Dear Body: Um, Could I Get Back To You?
I've been struggling with a secret, which is this: I'm really, really not in love with my body right now. I have, been keeping it secret for two reasons: 1) it's totally new to me - I've never really struggled with my body image, even after my last pregnancy, which added padding where no padding had hitherto existed, and so it just feels foreign and weird and (obviously) bad, and 2) it also feels so, I don't know, anti-feminist or anti-woman or anti-me (which, really, collapses into a kind of counter-womanism, to be anti-yourself as a woman) and I just so don't want to be that. But then I remembered that I'd read something, somewhere (cannot for the life of me remember where exactly and Google gets me nowhere; it might have been in Brain, Child magazine? anyone know?) that there's a link between poor body image and post-partum depression. Which, yikes. I've been fending off the PPD this time around (I'm seven weeks post-partum) with every tool at my disposal, but had, it seems, overlooked the issue of my current struggle with body-image.
After all, struggling with body image is, like, totally the norm for new moms, no? Doesn't every new mom balk a little at the muffin top, the extra junk in the trunk? And if it's normal, isn't it, if not healthy, at least somewhat in accordance with stable health? Well, no, of course not. But I just hadn't thought about that - until I noticed that I was watching my diet, and not in the healthiest way. While recovering from a traumatic labor and delivery. And breastfeeding. And struggling with PPD. Um, not good.
A negative postpartum body image can
contribute to low self-esteem and postpartum depression, as well as a
host of other negative emotional and societal effects. It can also
cause a mother to diet which could potentially be detrimental to her
infant if she is breastfeeding as well as contribute to postpartum
depression symptoms from lack of nutrients and calories.
(Text bolded by me, because, oh hell.)
I cannot count the number of times I have heard mothers of young
children say, "I have felt so unattractive since I had my baby." We
need to reclaim the "mama body" and celebrate it as an image of
strength, warmth, and beauty.
I did celebrate my body like that, after my first pregnancy. I revelled in feeling and looking ripe, earth-goddess, maternal. But for some reason, after I gave birth the second time, recently, I just lost that body-positive buzz. I just felt - feel - dumpy and lumpy and not myself. It's possible that the constant onslaught, this time around, of media commentary on pregnant and post-partum celebrities - who, of course, lose the baby weight in about three days - has something to do with it. Maybe it's the heat of summer. Probably the combination of whacked-out hormones and post-traumatic stress have contributed. Whatever. I need to shake it off, for the sake of my mental and emotional health. I need to spend a day just clicking through The Shape of a Mother, and then another day reading all the Letters to My Body (like this one - " Body, when things are not going well for me emotionally you still keep going, when I hurt you still go on....") that I can find.
And maybe write my own. Because a healthy mind, a healthy psyche, and healthy spirit require not only a healthy body, but a healthy body image. This new mom needs all those things.