This question has been playing on my mind a lot lately. Does it end when we have our 6 week check? When baby has been out longer than they were in? Or does it never end?
Of course, I don’t have a scientific answer to this – is there even a scientific answer? But I think it’s an important question that acts as part of a wider discussion around motherhood.
A lot of people (including healthcare professionals) talk about feeling ‘normal’ again after having a baby. What an annoyingly awkward phrase. Just think, right now, about how you would define ‘normal’. You can’t can you?
I remember sitting with my health visitor (who is a LOVELY lady – those people do an incredible job) and her saying ‘You’ll probably begin to feel normal around 9 months after having the baby’. I just sat there and thought…but I feel normal now? Right now is MY normal. For me, this kind of ‘talk’ just highlights the bounce back culture we live in. Comparing how we feel ‘now’ to how we felt ‘then’ and how we will feel ‘soon’.
As a society we need to focus more on being present, on embracing the ‘now’ and taking that as our current ‘normal’. If we are constantly comparing how we feel or look to how we used to feel/look, we are stealing the joy of the current moment without even realising it.
Postpartum essentially means ‘after baby’. So in my opinion postpartum doesn’t end, but evolves. I will always be living ‘after’ I gave birth to Arlo (unless someone invents a time machine…which would be quite exciting). I am constantly changing, healing, growing but I am always postpartum.
Along with how we ‘feel’ as mothers, comes an important discussion around how we ‘look’ as mothers. With the phrase ‘your tummy will shrink back to its normal size’ or ‘your stretch marks will fade and begin to look like normal skin soon’ being thrown around all too regularly, women are experiencing a tidal wave of emotion around what ‘normal’ really means.
Let me set this straight. You were normal two months ago, you are normal right now and you will be normal in two months time. Your postpartum tummy was normal 2 minuets after birth, it is normal right now and it will be normal in two months time. Growing your confidence is about defining your own ‘normal’ and living by it.
Postpartum isn’t a mere fleeting 6 week time period, it is a completely new chapter that is now your own individual ‘normal’.
Before becoming pregnant, I’d never seen birth. In actual fact I’d never ever talked about birth, I suppose it has been a bit of a ‘Taboo’ topic. Images of birth are often censored, many parents don’t discuss birth with their children and the representation of it in the media is awful.
I knew I had to do something about this…I was about to experience one of life’s most intense moments and yet I had never been exposed to it in any capacity.
I took to Instagram and searched “labour” in the hashtag section. All of a sudden millions of images of women in labour, all around the globe, appeared. I was amazed at the rawness and emotion filled images I was seeing, thousands of women in the throws of such a powerful experience. But not only that, I was amazed at the amount of different births I was seeing. Water births, home births, c-section births…the list could go on.
From here I began to uncover the pages of lots of astounding Birth Photographers. I filled my feed with all these images. I was exposing myself to the raw realities of a diversity of births every single day. It was this gradual but consistent exposure to birth that I believe helped me exponentially during labour and postpartum.
I was able to have trust in my body, to know that all births are wildly different but equally beautiful. In addition, I was able to process my birth with much more clarity afterwards.
We need to work towards a society where these images are not censored, and are more widely seen. Where birth is an open discussion. Not only for women to feel more power in their experience and confidence in their bodies, but for the rest of society to be able to support women.
I know that birth will be an open and encouraged discussion within my family, and if I go on to have another child I would want Arlo to be included in the experience of birth. Exposure is key to understanding.
Among some of the photographers I found was Lacey. Lacey Barratt is a pioneer in the birth industry, paving the way for a more inclusive, dynamic, and unapologetically raw content through visual arts. As a doula, she pushes the boundaries of what women think they are capable of; helping them to break free of any societal norms or standards by understanding they are their own individual with individual needs. Lacey makes sure that her imagery is nothing less than artful and educational, striving to help women gain knowledge through her images.
Here are Lacey’s thoughts on why birth photography is important.
When I had my first baby seven years ago my mum asked if my husband was going to take any pictures. Actually, I was mortified by the thought of looking back at them. I also thought she was being selfish because she was in the states and that was her way of being invasive without being *invasive*. Man, the regret I felt 12 months later….We all know good ole Facebook. Reminding you of the things you did on this day twelve months ago. Timehop. Yep….facebook’s Timehop had me crippled on his one-year-old birthday. I was already emotional and then add on top of it that I had three photos from the day of his birth and I was devastated. It shook me to my core so much so that I started offering birth photography as a service to my clients.
I never wanted anyone else to feel the regret that I felt that day. Or any family to experience that type of void. I now see all the ways that birth photography benefits families. I see that my mum was not actually being selfish. Or invasive. Or passive aggressive. It was for both of us.
I wondered if I had that birth face that you see in all these stunning birth images. I wondered what my husband looked like when he had skin to skin. I wondered if he touched me during labour more than I remembered. All of these questions will be there forever. I’ll never actually know the answer to any of them.
I can say that my subsequent babies had birth photographers.
I have this theory that documenting your birth extends the high of a good birth and helps heal a bad birth
No, my images won’t magically take away the pain of a traumatic birth. But with 100 time-stamped images it can help you process what happened in a chronological order better than your memories can.
When you are in labour we naturally (if left unhindered) go into what is called labour land. This is a place where all of your hormones are making a concoction potion, so to speak. Oxytocin, testosterone, adrenaline, progesterone….and heaps more to get you out of your logical brain. So you don’t have to think…you just do what feels good in that moment. This enables you to go deep inside of yourself and focus on your body and your baby. Making you less aware of the things that are going on around you. This is why we forget. We are biologically programmed to not remember. Not to protect us from the physical pain as mainstream society would say. But to help you birth your baby. This is the fight side of the fight or flight phenomenon.
After our baby is born, if things don’t go exactly to plan we have the ability to process exactly what has happened to us. Births, where we felt empowered, enables us to relive that feeling of being empowered. Hormonally, we are getting boosts of oxytocin over and over and over every time we look at our images….meaning our high lasts longer.
Why do you want to relive this experience ESPECIALLY if it was traumatic? This seems like it would be a trick question. But it isn’t. It is because after we experience our power being taken away, the only power that we have left is the power over our emotions. When our bodily autonomy isn’t respected our emotional autonomy is OURS. Forever and ever amen. Once you have your images, with the time they were taken and an unbiased documentation of your birth story, it is then that you are able to look at them and decide how you want to feel and own that in whatever capacity you want to. It’s a way to take your power back, if not with your body, with your emotions. That in itself is incredibly empowering.
Without realising it, our birth experiences shape us. Scientifically, with the bonding of our babies, how we respond to touch, how we process feelings and it spills into our everyday lives…even if we don’t realise it.
This is why I regret not documenting my first birth. I’ll never have that physical evidence of my power, of my vulnerabilities or my trauma to process.
Now I will start this one with a bit of a disclaimer; I very strongly dislike clothes shopping and so am most definitely not about to give you tips on fashion. Partly because I know nothing about it… and secondly because I don’t like the idea of things being ‘in’ or ‘out’ of fashion. I will wear what I want when I want thank you very much.
So you have this new body. It has bumps, marks and everything else all in places they weren’t before. Nothing you used to wear fits or looks right… and the idea of going shopping to find new clothes is not something that sounds fun. Sound familiar?
don’t attempt to try on old clothes/buy new ones the second that baby pops out.
Your body changes most rapidly in the few weeks after birth, so spend as much
time as you can in those comfy maternity leggings and oversized t shirts. Enjoy
not giving a shit about what you put on in the morning for a while.
Then, when the speed at which everything is changing slows down (that will be a different time for everyone I might add) start thinking about updating your wardrobe. After all, you’ve most likely just spend 9 months in boring maternity clothes so you deserve it.
I treated myself to some new sports clothes at first… they’re comfy and will still fit me if I change size. Reebok is one of my favourite brands. I waited until about 11 weeks postpartum to go ‘normal’ clothes shopping.
The first mistake I made was shopping for my so called ‘old body’. I picked out a load of clothes that I would have worn a year ago… only one size above my old size and went to try them on. I probably don’t need to say it, but nothing fitted and anything that did fit was the complete wrong shape/style. Not my most ‘body confident’ moment to say the least (and to add to it… changing room lighting is often awful)
I put everything back, left the shop and we went for a coffee. I definitely needed a breather after that experience. A bit of a pep talk from Kieran in the coffee shop (which I might add he is particularly good at, that man can read my mind without a word coming out my mouth) and we went to try shop number two… with a much better mindset.
Zara is a shop I have always loved, especially during summer, so we went there. I picked up lots of different style clothes (some I would have never worn a year ago) in LOTS of different sizes and went to try them on. I’m not too bothered about the number on the hanger… I know full well that clothes look better and make me feel better when they fit. Small, large or otherwise. Low and behold… I LOVED some of the things I tried on. And I really mean loved. I think I even stood in the changing room grinning like a Cheshire cat at a couple of the items – things I would have never liked the look of on me before, suddenly looked great. Shop the jumpsuit here, and the shirt here.
Que the love and respect I have for my body shooting through the roof in this moment. Success.
After this we went to a few other shops and picked up some more bits;
So in summary, pick things up you would never have worn before and in LOTS of different sizes. You’re new shape/size body is just as amazing as the ‘old’ one… but most likely suits different clothes. And most definitely don’t give shit about the number on the hanger… I can wear an 8 in one shop and a 16 in the next, so it’s all bollocks anyway.
Before I fell pregnant I was, I would say, a fairly average teenage girl. I was unsure in myself and in what I wanted to do with my life, I struggled with my body image and confidence and was just starting the path to really learning about myself.
I had a place at University to study Medical Biochemistry. A subject I had chosen (after lots of discussions with different people) due to being convinced that it would be a waste of my intelligence to study anything that wasn’t highly academic with professional, well paid job prospects.
I placed a lot of emphasis on valuing myself based on other peoples standards, I would put what other people thought of me above what I thought of myself.
I was allowing difficult relationships to take up space in my life, which consequently were affecting my mental health. This was also something that heavily affected me during pregnancy.
And then I gave birth to my son.
I’ve heard the phrase ‘with Birth, the woman is born too’ a few times, and I very much believe that holds a lot of truth. Becoming a mother has changed me in so many ways.
I have completely disregarded anyone else’s opinion on what route I should take my life down and as a result am now holding a place to study Sport and Exercise Science. My true passion. Becoming a mother has given me unrecognisable confidence in myself to do what I want to do, this is my life and my life only.
I now only place value in my own opinion of myself. Being a young mother you have to face a lot of negativity; people thinking you are less capable than someone older or people thinking you’ve somehow messed up your life. I am incredibly proud of myself, of what I have done and what I am doing. Me, and my family, have an amazing life ahead of us.
Becoming a mother has given me clarity in what I want to do and who I want to be. It has given me the space to flourish as a woman and grow confidence I never thought I could have. I have gained unconditional love and respect for my body, something I had been working very hard on for the last few years.
A lot of people want to tell you all the negative sides to becoming a parent, about how you’ll loose your own identity and it will test your relationship. Something that is emphasised when you’re younger, as you can add ruining your career prospects etc into the mix. But personally, I have found non of those things to be true. Mindset makes a lot of difference to your experiences in my opinion.
Arlo has taught me so much, bringing so much love and happiness with him. He has brought me and Kieran so much closer and not only helped us grow in ourselves but as a couple. Seeing Kieran be a better Dad than I could ever have asked for will always make me happy.
Lots of women talk about feeling that ‘instant bond’ to their baby right from when those two pink lines appear on the pregnancy test. About how they feel this unconditional and fierce love for their unborn child, and the moment that baby is placed on their chest they feel eternally bonded. For some, this may be very true. But are some of us saying this in fear of judgement for not ‘instantly’ loving and bonding to our babies?
With the rise of social media, we are all constantly comparing ourselves in all aspects of life…and that definitely does not exclude motherhood. Mum shaming is everywhere…and with that comes guilt for our personal choices and emotions in parenting.
I most certainly did not feel that instant bond when I found out I was pregnant…nor did I strongly feel it during pregnancy…or when I first met my baby. Does that make me a bad mother? Absolutely not. Am I ashamed to say that? Not in the slightest.
I am a very logical person, and very scientifically minded. A ‘see it to believe it’ kind of person. I found pregnancy hard to comprehend. The idea that this growing bump and the fluttering kicks were from an actual human being that we had created was foreign. Don’t get me wrong, I felt fiercely protective and definitely had very strong maternal instincts but I just couldn’t ‘love’ someone that I didn’t know.
All in all, I didn’t feel hugely connected to my baby or the experience of pregnancy. This, I think, was mostly down to it being unexpected and me and Kieran not having our own house and stability. The difficult relationships I have with my family didn’t help either – just goes to show that the external circumstances hugely affect how we feel about our experiences. Now that I have my boy with me, I can look back on my pregnancy very differently. Knowing that it was Arlo kicking around inside me, makes it feel all the more magical. That’s what makes me feel eternally bonded to my baby, knowing that for 9 months my body sustained his life.
I feel that a lot of mothers are being denied the space to feel this way about pregnancy…as it’s considered ‘wrong’ to voice anything but overwhelming love for your child…born or not.
After an intense and physically draining labour (what labour isn’t!), a baby was placed on my chest. I can say that at this moment I felt a strong responsibility for the safety and welfare of him, but I didn’t ‘know’ him like I know all the other people that I love. I think that as a society we need to be allowing mothers to freely express how they feel without fear of judgement. After all, how can we support each other if we don’t feel able to talk openly?
Here I am, 10 weeks in to having Arlo with me and getting to know him, and I love him more than I ever thought was possible. It feels as though each day my love for him grows, and I am loving being his mamma more than anything.
As i learn more about Arlo and he learns more about me, our bond strengthens. I definitely have that ‘I miss him when he’s asleep’ kind of feeling now.
The way i feel about my pregnancy and birth has also changed with getting to know my little boy. All the kicks, scans, contractions – all suddenly have meaning. My respect for my body and the process of creating life has grown exponentially, with that comes the beginnings of unconditional love for my body and my experiences.
Not feeling instantly bonded with your baby does not make you any less of a mother, and not having the ‘magical’ pregnancy experience doesn’t either. Perspective changes with time.
This is something that has been on my mind a lot lately. As with all aspects of life, the postpartum period holds so many different expectations. Expectations on how to parent your child, how your body should ‘bounce back’, how your relationship with your partner (if you have one) should be flourishing etc etc etc. As mothers, how should we managed these? How can we not fall into the traps of comparison? And as members of society, how can we support our pregnant + postpartum women better?
I am extremely into my fitness, and while I was pregnant I was able to maintain a fairly intense training program. Throughout my pregnancy I received the comment ‘oh but you’re fit and young, your body will bounce back’ more times than I could even count. The irony being that I didn’t keep up my training in an attempt to ensure I got my pre-baby body back postpartum, I kept it up because I love it.
There are so many things wrong with this comment, and it’s been bugging me because no one ever talks about why we shouldn’t be saying such things to pregnant (or postpartum) women. Without talking about these things, we can not expect to change them.
When someone said something like that to me, it didn’t fill me with optimism and confidence, in fact quite the opposite. It piled on the pressure for me to go back to looking how I did before I got pregnant as quickly as I could after giving birth. It made me feel as though my identity as a powerlifter relied on how I looked after giving birth. This filled me with anxiety during pregnancy, I felt like who I was was hanging in the balance, waiting to see how my body would look and perform 2,4,8 weeks postpartum.
Why are we doing this!?
Our bodies are fluid, constantly changing, adapting, improving. And when a woman grows, carries and births a baby her body unsurprisingly changes too. I haven’t ‘bounced back’, I haven’t lost all the weight I put on during pregnancy, I haven’t started exceeding the fitness levels I had before pregnancy. BUT, I most certainly haven’t lost my body, instead I’ve transitioned into a new one.
So how about instead of denying women the right to embrace the changes we experience during pregnancy and birth by enforcing this ludicrous idea of ‘bouncing back’, we support them to see life (and our bodies!) as an ever evolving journey? Stop placing such unobtainable expectations on our women, and let them experience the changes; the softness of motherhood, the vulnerability of those early postpartum weeks, the intricate and unique nature of the transformation our bodies and minds undertake.
In addition, if one more person comments on how I look like I’ve ‘shifted all the baby weight’, or ‘gone back to how I used to look’ I might just explode. Have you seen me naked recently? I didn’t think so…so how the hell would you know the ins and outs of how my body has changed?. Yes I am training incredibly hard in the gym, day in day out, but that is purely because it is what lights my fire. I don’t want my ‘old’ body back, I want all things that represent my journey to stay – stop telling our women they should think otherwise!
As a society we have dug our women such a big hole that it’s so hard not to fall into it. I suspect many postpartum women find themselves comparing themselves to pictures of other women at the same stage as them (I know I have been guilty of this). ‘oh but she hasn’t got any stretch marks anymore’, ‘she got her abs back 10 days after giving birth’….I could go on. Almost like it’s one big competition. We must start supporting women in their own postpartum periods by applauding and validating them as individuals, as every woman will have a wildly different experience.
As for expectations on how to parent your child…well they can take a running jump. Motherhood seems to have become this huge commercial, opinionated, debatable subject. Erm…why? It’s the most instinctive, natural process there is. YOU know how to parent YOUR child. Mamma, stop second guessing yourself. When I was pregnant, I made the conscious effort not to read a single book about parenting and still vow never to do so. Society is teaching our women to suppress their instinct, and replace it with advertised products or methods etc….oh look it comes back to the big commercial giants making money. We need to be giving our women confidence in their choices. Want to bottle feed? Great. Want to go back to work 4 weeks after birth? Great. Want to be a stay at home mum until they leave school? Fab. Want to co sleep? Fantastic.
Please, lets stop comparing ourselves. Lets start supporting the beautiful, chaotic journey that pregnancy and motherhood is. We must stop forcing expectations on our women and start giving them the tools to embrace their own unique experiences.
I hope this isn’t just a ramble and actually gets my point across. I am so passionate about changing how we are valuing our women and helping them through what is possibly one of the most vulnerable stages of life.
It takes a long time to truly find ways that make you feel confident in yourself, and even when you get to a point where you feel great there is always further to go. Finding your confidence and having a good relationship with your body is a continually evolving journey.
Now this may just be the sociologist in me, but personally I think the most important thing is to know why and how we are all conditioned to have poor body image. After all, knowledge is power right?
Corporate businesses sell us all an idealised version of ourselves, be it beauty products or underwear adverts showing body types that are genetically unobtainable for 95% of the population. They do this because by selling you a way of ‘reaching’ those unobtainable standards, you buy into their products and they make money. In short, rich people are thriving off societies ingrained self hatred. Alongside this, women are continually objectified and degraded to be nothing but items of beauty. Something that happens right from birth, girls are continually referred to as being ‘pretty’ or ‘kind’ etc while boys are ‘strong’, ‘funny’, ‘clever’ – notice how boys are valued for things completely unrelated to their appearance? As a result, women relate their confidence to how they look, not what they’re doing.
When I first began to understand all of these things (Thank you A-level sociology) the first thing I did was clear out my social media. EVERYONE should do this. Unfollow all those accounts who’s pictures make you feel awful about yourself, block all those people you don’t want in your life anymore and fill your feed with things that inspire you. Social media is your tool, to use how you wish, and that can either be extremely detrimental or extremely beneficial – you decide.
I slowly began to focus on what my body could DO, not what it LOOKED like. Here’s where Powerlifting completely changed my life – suddenly all I cared about was my performance in the gym, and it was achieving goals within that that gave me confidence – not having abs or fitting into a certain size of clothes. (I urge everyone to invest in their personal fitness or take up a sport)
When I fell pregnant, all the confidence and positive image I had built was really challenged. Your body changes so quickly and beyond your control. It is one of the only times in life that you have to just step back and let it happen, and that is hard. My advice to get through this, would be to have trust in your body that it is doing exactly what it needs to do – even if you do gain more than the ‘recommended’ weight (we all know those numbers are bollocks anyway) or you get more stretch marks than the ‘average’ woman (trust me there’s no such thing as average). Your body was build to do this and it knows exactly how to do it without any input from you, so don’t waste your money or time on stretch mark creams or any other item sold to reduce the effects of pregnancy on your physical appearance.
Now, postpartum is a whole other ball game – just when your getting used to your pregnancy body, you give birth and your left in a strange in-between stage. You’re no longer growing life, but you don’t look or feel anything like the you before pregnancy.
Number one, don’t jump straight back to trying to put on your old clothes – they most likely wont fit. Number two, give your body and mind time. The most important thing in those first weeks is looking after you and your baby, focus as much as you can on soaking up all those first moments. Also try not to place to much importance on that stupid ‘6 week’ mark. Women are continually sold this idea that everything will go back to ‘ normal’ at six weeks – you resume your sex life, start exercising and supposedly look like how you did before pregnancy. All complete lies given how different we all are. For me, I had sex at 4 weeks, began working out at 3 weeks and am never going to look how I used to.
As a young mother, there’s increased pressure to ‘get my body back’ (a ridiculous phrase). As an 18 year old I’m supposedly meant to be wearing tiny clothes, showing off my flat stomach and going clubbing. For one, I wear nothing but sports clothes (you’ll catch me in heels and a tiny dress when i’m dead) and for two i hate the idea of clubbing and is most likely something I will never want to do. I’ll do me, you do you and we’re all happy right?
Here’s to building each other up, raising confident women, and placing our self worth in the things we are achieving.