Becoming a Mother Reminded Me That It Doesn't Matter How Others Perceive My Body
I was wholly unprepared for how much weight I would gain and how drastically my body would change during my second pregnancy. The old adage says that you are eating for two, right? (Note: This is not exactly true.) But I had certain expectations of the alterations that would beset my body from my first pregnancy. I had developed gestational diabetes, and my ob-gyn and nutritionist had put me on a rigorous carb-restrictive diet accompanied by 20 minutes of exercise after every meal in addition to my regular workout in an effort to control my blood sugar levels without medications. They held me accountable, too, asking me to keep a detailed food diary that I shared with them twice a week. The result? Sweet success, no meds, and a pretty fit post-baby body.
The second time around was entirely different. I had moved across the country and had a new doctor whose credo was less natural prevention and more medical intervention if and when needed. I surprisingly didn't develop gestational diabetes, so I allowed myself to indulge my cravings and a different pregnancy experience, despite the newfound discomfort in my body. I felt swollen, puffy, and grossly aware of every pound gained as I stepped on the scale during prenatal visits. I would sheepishly make excuses for my weight gain to the nurses who weighed me. I felt like the mere knowledge of my exact weight gave these women some mystical power over me that left me floundering in a sea of embarrassment and shame. I childishly thought that these feelings would dissipate after I gave birth.
My clothes didn't fit well anymore, my stomach was softer than it had ever been before, and I weighed the most that I ever had in my life. I worried about how I looked to my husband, to my family, and even to random strangers. A woman — a fellow mom, no less — that I met at our local neighborhood park was kind enough to ask me if I was pregnant . . . after I had given birth. She may not have realized it, but she had knocked the wind out of me. What bothered me more than anything was that her supposedly innocuous question had tapped into a deep wellspring of body image issues that stemmed from struggles with being overweight as a teenager. Through many years of running, cycling, yoga, mindfulness, and meditation, I had overcome many of these issues. I embraced my body, but more importantly, I felt healthy and comfortable in my skin.
I didn't like that I was bothered by that woman's question, and I refused to accept my own feelings of physical inadequacy and imperfection as they were. In a way, her simple question ended up reminding me of the significance of feeling good about myself, treating myself with loving care, embracing self-acceptance, and rejecting self-judgment. These were lessons that I had learned from ten years of studying yogic philosophy and practicing meditation that I had forgotten for some reason. I decided after that day in the park that I had to change my self-perception. What mattered more than how other people viewed my body was how I viewed myself.
My soft tummy and my wider-than-usual hips were marks of motherhood, of having brought new lives into this world, and I wanted to wear them with pride. My body was still nurturing my newborn and still healing from childbirth. I realized that my aesthetic imperfections were symbols of fertility, vivaciousness, and beauty in their own right. I began running again as soon as I felt comfortable (and after getting the go-ahead from my doctor). Exercising and being physically fit are essential parts of my journey to wellness, and now I take my children along with me on my daily runs in a jogging stroller. Every now and then, I have to remind myself that how I feel is more important than how others see me, but I have never felt more comfortable in my own skin than I do now. Perfection is relative, and I certainly like my version of it each and every day.