The Weight of Words (Post-Pregnancy)
When I was pregnant, strangers would stop me in the grocery store to tell me how beautiful I was, “Girl, you look absolutely, positively, GLOWING!”
Every night my partner would grin stupidly at me while I rubbed cocoa butter on my rapidly blossoming belly in hopes of preventing stretch marks (which doesn’t work by the way — Big Cocoa Butter you should be ashamed of yourself, preying on innocent pregnant women the way you do.) Looking back, I should have taken advantage of my Earth Mama status. I could have worn floral crowns with gauzy dresses, gone barefoot, and unabashedly taken up the tambourine.
A Big Trash Bag of Mashed Potatoes
No matter how hard I tried relishing in the spotlight of strangers’ compliments, there was no shaking this negative thinking, I was a big trash bag of mashed potatoes and there was nothing I could do about it. It wasn’t that I had gained an excessive amount of weight (I put on a standard but healthy 35 to 40 pounds), or that I didn’t have lots of love and support (I did), I was just not a woman who loved being pregnant. Needless to say, growing a big ass baby smack dab in the middle of a Southern summer was not exactly a dream come true. There was nothing I wanted more than to get the show on the road, and the bun out of the oven.
They warn you that once the baby is delivered, you will still look approximately three months pregnant (by month nine, that sounded like a dream come true.) After I gave birth (vaginally) to an almost nine-pound chunk of absolute perfection (thank you very much), “they” were right — I did in fact still look three months pregnant. Because I’m not a Kardashian and I had realistic expectations about what my postpartum experience would be like, I tried not to let it get me down (though this turned out to be much harder than I previously thought.)
A few weeks after giving birth, I posted our first family photo which then received many comments such as, “You look amazing!” or “Wow, you look like you didn’t even have a baby!” Though I am sure everyone meant well, they were dead wrong — I totally looked like I’d had a baby; dark under-eye circles, leaky boobs, and puffy belly included.
When I actually had a chance to shower, I made sure that the mirror was so steamy that I wouldn’t be able to see my reflection before I stepped out. Something about how those red and purple stretch marks (thanks for nothing Cocoa B) looked so angry or the way my belly skin seemed to resemble biscuit dough more than an actual stomach, made me feel so uncomfortable.
After doing the most amazing thing physically, I never anticipated that I would hate myself so much or that my confidence would have reached such an all time low.
Raggedy Sweatpants and a Ratty Band Tee
About eight weeks after I’d had my daughter, I decided to go to the gym for the first time. Because I didn't fit into any of my pre-baby workout clothes, I had to wear a pair of raggedy maternity sweatpants and one my partner’s ratty band t-shirts. I entered the gym with the best of intentions, but after about 20 minutes on the elliptical, I was so winded and sore that I just gave up. I hobbled back to my car and cried my eyes out because I felt like such a failure. I used to walk miles all over the city, dance the night away, and never bat an eyelash, but now I couldn’t even do basic cardio. I went home and pretended like everything was fine but I didn’t go back to the gym for a while. Instead, I strapped my baby to my chest and started walking (slowly) around the neighborhood, We worked our way up to three-mile stretches (any longer than that and we’d both start to get fussy.)
After a few weeks of neighborhood walking, I was able to fit into a proper pair of leggings which eventually encouraged me to try out the gym once more. I ignored all the pretty twenty-somethings, turned on HGTV set to mute, and cranked up Beyonce as loud as I could stand it. After several weeks of intense workouts (that started to become the only time for myself in my new mom life and also my salvation), I was running five to six mile stretches on the elliptical machine (something I didn’t even do before I had my daughter.)
We Banned the 'F' Word
Here’s the weird thing. Not only did my body start to change with my new workout routine, but my perception also started to change. Don’t get me wrong, this is not one of those essays that ends with me wearing a size 2 and doing yoga for breakfast. Somewhere along the way, however, the fog started to lift a little and I started to become more proud of how many miles I ran instead of how nicely I was fitting into my old dresses. And it wasn't just the way I viewed my body that started to shift, either. Suddenly the weight of having a daughter whose perception of herself would always be linked directly to mine started to hit home. I couldn't watch movies or television the same way anymore. My interest in celebrity gossip waned. We banned the ‘F’ word in our house (No, not 'fuck'— we’re not crazy). 'Fat,' the other F word, was no longer allowed to describe my ass or the lady that cut us off on the interstate. My partner and I are working really hard to change the language we use to describe ourselves and others (often at the annoyance of our more traditional family members). We aren’t perfect or smug about it, but we are trying really hard.
When You're Here, You're Family
Because my daughter is a big child, people often comment on her size. She breastfeeds, eats solid foods voraciously, and has yet to meet a food she didn’t like. I swear to God in Olive Garden that her arms look exactly like puffy breadsticks. This might explain why I’m frequently shooing away old ladies who just want to “eat her up." Since her appearance often garners attention, I wasn't surprised when the cold, cold brew barista mentioned how large my baby was the other day, which then segued into a conversation about how tall I am.
“I’m 5’10’,” I told her, “but for some reason, people always think I’m taller — probably because of my over-the-top-personality."
“That’s probably because you’re big boned,” she replied without skipping a beat.
It took every ounce of restraint in my body not to take one of my big arm bones and smack her in the head repeatedly. Because I was in shock, my normal sass failed to verbally slap her either. I took my coffee and just walked away. Not only was I in better shape than I’d ever been post-pregnancy, I was healthier than I’d ever been in my entire life (after quitting smoking and whiskey and all my other pre-mommy vices). How could this woman have the audacity to call ME big boned (in front of my partner and daughter, no less)? Before the blunt barista shook my new found confidence, I was feeling really cute. I’d even managed to shave both my legs AND fit into a pair of shorts just one size bigger than my pre-baby days. While putting Bowie Opal in the stroller, my partner pinched my butt appreciatively. Instead of feeling like a hot mom, however, all I could think about was being called “big boned” (which I always assumed was a roundabout way of calling someone fat, but not, you know “obese.”)
The Weight of Words
No matter how hard I tried to shake her insensitive comment, it was still on my brain. I didn’t bring it up to my partner or friends partially because I was embarrassed and partially because I felt like talking about it would just give her statement, for lack of a better word, weight. Instead, I stewed. I thought of a hundred zingers I could have retorted. I cursed myself for not schooling her in that moment, letting her know exactly how much her words matter. Instead of getting closure in real time, I decided to make several vows to myself on behalf of my infant daughter:
- No more polite laughing when people mention how chubby she is or talk about the size of her thighs.
- If someone makes a comment that she “must not miss any meals” I will firmly reply, “No, because skipping meals isn’t healthy and she needs food for energy and strength.”
- When people say “She’s so cute!” I will follow up with, “Thank you, she’s super smart too!”
It probably seems annoying. Strangers and family alike aren’t malicious in their language, just naive (hopefully). I compliment other women on their appearance AND their accomplishments in front of my daughter daily because she is a sponge and my sidekick and is watching every single thing I do even at this early stage. Her father is supportive of my endeavor and is working hard to curb his own conditioning. Even woke feminist Papas sometimes struggle with male gaze and mansplaining.
Every morning Bowie Opal and I have a ritual. She rolls over when she’s ready to seize the day (we co-sleep because it works for us — suck it Mommy-shamers), she touches my face (sometimes with her feet), and then slaps her ten-month-old naked Buddha belly like a little drum. She welcomes each new day with so much fucking joy it makes my chest ache to watch, yet I can't turn away. She delights in her body— the way it feels and the sounds it makes— and we both laugh and laugh because bodies are lovely and funny (and as her Mama, I will make sure she feels that way for as long as humanly possible.)
I, in turn, am doing my best to follow her lead.
About the Author
Amanda Paulus is a writer, designer and stay-at-home mom (but not like a regular mom, a cool mom). She lives in Atlanta with her five month old daughter and her 408 month old partner.