Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My Post-Baby Body

In this post, I'm brutally honest about my body.

Before I became pregnant with my first child, I had always taken my figure somewhat for granted. It's not that I was skinny or in shape - I've always been a couch potato - but I could wear the clothes I wanted to wear and was comfortable with myself. I never thought I'd gain lots of weight in pregnancy or have trouble losing it. I never realized how different my post-baby body would look and act.

I gained 50 pounds in my first pregnancy. I took pregnancy as a license to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I knew I wasn't actually eating for two, but everything looked so good and my appetite was ridiculously large. And it's not as if I was active. I sat around all day at work and then sat around all evening at home. I've never been an active person, and if you're not active before pregnancy, you're surely not going to want to be active during those days of morning sickness and fatigue! After the birth, I lost about 30 of those pounds, mostly fluids and baby, and, over time, I got down to about 10 pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight, which, admittedly, had been 10 pounds over what I wanted to weigh. I then got pregnant with my second, already 20 pounds heavier than I wanted to be. My biggest issue was with my post-c-section belly, which has what we who have had a c-section like to call "the shelf." When they sew you back up after the surgery, they pull the skin tight, leaving a "shelf" of fat and loose skin that hangs over your incision. No matter how much your abs tighten back up, that bit of floppy skin and fat remain as an unsightly and unexpected bulge.

In my second pregnancy, I found the only way to keep morning sickness at bay was to be eating constantly. Though I had promised myself I would not gain 50 pounds again, though I knew how unhappy I was with my weight the first time around, I couldn't stop eating. Even as the morning sickness passed, I had developed the terrible habit of eating all the time, and my appetite was enormous again. And so I became enormous and gained about 55 pounds the second time around. When I was supposed to be gaining a healthy 1/2 to 1 pound a week, I was gaining 2 to 4 pounds a week. It was out of control. The only advice my midwife had to offer was to "eat off smaller plates" and try to stick to healthy foods. Well, I might eat off a smaller plate, lady, but I'll go back for thirds and fourths. It wasn't helpful, and I gave up. And, no, I wasn't any more active, either.

I gave birth and lost that 25 or so pounds of fluids and baby again and at least wasn't left with a second surgical scar, but the "shelf" remained from the first time. So did the other 30 pounds. I couldn't get rid of it. Everybody said that breastfeeding burns 500 calories a day, and I'd lose the weight easily. Only, breastfeeding made me hungrier even than pregnancy had, and I found myself eating those extra 500 calories and then some. Suffice it to say, I only lost some weight when I convinced myself to start counting calories. I did lose about 16 pounds, was very happy about it, then rewarded myself at my birthday party with a red velvet cake. And then I started eating again. Though I was exercising a bit more - a friend and I took almost-daily 1-hour walks with our strollers - I simply couldn't drop the weight or keep it off.

I got pregnant for the third time at the same weight I was just after giving birth to my second. This time, I said, I will not gain 50 pounds. And, suprisingly, I didn't. As soon as I weaned my second and stopped breastfeeding (during my first month of pregnancy), my appetite vanished. I hardly had any morning sickness, and I found myself eating noticeably smaller portions than I had in years. I was thrilled. In the first trimester, I gained no weight. I wish I could tell you what my secret was, but I don't know how it happened. By the end of this third pregnancy, I had gained about 30 pounds, and now I've lost all of it. During the first couple of months postpartum, though I haven't actively dieted, breastfeeding and a healthier appetite seemed to have helped me get rid of what I gained in this pregnancy. But I still have 40 pounds I'd like to lose, and I can't seem to do it. My appetite is back, I'm eating huge portions again, mostly carbs and sugar. Every morning I say "today's the day I cut back," and by evening my resolve is gone and I'm snacking on cookies again. (And even if I don't buy cookies, I know how to bake them!)

I'm not happy with how my body looks. My hips are wide, my belly looks like I'm perpetually four months pregnant, I can't find pants that fit properly, and I feel like my lumps are in all the wrong places. My breasts have grown from a B-cup before my first pregnancy to about an E cup now, and they don't show signs of shrinking. I hope that losing weight will help my breasts shrink back down a bit. The oddest thing is that my face, arms, legs, and butt are all fine - I'm actually quite happy from the shoulders up and hips down, but my middle is jiggly, bulgy, and weirdly shaped. Clothes fit strangely, and almost five months postpartum, I still wear a lot of maternity clothes because that's all that fit reasonably comfortably around my middle.

I've never had body image issues. I've never worried so much about what I weigh or how I look. I dress so that I'm comfortable. But lately I've found myself gazing angrily at myself in the mirror. I realize I won't ever have a model's figure (I never did), and I realize that my pregnancy-altered body will never look like it did when I was 20, no matter how much dieting and exercising I do, but I really would like to be able to find clothes that fit me well and flatter me a little. I don't consider myself unattractive, and my loving husband tells me every day that he thinks I'm beautiful, but it's hard to feel beautiful when you're lumpy and don't like any of your clothes.

I have a friend who lost 50 pounds by eating better and exercising. She looks amazing, after three kids and two c-sections. She tells me that at some point, I'll find the motivation, and losing that weight and getting in shape will become the most important thing. Maybe it will. I hope so. I know how to do it. I just don't have the resolve yet.

I think it's important to accept that pregnancy and childbirth change your body. You've brought life into this world! Of course there will be changes. I don't expect to be modeling swimsuits, and I don't especially want to wear a bikini to the beach anyway, so I'm not so concerned with getting rid of every stretch mark and jiggle. But I do want to be healthy, to maintain a reasonable weight and to be in decent shape, if only to be able to keep up with my kids and to do fun activities with them. I also want to set a good example for them, of a healthy diet, healthy eating habits, and healthy activity.

I'll get there. In the meantime, at least I'm aware of what I want to change. I suppose that's a first step.


  1. Not sure if you are looking for suggestions, but weight watchers worked really well for my mom and sister, they both lost 50-75 lbs doing it and have kept it off for 5+ years now. I think it helps to be held accountable for what you eat, and just the simple act of logging it everyday makes you more aware of what you are consuming.


  2. I think you might find my friend Christie helpful. She's a dietician at a hospital here in Detroit, and she posts tips, etc. at http://www.onehungrydietitian.com/ She has actually lost and kept off over 85 lbs, and she is still working on narrowing in on her goal weight, and she frequently shares her efforts on her professional facebook page http://www.facebook.com/1hungrydietitian One reason I like her posts is that, like you, she is very easy to relate to.

    Anyway, remember that even though weight loss may be simple, it isn't easy. It takes a whole lot of self-discipline, and the hard part is figuring out how to keep your motivation going and make yourself more likely to make good decisions at any given moment.