Learning to love yourself (and your body) after having children
We are all made of stardust.
That’s what they say anyway. It sounds like something out of a fairytale. But it turns out scientists have recently proven the sparkle-filled theory to be true – humans and the galaxy around us share around 97% of the same kind of atoms, otherwise called ‘elements of life’.
Sometimes I like to think about this when I hear about the many difficulties us women face during pregnancy, birth and those newborn days. I count myself incredibly lucky to have experienced two good pregnancies with my boys (low iron aside), and will be the first person to say that pregnancy is wondrous and magical, in its own way, just like the stars above us. But, I’ll also hold my hand up and say that throughout the whole experience, there will be many moments that feel like anything but magical.
Aside from the physical pain and an overwhelming love for my tiny babe, there are two surprising emotions I remember experiencing in my early days as a mother. Lost and lonely. It’s not exactly how they paint the picture of motherhood is it? You might have the ivory nursery, pastel cotton blankies and the perfect rocking chair, but truth be told I didn’t feel entirely prepared for motherhood. And how could anyone be? Particularly the first time round when you have literally no idea what to expect. Because let’s face it, there’s only so much we can learn from a few antenatal classes and the odd book and pamphlet.
Where I found my mama groove was by talking to my own mum and three sisters. To this day, I can hands down say that the shared experience of motherhood brought my sisters and I closer together than I could have ever imagined. I’m hugely grateful for that, because without having someone close to you, who you can truly relate to, it’s hard to find the words to accurately describe the life you are about to lead as a new mother.
And the truth is, there’s only one way to say it and it can be hard to say it out loud:
You will lose a part of yourself when you become a mother.
But you will also be transformed. The key to dealing with the loss is learning to love and accept the new you – and that includes your new mum bod too, in all its life-creating glory. But allowing yourself adequate time to do that is also crucial, it’s not going to happen immediately. Your body and your soul has been through a lot, you’ll suffer extreme sleep deprivation and need to salvage what energy you do have to slowly learn how to care for and nurture the little human you grew.
But when you’re ready (and I’d suggest around the six-month mark would be a good time to start) there are a few things you can do to nurture the new you too.
Have a long, hot shower
To a new mum, a long, hot (uninterrupted) shower feels like a mini holiday. Schedule it in with your partner and soak it up. Grab the body scrub and go to town, wash your hair (it’s the little things) and just breathe in the warmth of the steam. Burning some essential oils at the same time will make your bathroom feel like a spa – rose, lavender and ylang ylang are some of my favourites.
Let me begin by saying this is a total judgement-free zone. Some days are just made for staying in your pyjamas and this is especially true for those newborn weeks and months when you’re trying to master feeding, sleeping and just living this new life. But if a time comes when you’re feeling a little lacking in motivation, a pair of jeans, a colourful dress and even a bit of mascara can work wonders. If you can find the time, blow-dry those freshly-washed locks of yours… you’ll feel like a whole new woman.
Get out and about
That new mama glow is real, and for me personally I had this gut feeling that I was doing the right thing for me and my babies… I felt calm… like a mama instinct that had been there all along. But that’s not to say that there won’t be days where even leaving the house can feel a bit overwhelming (hello sleep deprivation). Still, try to do it anyway. Heading out with bub will help you feel connected to the outside world while offering you both a healthy dose of that all-important Vitamin D. Start small – walk two blocks, buy a coffee, walk home. The next day, add an extra block…
Talk to adults
Remember how I said I felt surprisingly lonely when I first became a mother? That’s because I was sat at home with a tiny baby whose only way to communicate was by crying. I loved them entirely and they made me so happy, but some days the house felt small, like a world entirely separate from the one I’d been a part of just days earlier. To avoid feeling like a recluse, why not arrange a monthly date night with your partner, or a regular night out with your closest girlfriends? It’s the perfect excuse to spend some special time with your special people, take part in grown-up conversations and reconnect with the larger world around you.
When you face stress or pain, your body produces calming and pain-relieving hormones called endorphins. You probably had higher levels of endorphins near the end of pregnancy, and for those among us who didn’t use pain medication during labour, your levels would have continued to steadily rise during the birth of your baby. They work by interacting with the receptors in our brain to trigger a positive feeling in the body and reduce our perception of pain. Our bodies really are incredible.
The same thing happens when we exercise – meaning every time we move our bodies we get a hit of self-love. Whether you had a regular exercise routine before your pregnancy or never set foot in a gym, establishing a routine after having your baby will not only help you strengthen your post-baby bod, but it will also give you the much-needed energy and positivity you need to care for your child.
Accept that you are a different person now
If you thought you’d come out the other side of pregnancy the same person, you were always going to be proved wrong. But of course it’s natural to think that way because, really, you can never truly understand just how much having a baby will change your life until you’re in it, surrounded by nappies, nipple cream, and breast pumps. And all the while that same lullaby is playing over, and over, and over again.
Life is different now and there’s no going back – so don’t fight it. The sooner you accept your new role and embrace the changes, the happier you’ll feel both as an individual, and as a mum. You, and your body, have just done something wondrous. You’ve grown life. And that’s more magical than any amount of stardust the galaxy has ever seen.