Babies and Body Anxiety

Recently, a fellow blogger wrote a post about how to feel better about your body post-baby. I agree with her, wearing clothes that fit make a huge difference. And yet, I just can’t get myself there.

Let’s go back. Growing up I was never skinny. I had large breasts and was overweight. Although, this never interfered with my confidence. I never lacked self esteem. I never deprived myself of food in an attempt to be “skinny.” Rather the opposite, I was quite confident in myself. After meeting Betsy, and after many years of neck and back pain, I decided to have breast reduction surgery. It was the best decision I ever made. Not only for my back but I felt like I was finally in MY body. I had been working out prior to surgery and not long after recovery I was 35 pounds lighter. I loved my size and worked hard to maintain a healthy weight.

When I got pregnant with Noa I was not overly concerned about the weight gain. I wasn’t going to binge during pregnancy because I knew how difficult it would be to lose the weight. So I ate like I did pre-pregnancy (except the daily chocolate milkshakes) and was fine. After Noa was born I lost 24 of the 28 pounds within the first two weeks. This was probably due to my severe postpartum OCD or it’s just easier to lose the weight after the first kid.

IMG_0806
34ish weeks pregnant with Noa

Nine short months into my motherhood journey I got pregnant with Atticus. I was slightly over my pre- Noa weight but still unconcerned. Atticus was born and again the weight came off rather easily. I was back to within 10 pounds of my pre-Noa weight within the first couple months.

IMG_8058
34ish weeks pregnant with Atticus.

And then came pregnancy number three. More weight gain and a higher starting point. By the time Cal was born I weighed more than I ever had. I was obsessed with every pound I gained past my heaviest weight. And although I have lost half of the weight I gained with him I cannot get past my daily anxiety of being this size.

IMG_0356
In labour with Cal. (Sorry, not a great picture.)

I was once this size and didn’t care. I looked in the mirror and thought, “damn you look good.” Until I was within normal weight. Now I feel uncomfortable in my own skin. “You birthed a human” can only get you so far. Not only that, I birthed THREE! humans in three and a half years. And still no change in how I see my body. Yeah, it’s strong, and grows babies, and beautifully birthed all three but those self-validations are still not enough to get me over my morning hump of anxiety-ridden outfit picking.

I want to add here that I don’t let Noa (or any of my kids) see how I feel. When I get on the scale and they are around we talk all about how strong our bodies are and all the cool things we can do with them. Noa sees me loving my body, even if it’s only on the outside.

And Betsy, oh how I love this woman. Three kids later and she loves me more everyday. She’s always validating my concerns and strongly encouraging of my gym attendance and healthy eating. The stretch marks and new shape don’t even cross her mind. You’re probably thinking, ‘Yes they do, she just doesn’t say anything’ but trust me, sleep and chicken safety are about the only things she thinks about when not attending to children.

Society tells us that we need to be skinny, while simultaneously encouraging us to rebel against that message. That we should love our postpartum body with the stretch marks and extra skin because ‘you grew a human and created life.’

IMG_2131
Three humans.

Which brings me to another point, it’s not just the weight. It’s that your body is a whole new shape. Even if you get back down to your pre-baby weight the shape just isn’t the same. It’s not the old you, it’s a whole new you. And it’s really hard to accept a new you when you can’t anticipate it.

And I have three kids. I don’t have the disposable income to remake a wardrobe. Or the emotional capacity to go shopping for one. For now, I’ll stick with the daily anxiety about what to wear (they make a pill for that.)

If you’re one of the many women in the postpartum phase and you’re not loving your body, you’re not alone. Even with a partner that thinks you’re the sexiest person alive, even with frequent self validation about the miraculous thing you just accomplished, even if you workout daily and eat healthily (or maybe not) accepting this new body is hard.

I’d like to offer some powerful words of wisdom like telling you that those women you see on Facebook are probably also struggling. Or the ones that lose the weight right away are rare and most of us don’t. Or you’re going to end up loving your new body. But I’m not sure any of those are true. What is true is that there is at least one other momma who also isn’t so sure how to accept this new body of hers, despite its amazingness.

What’s In a Name

I’m an introvert. I mean, one can clearly assume this from the blog title.  It often surprises some of my newer friends or colleagues when I share this with them. “But you can start a conversation with anyone.” It’s true, but I think part of that is manners. We all learned how to fake being an extrovert in school. However, once I got to college I realized I would rather spend on weekends reading a new book then going out to a bar or club. In conversation, I typically ask the questions and keep it very superficial about me. Unless you ask my birth stories, then you better grab a chair. I share those with everyone.

I could barely handle my wedding because I was the center of attention. We eloped so I could avoid a wedding. But even after the elopement my wife was set on a formal wedding. I obliged and panic attacked my way to, and through, the day.

Wedding 2

People wear me out. I will eat lunch in my car during an all day workshop or job just so I don’t have to interact with anyone.

I leave most large parties without saying goodbye to anyone. Betsy tells me I’m rude. I tell her my heart races a hundred miles an hour thinking about the goodbye, let alone doing it.

I dread singing happy birthday to anyone in a large group. Restaurant happy birthdays are the worst. A group of waiters singing to someone at my table while various patrons watch or participate, cue bathroom escape and sweating.

If I see someone I know in a store I will probably go out of my way to avoid them. Nothing against them, I just don’t have the energy to maintain a conversation without being rude.

If we’re having friends over and one of them asks last minute to bring a friend that I don’t know, I wonder if it’s too late to cancel. Surly they must understand how much stress this causes an introvert? Nope, they’re here. Cool, I think my kid needs me.

Kids, they are the best excuse for an introvert. You can use kids as an excuse for anything. Nope, can’t come to your party. No sitter. Sorry I disappeared to the car without saying goodbye, Atticus was having a meltdown. Excuse me while I go put my kid down for bed, 45 minutes later Betsy comes to look for me. I just couldn’t bring myself to come back down.

IMG_4395
Sleeping babies are so good.

Except birthdays. Three times a year I have to endure the anxiety that comes with my children being sung to for their birthday.
A year ago I read the book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ by Susan Cain. It completely changed how I saw myself and other introverts. I’m much less hard on myself when I don’t want to be social and go out. Or when I exit a party without saying goodbye. And I’m trying to get better at being honest with others in my reason for not attending a social event. Although telling someone you can’t come to a gathering because being social requires too much energy doesn’t always go over well. I may just stick with the kids excuse.

Living in Shame

A couple of years into my mental health journey I was listening to NPR and heard this interview by Andrew Solomon. He was talking about the prevalence of peri-natal depression and anxiety. One of the things he mentioned was that most of the women experiencing depression and seeking help are so afraid to tell their husbands that they text (instead of call) their therapist because they don’t want their husband or partner to overhear them on the phone. What the fuck? I mean, really?  Women have so much shame about how they are feeling they cannot tell the person they are creating a child with.

In a typical healthy marriage if you are sick with any physical ailment most likely you’re going to tell your partner. Your partner is going to suggest some type of antidote to treat the condition. Except when it’s a mental health problem then we keep it a secret, hope it goes away, or are told, “can’t you just not think that way?” Obviously, if I could just turn it off (‘like a light switch’- name the musical) I would. You think I want to feel this way?

With each of my subsequent pregnancies I took an anti-depressant for OCD and later in the pregnancy anti-anxieties. I did EXTENSIVE research about the safety of these meds while pregnant. I have OCD, of course I researched the shit out of it. I spoke to midwives, OBs, Perinatologists, and my PCP. I read research studies. Don’t get me wrong, if you can avoid meds while pregnant, great! But not all of us can. And my need for medication was not going to stop me having kids if I wasn’t putting the fetus at risk.

I remember one particular encounter with my perinatologist (they are the doctors that work with high risk babies.) I was asking, repeatedly, about my use of a benzo later in the pregnancy. She assured me it was safe. I mentioned my experience with my first pregnancy and how it came to me using meds while pregnant. Betsy, briefly explained her role in the whole process and the perinatologist commented to Betsy, “You should give a talk on how to recognize signs in your partner and how to be a better support for those struggling.” She proceeded to tell us about how many women don’t have a supportive partner. They live in fear and shame about telling their partner if they don’t feel absolute love for their new baby.

Part of the reason I was able to get my mental health crisis under control so quickly was because I was completely honest about what I was experiencing with Betsy and my parents. During my first week of therapy the therapist suggested Betsy not be part of the sessions because it might influence what I shared. I instead she was involved knowing that I would not be able to tell her alone what I was thinking and feeling. She needed to know and I was willing to tell the therapist with her present.

Betsy, and the rest of my support network (few knew the severity of my situation) were amazing. But this isn’t the norm. Lying to our partners and trying to get through it alone is the norm. And it should not have to be that way.