On Being an Individual and Being a Mom

Something has been pressing on me for a while, and I’ve gone back and forth on whether I wanted to write about it. But today, I decided I had to for my own sake. It’s been weighing on me for a few days, so the words have to come out. It all stems from multiple things, the most recent being a photo I posted on a few social media sites of myself three years ago with a caption relating my desire to feel that strong again, and from a photo I posted when I was pregnant with James with a similar sentiment–the desire to take control of my body back and feel good in it again.

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Why is that once you’re pregnant or have had a child, any comment about wanting to get stronger, lose weight, or gain your confidence back, is met with something like, “You’ve had a baby! Be proud of who you are now!” or “Your new body was earned! Battle scars!” or even, “Yeah right. Once you have a baby, it’s all over.” I’m not saying those comments are wrong, (well, some of them are…) but why can’t we say, “Your body has done a lot–carrying a human inside it and then outside! You should be proud, but if you need to do work to gain back your old confidence, your old strength, and you’re willing to do that work, good for you!” 

When a mom loses her baby weight and gets strong again, we don’t say, “Shame on you. How dare you try and change the body your baby helped create!” No, we say, “Yes! Good for you. Way to go!” But when those of us who struggle (and boy, do I struggle–with weight gain and self confidence and feeling good) say  we want to achieve those same goals, it’s like we’re doing something terrible, something shameful. “How could you want that? Aren’t you happy you have your baby?” Why are those things even in the same thought?

I remember when I was pregnant with James, I posted a picture of myself (see the second picture at the top). I had been working  hard for months to drop so extra weight and gain some muscle. I felt strong and beautiful in that picture and I wanted to feel that way again, independent of my son and my pregnancy after he was born.  (I felt beautiful during that pregnancy, too, but pregnancy only lasts 10 months.) On that photo, I got some of the most hurtful, if well intentioned, comments ever. People told me my child should come first. That it was laughable that I ever thought I’d have time for myself or my own body again. That it was all over and to give up now. They told me looks weren’t everything and I needed to focus on the baby. They told me I should be proud of stretch marks and extra weight and saggy skin. They questioned why I wanted that, why I was thinking about it, and then explained what was wrong about my desires and mindset in a not-so-kind way. I felt such guilt after posting that. How could I want this? What is wrong with me to want this? 

But feeling this way is normal. It is. And you know what? Stretch marks don’t bother me. Saggy skin? Who cares. But when I feel weak, when I feel tired, when I feel like a stranger in my skin? That bothers me. Being too heavy to chase my kid without tiring? That bothers me. When I posted that picture, I was trying to say, “I want to someday feel strong like this again.” It’s been just under two years since I posted that and the comments still hurt my heart, even the well-intentioned ones. (PS. There were a few that said, “I know you how feel” or “You’ll get there” and those were more appreciated than the writers could ever know.)

So now I’m pregnant again. 14 weeks along. And this pregnancy has been HARD. Lots of nausea. Vomiting. Dizziness. Fatigue. Back pain. Leg pain. Hip pain. Bloating. GI issues. And I’m only 14 weeks in. So what do I do? I complain some. I let off some steam, and just like with my desire to someday have a strong, agile body again, I hear things like: “But it’s so worth it!” Of course it is, but that shouldn’t minimize or negate how I feel now.

It’s like once you get pregnant, once you become a mom, your feelings as an individual not only become less important, they become almost taboo. And I’ve been guilty of saying these things to new moms. “The first trimester stinks, but it’s worth it in the end.” “Your body will change drastically, but once you hold your baby, it doesn’t even matter anymore.”

Well, ladies, let me go on the record and say a few things.

  1. If you’re feeling bad about your body–maybe you’re pregnant and uncomfortable with your new shape, maybe you’ve had a baby and don’t know how to function in your new, reshaped skin–that’s OK. You’re allowed to have feelings about your body that are separate from the feelings about your baby. Like me, you love your baby more than your life. And like me, you also want to feel good in your own skin. Those two things are not dependent on each other, no matter what people (myself included) may have said to you in the past.
  2. Saying that you miss your body, or your confidence, or your strength, does not mean you don’t love your child, or that you aren’t proud of what your body did/is doing to create a child. I’m SO PROUD of my body right now, because it’s growing my little firefly babe, and that is AWESOME. I also feel like I’ve betrayed my body, because over the last three-ish years I’ve stopped taking care of it, stopped taking care of myself, and because of that I don’t feel strong or confident or good. I gained a lot more weight than I should have, I lost a lot more muscle mass than I should have, and I lost myself along the way.
  3. Becoming a mom does not mean you have to lose who you are. You are going to change. You have changed. And that NEEDS to happen. But you don’t cease to exist. You don’t become a nonentity whose sole purpose is to change diapers and wipe runny noses. You are still you, just a new you. Maybe that means your new body, postpartum, is perfect for you. Maybe you feel amazing (I hope you do!). But maybe that means you want to change your body some, work on it, work on yourself and your confidence. Do what makes you feel good and confident and strong, not what everyone else says you should do to feel a certain way.
  4. Be a mom. Love your baby (or babies). Dedicate yourself and your life to caring for them. But leave time and energy for you. For who you are. For what you love. For who you want to be.

Three years ago, I was strong and confident and agile, but I didn’t have my son. Two years ago I was pregnant with James and less strong, but still strong, and so happy to be pregnant. One year ago I held James as he recovered, days out of cranial surgery. I was thankful for his health and that I was healthy enough to care for him. And today, I’m pregnant with my firefly baby, but I am not strong. I am not confident. And that has nothing to do with the baby I’m carrying, but everything to do with me, as a human, not as a mom or as a pregnant woman. Just me. 

Sometimes, as moms, it’s hard to differentiate between our mom-selves and our actual selves. So here’s me. 

I am a mother and wife, a daughter and sister.
I am a writer and a lover of books and pens and paper.
I am a yogini whose practice is anything but steady.
I love animals, love trees, love the clouds and the stars.
I worry a lot. I am anxious.
I feel things so deeply, so intensely, it’s painful sometimes, even the good emotions.
I want to feel physically strong and confident.
I am proud of what my body has done to birth one child and carry a second.
I am not comfortable in my own skin (but that doesn’t mean I regret having my babies).
I am a unique entity, not just a caregiver for others.

If you do read this blog, and do decide to comment, instead of telling me all the reasons why I should  feel good in my own skin, instead just tell me about YOU. What do you love? What are your goals? What’s your passion? What do you feel? What do you want to work on or grow in? Because as long as your desires, your goals, your wants are things that will grow you as a person, will enrich your life, they’re not bad or wrong or taboo. They’re part of who you are.

Thanks for reading, if you did. And I hope no one took offense. I also want to say, as a disclaimer, I am not saying in this blog that to be happy one must be thinner or stronger or anything like that. I’m saying I need to feel stronger to feel good. But you, as an individual, need to do whatever it takes to make you feel good, feel healthy, feel like yourselves. ❤

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From the Mouths of Babes

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on something–convincing myself that, just because I’m carrying more weight that I would like, doesn’t mean I have less worth, doesn’t mean my husband loves me less, doesn’t mean everyone is constantly judging me. And you know what? It’s been working! I even wore a fitted–that’s right, a FITTED–shirt to teach my Sunday Restorative Yoga class last week (starts at 6! I’d love to see you there! #ShamelessPlug), and I felt OK. I was still aware of the way my stomach bulged, still aware of the fact that my back isn’t toned and smooth, and the fact that that was visible in that shirt, but I didn’t let it totally color the evening. I was able to focus on my teaching and on my students.

This may not seem like a very big deal, but for me it is. Even when I was thin, I was pretty much constantly obsessing over my weight. I would look at photos, and if I could see a roll, something that didn’t look tiny and flat, I was mortified. If I wore clothes that didn’t fit just right, I was so embarrassed to go out. When I got married, I felt so bad for my husband, because I wasn’t toned, wasn’t thin enough, wasn’t “good” enough for him (disclaimer: he has, from day one, told me that I was beautiful. I’ve just chosen, for whatever reason, not to listen.), so I started doing yoga and eating right, and I was in really good shape! But I still thought those things, still thought I wasn’t thin enough, wasn’t fit enough. And then I had a baby, and gained weight, and everything changed.

But, as my friend Hannah would say, I’m chasing rabbits. Time to get back to the point, which is the fact that, over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on changing my mindset. It’s taken years and years, but I’ve been trying to convince myself that my worth isn’t determined by my weight/size. And it was working. I was feeling good, feeling confident.

And then a few days ago, a child looked at me and said, “Miss Lindsey, your belly is really fat. Big like when your baby was in it.”

BOOM. All the work I’d done, all the pep talks I’d given myself, the teensy bit of confidence I had built up exploded, turned to dust, and blew away with the smallest, most innocent gust of wind.

I got so upset. I wasn’t upset with the kid. Children just say what they see. And this was the first day that I was with these kids that I’d worn a fairly fitted shirt since James as born, so it makes sense that a child would notice and comment. It would be like if I wore my reading glasses, and a kid said, “You’re wearing glasses!” But even though I wasn’t upset with the kid, I was upset.

Suddenly, I thought, “Do all the adults that have seen me today think this? Are they all judging me? Do they think I’m awful and disgusting and oh, I’m so embarrassed, I should have stayed home, I should have worn something else, I shouldn’t have been foolish enough to think it was OK that I wear this fitted shirt. I only wore it because it’s new, and a friend made it for me, and it’s beautiful, but I shouldn’t have put it on my body in public. How stupid. How stupid…” etc. I spiraled. Quickly. All my work, all my positive self talk was destroyed from one small, innocent, small comment. Suddenly, I was back to being overly aware of every inch of my flawed body.

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I took this earlier that day–I stood up straight, tucked my belly in as far as I could, to show off the shirt and try to hide my body shape.

All this makes me think, what is it about being thin that has such a hold on so many of us? A few days before this, another child was talking about how James was still a tiny baby, because I call him a giant baby (he’s in the 99th percentile! Such a big boy!). He said, “He’s not a giant baby, he’s a tiny baby, but you all are giants (Vince and me). Someday James will grow up and be a giant, too.” Then he looked at us, and said to Vince, “But you’re skinny. Like me, I’m skinny, too.” He looked at me, and didn’t say anything, but the point was clear. I was not skinny, and that was not good.

Even a child knows that “skinny” is “good,” “not skinny” is “bad.” And that is messed up. 

When I was five years old, I remember worrying if I was thin enough. My mommy and daddy told me I was beautiful all the time, but still I thought, “Am I small enough? Will anyone ever love me?” That’s not OK.

This is where body dysmorphia starts, when we’re too young to know what’s normal and what’s not, and as parents, we need to be aware of this in our children, we need to teach them how to perceive ourselves and others, how to talk about bodies–their own and others–and how to love themselves, regardless of photos they see on Instagram or on television. I mean, even though my parents built me up and loved me and gave me all the encouragement a child could want, I still suffer from body dysmorphia and have my whole life. We have to be aware that our children may be suffering with this, too.

I’ve carried my body dysmorphia for as long as I can remember. Never have I not been aware of my “flaws,” of my body shape and size and weight, of my hair cut and color, of my makeup or lack thereof. I’ve never not worried about these things. And I am SICK of it. I’m tired of CONSTANTLY trying to hide my body, because I’m ashamed of it, because I’m OBSESSED and DISAPPOINTED with how I look.

Do I want to be thinner? Yes. I want to be able to fit in my old clothes and comfortably do the yoga poses I could before. And I’m not even sure if that’s because I think it’s healthier, or because to my body-dysmorphic-eyeballs think the photos of me then are more attractive and want that back.

I don’t have a point here, except, talk to your kids. Talk to your spouses. Talk to your friends. We have to help each other not fall into this pit of self hatred and comparison and all around ickiness.

YOU are beautiful.

YOU are wonderful.

YOU are ENOUGH.

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I took this earlier that day–I stood up straight, tucked my belly in as far as I could, to show off the shirt and try to hide my body shape.
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I took this earlier that day–I stood up straight, tucked my belly in as far as I could, to show off the shirt and try to hide my body shape.