It’s a miracle not to have a ‘beautiful’ postpartum body

I don’t want to run from the fact that my stomach looks like I’ve had four babies anymore. I’m proud to bear the burden of that gift to the world in my flesh.

Alison Winterroth | Stocksy United

About a month ago, I gave birth to my fourth child. It was beautiful and awful all at once. Birth is something I constantly lack words for despite my having experienced it several times. Beauty, pain, joy, trial, all wrapped into one searingly intense moment.

After birth, I’m always left feeling raw—how do you process the life of a completely new and unrepeatable human being that came from your own flesh and blood? How do you process meeting someone for the first time who’s been an intimate part of you before you even knew they were there yet? I’ve always found solace in the nine months of preparation and waiting for the baby’s arrival—a time to ponder and reflect the immense life change about to take place. The leading up is slow and hidden, just like the life growing inside.

I’ve found the postpartum time to be similar and so deeply sacred. It’s more to me than just bouncing back, to me it’s a time to bond, process, and accept the growth I’ve just gone through both physically and emotionally. It’s a time that is slow and filled with imperceptible growth as our heart expands into motherhood.

MORE TO READ: Peta Murgatroyd shares her ‘normal’ postpartum body

But it’s taken me a couple births to really internalize this. Namely because of the filtered image of postpartum we see among celebrities and on social media. I yearned for the slow and sacred time of postpartum healing and bonding, but was flooded with this idea that I needed to get my old body back.

In a culture that idolizes near perfection of body, even during the postpartum time, we seem to be given the clear message: bounce back as soon as you can (or there’s something wrong with you). The quicker you look like you did before the baby, the better. After 9 months of preparing and a gloriously new baby, a flat tummy at a week postpartum is the idol.

There are a few high profile celebrities opening up about struggles with postpartum depression which is refreshingly real. There are even fewer opening up about being okay with what pregnancy and birth can do to our bodies. Peta Murgatroyd from Dancing with the Stars at least gave us a tiny piece of reality with her Instagram post at eight days postpartum. But a few days later, she went back to the mainstream flow of postpartum being a time to reclaim a perfect body.

I can’t help but think that we’ve missed the truth. That it’s okay being messy and changed for a while. That bouncing back isn’t what those early days are made for.

Wouldn’t it be great to see mamas with high publicity peel back the mask a little more and show the world what we really go through after childbirth? Wouldn’t it be awesome to see postpartum from a new angle? The one we really live? The glory of birth can’t be wrapped up into simply birthing the child and regaining my old figure, can it? Are we cheating ourselves out of something greater?

In the gospel of Mark, Jesus prepares the disciples for the coming of the Kingdom by giving the analogy of the wine skins. He says in chapter 2, verse 22: “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins.”

This passage has been on my mind as I wade through the unfiltered reality of postpartum—the reality that includes an uneven and leaking chest, bras stuffed with nursing pads, a puffy and wrinkly stomach that has no muscle left, hair that has been styled with sweat and grease in between rare showers the first few weeks, and makeup that sits mostly untouched in my drawer.

Motherhood isn’t an event we go participate in and come back home to how things were. It’s a profoundly life-changing moment that forever transforms us both physiologically and emotionally.

Let’s love on ourselves, no matter what form we are in as mothers.

And in some ways, when I search #postpartum on Instagram, and all the tummy and workout pictures flood my screen, I can’t help but think we’ve missed some of that truth. To be okay being messy and changed for a while. That bouncing back isn’t what those early days are made for.

You know what I want women to know?

That it’s okay to have a milk-stained shirt and your husband’s basketball shorts on at eight days postpartum.

That it’s okay you haven’t washed your hair since day one postpartum when the nurse helped you out at the hospital.

That it’s okay if your stomach looks more like a rough mushy pouch than a cute smooth bump as it works its way down.

That it’s okay if your stomach doesn’t ever go back down to how it was before.

That it’s okay if your brain feels so fried you don’t even remember where you put your makeup.

That it’s okay to be crying, elated, tired, energized, and everything in between.

That it’s okay to not feel okay.

That it’s okay to not have any really great pictures of yourself yet.

That it’s okay your bras don’t fit and you still hurt all over.

That it’s okay if you do feel great even though others may not.

That it’s okay to still be in the thick of postpartum healing and recovering even if others seem to be past it.

Motherhood pulls and stretches us into new and beautiful creations. Inside and outside, we become something new, never to fully return to how it was before. And while the process might be hard, there is a heroic beauty to it all as we live a vocation only a sliver of the world can lay claim to: life-bearers.

Our bodies show the proof of the glory, sometimes for the rest of our lives. I don’t want to run from that anymore. My stomach looks like I’ve had four babies. Four lives that will hopefully change the world someday. Four precious souls that are utterly unique and loved. I’m proud to bear the burden of that gift to the world in my flesh.

Working out is awesome (and I love it), taking care of your health is so wise (I’m a foodie for life), but my postpartum time and body isn’t dictated by bouncing back anymore. I’m spending my postpartum time soaking in this new life, this monumental task of motherhood, the reality that I’m a changed person because of this call, and savoring this season that goes so fast in its own time.

So let’s love on ourselves, no matter what form we are in as mothers. Because the beauty of the postpartum time isn’t in the neatness of filtered Instagram shots but the messiness that leaves us raw and open to a new kind of love that is just beginning.

 

Angie Windnagle
Angie Windnagle

Angie Windnagle is creator and author of yellowpelican.net, a space to help support Catholic families. She loves strong coffee, her husband Jake, and their three wild boys (+ baby girl on the way!). Follow her takes on faith and family life on Instagram @yellowpelican.

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