After having my first child at 27, I was pleasantly surprised at how my body bounced back. Before getting pregnant I was in great shape and at a weight I hadn't seen my wedding (thanks to being unemployed during a warm Minnesota spring). After getting pregnant I did yoga at least three times a week and walked miles almost every day (again, no job!). So I was in a good spot after the baby came and I was back to my pre-baby(ish) weight before my son's first birthday. I worked out a bit, but mostly this happened slowly and naturally over time (part of it was breastfeeding, but mostly it was being too busy to sit down and eat proper meals).
Don't get me wrong, my weight may have been similar but my body looked very different. My hips were wider and my thighs were jigglier. My stomach wasn't quite as taught and my boobs... lets just say the stuffing fell out. Despite all this I was generally okay with how I looked. I would rock a two piece at the pool without giving it a second thought. Even some of the imperfections that bothered me before having a child didn't seem as important. My body had grown and birthed a human for fuck sake, and I was determined to cut it some slack.
When my son was 20 months I got pregnant again. By this time I was back into running, although usually while pushing a child in a jogging stroller so I wasn't breaking any personal records. I vowed to myself that I would stay fit though my second pregnancy. Maybe I would even be one of those 8-months pregnant women I sometimes saw running who I simultaneously hated and admired. I thought I could accomplish anything as long as I focused on my health.
Fast forward a few weeks, and I felt like complete and utter shit. That’s not even a strong enough description. I felt like a horrific hangover mixed with the stomach flu, all while taking care of a VERY demanding toddler alone all day. I wouldn’t leave the house for days and days because the mere act of taking a shower and putting on presentable clothes made me want to weep. Thank God my sister had just moved to Minneapolis and was still unemployed or else I seriously would have just called 911 every day.
I did not “focus on my health” during those months. All I cared about was surviving the day. Although at first the nausea meant I didn’t gain much weight, as soon as I felt slightly better I made up for it (and then some) eating comfort food and drinking full calorie Coke. Although eventually I didn’t feel like I was going to throw up every time I moved, I was still exhausted the entire 9 months and went from an 11:30 p.m. bedtime to sprinting into my bedroom the second my son fell asleep. I was having trouble doing basic things like cooking meals and cleaning the house, so working out was my last priority.
After I gave birth the second time, I immediately noticed how different I looked. My skin had obviously been pushed past its ability to bounce back. I remember feeling a bit panicked looking in my full-length mirror for the first time after arriving home for the hospital. “What the fuck am I supposed to do with this?” I asked myself.
The first time around, any flaws I saw in the mirror were things I felt I could most likely fix with a little diet and exercise. But after baby number two I knew that if I wanted to look at all close to my “pre-baby” body, I was going to need the help of a plastic surgeon (and a damned good one). Even if I lost all the weight and got into great shape, things would never be the same.
This realization made me feel like my youth was officially behind me (I know some of my readers will scoff at this). I felt like I had entered a time in my life when no matter how much work I put into my body, it will never look like “mine" again. Sometimes when I catch a glimpse of myself in a store window without realizing it, I have a physical reaction when I realize it isn’t some strange woman. It’s not just that I’ve put on weight, because I’ve done that a few times throughout my life. It’s something else that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe my entire silhouette is different. Or perhaps my brain has been permanently altered by all the hormones and it warps my self image.
I've essentially been doing nothing to fix the situation. When I do have time to potentially work out, I have a 100 other things that I need to do first. Not to mention the fact I am physically exhausted at the end of each day after hauling around a 2-year-old, 6-month-old and all their associated gear. Between the breastfeeding and sleep deprivation I’m probably eating more now than when I was pregnant (so many carbs).
Part of me mourns the person who went to the gym three days a week and still fit into her jeans from college. But the reality is, that very thin and fit person still thought very little of herself. She hated her thighs and always wanted to lose 5 more pounds. She thought her arms looked flabby and felt guilty when she ate a dessert.
So instead of spending countless hours (that I don’t have right now) at the gym trying to force my body back into a mold it most certainly will not fit into, I’m going to relax on the couch when I get some rare free time. Instead of starving myself and potentially messing with my milk supply, I’m going to eat what sounds good so I have enough energy to take my kids to parks and museums and zoos.
As my children get older I hope that I can slowly start doing things like going to the gym, running and eating really healthy. Right now I’m trying to enjoy life for what it is and forgive myself for not looking like I did as a 25-year-old with very few responsibilities other than making it to work in the morning without looking obviously hung over.
If I’m being honest, it would never be enough anyway. I will never be happy with what I see in the mirror, so maybe I just stop looking in the mirror. Maybe I cover them all with dusty fabric like in the creepy horror movies I love. That way I can focus on living life and enjoying my kids while they still think I am amazing and hilarious and want to be with me all hours of the day (and night).
Its freeing, in a lot of ways. I’m giving fewer and fewer fucks with each passing year. Having children has certainly accelerated the process and I'm very thankful to them for that. Because regardless of what I do, my body is eventually going to go to shit. But whether or not that makes my life worse is up to me. I’m pretty sure no 90-year-old in the history of the world has looked back on her life and thought, “wow, I would have been so much happier and fulfilled if I had just weighed 15 pounds less and had firmer thighs.” Even if I’m wrong about that, at least I will have eaten a lot of really delicious food.