As mothers, we go through so many changes: physical, emotional and mental.
On an emotional level, we get to experience many different emotions, sometimes in record time. On a mental level, we are often pushed to our limits, or rather to the limits we didn't even know we had. More to follow on these topics in the coming posts. Now, about the physical...
On a physical level, our bodies change dramatically after having a baby and they don’t always go back to their original shapes or looks. Some of us get stretch marks, skin discoloration, varicose veins. And let’s not talk about all the constipation, back pain, sore breasts, and incontinence potentially plaguing us. Yeah, you're not alone there.
In addition to some of the ones listed above, I got to discover another side effect of motherhood called mommy’s wrist. Yes, it's a thing. Basically, some of the joints in my right hand got overworked and inflamed from lifting my baby to the point that I almost needed surgery.
Of course, the one "side effect" that most women focus on is the weight gain, the most obvious to the eye, and the most painful for our ego, self-confidence, and sometimes our health. I don’t know about you, but no one told me that I would still look like I was 6-month pregnant after the delivery, and that it would take some time for my body to adjust.
For those of you breastfeeding, you may have been told that you would lose the weight easily. Well, it’s not always the case as you may have noticed. The truth is that again, we are all different and our bodies adjust at their own paces, not at the pace of the stars in the gossip magazines. And by the way, It’s OK if you don’t feel like getting back in shape for a while, whatever "back in shape" means to you, and you only. And take your time.
You probably repeated to yourself at least a thousand times that such and such part of your body looks terrible. You said it so many times that you started believing it and it has become your truth. Your mind can be very convincing. You built that belief like you build a muscle, repeating the same exercise, and willingly or unwillingly strengthening it. Well, now is the time to become more aware of what you say to yourself, and decide what you want to believe about yourself and your body.
We try to make conscious choices about the food we put in our bodies most the time. The salad instead of the pizza, the yogurt instead of the cookie (nothing wrong with pizza and cookie here and there of course, let's not demonize food.) It’s not black and white of course, but we try to pay attention, we make informed decisions.
And yet, we pay very little attention to what we feed our mind: which thoughts are nourishing, which ones will give us strength, joy, pleasure, and which ones will deplete us and bring us down.
So here's my "prescription" for you: Take care of your mind too. Give it the right nutrients, and you'll grow flowers, instead of weeds. How do you do it? Well, it's a slow process that requires care and attention. Here are a few practices to get you started towards acceptance.
Think bigger picture. Your body may never be the same again, and it is beautiful. Yes, really. You created a human being. Doesn’t that blow your mind? I still can’t wrap my head around it. You birthed a child! Whether the pain was excruciating or it was as easy as pie, it’s an incredible accomplishment. Thanks to Your Body. It may not be perfect or as you wish it were, but can you appreciate what it has allowed you to achieve? Can you maybe even thank it for what it helped you achieve? Appreciation, gratefulness, whatever you want to call it, is a key practice to shift from the negative to more neutral or positive thinking.
We tend to skip that part, especially during the first few months when we barely have time to pee, eat, shower, let alone think about ourselves. What a luxury it would be. Really decadent. But since we're in the middle of the topic now, and I've got your attention, can you take a minute to get your mind blown away by what you did? Can you think about, and even connect with, the collective of all the other mothers who also experienced giving birth - and how powerful that is? Can you detach yourself from the tyranny of the media who oppress women with their shaming messages and unrealistic expectations about our bodies?
It's often hard to grasp that acceptance is not the same as resignation and passivity. Acceptance is being OK with what you have right now AND taking action to change what you can. I’m not saying you should not try to improve how your body looks and feels, whatever that means to you. Go for it, AND (big emphasis on the AND) can you appreciate the parts that may not change, and accept them as they are? Those stretch marks or that C-section scar may not be part of your aesthetic ideal. I get that. But can you see beyond how it looks? Can you see it as a badge of honor, a symbol of your strength and your ability as a woman? You may think of another way to reframe it that is unique to you. Great. Even better. We are beautiful and unique with all our imperfections, not in spite of them.
And, check out this series of photos of real moms for inspiration.
Stand or sit in front of a mirror. Look at yourself through the eyes of someone who’s unequivocally and unconditionally in love with you. Maybe you know such person, maybe not. This person doesn’t have to be real. I want you to imagine what it would feel like to have such person around you regularly, seeing you as you are, human in all you complexity, and loving it all. Because that person should be you! Notice how each of your features through these loving eyes are cute, endearing, special, and beautiful.
This is how you want to see yourself. And remember it’s a practice, meaning you're not going to do it perfectly, and that's not the goal anyway. A lot of thoughts and beliefs may come up that are really not very nice to you. That's normal and to be expected. This leads us the the next practice.
And for some extra bonus points: listen to Christina Aguilera's song, Beautiful
Track your little demons
Keep a small notebook with you or simply use a notes application on your phone.
Pay attention to these thoughts and beliefs (the not-so-nice ones) without judgment and criticism. Imagine you are sports casting your own experience, describing it as simple facts, not opinions.
Then, think of how you could replace these thoughts and beliefs with more constructive and loving ones. Yes, it will sound fake at first; yes, it will feel weird; and yes, it will take time too. Consider it an investment in yourself, with big profits down the road.
Slowly you may feel more in charge, more empowered, and the quality of your thoughts may improve with ripple effects on your mood, your relationships and your life in general. The mind is a powerful ally, or a powerful enemy.
Everyday you can chip away at these negative beliefs. Just take the first step. If the task seems daunting, or if you feel you need extra support to be more accepting, reach out to your trusted support system or work with a mental health professional who'll be able to guide you through the blocks you may encounter.
Copyright : Michael Heim Stock Photo 123 RF
About the author: Valerie Abitbol, LMFT, owner of Flow Counseling, PLLC is a counselor and therapist in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in helping her clients decrease stress and anxiety and process grief and trauma in order to create a peaceful and balanced life. Valerie provides counseling to adults and couples to help them heal, succeed, and grow happiness.