Thursday, October 04, 2012

The Eye of the Beholder: My Postpartum Progress

I think maybe it's weird to write about my postpartum recovery before I've published Everley's birth story but man I'm having such a hard time writing it. I'm not sure why other than I just don't seem to be able to do it justice.

Bella's story kind of just poured out of me, and when I look back on it it feels like I hit just the right notes of funny and poignant, honest and entertaining. That's just how her birth went down so to write the story about it was easy.

Everley's birth was... intense. Not what I'd expected. Not what I'd choose if I could do it all again. Not unlike my entire pregnancy, in fact. Yet, it still ended up with the precise ending I'd always hoped for. A beautiful, healthy, amazing baby. And I want her story to be as special as Bella's so that one day she can read it and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was one of the two greatest days of my entire life.

So that's coming... soon...

MEANTIME, before I talk postpartum, a warning: there will be brief mention of both boobs and biscuits so if that's not a discussion you want to overhear I suggest you go here and just look at the pretty baby.

Secondly - please take a moment and read this article by Allison Tate. She just says so much about what it feels like to be a woman trying to get back to herself after having a baby. Or in my case, two babies. Or in her case, four.

She speaks the truth in spades about capturing that changed and so-far-from-physically perfect you in pictures during pregnancy and afterwards. Something I avoided like the plague when I was pregnant with Bella and after she was born. I have almost NO pictures of my whole self while pregnant with her - even the weekly pictures I had Cairn take of me during my pregnancy are of the belly alone. I was mortified about the changes to the rest of me. My skin changed colour, my body ballooned, my face changed shape. I felt awful about myself when I look back and it's so sad. It's just so sad to me now that I wasn't proud of my body and its formidable accomplishment.

This pregnancy I wanted to do things a little differently. Initially I tried to have Cairn take photos again, and I wanted Bella to be in them with me, but neither were interested so instead I started taking pictures of myself. I wanted my baby to know that I was proud of what my body did to create her. And those pictures were not easy to take. They certainly were not easy to post every week. But I did it. To prove a point to myself I did it and you know what? It worked. Kind of. I can't say I felt beautiful, but I can say that I felt okay with the changes. It was not an easy pregnancy but I worked hard to stay in shape and took care with what I wore and how I presented myself. And I think I did okay.

But the thing is? The pregnancy is a crutch. It's easy to forgive yourself your flaws when you're pregnant because, well, you're pregnant! Everyone says, "you look great for X months pregnant! You totally don't look pregnant from behind," (what does this mean exactly?! nobody should look pregnant from behind!). They tell you not to worry about the love handles and the skin discolourations and the swelling and the bloat. "You're pregnant!" they say, "You'll bounce back in no time. It'll all be over soon enough."

Except it's not.

Because after you are done being pregnant most of those things are still there. The only thing that's actually gone is the pregnancy. And suddenly you're just mom. And your vagina hurts A LOT more than it did before. There's the bleeding and the pads that go along with it. And the underwear that goes along with them. Not cute. And your boobs are leaking. And at night you sweat so badly that you can feel it running down your cleavage.

Your formerly round, vibrant belly that just days or weeks earlier was full of life and making people smile and pat you and coo with excitement is just a flabby sack that hangs over your torn maternity jeans and refuses to stay shoved inside your stretched out leggings. And you spend every outing terrified that someone will ask you how far along you are. Because you aren't.

And I don't care how cliche it sounds, you ARE too tired and too busy during the day with a newborn to spend time fixing yourself up. There isn't a product out there that can erase two weeks of no sleep. In my case, I have the added pleasure of melasma - the mask of pregnancy - to contend with. Something that can't even be treated while breastfeeding. Right there, all over my tired face that I'm too tired to cover up with makeup that just makes me look more tired anyway. So much for that "being over soon."

Speaking of nursing, I feed my babies on demand for the first few months, which means it is hard to get out without them. It takes a while to figure out their patterns or to know when they'll be good for a stretch long enough to go to the gym or get my nails done. All things that I did regularly before to keep myself not just looking good, but feeling good too.

Like Ms. Tate captures in her article, my oldest daughter thinks I'm perfect. She couldn't care less about any of the physical items I've listed off above. She doesn't see those things and if she does, she doesn't care. And I DO want to be present in the photos and memories with my girls, despite how far from perfect I may look. My girls make me feel absolutely wonderful as a mother. In fact, I already know that I'm a great mom. I am. I'm a great mom and my kids make me feel beautiful in a million ways because they are tiny little reflections of me and my God, just look at them.

But I need to point something else out here. Staying in the picture after having children is not JUST about how your kids see you. Being a beautiful mom is wonderful. But I need to feel like a beautiful woman as well. Kids will always see through physical imperfections to who you are inside, but living up to the standards of adult society? Whole different ballgame. I want to be a beautiful wife. A beautiful friend. A beautiful person. That's where I've still got some work to do. I need to convince myself that I am all of those things even without the flat stomach and flawless skin.

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that's the principle I've been using to try and maintain and regain my self-confidence during and post pregnancy. I have played the role of my own beholder and taken photos of myself, most of which you've already seen here. As promised I want to share my 40 week bump photo - the only one in the entire series taken by my husband. I had to beg him to do it because we were in the hospital and there was no mirror in which I could take it myself.  The others show my physical progress over the last two weeks.

Rocking the gown at 40 weeks pregnant. A few hours before Everley was born.

Sweats and slippers. 7 days postpartum. Baby accessory kicks this look up a notch.
Jeans! Maternity jeans, but still. 11 days postpartum.

Stretchies and slippers. Two weeks postpartum.

And this is where I am today. Am I perfect? No. But am I perfectly okay with that? I'm getting there, yes I am.