I’d like to think of myself as not being a particularly vain person. I don’t think I’m terribly obsessed with my image and my overall look, which is probably born out by the number of times I’ve turned up to nursery recently with at least one hastily mopped up damp patch about my person and that my hair styling choices have been red hair bobble or orange hair bobble. I didn’t think I was generally susceptible to peer pressure either, to the constant barrage of images and messages that make up our everyday lives, some helpful, others not so much.
And yet. And yet it turns out it might all be a giant fib, a little light illusion to make me feel good about myself, after all who really admits that they are a slave to the media’s “do this! do that!”
Five and a bit weeks ago I gave birth to a very gorgeous, very long, very snuggly little 9lb 9oz son. And although the birth plan went a little bit out of the window (that’s why I don’t write them anymore), it was a great birth experience. My recovery on the other hand was tougher than I expected.
For the first 24 hours or so after he was born I could only really stand upright comfortably and walk if I was holding my tummy in with a spare hand. I don’t know whether this is what was happening or not but the only way I can describe it is that it felt like Pip and everything that surrounded him stretched out my tummy further than it’s been stretched before and that once he was delivered all of my internal organs decided to go and hang out in this nice newly vacated space.
I’d try to engage my core muscles to put everything back where it should be and they just weren’t there. And that bit at least I know is true; my abdominal muscles have been stretched and pushed and tested over the last nine months to the point that I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that I am not to do any kind of ab exercises until after my 6 week check up, and then ease into things nice and gently.
It’s a consequence of being me, carrying the way I carry my children (netball up the jumper style), and having two large babies within 20 months of each other. And it’s a consequence that I’m more than happy to take for the very great privilege of being Kitty, Elma and Pip’s Mummy.
And as and when it’s sensible and safe for me to do so I’ll start adding in a little exercise to my daily routine and slowly but surely I hope that I’ll be able to rebuild my core strength, work through the weight that I put on during this pregnancy, and reacquaint myself with some non-maternity clothes. It’s going to be hard work, but it’s going to be doable.
So far so good.
I know that women don’t generally just ping back into shape one month postpartum, particularly in subsequent pregnancies. I’ve had three children for goodness sake and with the exception of a colleague who was back in her jeans in less than 2 weeks (incidentally having delivered a much smaller baby and being an all over more miniature person than me) and probably the girl in the bay opposite me on the postnatal ward who practically had a flat tummy again as she toddled out of hospital with her 6lb something teeny tiny baby daughter in a very shiny brand new car seat, it’s taken the rest of us several months at least before ordinary clothes became an appealing prospect.
So why do I feel so self conscious about my little Father Christmas style jelly belly? Why do I feel like when I leave the house I want a giant neon sign to flash above my head “I am not fat, I just had a baby!”? (incidentally H’s answer to that one was “you do – it’s the baby!”)
Could it be vanity; wanting to be that magical and largely mythical sort of supermum that makes Mary Poppins look mediocre, cooks every meal from scratch, more to the point has children who eat everything she makes from scratch, is always attentive to her husband, immaculately dressed and shod, and claims that she just bounced back into shape with a little light breastfeeding?
Or is it that I’m not as immune as I thought I was and that an over-exposure to Grazia magazine courtesy of the doctor’s waiting room has got my subconscious convinced that the right way to do this, the way that makes me a success at the final stage of pregnancy and birth, is to look like I never did it in the first place?
Whatever the cause I don’t like the answer. I don’t want to feel embarrassed or want to hide the shape I am. My body just did something amazing, and is continuing to do something amazing, and if it needs to let everything all hang out for a little while longer that should be OK.
I was always taught that if you didn’t like something you need to work to change it. I can’t do anything to change my shape just yet (well I could probably reduce the hobnob intake, but I already switched from chocolate to plain and when you’re nursing two children that’s quite enough self sacrifice), all I can do is change how I feel about it.
So as a first step I took a picture. A bump picture from the fourth trimester. A picture to say this, this is the reality, this is what your tummy actually looks like a month after delivery when you’re 34 years old, a little on the plumper side to start with, and you carry a 9lb 9oz baby to 41 weeks.
And this, silly subconscious, is why you shouldn’t care.
Because all the funny sideways glances, real or imaginary, or the acquaintance who comments in delight that you’ve got another baby on the way while the baby you’ve just had snoozes next to you in the pram mean absolutely nothing to this little boy; and to this little boy I am the world.