I’m not very public with my experience of motherhood. I’m not exactly sure why.
Maybe it’s because—contrary to many women around me—the title of mother isn’t what comes to mind when I’m asked who I am or what I do.
Maybe it’s in an effort to keep that sliver of my existence as private as possible, because it involves little humans who can’t conceivably consent to having their life shared on the internet.
Maybe I simply too often feel that I don’t quite measure up, and yet am unwilling to dig into this precise mess with as much determination as I do in other aspects of my life.
Still, I’ve challenged myself to explore the topic, as uncomfortable as it may be. And in doing so, I’ve come up with things I wish someone had informed me of when this journey of motherhood began for me.
YOUR WORTH HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH HOW QUICKLY YOU LOSE WEIGHT AFTER GIVING BIRTH
If the number of people who congratulated me for my appearance after giving birth was any indication, I should have won a prize for getting my body back or something. Thinking back, I’m absolutely appalled that those conversations even took place. At the time, sadly, after a lifetime of feeling that my body was unforgivably wrong, it felt as if I’d finally gotten something right.
Thinking back, I wish someone around me had been the voice of dissent. (Instead, I had a family member gift me some weight loss tea. True story.)
Instead of spending energy reappropriating my own body—each of my pregnancies felt extremely invasive, although I recognize that this is my personal experience and others’ will greatly vary—I remained fixated on chasing a certain size. Was I complimented for it? Certainly. But that didn’t help me feel anymore at ease with my role as a mother, or with the various body issues that arose and that no one had warned me about.
Here’s what I’d tell new mom me if I could: it’s going to take a while for you to figure it out. That’s normal. Take the time you need so that you don’t lose yourself in the process.
CHILDBIRTH IS ESSENTIALLY THIS HUGE ATHLETIC EVENT THAT YOU SERIOUSLY NEED TO RECOVER FROM
Piggybacking on the above, because we seem as a society so focused on what new mothers’ bodies look like, there’s intense pressure to return to exercise in ways that can be seriously harmful. We’ll speak of recovery in terms of the lack of sleep that comes with having a newborn, but not about the ins and outs of physical recovery, aside from a vague “get your doctor’s clearance for exercise” recommendation.
This led me to jump back into intense physical activity way too early, as I was led to believe that it was what I was supposed to do. (Sidenote: bootcamps—even so-called mommy-and-me stroller ones—at 3 weeks postpartum, working on the fumes of less than 3 cumulative hours of sleep because neither your newborn nor your toddler sleeps, are NEVER a good idea.)
We need to talk about more appropriate things to focus on in terms of postpartum exercise, and on the importance of not only recovering, but also rehabbing the body after this certainly natural, but very crazy event.
YOU’RE ALLOWED TO BE BORED AND TO EXPRESS THAT YOU ARE
Life with a newborn is tedious. And yet, we’re made to believe that if we’re not basking in the magical, fleeting and blissful aspect of it all, then we’re doing it wrong. The constant It all goes so fast, enjoy every moment! messages that we receive aren’t doing us any favours, and can make us feel guilty when we find ourselves actively not enjoying those moments.
Here’s what I wish I’d been told: you’re allowed to feel however you are feeling at the moment. Be it frustration, overwhelm, or just plain old boredom. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Everyone’s experience is different, and yours is just as valid as anyone else’s.
PEOPLE WHO JUDGE YOU CAN ESSENTIALLY GO F*** THEMSELVES
This one is as true for new mothers as it is for anybody else. New mothers typically feel especially vulnerable, and those judgments—which seem to appear in overabundance—can feel especially cutting.
When we are in a place where we feel others’ judgment upon us, there’s one important thing to remember: how others feel about us is about them and their self-esteem. It has nothing to do with us.
As Brené Brown reminds us:
If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices. If I feel good about my body, I don’t go around making fun of other people’s weight or appearance. We’re hard on each other because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived shaming deficiency.