“How are you doing?” the text comes in from a dear friend as we check in with each other.
“I’m doing okay. I’ve been in a weird head space all week” I quickly respond.
I’m winding down for the night, already in bed and will be cracking open my book soon for some nightly reading.
“Postpartum body image stuff is hard” I add. I lock my phone and set it down for the night. I open up my book, after reading for a while I put it away and go to sleep for the night.
I wake up to a text continuing the conversation from the previous night. This is common as I’m in Japan and my friends and family are back in the states so conversations typically happen in the morning and evening hours. As I’m going to bed my people are waking up and vice versa.
My friend validates my feelings and she says “Maybe there’s some grief tied into losing a part of who you were before? Even if the change is for the better, we can still grieve the change process.”
I mull over those words for an hour or so before I respond.
I realize it is not grief that I feel, but anger. Anger that the Navy made us move to a foreign country. Angry that I’m so far away from support. Anger that I finally had a chance to make plans for myself, did so, and then had to turn around and cancel because I’m uneasy about leaving my baby with practical strangers for four plus hours while I do something for myself.
I’ve noticed women struggle to use the phrase “I’m angry”. We say frustrated, irritated, upset, but we rarely admit or realize that what we’re actually feeling is anger. We’re combed to be soft, gentile beings. I’m an enneagram 9, a peacemaker. Anger is not in my vocabulary. I’m kind and gentle, patient and loving. Anger is not an emotion I am well acquainted with.
Because of my lack of familiarity with anger, I suppress this anger that wells as I have to cancel plans. As this anger stews I find myself more easily frustrated, not with others but with myself. I fixate on my body weight, on the baby weight I still haven’t lost and should have lost by now.
I spend the week wrestling with insecurity about the extra weight that I carry postpartum. There are a lot of umnet expectations when it comes to the postpartum period. I heard from what felt like 100 different people “oh you’ll lose the weight breastfeeding”. In pregnancy so much focus goes to body weight–not gaining too much and losing the baby weight as quickly as I possible. I gained weight in the appropriate range for pre-pregnancy weight. At eleven months postpartum, I haven’t lost any of the weight I gained and that feels discouraging and frustrating and like my body is somehow broken.
It’s not broken. Logically, I know it’s not, but emotionally it’s easy to get caught up in the feeling less than. I had this expectation that I would be pre-baby weight or close to by this point postpartum. The reality is that I’m not and maybe there’s some grief there but also some anger. Anger at diet culture and bounce back culture. Anger at being given this expectation that breastfeeding makes the baby weight fall off. Anger at the reality that thousands of women struggle with this. I see it in the mom group I’m in on Facebook. I see it in comments on posts on Instagram. It pisses me off that we end up feeling this way when we’re already doing so much and asking our bodies to do so much.
We come home from the hospital bleeding, sleep deprived, exploding boobs, navigating breastfeeding and waking every 1-3 hours to feed and care for newborns that are wholly dependent on us for life.
I took photos, lots of photos of my body in the early postpartum weeks. I wanted to document, I wanted to watch my body change in the photos. I wanted to watch the baby weight fall off. I wanted to see my body shrink back to its pre-baby size.
I stressed squeezing in workouts while trying to put my newborn down for naps. If only I someone had told me (or I had listened if they did) to hold my baby for those naps when he needed it.
I think the last “before” or “progress” photo I took– you know the one where you wear only a bra and underwear–was about three months postpartum. I’ve taken photos since then, sure. But I stopped obsessing. I talked to other moms who echoed my experience. I started to feel less alone. I started to feel like what I was experiencing was normal.
My body is smart, she holds onto the extra body fat as part of survival so that I have extra fat stores to be able to keep feeding my baby if I have to go without. My body is strong. She lifts and carries and pushes. She does all that I ask her and more. And yet, I spent the week filled with anger because she’s not as small as society has made me think she needs to be.
Acknowledging the anger I was feeling allowed me to feel free. Maybe you need to hear this, I know I did: You are allowed to be angry. Maybe it’s not poor maternal support that fuels your anger, maybe its the racism that still exists in this country, maybe its the repeated school shootings, maybe its something else. Whatever it is, you are allowed to feel angry about it. Allow that anger to drive you into action, whatever that may look like.
This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “Permission Slip”.