"You look amazing!". Three little words that lifted my day yesterday when the woman at the counter in Waitrose uttered them, upon finding out that I'd had a baby 7 weeks before. She followed this up with the fact that I looked extremely 'bright and bushy tailed' given I still had such a young baby.
Little did she know that (1) I had a Boots worth of concealer piled under my eyes to hide the dark circles from what was a pretty rough, colic driven, night before; and (2) that my most recent google searches include 'how long does it take for your stomach to go back to normal after birth' and 'can breast feeding make you put on weight' (the answer is yes for some women, the myth of being able to eat what you want blown out of the water in one fell swoop).
Your relationship with your body over pregnancy is a complicated one, but one I actually grew to quite like. I found the first trimester the hardest - bigger boobs, jelly belly, with huge amounts of hormones that make you feel miserable about how you look - and yet no-one knows you're pregnant. As my body continued to change, but I made the effort to continue to exercise and eat well, I didn't mind as my belly expanded beyond all expected proportions, as long as the rest of me felt like, well, 'me'.
Everyone knows that you're pregnant at this point, your belly is expected to become huge, and for the first time in my life, my complicated relationship with my body at least had some reasoning behind it. The photo at the top of this piece was taken at 40 weeks (by the amazing Clare Keylock Photography), and I felt strong, calm, and pretty proud of my body for having got to the end of pregnancy.
Fast forward 8 weeks, and to be honest I'm pretty frustrated with my body. Most of it looks the same as pre pregnancy, but my 'mummy belly' just isn't playing ball. Exercise, healthy eating, and barely having alcohol, and this supposed additional 500 calories that breast feeding burns, and yet it steadfastly remains, as does that last bit of weight.
And yet a total stranger tells me I look 'amazing'. So why can't I be nicer to myself? Why aren't all of us nicer to ourselves post birth? The internet is littered with evidence that plays to the logical part of my brain to answer the question of why some of the weight remains. It takes 9 months to put on weight, so of course 7 weeks is a ridiculous amount of time to expect everything to be exactly as it was before. For many women, breastfeeding may help lose weight at the start, but your body quickly recognises that it needs to keep some fat back to ensure it has the stores to keep making milk, and ultimately that your baby gets fed ok should be the focus. Your stomach muscles take time to knit back together, and it takes about 6 weeks for uterus to shrink back to size. Lack of sleep increases your cortisol, and stress makes you hold weight around your middle.
Multiple googling only brings back the same answers (why do we think that magically it will tell us something different?); and I understand and agree with all of them. And yet I remain frustrated as I step on the scales, as I poke my slightly jiggly belly, and as my favourite white trousers pre pregnancy remain out of reach.
After this woman being so nice, I've decided to let a bit of that rub off on me. If I take out the emotion, I appreciate that my body is bloody amazing to have managed to produce little Otis. That time heals everything, and I'm already doing all I can to get back to how I used to be. That while the elusive white trousers remain out of reach, there's plenty of other things I wear and can still feel nice in. That perhaps I need to learn to just be that bit more patient with myself (a very difficult task..).
My advice if you're in the same boat? Buy yourself a couple of bits that make you feel good, and show off the bits you do still like. Take any nice comments with a smile, and remind yourself that you're probably your harshest critic, and it's not a positive way to be. Grab your baby, give them a big smoosh, and remember how amazing your body really is. And carry on with the healthy approach if you can, as you're setting yourself up to get to where you want to be, even if it does take that bit longer (and it makes you feel better after sleepless nights anyway). And stay away from Google.