The human body is a remarkable thing. From the day we are born to the day we die; we go through so many changes. Our bodies carry us through the rigors of life and perform amazing feats. To this day one of the most amazing feats, despite being a tale as old as time, is the whole journey a woman’s body goes through during pregnancy, childbirth, and beyond.
I’ve always known that pregnancy and childbirth are not easy, but it wasn’t until I experienced it myself and read up on exactly what changes my body was going through that I fully understood. The transformation to motherhood is a whole lot of literal blood, sweat and tears, and then some. I watched in awe as my body went through each trimester growing the life inside me, each one bringing its own set of challenges and newfound knowledge. Watching myself go through these changes was twofold; I felt like an outsider examining my body with scientific curiosity, but at the same time so wrapped up in my own skin and in every emotional and physical newness that was happening to me.
Take my skin, for example. I watched my belly grow more and more stretched. The pigmentation of my skin changed – I had a thick dark line going down my whole belly which I found out is called a linea nigra. My skin suddenly became extremely sensitive, where before I would tan easily with minimal sunburn, I was suddenly frying in the slightest bit of sunlight. These were details that weren’t as obvious to the outside world. Details that I discovered in wonder as the people around me praised my glow and my growing belly and told me I looked beautiful. There’s something about pregnancy that seems to make people look at you with rose tinted glasses, I noticed. It makes you feel like a queen.
"I'd been hiding under big jumpers during pregnancy and my stretch marks only started appearing two months before his birth. I was experiencing different emotions - grateful that my body could grow a little person, and at the same time worrying about how these marks would affect my confidence. But it's been a lovely reminder how amazing my body is to be able to house him for nine months." - Cristien Natal, sharing a photo of her changing body leading up to the birth.
Then it all comes crashing down once you give birth. Suddenly it’s all about getting back to that ‘pre-pregnancy weight’, people commenting on how tired you look, suggesting this cream or that oil for stretch marks, asking about the baby. Are you breastfeeding? Formula? But breastfeeding is so much better, but don’t feed to sleep because you’re creating a bad habit, and don’t pick baby up every time they cry for you because they’ll learn that you’re just going to do it every time but if you need a break and let baby cry for a bit that’s being cruel, and does baby sleep through the night yet or not and… oh my God just make it stop!
All that love and praise from your pregnancy period has turned into an overload of conflicting advice bombarding you from all sides while people want to hold your baby and don’t bother checking in on you. Your skin is loose, stretched and scarred. Your organs are trying to find their way back to the position they were in before the uterus carrying your baby took up all the space. Your hormones are all out of whack as they re-adjust and get to work making milk to nourish your baby. Your hair starts falling out by the handfuls in the shower and on your pillow, and your clothes.
Cristien shares a beautiful photo of nursing her son Benji.
Mama, it took you 40 weeks – over nine months – to grow the life inside you. Then you pushed that baby out through your vagina and likely had to get sewn up down there. Or you had a major operation cutting through five layers of your body to get to your uterus and pull your baby out, then got sewn up again. Then you’re going through postpartum bleeding for a few weeks after that. And while your body works hard to heal itself, you suddenly have this tiny human to take care of that’s entirely dependent on you to survive. Exhausted, in recovery, you do it anyway. If you’re breastfeeding, that is a whole other journey. Allow yourself the time to get comfortable in your new Mama skin before you even think about ‘bouncing back’.
Leysha Al-Yahya shares before and after photos.
"There may not be much of a difference but when she was in the PICU, my brain couldn’t process everything all at once. Some days it felt like being pregnant and giving birth never happened but my body reminded me. The stretch marks were proof of her." - Leysha, on carrying and birthing her daughter, Aadya.
It can be hard to appreciate and love yourself when most things about society are designed to capitalise on our insecurities and so-called flaws. From whitening products to stretch mark banishing creams. From weight loss ads and tips on how to ‘get rid of that pouch’ to that auntie praising how quickly you lost your pregnancy weight when the reality is you haven’t eaten or slept properly since giving birth. So, here are a few self-love tips that you can practice to combat all that noise:
- Look in the mirror and pick out your favourite features.
- Speak kindly to and about yourself, as you would with someone else you cared about.
- Practice gratitude and thank your body for allowing you to do everything that you do.
- Wear sexy undergarments (for YOURSELF, not for anyone else!)
- Wear clothes that make you feel good – whether it’s in your favourite colour, or makes you look good.
- Watch what you consume – whether that’s food, social media, or entertainment. Try to keep it to things that make you feel good.
Some of these things might feel a little awkward to do at first, but the more you practice, the more natural it will feel and the more you will start to develop a loving relationship with yourself. These are some of the things that worked for me, and I hope that you might find them beneficial too. And partners, family, friends – remember to tell the Mamas in your lives that they’re doing a wonderful job and looking fine as hell while doing so!
Mama, you are amazing. Your body is amazing. Look at yourself in the mirror and be kind. Be loving. Appreciate what your body has done for you and your little one. Thank your body. You are a warrior with battle scars that testify to your incredible strength. There’s no need to erase the physical reminder of your transition to motherhood. Mama, be proud of your tiger stripes.