ByKelly Holmes, author and Certified Parent Educator
Inside: It’s hard to love your post-baby body. But my toddler taught me an important postpartum lesson.
I gained a lot of weight during my last pregnancy. A lot.
My diet was fine, I exercised when I could, and I didn’t have gestational diabetes. Still, my weight gain was crazy high.
I talked a big game about being okay with it, and I was. I still am.
My body did exactly what it needed to do in order to grow a perfectly healthy 9 pound 3 ounce baby girl.
But here’s the problem.
It’s hard to accept 55 pounds of pregnancy weight gain when that cute baby is on the outside and it’s three months postpartum, but you still look real damn pregnant.
Not to mention I’m older this time, and my post-baby body isn’t bouncing back as fast as it did last time.
So I got a fitness tracker, I’m walking every day provided it’s not 100 degrees out, and we cut our pizza habit down to once a week. And I’m nursing.
Even so, that postpartum belly won’t budge.
Six weeks postpartum is about my limit for continuing to wear maternity pants. Something about pulling that big stretchy band up and over an empty, flabby belly gets depressing after a while.
But at the 6-week mark, I was nowhere close to fitting back into my pre-pregnancy clothes. So I broke down and bought two pairs of yoga pants.
Athleisure, I hear the kids call it nowadays.
Which sounds trendy and all, but it doesn’t change the fact that every single day, I wear the same freaking yoga pants.
And my shirts? They don’t fit either. Thanks to the gift that nursing brings, mainly. But also because my pre-pregnancy style is to wear slim-fitting shirts, and “slim-fitting” on this postpartum body looks a lot like “sausage casing.”
So I went and splurged on five new t-shirts at Target, $6 apiece. Sky blue, hot pink, burgundy, light purple, and dark purple. That’s the extent of variety in my wardrobe right now.
Note: Sky blue absent on picture day due to an unfortunate spit-up incident.
Mornings Are the Worst
I go to the closet and pull out my mom uniform.
I set the yoga pants and the cheapo t-shirt on the bathroom counter and stare at them.
I know I need to hurry and get dressed because the toddler’s been quiet for more than five minutes, and the baby in her bouncy seat is starting to fuss.
It’s past the time when we need to leave to take the second-grader to school, and I still haven’t nagged her to stop playing LEGOs and get her shoes on and brush her hair and why didn’t you give me this homework last night if you wanted me to check it?
But I stare.
Those blasted yoga pants.
Every couple weeks, I lose it and do something crazy.
I try on my pre-pregnancy clothes.
Which is worse.
Not so much a muffin top as a portobello mushroom.
Related: 7 Tips for Postpartum Clothes That Won’t Make You Look Pregnant
This Morning, Something Changed
It was one of those mornings, where my hatred for my yoga pants bubbles up in my chest. My husband Ty had already left to take our oldest to school, so I was home with the two little ones.
My toddler Bailey sat nearby on the bathroom floor with a stack of her older sister’s Nancy Drew books and flipped through them, one by one.
Ty and I were meeting for lunch – nowadays with a newborn and a toddler to wrangle, we don’t do it very often anymore. I wanted to look nice. Or at least less like a yoga-pants-wearing, sleep-deprived mombie.
First I pulled out my trusty first-trimester jeans. The ones that are two sizes too big normally.
I couldn’t get them zipped. I grabbed the belly spilling over the edges, and I sighed.
Bailey looked up. “What do, Mama?”
“Oh, I’m just trying to find something to wear.”
Peeled those off and tried a pair of relaxed fit jeans.
“Ugh,” I said.
“Mama okay?” Bailey asked.
“Yeah, I’m okay.” Although hearing myself reply reminded me of Sadness from Inside Out.
I tried a black skirt with a stretchy band and turned to the side to see my profile in the mirror.
Pregnant. I looked pregnant.
Maxi skirt? Lumpy. Shorts? Bumpy.
I came back to where those yoga pants sat on the counter, and I picked them up.
But as I started unfolding them to put on, I couldn’t do it.
I squeezed them into a ball and threw them through the bathroom door into the bedroom, where they hit the opposite wall.
Her eyes wide.
“Mama’s frustrated,” I said.
Oh, great. I spend all this time trying to teach her not to lose her temper and throw things, and then I go and do it right in front of her.
“Mama got frustrated and threw her pants, but they’re soft so they won’t hurt anyone,” I said.
“Oh,” she said. And went back to her Nancy Drew.
Related: The Dirty Little Secret About Pregnancy Weight Gain
The worst part about having a fit and throwing something when you’re a work-from-home parent is that eventually, you just have to get over yourself and clean up the mess you made.
Which is double annoying because you don’t even have time to get the basic housework done in between sprints of your other work, and now you’ve added an extra task.
Still mad at those stupid pants, I retrieved them and headed back to the bathroom.
I put them on and refused to look at myself in the mirror.
I stepped over the pile of Nancy Drew books on my way to the closet to pick a shirt, and Bailey stood up to follow me.
Blue, pink, or purple?
Baby Charlie started fussing in the bouncy seat on the bathroom counter.
But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I may be stuck with the pants, but I couldn’t wear the same shirt again.
I pulled a pre-pregnancy shirt off the hanger and put it on as I walked back to the mirror, Bailey trailing me.
“That looks horrible,” I mumbled. Charlie fussed louder.
To the closet for another one. That one over my head, and back to the mirror.
“Horrible.” Charlie agreed, I think.
To the closet again.
I scanned the hangers, picturing myself in each shirt and getting more and more frustrated with each mental image.
Finally, my eyes settled on a shirt with potential.
Just an Anthropologie t-shirt from the days when we had just one kid and I still had a desk job, so we were okay spending $30 on a t-shirt because it wouldn’t be subject to baby spit-up or diaper blowouts or collateral toddler-found-a-Sharpie damage.
Gray with light pink stripes. Soft and flowy.
I pulled it over my head and headed to the mirror, Bailey on my heels.
“Hmm,” I said. “Not great, but not horrible.”
The Turning Point
I picked up poor Charlie and saw we were close to blowout territory, so I turned back to the closet to lay her on the changing table.
Bailey pulled out a wipe before I even had Charlie’s onesie unbuttoned, and she held it up to me.
I smiled. “Thank you, sweetie.”
She stood next to me during the diaper change and just watched. Unusually quiet.
After I got Charlie buttoned back up again, Bailey reached a little hand up to my shirt and felt the fabric.
“Mama look nice,” she said.
I looked down at her. “What did you say?”
She smiled. “Mama look nice.”
And my eyes felt hot.
I realized she’d been watching me that whole time.
Watching me frustrated with my body.
Watching me grab my post-baby belly flab and frown.
Watching me call my body “horrible.”
A Painful Reminder
Most of my life, I’ve worried about my dress size and my weight and whether my belly pooch was too…poochy.
As a teenager, I studied Seventeen magazine and thought if I could just look like Alyssa Milano, a boy would finally ask me out on a date.
In college, I would stare at my profile in the mirror and wish I could just slice off my belly. Even though I was at a perfectly average weight for my height.
Funny enough, it was gaining weight during my first pregnancy that pushed me in the direction of finally accepting my body as it is.
After a lifetime of battling my own body image issues, I went and modeled the most unhealthy behavior possible for my toddler.
My toddler who’s always watching.
Learning from what I do. What I say.
My Promise to My Post-Baby Body
From now on, I will accept my postpartum belly pooch.
I won’t stop trying to get rid of the dang thing.
But I will accept it.
I will set a good example for my toddler and my second-grader and my newborn who’s already started watching me too.
I will talk to my daughters about how strong my body is after growing three healthy girls.
And for now, I will pull on my yoga pants one leg at a time, then look at myself in the mirror and say:
“Mama look nice.”
By the Way…
Ty never got to see me in that fancy t-shirt at lunch that day.
It became a casualty to a mid-morning blowout.
RIP, soft and flowy Anthrolpologie shirt.
How did you make peace with your body after pregnancy? Share in a comment below!
Kelly Holmes, author and Certified Parent Educator
I'm a mom of four, a Certified Parent Educator, and the author of Happy You, Happy Family. I believe if you want a loving parent-child relationship that will last into the teenage years and beyond, the time for nurturing that kind of relationship is now. The good news? All you need is 10 minutes a day. Start here »