Ten months of pregnancy (come on, 39 weeks is so much closer to 10-months than 9!). Labor & delivery. Then, BAM. Postpartum period. Each stage of motherhood comes with its own triumphs, obstacles, and learning.
These life experiences and milestones are further accompanied by expectations. Meeting your own expectations to provide as a mother… a partner. Expectations to get back to the “woman you were” prior to pregnancy… completely disregarding the fact that we are not, and can never be the same person - we’ve evolved. Expectations to adhere to a certain postpartum body image norm after pregnancy… to “bounce back.”
Nursing (or bottle feeding!), sleepless nights, tumultuous hormones, healing a wounded body… these are all a few of the inevitable obstacles that new mothers (and fathers!) must deal with. However, it seems as though the amount of pressures mothers place upon themselves are ever-increasing. The pressure of getting our mind and body back to becoming a “productive member of society,” as if motherhood isn’t productive enough.
Going through pregnancy, most women hear, “Oh, you’re so small!” or “You’re going to bounce back so fast!” as if being big was bad and returning to pre-pregnancy form is the only thing on women’s minds. Although many onlooker’s words had good intentions, society is so conditioned to talk about a woman’s body in such a transactional way.
When hearing these comments, myself, my response to everyone would be, “Yeah maybe or maybe not. It’s okay if I do, but I also can see it not happening. I’m just not trying to place any pressure on myself either way. I just want to survive.”
Was that entirely true? No. I had a bit of an expectation for how I would recover, despite my appreciative response.
Everyone told me that the baby weight would “fall off” when nursing because of the calories burned. It wasn’t until after I stopped nursing did I really see my body composition change.
Everyone assumed that because I had a certain level of fitness prior to pregnancy that I would be able to get back into a competitive gym-going physicality again, however, my body was not the same and I went through a spiral of injuring myself because I didn’t meet my body where it was. I expected myself to go back to the way I was pre-pregnancy, but I was not the same… and still isn’t.
I share these anecdotes with you because as a new mother, the world gives you a slew of “advice” all with good intentions, but it can be a double edged sword. What is helpful can become harmful.
We have so many external forces telling us to live a certain way. To be the do-it-all mom who can work full-time, run a household, have flawless skin, AND drink a kale smoothie every morning while doing acroyoga.
Outside forces aren’t necessarily telling us, because it’s much more subtle. They’re suggesting to us, that with their “before & after” photos back to washboard abs or a full-time work schedule, that you can do it, too. I mean Gisele can have a handful of kids and go back to the runway, so you should definitely go vegan.
Do we blame the news cycle and social media for flooding our lives with these images?
Do we blame Google and other Silicon Valley giants for making Instagram and Facebook so addictive?
Do we blame COVID for getting rid of our autonomy, our ability to do things we want to do in life, so we spend hours laying on the couch with a phone glued to our hands until it accidentally hits us in the face because our hand went numb?!
It’s easy to have and make excuses for ourselves during this crazy year that is 2020. I mean it has been gnarly. It’s easy to lose our compass and sense of direction. COVID and the recent pandemic has made a LOT of us have to change our focus, but also how we spend our time.
I mean, here in California we’re on the precipice of a 3-week stay-at-home order amidst rising infection rates. As a new mother (or anyone, really), being isolated is a mental hurdle. Humans, evolutionarily, are social creatures. Community is part of what helped ensure our survival these past 6 million years. In place of physical interaction, what do we reach for?
In place of what we used to do, we fill our time with what’s easy. What’s right in front of us, or what’s designed to suck us in. It’s easy to get enamored by a fantasy land of social media and Hollywood lifestyles while we’re trying to escape our own realities. It’s designed to make you want to keep scrolling, watching, engaging… a technological Pandora’s Box. It’s the low-hanging fruit.
We’re never just stripped down in our own heads anymore. It’s always flooded with information overload. We can’t be by ourselves and not be on our phones or feed. We fill our days with outlets that make our brain spiral into a click-bait vortex.
Then, the next, most logical thing is to start comparing ourselves to Instagram influencers endorsing 30-day quick-fixes and the “Karen” down the street who only posts pictures of perfect gingerbread houses amidst holiday photos of the entire family in matching flannel pajamas.
At what point does this source of entertainment become harmful? When does it bleed into our own personal aspirations? How does it affect our choices and decision-making? When do we need to assess our own expectations for ourselves?
Back to the original intent of this blog: what’s the first thing that we need to do in order to set ourselves up for postpartum success? Or… to be as successful as possible LOL.
We need to change our minds. Throw ALL of your expectations out the door. Pinterest is not life. (I mean nothing I’ve ever made has looked remotely like what the photos show!)
We need to change our mentality around WHY we do what we do. Our bodies have gone through miraculous transformations – both inside and out. Are you placing pressures on yourself to adhere to someone else’s perfect version of motherhood? Someone else’s perfectly curated image? Take a long time to assess, even write down, why you want something.
Next, we need to set realistic expectations. Should we even expect it to be the same person as we were before? Why would I want to go back to being someone who I was when I’m not that person anymore? I mean, you did, after all, grow a human AND a new organ (holla, placenta!). Don’t we, as humans, have the ability to grow older and not equate age with decline, but more like a fine wine?
We need to be okay with ourselves. Who we are without distraction and filters. Who we are in real life, not the highlight reel. We need to begin to truly accept all facets of who we are, inside and out. It’s easier said than done, as the scale is tempting and so is pinching your belly fat, but ignoring who you are isn’t going to help you. Really look at yourself. Try your best to celebrate what makes us all different instead of conforming to someone else’s image of beauty and womanhood.
Once you’ve begun to turn the tables on how you view yourself, next you will need to define how you measure success. In the current hustle-and-bustle of a busy life, qualitative metrics are usually at the forefront of our thoughts. How much we weigh, the number of calories we’ve consumed, what our pant size is, etc. I mean, FitBit says that I burned 1,000 calories in my workout so I can eat 1,000 more calories of snacks, right?!
These can be beneficial, but most often, in my years of working with people, they are harmful because they come with a slew of stigma and drawbacks surrounding them - obsessing over the scale, counting calories, underfeeding our bodies, spiraling ourselves into deprivation.
Find other qualitative measures to measure success. Happiness, mood, stress levels, getting outside to get some activity that isn’t measured by a metric, but just for enjoyment.
Be present in your current surroundings. Your physical ones. These pandemic times have really forced us to limit our social circles, so instead of reaching outward into an imaginary land that you have no connection to, spend that time rekindling friendships from years past. You may be sick of your family (LOL), but take 30-min. To walk outside and chat with a college or high school friend on the phone. Take the leap to initiate some contact. Find value in the quality of your relationships around you, not the quantity.
Finding balance as a mother (or father) is constantly evolving. Initiating change in one’s life is never easy. The journey through parenthood and the postpartum period can be a beautiful one, but it also forces enormous individual growth. If you ever need or want more individualized help… to talk to a friend, that’s what we’re here for 💕.