When I paid $19.95 to sign up for Match.com where I met my now-husband, I got a free subscription to People magazine. And although I canceled my Match.com subscription a month later, I’ve been renewing People for nine years now -- which is my guilty secret (okay, not so secret) vice.
I read my People magazine cover to cover, and then I read The Economist so I don’t feel like a total dimwit. I don’t have a television, so People is my lifeline to pop culture, and for the most part, it brings me great joy to know who Taylor Swift is writing about in her precious bubble gum pop (which I immediately download to my iPod, along with Miley Cyrus and the Glee soundtracks. Don’t laugh).
But every time I see a “Body After Baby” article showing off how some celebrity is prancing around in a bikini six weeks postpartum, I want to puke.
I’m an OB/GYN physician and a mother, so I speak from experience when I say, “Bullshit.” Real women don’t have personal trainers, raw foods chefs, full-time nannies, and plastic surgeons at their beck and call. Body after baby, my ass.
Let me tell you the truth about the bodies I would see in an OB/GYN office. Shapes change. Waistlines disappear. Formerly plump breasts sag like empty Ziploc bags. Stretch marks mar porcelain skin. Muffin tops bulge over those damn low-waisted jeans that don’t flatter any figure. Vaginas gape. Stuff falls out.
This isn’t the case for every women, so if you haven’t had kids yet, don’t freak out the way I did back in my twenties when I watched what happened to women after enduring pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Some women emerge unscathed. Some of those Body-After-Baby celebrities are probably just genetically blessed. They pop back six weeks later after plopping out their sixth kid, and you’d never know they just birthed a ten pound babe out of their cooch.
But the more we popularize the concept in the media, the more self-hatred we all feel when we can’t live up to impossible standards.
I always told my patients, “Nine months on. Nine months off.” But then nine months came and went after I gave birth, and the baby weight clung to me like a fabric softener sheet straight out of the dryer. So I stopped using that phrase. It’s misleading. Sometimes, you’re just never the same again. And that’s okay. Most of us bear some mark to remind us we are mothers.
And you know what? That’s okay. It’s worth it. I would happily trade my formerly svelte body for my daughter any day.
Nobody has an easy time getting back into their pre-baby skin once the stitches have healed. But I must say, mine was unusually rough. I gave birth by C-section, and then my dog died, my healthy young brother wound up in full blown liver failure as a side effect of the antibiotic Zithromax, and my beloved father passed away from a brain tumor -- all within two weeks. And then, four weeks postpartum and two days after flying cross-country with my newborn to attend my father’s funeral, I was back in the operating room, pumping my breasts in the call room during 72 hour shifts while my baby cried at home without me. Talk about losing your mojo overnight.
Needless to say, my figure was the last thing on my mind. And that baby weight did not just drop off during breastfeeding like everyone says. In fact, it seemed perfectly happy settling in around my mid-section, as if to protect me, like an inner tube, from drowning in the floods of my Perfect Storm.
So I wore lots of leggings and stretch pants. And I finally made peace with the fact that I needed to stop the magical thinking and ditch half the clothes in my closet because I would probably never be a size 4 again. I cried when I sent that Dolce & Gabbana dress to Goodwill.
Then I decided to change my attitude. I resigned myself to loving the body I have, worshipping at the temple of my droopy boobs and little Buddha belly. I started doing a body blessing every day. I came to appreciate my more curvy, feminine body for all it had done for me. I stopped berating myself when I caught a glimpse of myself naked in the mirror. I sent my inner critic (aka The Gremlin) to time out and told him I didn’t need to hear his mean-spirited, lambasting banter about how I lack willpower and won’t ever be loved unless I get back into that Dolce & Gabbana dress.
I signed up for a green juice cleanse at the integrative medicine practice where I had started working. It included a seven-day pre-cleanse elimination diet (no caffeine, no alcohol, no sugar, no animal products, no FUN). Then a five-day nutritional cleanse consisting of freshly made green juice, veggie broth, wheat grass, detoxifying teas, and vegan soups followed.
And guess what? The weight actually melted off. And I felt better than I’d ever felt in my life. Doing that cleanse changed my life in ways that go far beyond the physical. It inspired me to add green juice as a supplement to my daily life and to ditch some of my bad habits. That was two years ago, and the weight stayed off. Some things will never be the same. And I never could squeeze back into a size 4 dress. But I’m cool with that. Because I’ve learned a very important lesson in the process of becoming a mother. In order to age gracefully and become truly, timelessly beautiful, we must surrender our attachment to the youthful bodies we once had and revel in the fact that, as much as it sounds like a cliché, it’s really true that our essential value lies within. Cultivating inner beauty shines right through your skin, muffin top, stretch marks, and all. You can embrace this transition with love, or you can fight it with a machete, spending the rest of your life perpetually in the plastic surgeon’s office, cutting and Botoxing and lifting for the rest of your life.
My post-baby body journey proved to me that truly sustainable weight loss only happens from a place of self-love. If you’re trying to hate your body into skinny submission, it’s gonna pile on the pounds.
You know what I’m talking about, sisters. Your attempt to be a Body After Baby rock star goes something like this:
You feel inadequate, insecure, and unsexy as a new mother, so you go to the fridge to make a salad so you can lose your baby weight and feel better about yourself. But then you spy that carton of ice cream, and it beckons to you. Maybe this will fill up the hole within you. You take one bite, but then you remember about Jenny Craig (or Weight Watchers or The Zone Diet or the South Beach Diet -- or whatever). While the ice cream melts in your mouth, you start berating yourself. “You’re such a loser. You have no willpower. I can’t believe you just took that bite of ice cream. That’s your whole fat allocation for the day. Why didn’t you eat a salad? You can’t do anything right. And if you can’t follow this diet, you’ll be fat and ugly for the rest of your life and nobody will ever love you. You suck. I hate you.” You feel so awful that you dig your spoon in and finish the whole crate of Ben and Jerry’s.
But if you learn to love yourself -- fat, cellulite, stretch marks, sag, and all -- you feel motivated to nurture your precious God Pod with healthy foods, movement, and love. I believe you must start with loving acceptance for the divine, radiant being that you are. Every one of us was created as a perfect, whole being who is weightless. Within you lies that beautiful, perfect spirit, regardless of what the world sees on the outside. You must reclaim, honor, and love that part of yourself to begin your journey to a healthy weight. As long as you punish yourself into trying to lose weight, it simply won’t work.
Even if you lose 100 pounds because you’ve limited yourself to 500 measly fat-free, sugar-free calories per day, you will likely discover that you are 100 pounds skinnier and you still hate yourself. And one day, when the evil voice in your heads says, “See. You’re skinny and you still suck,” you will pick that Ben and Jerry’s container back up and dig in.
And I still feel a twinge when I see the bikini photos of me before I had my daughter. But now I know I have something much more valuable -- not just the joy of having brought a precious new life into the world, but the knowledge that I am in the process of crossing over from young, insecure, superficial hottie to wise, sage, sultry, sexy Mama.
So bring on the stretch pants and push-up bras. Bring on the leggings that cover up my varicose veins. I still cling to my vanity and do what I can to make the most out of what I’ve got. And I’ve still got it, baby! I’m telling you -- I’m MILF material, in spite of how pregnancy ravaged my body.
You won’t hear me yelling at my post-baby body anymore. Nope. Not me. As S Factor founder Sheila Kelley says, “Treat your body like a gifted child.”
So I resolve to kiss and hug my body, to nourish her with whole foods and green juice, to rub her down with lavender-scented coconut oil, to affirm her inner and outer beauty, and to speak in loving, gentle voices when I’m standing in front of the mirror.
What about you, Mama?
Loving you just the way that you are,
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Woman coach, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
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