There’s that beautiful photo from your wedding; you often find yourself wistfully staring at it. But it’s not the image of young love that has you feeling nostalgic. It’s yourself. Specifically, your old body — how it used to look, and all the ways you used to take care of it.
You look down at your breasts. How the mighty have fallen! You stopped pulling grey hairs because what’s the point? Sex? Ha! So goes the story of “body after baby” for so many women. First, there’s the biopsychosocial phenomenon of childbirth — everything from the hormone changes (read: monsoon) to the special, special physical pain of delivery.
But that’s just the beginning. The big changes happen in the adjustment to motherhood — you go home from the hospital and, just as you’re looking around for the real adult to take charge, you realize it’s you. Even with a supportive partner, your routines have to change. You’re feeding the baby every two hours. Your last aerobic activity was writing a strongly-worded letter to your insurance company about the second-rate breast pump they sent you. You debunked the “sleep when the baby sleeps” myth when your baby was eight hours old. You can’t eat, exercise, or sleep like you used to — so why do you expect your body to look like it used to?
Let me be clear: Your self-care as a mom is critical to your well-being and that of your family. Eating well and exercising your body are important. But if your motivation is to return to the “old” you, you’re missing the point — you’re not the old you. Yes, you deserve the same love and respect as before, but you’re now operating on a tight budget when it comes to time, energy, and probably money, too.
So let’s re-write the playbook on how you take care of yourself. Spoiler alert: This is not a weight-loss how-to. Instead, this is about cultivating a positive relationship with the body you have now; accepting yourself exactly as you are in this moment.
Here are some basic tips to work toward new-mama body acceptance.
1. Don’t compare. Yes, you may have looked amazing in 2015. You still do! But not when your eyes are red from scrutinizing the flat stomach you had on your honeymoon, or from plumbing the depths of your friends’ vacation photos on Instagram. It’s far too easy to think “everyone” has bounced back and left you in maternity pants. But everybody and every body is different. Perhaps your friends are struggling with some other aspect of motherhood that you’ve got in the bag. The shape of a body is not the whole story.
2. Don’t drama diet. Considering a juice fast or eliminating entire categories of foods? Just say no. Extreme diets do not have lasting results — except when it comes to strengthening your sense of personal failure. Diets are miserable, and they’re extra miserable when you’re doing all the things you’re doing right now.
3. Don’t trash-talk yourself. If you don’t have something nice to say about yourself, don’t say it at all. Talking about your muffin top doesn’t improve your core strength or your outlook. How about paying yourself a compliment? Maybe say what you’re proud of, or tally what you’d have to pay someone to do all the things you’ve done today. Extra credit if you tell a friend.
4. Do redefine exercise. If you’re juggling a baby, relationships, work, family, and whatever else is on your plate, you probably can’t work out six days a week. But you can still burn some calories. Park far from the pediatrician’s office and walk. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Run in the park with your kiddo. Stretch before bed. Be realistic.
5. Do remember to breathe. You may long for your rigorous yoga practice of yore, but you still have the most important component of yoga flowing in and out of your lungs: your breath. See what a few minutes of focused breathing can do for your mood and your energy. (Yes — there’s an app for that, like Headspace.)
6. Do bring sexy back. Even if you’re not up for the whole dog-and-pony show of sex, find ways to connect with your own eroticism. Be curious about what floats your boat these days: reading or watching sexy things, a bubble bath with or without your partner, a PG-13 make-out session. Bonus: orgasms release dopamine and oxytocin, which sure are good for your mood.
7. Do eat well. While you’ve been worrying about how your toddler’s steady diet of goldfish crackers may stunt his growth, you’ve failed to notice that you’ve been living on high-chair leftovers and car crumbs. Eat, bubeleh, eat. Keep some easy, healthy snacks around, like nuts, cut veggies, a yogurt that’s not in a squeezy pouch. Have a glass of water while you’re standing by the microwave heating up leftovers. Be fancy and sit down while you eat.
True, the payoff of these steps may not be a six-pack or Michelle Obama’s arms. However, accepting what’s possible for your life is now is a lot more pleasant than sitting shiva for what you used to be.
It’s easy to become last on your list of priorities when you’re a mom. So remember the upside here: Your children witness how you treat yourself. What you model informs how they treat you, how they’ll treat other women, and how they’ll treat themselves. Our bodies are an extension of our identities. Perhaps our bodies may be a bit softer and squishier than they used to be, but they are every bit as worthy.