Our panelists: Kirstin Magnuson (Therapist and Mama) and Jill Stroud (Personal Trainer and Mama), and our moderator, Lauren Barnes.
This morning’s discussion can be an extremely touchy topic and could easily be full of judgment and eye rolling...our goal is to have an honest and kind conversation. We hope we can all accept that we each view our bodies differently and that we each come into this discussion with our own views of health, image, insecurities, and perceptions. This is not a conversation that will “fix” anything. Instead, it is simply the start of a conversation that alerts us all to the fact that we might need to pause before we assume.
Our first question is for the audience. When asked how they would describe their bodies, in one word, BEFORE they had children, here were some of the responses: awesome, free-of-stretch-marks, healthy, strong, tan, energized, less gravitational pull, and fertile.
Kirstin was warned by “helpful” strangers and acquaintances about the horrors of a postpartum body while she was pregnant. Her friends approached the subject with more love while remaining honest. Jill did not know what to expect from her body, and was surprised by how out of control she felt. She felt additional pressure about her body as a trainer because of how she was on display in her career. The usual methods she would have used for weight loss (cutting calories, increasing workout intensity) were not always an option during and after pregnancy. So many factors (breastfeeding, lack of sleep and energy, etc.) are involved in the changes in your body and how you can get back into shape.
Why are we insecure about our bodies and why do we compare ourselves as women? Kirstin says that the inundation of “perfection” in models and in the media make us feel that that is normal, and that our own bodies are somehow wrong. Jill says that usually our expectations are unrealistic. She said that while some women can “snap back” and get back into shape quickly, that is not the norm for everyone. Comparing ourselves to others makes our own journey harder.
As an audience so many of us have had insensitive comments made about our bodies after having children. We have been asked if we're pregnant when we're not, or heard snarky comments about remaining baby weight. We've been told that our expectations are too high or that we're somehow selfish for wanting to get back to a healthy and active lifestyle postpartum.
Jill says the keyword is healthy, and that does not look the same for everyone. So often our goal is thin or sexy instead of a healthy body. Thin does not mean healthy, there is often a lack of muscle mass after pregnancy that is not healthy even if you can fit back into your pre-pregnancy clothes. While Kirstin didn't have trouble losing weight, she found that she was out of shape and didn't like it. She was easily winded and sore, and found that being more active let her feel better about herself regardless of how she looked.
So often on social media we only see the success stories. When we're proud of our bodies we want to share it, but doing so can be damaging to others who haven't had the same success. We should all be proud of these strong bodies who have nurtured and labored and birthed these children. One audience member reminds us that we can choose what we see on social media and the internet. We can block or unfollow or choose to ignore those who are damaging to us. She has found several groups and individuals to follow who are encouraging and uplifting, some of whom are in great shape and serve as positive inspiration without bringing her down emotionally. It is your choice to join a group that is supportive for you and your needs. Even well-meaning mothers can make us feel down, especially from a person that you expect support from. Generational differences can make it difficult for older women to support us in new and conventional maternity clothing and postpartum experiences.
From our husbands, we get various responses and methods of support. Some stories: one mama's husband brought her the same shirt in every size postpartum, while another's took her to buy bigger pants with nothing but joy and support. One dear husband makes brownies when his wife is upset, which is so sweet but really not helping her postpartum body insecurities.
Jill says that the best way to get back into shape after birth is strength training. High intensity strength training and setting strength goals is very effective. Picking a goal that is not a number on the scale or a jean size will help you to get to healthy place. Instead of the outcome, she recommends focusing on the process. As you meet and move on to different goals, you will eventually get to your desired outcome but in a healthy and natural way. For breastfeeding mothers she recommends listening to your body (and your baby!) and eating enough to keep your body energized. Staying hydrated and keeping your body nourished will help allow you to maintain your breast milk supply, as long as your workout is moderate and reasonable.
Lauren questions whether our true measure of beauty should be our outward appearance or our inner selves. Kirstin tells a story about a time that her child waited patiently while she had an adult conversation, and she recognized that she would like to achieve that patience too. That is how she would like to be recognized and seen as beautiful, for her heart and her person. Jill points out that we do this to children too, telling them how cute or beautiful they are, as opposed to pointing out a great personality trait or behavior. The mother of some attractive children would reply to these “you're so beautiful” complements with “but what's in your heart?” to remind children that looks are not what matters. What moms do want to be complemented on: our work accomplishments, our efforts as mothers, and the ways we give of ourselves. One audience member sees unshowered mothers as beautiful, because she knows that the sacrifice of a shower was made so that a baby would not be left crying. One grandmother knows that just being pregnant, giving birth or having a newborn would each be a feat on their own, and yet we do all three without a break; she reminds mothers to be kind to themselves. She also says we have progress days and maintenance days, and some days are just survival days. Appreciate each of these days and know that they are all for a reason and purpose.
Some strengths we have gained since having children: patience, fearlessness, responsibility, endurance, and capability. Please feel free to share some of your postpartum experiences, good and bad, in the comments.