A few weeks back during a quick chat and catch-up with my neighbor, she looks at me, narrowing her eyes, and asks in a near whisper, “Girl, are you pregnant again?”
No, I’m not. I am really, really not pregnant.
I tried to laugh off her comment and not make a thing of it. With a 4-year-old and 18-month-old, I feel like a rock star mommy when I manage to eat dinner before 9:00, put the kids to bed in clean pajamas and take a shower every day. So who cares if I’ve still got some flab around the middle? But her comment niggled at me for the rest of day, leaving me a little down and craving chocolate (or maybe that was just PMS).
So how cool was it that last week Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, proudly showed off her newborn son while sporting a bowling ball-sized tummy for all the paparazzi to photograph? And, kudos to her, the Duchess didn’t seem to give a damn about her (totally normal) post-baby belly.
But then the Internet spoke. The response included comments of disbelief, incredulity, and even disgust. People were questioning if Middleton’s tummy was even real or why she didn’t do a better job to hide it. (So, should she have concealed her belly behind a conveniently placed piece of furniture a la television?)
Given the level of scrutiny women, particularly celebrity women, face when it comes to looks, I shouldn’t be surprised by such reactions.
Charlotte Hilton Andersen at The Great Fitness Experiment sums up perfectly our collective cluelessness when it comes to postpartum bodies:
Thanks to the ubiquitous magazine covers showing new celeb moms posing in bikinis with their babies tucked under one arm like a Prada bag under headlines like “How I lost all my baby weight! 50 pounds in two weeks!!” and TV specials that show supermodel moms birthing a baby one week and walking a catwalk the next, we’ve grown to think that it’s normal for women to birth babies like Rachel on Friends: When you’re pregnant you put on a plastic belly (with a very realistic looking bellybutton!) and when you have the baby you just take that thing off! Easy peasy!
Hilton Andersen provides her own breakdown of the underbelly of postpartum life (no pun intended), so I thought I’d toss in a few enlightening tidbits of my own.
1. Your belly doesn’t go back to normal for a long, long time.
While doing some quick googling about Kate Middleton’s belly, I read a few sites saying that according to experts, it’s normal to have a belly postpartum for at least 10 days or so.
Well I’m not sure who these experts were, but according to doctors I know—the ones who went to college for a really long time studying uteruses and stuff—it takes more like six weeks, or longer, for a woman’s uterus to shrink back down to its pre-pregnancy size. Couple that with retained fluids from pregnancy, excess skin and what’s euphemistically referred to as “maternal fat stores,” and you’re in for the long haul when it comes to fitting back into your size 6 skinny jeans.
2. Changes “down there” seriously mess with your workout routine.
While it’s normal to wait six to eight weeks to get the okay from your doc to resume normal activities, my doctor said I could start with some light exercise (e.g., walking) as soon as I felt ready. Great. But what I wasn’t told is that after delivery, just walking down the hall to the bathroom feels like completing a 10K.
After both of my children, my poor beleaguered ab muscles could barely hold me upright, causing severe lower abdominal pain if I was upright and moving for longer than 30 minutes. And I haven’t even mentioned those fun bonuses: episiotomies, vaginal tearing or Cesareans—any of which increase your recovery time. Oh, and don’t forget about lochia, which is like 3-6 weeks of the worst period of your life.
3. Yay, you can exercise again!
After getting the clear to exercise at my six week postpartum visit, I couldn’t wait to get back to those activities I gave up during pregnancy—high-impact aerobics, advanced circuit training and kickboxing. But there was one snag: no one warned me about the long-term changes to my body postpartum.
After both of my children, I was waylaid in my aspirations for the perfect six-pack. The cause? Relaxin. It’s a hormone your body produces in pregnancy to make your hip joints loosy-goosy so you can push that watermelon baby through your pelvis. Problem is, relaxin sticks around for a while after delivery (particularly if you’re breastfeeding), and it doesn’t just loosen your hip joints: it loosens every joint in your body. Thanks to that little hormone, I was forced to take a hiatus from the gym for months (after my daughter) and a year (after my son). Fortunately, when my children reduced their breastfeeding at about the one year mark, my body and joints went back to normal.
4. PPD doesn’t stand for Post-baby Party and Dance.
Ah, postpartum depression, or PPD for those in the know. PPD isn’t as uncommon as you might think. Estimates vary, but it’s generally accepted that PPD affects 10-15% of women—a figure which is likely far too low, since it only reflects women who were actually diagnosed.
It’s difficult to describe how debilitating PPD is (as well as the related diagnoses, postpartum anxiety and postpartum psychosis), but it is something that needs to be taken seriously and treated promptly. There are tons of websites out there about PPD, but in my experience, Postpartum Progress is by far the best, and the only support system I found that actually seemed to understand what I was going through.
But in the end, who cares how your body looks when you’ve got that beautiful bundle to snuggle?
Yeah, that didn’t work for me either.