment him. God could have healed that ailment, but instead, he offered grace. God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.

Momma, don’t lose heart. Don’t focus on how imperfect or ungodly you are. Don’t allow Satan to use your postpartum body as a tool to pull you away from your heavenly father. Instead, run to Him.

Yes, God could have prevented you from gaining 50+ lbs. Yes, He could have ensured your skin was elastic enough to not be permanently scarred. Yes, he could have created your baby to have a smaller head to prevent 2nd or 3rd degree tears. But He didn’t. Instead, He is calling you to return back to Him during this season, to comfort you and show you that you are made perfect through Him.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
— James 1:2-4

God is here to love us despite our humanity.