When will I feel like myself again?
This is a question that I have been discussing with postpartum clients a lot this past week. It’s surely something that most women think about during the postpartum period and something that is really shoved at us through our culture and the media.
We are bombarded with photos of celebs post baby and articles on how quickly so and so “bounced back”. As a whole I think of the idea of “bouncing back” as more of a physical thing – and let’s be honest, there is more than just your body that it adjusting to new motherhood. There is disrupted sleep patterns, isolation, intense emotion (positive and negative), and a huge identify shift.
All of these things thrust you naked into the great unknown, survivor man style, where you are expected to stay alive with a roll of duct tape and a pocket knife (although I’m not sure how you would carry the pocket knife if you are naked…). The woman you were before fades into the dark and in her place stands a milk stained, sleep deprived creature that continues to torture herself by trying to cram herself into that amazing pair of jeans she wore before her body knew the strains of bearing and birthing life.
Yea so bouncing back can seem pretty overwhelming. So first, in regard to physically bouncing back, I usually tell all my first time mommas to give it at least 2 years. The first year is for figuring it all out and the second is for developing a routine that works for you. This allows for failure and for working out the kinks of a good plan for yourself. Also, your body spent 10 months making these changes and you’ve gotta give it time to adjust. I mean your organs were displaced for goodness sake!
If you have had a c-section, if you were torn extensively, if you are dealing with prolapse – you have to be extra patient with yourself. It’s just another adjustment to be dealing with.
This idea of physically bouncing back is kinda bullshit if you ask me. I don’t care if you are Kim Kardashian or Beyonce, carrying a child changes your body. It can be subtle and unseen like something musculoskeletal, or it can be more noticeable, like stretch marks. But mark me, you are changed, and you have to become reacquainted with this strong, remarkable, badass body.
I think we strive so hard to get back to our pre pregnancy physique because we are really striving to get back to feeling like ourselves again. Not just looking in the mirror, but emotionally too. A lot of my postpartum moms are lost and looking for who they are.
Motherhood, in its infancy, requires that a woman sheds the pieces of herself that are not essential to surviving. Socializing, intellectualizing, working, playing – all fall away when your child enters the world. You become basic and raw in your tasks. Feed the baby, feed yourself, change the baby, sleep when you can, rinse and repeat.
For some of us this is only a short period of time that we have let these pieces go and for others it lasts longer. And when the quiet finally comes, whether its at 3 months or 12, you are left standing naked in that wilderness wondering how you got there, who you were before, and how the hell do you get back to that.
We cannot go back.
This does not mean that you will not find joy again. You will. You will find unexpected pieces of yourself in odd places. You may reconnect to something that you enjoyed years and years ago but was not the norm immediately before pregnancy. You may find a new something that excites you more than anything ever before.
I encourage my moms to connect to the themes of the things that they enjoyed pre pregnancy and then build from there, of course emphasizing flexibility.
For instance, I am a runner and before kids I was very particular about when, how many miles, in what, where and so on and so forth that my running would take place. The most important thing was that I was adamantly against treadmills. Fine for other people, but I couldn’t stand them! I would get so bored on them.
Well, when my first daughter was born, I was not doing a whole lot of running. It was very difficult for me to recreate my ideal running conditions so my response was just not to run at all. This contributed to my feelings of loss of identity as well as my negative self image.
So when my husband proposed that we should get a treadmill for him to try to create some space to motivate himself to be active I thought “no way, not ever am I gonna use it, but sure whatever works for you honey”. So we got it and let me tell you how that machine changed my life!
I started running again. I was squeezing in 3 ml runs in the morning before she woke up, during nap time, even plopping her in her pack n play in front of the tv (ok not my proudest moment) so that I could get in my 30 minutes. Now the boredom thing was still a factor so I did stuff to try to help. I have a kindle and I read when I run on the treadmill – I make the font ginormous so that I don’t get nauseous.
To this day I run on that treadmill at least once a week. I think my husband has used it twice since we bought it 3 years ago.
This is about flexibility, rearranging my expectations of what felt like me, and being open to a new version of myself. I encourage you to do the same.
Yes, of course, mourn the pieces of yourself that have fallen away to never be seen again (yea party girl, I am talking to you) but don’t let go of the hope that you are changed forever. You will not always be the creature torturing herself with her skinny jeans.
You need patience. You need compassion. And you need to get curious about how to smooth the haggard lines of motherhood against those polished pieces of your previous self.