I wrote this last year at work when my baby was three months old. It was inspired by an article on BBC about post-baby bodies and what women feel about them(selves). There was a photo exhibition going on at a gallery or online in the US, if I remember correctly, with photos of various women showing their post-baby bodies. The article resonated with me, so I wrote this note here below. I shared it with women in my extended family circle and we had a rich online discussion after that- more candid than I had expected, and very enriching but also surprising to hear from aunties and cousins and my mum on the various feelings that women go through as they embrace motherhood for the first time and subsequent times. Issues of health, family planning, sexuality, fashion, the link or (non-link) between being blessed and growing bigger and so on also came up and it was clear to me that it was a topic that we should have talked about more.
Last month, in April (this year, 2014), I promised to share this note/email with some friends when we were talking about body changes. This time the discussion was triggered by a photo of me on Facebook, taken in South Africa in Kwa Zulu Natal, Shakaland, in 2008, which someone commented on (and then tens others followed with kind but also quite loaded comments). In the photo I was very slim and I guess very pretty- and so there was this sort of shock that I was once that small (!). I didn’t feel the need to defend my weight gain, but certainly felt it important to share what it has come to mean to me as a woman, a wife, a mother and (in many ways still) a girl. As we take on different roles, I think some things change- and our bodies and how we view them is one of those things. Not to defend obesity or lack of concern for one’s health.
My husband’s response to the note when I shared it with him last year was, well, pure love. I sent it to him in an email and he replied- on email- that he thought I was beautiful then, as I was during the pregnancy, and before that. He also went on to thank me for the nourishment that I was providing for our baby during pregnancy and after birth. He said that he was not just saying it to make me feel better but that he meant it and that it was true. That in his eyes, I had never stopped being beautiful. I chose not to doubt him. I replied and thanked him for appreciating this new kind of beautiful.
Well, without saying too much more- as I am wont to do- here is the email/note that I am referring to.
Post-Baby and Beautiful- 16th July 2013
I’m 28 and I just had my first baby three months ago and it was through CS. Therefore it follows that I have a scar; it’s very neat, thankfully, but it’s still a scar. I couldn’t be too active in the first six weeks post-delivery so I wasn’t able to exercise as such. In my culture, women are encouraged to ‘tie’ their tummies with a belt or cloth or leso (sarong) after birth so that the belly can go back to normal size but I was not able to do that due to the CS scar.
When I first saw myself in the mirror after delivery, I was shocked that that was my body. The belly area was dark(er) because of the loose skin. Now the skin is not as loose any more but there are dimples, folds and stretch marks just below and around the belly button. There are also stretch marks on my lower back and hips and thighs, a result, I’m guessing, of the weight gain during pregnancy. Aside from that, my bust size went up during pregnancy and even more so after delivery. I was a 36B, but I am now easily a 40C, I had to get new bras post-delivery.
I do feel self-conscious about my body, even in front of my husband, and I don’t feel sexy at all at this point. But I am thrilled by the fact that I was able to carry and deliver a human being. That this body was a vehicle for bringing forth a new life amazes me. Thinking about it, my bust is bigger because it is now a source of food. When I look at my baby, I see him as a gift, and no stretch marks, no dimples, no folds; can reduce the amount of joy that he brings me. Nothing, not even a flabby tummy can reduce the amount of love I feel for him. Nothing around my mid-section or elsewhere for that matter can reduce the gratitude that I feel for being blessed with the precious treasure of a child.
Yes, I will work on becoming fit again and getting back to a healthy shape. But in the meantime, I bear the marks and flab as victory scars. I salute all women and all the changes, physical and otherwise, that we go through in the process of bringing forth new life. Here’s to us, and all men- and women- who recognize this and see it as beautiful.