Birth, Babies, and Body Image

I have tried to write this post many times over the last 8 months. It’s not that I haven’t had time; well, that’s not been the reason for about 5 months at least. It’s partly been fear and shame, and it’s partly been my telling myself that if I waited just a little longer, I’d lose more weight, and then I would feel better about sharing. But, it’s time. I made a commitment to sharing how my body responded to pregnancy. I made this decision because, when I got pregnant, I could not find information anywhere about how my body might look during or after pregnancy given my weight loss history.

Would my “bump” be round? Would I simply look fat? Would I get stretchmarks? Would the fact that I had so much loose skin make my pregnancy easier? How much might I lose after giving birth? Would losing weight be more difficult after giving birth?

Well, of course, everybody and every body is different. But, I wanted to share my experience. So, where were we? The last month.

3840-wks

I went into labor the day before my due date; my daughter would eventually be born on my due date. So, I am, in fact, in labor in my 40-week picture. I waffled back and forth on how much about my physical changes I wanted to document and share. But, ultimately, I wanted to provide an example of how a body that has lost a large amount of weight might look during pregnancy. So, I’m taking a risk here, and I’ve decided to share.

At my largest, I weighed 235 pounds; at my lowest, I weighed 117. I ultimately maintained a weight of about 120 pounds for roughly 8 months before deciding to try for a baby. After a 115-pound weight loss, I had quite a bit of loose skin.

prepregnancy

I was always frustrated that, despite weighing 120 and wearing a size 4, I would never get to have a flat stomach. When I got pregnant, I wondered if this “B-shaped” stomach would translate over to pregnancy: would I get to have a round bump? Would I get stretch marks? Would my belly button pop out? Or, might the extra skin and old stretch marks save me from anything new?

I gained 34 pounds during pregnancy: I went from 123 pounds to 157.

bellylabor

Here I am in labor again 🙂

I was pleasantly surprised at how my body changed during pregnancy. I did not get any stretch marks, and my belly button ultimately did not pop out. My bump was fairly round with a sort of small “curtain” of still-loose skin hanging underneath. Though I carried my daughter way far back, which prevented me actually looking pregnant for a good while, by my third trimester, I ultimately felt comfortable dressing in clothes that showed “the bump.”

I believe had I not lost all of that weight pre-pregnancy, I would have gotten stretch marks as I got MANY during the years when I was obese. I also feel that having been many different “shapes” in my life ultimately allowed me to feel more comfortable with my post-partum body even immediately after giving birth.

8hr2dpp

Many women say that they lose lots of weight in the first week or two after giving birth. This was not my experience. A lot of the weight that I gained during pregnancy was, indeed, actual fat on my body – not fluid, blood, or baby. My daughter weighed 7 pounds at birth; I lost 10 pounds total after having her.

4d1wpp

newborn

I maintained a weight of 147 – 150 for basically 7 months and have only recently dropped a couple more pounds. I now weigh 143 – 145. Breastfeeding did not assist me – at all – in losing weight.

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Behold my messy living room…

So, that chronicles the physical changes that my body went through. I hope that it might help someone who has all of the same questions I once had. As I said before, my body is my body – everybody and every body is different. There is no shame in how your body changes or handles pregnancy. So, please don’t look at this as some example of how your body “should” do pregnancy; there are no “shoulds” here.

At some point in the near future, I will share the far more difficult struggles I encountered with antenatal and post-partum anxiety, depression, and OCD. But, those are different topics for different days.

I can’t close this entry without, of course, sharing a photo of of our family: my how far life has brought us!

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Happy New Year, everyone 🙂

Learning to Trust My Body

One. More. Month!

Of course – they say it’s the longest month of your life, so… But here I am!

36 weeks pregnant.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 8.41.58 PM

I’ve gained 35 pounds.

So, I think I can officially say that I will be going over the “recommended weight gain” guidelines for pregnancy. That’s ok. It’s going to be ok. If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout this process it’s that pregnancy is a time for trusting my body. And my body wants to gain more than 35 pounds. And it’s going to be ok.

Honestly, the fact that I can say that and mean it really gives me some hope. At my lowest weight, I could never say it was going to be ok. I was terrified. I needed control. Of my food, of my body, of my weight, of everything. I’m still scared; I still want to be in control. But, I can say that it’s going to be ok. And I can mean it.

I’ve tracked my food throughout my entire pregnancy. It’s something I’ve done for 6 years now, it’s how I lost my weight, and it’s now a habit that I think may be a life-long change. For me, it’s comforting to be able to look back and say that I know what I’ve consumed, so if my scale jumps, there is no wondering “did I really eat that much?” I can know: no, I didn’t. So, it’s something else.

Pregnancy has taken a lot of control away from me. I can’t control a wiggling baby inside of me. I can’t control swelling, my increased heart rate, or any number of symptoms. This has been scary and difficult for me. It’s been especially hard to not be able to fully control my weight. I was really frightened early on because while everyone else seemed to lose weight 1st trimester, I gained. I belong to an online community of pregnant ladies, and I swear…every time we’d talk about weight gain, the conversation would go something like… “I’m 20 weeks and up 3 pounds!” “I’m 22 weeks and still at my pre-pregnancy weight!” “I’m 25 weeks and am 10 pounds under my pre-pregnancy weight!” … then, there was me: I gained 14 pounds in 1st trimester alone. Everyone told me that 3rd trimester would be rapid weight gain. I was terrified. But, fortunately, my body (so far!!) has been more of the slow and steady type. And, gradually, I’ve begun to trust it. I’ve begun to listen to it rather than force it into my strict guidelines. And, it’s been ok. Everything is ok.

Once the baby is born, I’m going to need to reevaluate. I’m not who I was a year ago when my “After Myth” post went viral. I’m not the same me. I’m not even the same me that I was 9 months ago when I got pregnant. I will never be the same me again. I’m not sure what that “me” is going to look like, believe, feel, think, care about, eat…. But, I do know this: it’s going to be ok.

I think I can trust my body.

I think, maybe, I can even one day trust myself.

Dear Body, You’re Pretty Badass

I don’t spend a lot of time really connected with my body. In fact, I quite often try to tune it out or escape from it. I haven’t given my body a lot of credit. I don’t often acknowledge its strengths (although I’m damn good at tearing it to pieces for its failures). But, lately, I’ve been really appreciating my body — not for what it looks like but for what it’s doing. And doing well.

I’m now 30 weeks pregnant, and I have seriously been lucky. Aside from the ridiculous insomnia I had in first trimester, early-onset braxton hicks, and a slightly irritable uterus, my body has physically been handling this pregnancy splendidly. I’ve passed all my blood tests, my blood pressure remains right where it’s been since I lost weight before getting pregnant, and I haven’t had any swelling so far. I can still get down on hands and knees every morning and evening to give my foster cat his pills, I can still squat down to read labels on the low shelves at grocery stores, and I was even able to walk endlessly for 4 days on our pre-baby vacation to St. Augustine. I’m certainly gaining weight (28 pounds so far, if I’m being transparent and honest), but even that has been just steady since the beginning.

26 to 30

Excuse me while I go knock on some wood, because we all know I’ve just completely jinxed myself.

Truly, I don’t mean this as a bragging post. I really can’t take much credit for any of this — I’ve just gotten lucky. But, I do want to acknowledge it. Because I’m really really hard on this body. I criticize it so much and so often, and I just feel like it’s worth it to pause and acknowledge that no matter what happens from this point forward — even if it all goes to hell in the next 10 weeks — my body has done something pretty awesome these last 30 weeks. And that really makes me appreciate it in a way I’ve never taken the time to even think about.

I remember the first time I joined a Zumba class was when I first started thinking “look at what my body can do!” I’d push myself so hard jumping and kicking just because I could — because there was a time when I couldn’t. When I returned to horseback riding, I marveled at what I could do with my body: I could use it to communicate with a creature 10 times my size, and that animal listened…usually…unless it was a mare. 😉 When I started cantering and jumping bareback, I loved the knowledge that my body was strong and balanced enough to stay on.

horse

These feelings — I’ve not had them at all since getting pregnant. I’ve been so so focused on the weight gain that I’ve just not acknowledged at all what my body is doing.

We’re doing this — my body and me…and the baby too. We’re growing life. I’m pretty sure that trumps flying bareback on a horse. You’re pretty badass, body.

So, anyways. I just wanted to take a moment and appreciate this: that my body is doing this. I know that not everyone gets to do this – and through absolutely no fault of their own. I’m lucky. I’m blessed. And I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that.

Pregnancy After Weight Loss is Really Freaking Hard

Yeah, my title is not creative today. I’m not really feeling creative right now. I’m struggling. Because, like the title says, pregnancy after weight loss is really freaking hard. I’ve promised to be honest with you (perhaps too honest), and so I will be…even if it means opening myself to criticism.

First: an outright update. Here I am in all my pregnant glory, now 22 weeks along:

18 to 22

Our little girl, Emma, weighs nearly a pound. She’s healthy, and I can feel her wiggling around every day. I’ve gained 18 pounds and have zero pairs of pants that comfortably fit. The maternity pants I ordered also don’t fit, though, so I mostly live in leggings. To try and reduce my mounting frustration (and, honestly, depression) related to gaining weight and my changing body, I purged my closet. I packed away clothing I hope to fit into again someday and donated a ton of clothing that I will likely never wear again. What’s left are outfits that look like this:

Christmas pic

Because I’m not comfortable “showing off the bump.” Also, have I mentioned that I have zero pants? I have zero pants.

One of the biggest things I’ve noticed, though, is how different my mentality seems to be compared to my fellow pregnant compatriots. I belong to a few groups of ladies who are pregnant, and I have to admit that my brain just appears to be in a completely different place than most of theirs. While they fawn over nursery decorations, I fret over my caloric intake. While they show off cute little bump pictures every week, I find myself taking my picture and using it to compare where I’m at versus others at a similar stage as me (probably the worst thing I could do, really, because I never realized just how extremely different women look compared to one another while pregnant…every body is just so different). I glow when someone says I’m “small” for how far along I am, and I get frustrated when people tell me the weight will “come right off…at least if you’re breastfeeding.” (That’s not how my body works… weight does not “come right off” of me… ever.)

When my blog went viral, a lot of people called me inspirational. Now, I feel like a drag…constantly criticizing my own weight, menu, and appearance. Instead of focusing on growing a healthy baby, I’m really a lot more focused on not gaining too much weight, not using my pregnancy as an excuse, and not breaking my food-tracking habits while pregnant. I worry all the time about what people are thinking about my weight gain: do they think I’ve already gained so much more than I should? Are they judging my food choices? What will they think if the weight doesn’t “come right off” post-pregnancy? …I’m fairly certain that I will never weigh 120 pounds ever again. And that matters to me. And I don’t want it to. I really want the other parts of my life (you know, like my family) to matter more than the number on a scale.

In the last week, I’ve started telling myself to view this as an opportunity to try again. When I lost the last 50 pounds of my weight last year, I did so without allowing internal issues like those above to be resolved. I lost the weight, but the weight was only a symptom, and the underlying disease (self-hatred) did not resolve. This time, I would like to change that. I would like to re-focus on learning to love myself and allowing my weight to settle itself at whatever number that might be: 120, 130, 140…just something healthy. It’s supposed to just be a number, after all. I really hope that, someday, it can just be a number.

 

Dear Daughter…

Dear daughter,

Where do I begin?

Announcement

When I found out that you existed, I was so excited. It was 6 in the morning, and even though I didn’t have to be up for a couple more hours, I was so eager to find out if you were really there. When the test turned positive, I felt a rush from my head to my toes. I swore. I had to sit down. I touched my stomach. Holy crap… I was going to be a mom. Your mom.

For an hour, it was just you and me. Nobody else knew that I had you yet. I held you all by myself for that hour. You were mine. I walked around talking to you. I was so happy. Finally, when an hour was up, I woke up your daddy to tell him you existed. And we were happy together.

The last four months have been so crazy. My body is changing to bring you into this world.

Pregnancy Progress

I’ve struggled with this…a lot. Not so long ago, I was really scared when I became very visible to the world after something I wrote went viral. I said “if I gain weight, everyone will see. If I fail, everyone will know.” But, of course, I can’t have you without giving some of that up right now. But, if I’m being honest, I am still sometimes really hard on myself about this journey of ours. I say some really mean things to myself about it. It’s hard to see your size-2 body in health articles while secretly hiding that you’ve actually already gone up 2 sizes and 13 pounds. And nobody warned me about the emotional turmoil pregnancy can bring. Everyone else always seemed so happy to be having a baby; but, there have been many times when I have struggled with the immense change and responsibility coming my way. I’ve cried. A lot. I didn’t feel the things you’re “supposed” to feel while pregnant. But, I carry your sonogram pictures in my purse now, because I know that all I have to do is take them out and start talking about you, and I light up. Even if I’ve just been falling apart.

When I found out I was having a daughter, I cheered. A real cheer. A surprising cheer. After all the tears, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel when I found out your name (your dad and I already had names picked out for if you were a boy or girl). Emma. That’s your great-great grandmother’s name. It’s yours now. You have no idea how much I was secretly hoping for a little girl. That happens when you grow up with three brothers. But, also, you have no idea how anxious I am for you.

Will you love yourself? How can I help you love yourself? Will we have similar struggles? What if I cannot understand things that you need me to understand? What mistakes will I make? Because, I will make mistakes. And, my biggest fear? I remember when my biggest fear surfaced. I texted a friend: “oh my gosh…what if she loves me?” You see, I’m afraid of you loving me. What I mean is…I’m afraid of you loving me and me not deserving that love.

This is my struggle, Emma. Loving myself. It’s really hard to think of another human being loving you when you are struggling so hard to love yourself. You don’t get to choose who your mother will be. What if I’m not deserving of being your mother? Have I harmed you just by forcing you to have me as a mom? These are my fears. And I’m working hard on them.

Emma, there’s so much we’re going to encounter together. Big changes, big feelings, little things that can feel gigantic. And, while I will always be on your side, I won’t be able to protect you from a lot of things. I won’t be able to fix all of the things. Sometimes, I will let you down. But, I will always be on your team. I will do my best. That’s the best I can do.

Now, for a moment here…a note to my readers. I’m sorry for being so silent these last months. I’ve wanted to come here and tell you all what was going on in my life, but I’ve been trying so hard to wrap my mind around it. I’m still trying to figure it out. I feel a lot of things. Happiness, fear, love, joy, anxiety…a lot of things. It’s hard to come back to you, a crowd of people I attracted through my weight-loss journey, and say “hey, I’m gaining weight.” But, I am. I’m gaining weight. I will be honest with you. I’m going to gain weight, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get back to where I was. I’m not sure how much that matters. I’ve been 235 pounds, I’ve been 117, and I’m going to be a lot of other numbers in coming months and years too. But, this blog was never meant to be about just successfully losing weight. It’s about loving myself. Or trying to. So, if you’re here to read about weight loss, this may not be the place for you. But, if you’re here to read about all the things in life that challenge our abilities to love ourselves, I’ll do my best to write about it.

I told you After didn’t exist. You were warned. We all were.

Here I go.

 

 

Why Was I Fat?

Let’s go beyond literal answers to this question. Yes, I was overweight because I ate too much and moved too little; but, I eat less and move more now, and that’s how one fixes symptoms without ever fixing the root issue. Why was I fat?

It was safe.

When I was larger, I was less visible. Not because I was fat, but because I believed being big meant I didn’t deserve love, attention, or to be noticed by those more worthy than myself. I made myself less visible because I was fat and ashamed of it all the while convincing myself that my size was the reason that nobody wanted me. The truth is that many people tried to love and get close to me when I was fat, but I didn’t allow myself to receive it because of my self hatred.

Being fat also made me an easy target for some people’s bullying. And, somehow, it seemed safer to be on the receiving end of that. If I was a target, then I was not a threat. If I was not a threat, maybe they would stop tearing me down. These were people who I wanted to love me but who were unable to do so because of their own issues, but I didn’t understand that at the time. All I knew was that I desperately wanted to be good enough for them, and that seemed to mean losing weight. It seemed like the only thing I had to do to finally be good enough for them was to lose weight. But it was never enough. I would starve myself down 40 pounds, and they would push for 10 more. 10 more, and I would be good enough. But, I was starving, and I hated myself for still not being good enough. Inevitably, I would gain it back and remain a target. I was never allowed to stop being fat…even when I wasn’t fat.

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An assortment of theatre/drama photos from high school. Can you find me?!

I believed it was inevitable.

One side of my family has always struggled with weight; three people on that side of my family have had weight-loss surgery. In fact, when I joined Weight Watchers, I did so in order to prepare myself for weight-loss surgery. My mom had told me that Weight Watchers would “teach me how to eat,” which was a skill I would need after surgery. I fully believed that surgery was going to be my path (and know that it is a path that I do not judge – it has worked wonders in my family members’ lives).

I was shocked when I began losing weight on Weight Watchers. I thought, like with everything else I tried, it would be unmaintainable. I thought that I would fail. I thought that I’d give up. That was my real resignation: I believed that I would give up; I believed that I would fail. Attempting something while believing you will fail makes you about a hundred times more likely to quit. I’d say I was about a month or more into the program before I started believing that it might be possible for me to do this.

snarky look

“That look” hahaha

I tried to fill the void with food.

This….this is probably the biggest reason I was overweight. I still struggle with this today.

For every happy memory, special person, and celebrated occasion in my life, there is a food. There’s my Nana’s mac and cheese, my grandmother’s doughy rolls, my ex-stepmom’s Moroccan stew, my dad’s meatloaf, my mom’s spaghetti. There’s the crab soup we ate at the beach, the cold watermelon we ate all summer that my dad taught me how to pick out, the sweet tomatoes with salt we pulled from my great grandmother’s garden. There’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the tang of ocean water still on my lips, there’s fried chicken before Santa shows up to pass out presents, there’s red velvet cake before we sing happy birthday. For everything, there is a food. My memories are tied to food. My emotions are tied to food.

I have a void inside of me. It comes from a desperate desire to be loved, to be good enough. Sometimes, I try to fill that void with food. I make and eat my Nana’s mac and cheese and, for a few moments, she’s alive again, and I am loved by her. I have my dad’s meatloaf and, for a little while, it’s a really special day during my childhood (he only made meatloaf on special days). I’m good enough in the past for those few short present moments. I re-create my ex-stepmom’s Moroccan stew and, for a time, that divorce never happened, and my family never fractured. I eat and eat, remember and feel, and I try to fill the void.

Only the void can’t be filled with food or memories. I can’t go back and make the people who didn’t love me in the past have loved me then. I can’t bring back my grandmother or my great grandmother; those goodbyes have been said for the final time. I can’t be a child again and get to experience all of the things I missed out on. I can’t go back; I can only go forward.

being a goof

So, how do I fill the void left by what I missed out on in the past? Not by trying to re-capture what’s gone, but by creating love now. By capturing the love around me today. Not through food but through the experience of love and those people who give it now. Through being fully present for today’s times of love, care, and being good enough. Slowly, piece by piece, the void is filled…as I let go of the old, worn-out pieces I’ve been trying to cram into it, set them aside to be valued for what they are, and allow new, solid, foundational pieces to fill the void. This will allow me to be filled by something much more permanent than food — by love.

me and misty

Becoming Visible

Wow. Just, wow. I never expected that last post to go viral. I never expected so many people to ever hear me. I never expected you all… I am honored that so many people took the time to read my blog. I read through each and every one of your comments, and so many of you brought tears to my eyes with your compassion, empathy, and support. Just, wow. Thank you.

I have another confession to make: I never expected to become this visible. And, I’m scared.

I’m afraid of writing something dumb in this next post.

I’m afraid of gaining weight and it being much more public than I could’ve anticipated.

I’m afraid of not being worthy of you all reading my words. Of being heard.

I’m afraid of losing the right to speak and be heard.

The best I can do is continue, as I always have, to write for me…whatever comes out of me…and try to just be okay with however people receive that. But, that’s so much easier to say than to do. In the last week, I’ve become visible, and that’s been an ongoing struggle for me. Being seen. Being noticed.

singing

Sometimes, when someone notices me now, approaches me, speaks with me, I worry I’ve done something wrong. Fat was safe. Invisible was safe. Unapproachable was safe. Someone asked in the comments of my last post if people treated me differently now that I’ve lost weight. The truth is, it’s not that they treat me differently — they just “treat me” more often. Because I let them. Because I am working on feeling more worthy of being seen, of being “treated” at all.

One reader, Mary, posted a comment that hit me so hard I’ve been thinking about it all week. The comment was “I have no idea what scary demons I’d find to obsess over if the weight was not there to take the blame.” Can I just say… thank you for that comment. Somehow, in all this self awareness, I hadn’t even considered that maybe the reason it’s scary to be done losing weight is because now I’m left without the one “issue” in my life over which I have some semblance of control. Without that issue, I’m left with the rest of me…so very visible, so very hard for me to look at.

horseback

But, I have to look at me. I can’t cover myself back up with fat or thin: either would be temporary distractions — deflections from the actuality of me. Instead, I must stand in front of a mirror — not a physical one, but a mental and emotional one — and look at the me that’s underneath this skin I’m in, fat or thin. She’s been there all along. It’s time to stop hiding her, hiding from her. It’s time for her to be visible too. Even though visible is really rather scary.

I don’t know how many of you will stick around to read more of my blogs. If this is the last one you read, just know that I appreciate you more than I can say. Your comments, your insight, your seeing me. Without you, I would not have looked in the mirror. Thank you. For those who choose to keep reading, I hope that I don’t let you down, but I make no promises. This is a journey. It’s going to have its ups, downs, plateaus, hard rock walls… that’s life. So, I won’t promise that my posts will be awesome. I will only promise that I will write. For me. As my mirror that you’ve helped me look in once again. That, I can promise.

hiking