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Women Get Real About Their Post-Baby Bodies

Written by Erin Feher

Photography by Photography Courtesy Of Jade Beall

The physical changes that come along with pregnancy are well-known and much discussed. Society seems to have gotten comfortable with talk of swollen ankles, heartburn, and morning sickness. Even women who had especially challenging pregnancies are typically able to gracefully accept the physical changes that come along with the whole 10-month endeavor—they are making a human, after all. But what about when the tough work of human-making is through?  When your body is once again your own, but unfamiliar at the same time? For most women, this new normal is hard to get used to, and filled with physical changes that are less widely discussed and understood.

The filmmaker Bronwen Parker-Rhodes was blindsided by her own relationship with her postpartum body and was inspired to make a documentary about other women’s experiences. “Obviously giving birth is one of the most extreme things your body can ever go through. So, why was the aftermath also such a shock?” she wrote in an op-ed introducing the film After Birth, which was part of the New York Times Op-Docs series.

“Initially I was preoccupied with the well-being of my newborn child, but it didn’t take long for me to become aware of my very different and damaged body. I felt shame for obsessing over my episiotomy scar and swollen vagina. My hips and pelvis felt and looked different, my coccyx appeared to stick out at a weird angle, my breasts were unrecognizable, and breast-feeding was excruciating. I felt completely and frighteningly changed. Why hadn’t I been warned about this and given some reassurance about the recovery?”

To add to the conversation, we asked a group of women about their own experiences following childbirth, and what, if anything, helped them love their new, forever-changed bodies.

How Did Your Body Change After Childbirth? 

“This is a hard topic for me because I wish it didn’t effect me mentally as much as it does. My body completely changed, and as someone who loves to work out and eat healthy it was a hard pill to swallow. I love what my body did making and nourishing and growing three kids but the aftermath was hard for me.” –Kris Galmarini, mother of 3

“There are changes both big and subtle. I’ve been saying since childbirth that my boobs don’t feel like mine. It’s almost as if they’re on loan, and I still don’t know what will become of them. I lost the baby weight, and some of the IVF weight, fairly quickly and without an ounce of exercise. That said, my body is different. My ass has flattened and softened, my hips have rounded, I carry a bit of a pooch, and the dark vertical line dissecting my tummy is still very much in tact.” –Leah Goldstein, mother of twins

“After the first kid, my body was able to return back pretty normal. After the second, everything got wider. The hips, the thighs, the waist, even my face. The boobs are weird. They get big and then small, and then big again. I kept having to buy new bras to keep up with my changing body. The texture of my hair also changed. It gotten a little bit more coarse.” –Jeanne Chan, mother of 2

“I’ve had a tough time accepting my ‘new’ body. I gained 15 pounds during my 2-year IVF process and then 40 pounds during my actual pregnancy. I was so disappointed with myself in gaining all of the weight. Since I’ve always been an active person, I thought I would be one of those women who lost their belly and extra weight immediately. Not the case. Before the birth of my daughter, I worked out regularly, and following her birth I tried to get back to my ‘old’ body by starting to exercise too soon, too much, and too hard, causing me to hurt my back really badly. So much so, that 15 months later, I’m still dealing with back issues. It’s something I will have to deal with for years to come, if not for the rest of my life. What a mistake! I hate to play the blame game, but I constantly compared myself to women I saw on Instagram who had a baby at the same time, whose stomach just went away and their body was perfectly bikini-ready. I felt like I was failing at yet another thing…” –Defne Crowe, mother of one

“Well for starters my six-year-old asked me the other day why my boobs were so long! My body has transformed into a bunch of different bodies since child birth. Over the last 6 years I have had voluptuous curves, squishy parts, huge boobs, small boobs, and leveled out somewhere in the middle.” –Michelle Snyder, mother of one

“Let’s just say, the ‘shift’ called gravity really does exist. I’m unsure if I should attribute this shift to age, weight gain, four pregnancies, or maybe both. I have nicknames for these body part shifts: ‘Tiger Stripes,’ a.k.a. as stretch marks; ‘Dimples,’ a.k.a. cellulite; ‘Happy and Sad,’ or the names of my right and left breast after nursing my youngest daughter for three years!; ‘Tina, the talking tummy,’ or my tummy skin that got left behind. You know, the skin that can only go away if it’s removed by a plastic surgeon. These examples and perspective of my physical imperfections may come off negative. And yes, if I was my younger self writing this, my follow up would be a slew of comparisons of what society has told me is beautiful. However, surprisingly enough I am the most confident I have ever been. I love my imperfections. They’re my stripes that I’ve earned in this troop called ‘motherhood.'” –Nyanda Donaldson, mother of 4.

“Since becoming a mother I’ve definitely moved up a pant size and my boobs have a little less oomph, but I actually love my body more than I did before. I’m so grateful for all that it has provided for my daughter and what it is capable of. I can’t believe how quickly our bodies shed the weight we put on for our babies.” –Jen Long, mother of one

“Becoming a mom takes its toll physically and I spent the first few years of motherhood recovering, sleepless, and conserving my limited energy for my kids.” –Jennifer Wade, mother of 2

Have You Come Around to Loving Your Body? How Did You Do It? 

“I had to get surgery recently and got a breast lift as well. How good it has made me feel is actually a tad hard for me because I feel guilty that something like this could have such a mental impact for me. But it did. I feel so great and like part of me is back. I truly feel a sense of myself again. It was like BAM, they look like my boobs pre-kids.” Kris Galmarini, mother of 3

“Honestly, I’ve managed to be very kind to myself, maybe because it took me so long to get here and I feel lucky to live in a body marked by motherhood. Somewhere along the way I managed to divorce ego from my body image as a new mother. Really, more than anything, I just marvel at what my body is capable of and wear my changed parts as a stamp of pride.” Leah Goldstein, mother of twins

“Am I cool with it? It took awhile to accept, and a couple rounds of purging clothes and buying new pieces that fit my new body to start feeling comfortable again.” –Jeanne Chan, mother of 2

“Embracing my own post-birth body started with taking a nude self portrait. That was seven years ago, and though I was still deep in the trenches of loving her—my body—it was the beginning of my path to healing the life-long narrative that I had about my body: thinking that she was ugly, gross and needed to change to fit into a narrow scope of body type, and photoshopped in order to be worthy. I love putting myself out there so that others may have the chance to consider a different belief about themselves and see, if even for moments at a time, how divine they are inside and out.” –Jade Beall, mother of one and author of The Bodies of Mothers.

“It’s been hard at times with all the newness of the different stages but I am pretty cool with it now. To have the privilege to grow a human and watch the body transform is quite amazing. To deal with my vanity around it has been challenging at times.” Michelle Snyder, mother of one

“Once my youngest turned two, the extra rest and respite of not having a baby allowed me to physically and mentally focus on getting back into shape. In doing so, I realized that motherhood had made me stronger and made me truly value ‘me time,’ so workouts were welcome. I also found a network of other moms who value fitness, so I’m able to stay in shape while socializing, something I consider a gift as a working mom. I am now the fittest I have been in my life (and I was a former athlete). I run, frequent Barry’s Bootcamp, and have a trainer once weekly. It all takes place before my kids wake up, so I am back to being short on sleep but the benefit of feeling strong and connected to an inspiring likeminded community makes it worth it. I’ll never get my 20-year-old body back but I feel great about my 37-year-old body, the two beautiful kids it’s given me, and the pride I feel knowing I earned this physique.” Jennifer Wade, mother of 2

“Today, 15-months later, I’m still self-conscious about my body. I’m realizing that it will never be the same, but I find that also, I’m not the same person I was before I had my daughter. I’m learning to accept that. I wish I had a more positive outlook and was super empowered by the extra skin on my belly and stretch marks on my butt, but I’m not there yet. It’s truly a work in progress.” Defne Crowe, mother of one

“This past year postpartum I’ve been extremely attentive and patient with my body. While I was breastfeeding, I only craved warm and nourishing foods as you find in The First 40 Days and I swam and walked a ton to keep my body moving, rather than running regularly like I used to. Now that I am no longer breastfeeding, my diet has changed. I still crave ghee and healthy fats, but fewer starches, and, in turn, I shed those last few pounds exactly when my body no longer needed them.” Jen Long, mother of one

“I gained 75 pounds during each of my pregnancies, that’s the size of an average 10-year-old.  I went from a size 2 to a size 16. Needless to say, my confidence during this span of  time was at an all-time low. After my last pregnancy something just mentally clicked, my motivation changed.  I realized I needed to put in the work to get back to that place called ‘self love.’  I started dedicating time for myself to work on a better me. So often as mothers we get lost in caring for all of those around us and forget that we need the same love and nurturing. Today  I have rediscovered myself. My mental matches my physical. Health and wellness is now a lifestyle. I workout 5 to 7 days a week. I wake up most mornings at 5 a.m. to head to the gym before my children need to start their day. Exercise is my form of meditation and it’s how I set my daily mood—releasing those super endorphins that make me have an extra pep in my step of that feel good feeling. At 37 and four deliveries later, I have never looked or felt as good as I do today. When I finally stopped comparing myself to others my expectations changed. I knew Rome wasn’t built in a night. I had to embrace the idea that change would happen over time. To all the mothers out there, you are beyond special. You have given life. I hope you see the beauty in all the imperfections that come with this great gift. May you never lose sight of how truly special you are.” Nyanda Donaldson, mother of 4.

For more on the topic of post-baby bodies, watch After Birth, a film by Bronwen Parker-Rhodes.


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