I remember packing to go to the hospital. I picked out the clothes that used to fit. They told me to find something that fit when I was six months pregnant, so I did.
I was so excited to get my body back.
My baby arrived almost two weeks late. He weighed eight pounds at birth, and I felt heavy. After giving birth, I remember walking into the restroom during one of his first naps. I looked at my body in its new form for the first time.
I still looked pregnant.
I was a little shocked, but I was also distracted by my ridiculously large boobs that were preparing milk to grow my son. I figured things would just work themselves out.
I barely squeezed into my dress to return home from the hospital; I was nowhere near the size I had imagined I would be. But I had hope. Everyone told me I would continue to lose weight in the next few weeks.
Fast forward a few weeks after returning home.
I asked my midwife if the ring of fat around my waist would "go away," like the other weight I had magically lost after childbirth. She was kind to me, but also honest: I would need to work the rest of the weight off. And this was the first time I realized I had a significant amount of fat I now needed to lose. My skin didn’t fare well either: I had visible skin sag and a diastasis separation.
I looked for hope on the internet (which I do not suggest to anyone!).
There didn't seem like much hope to repair my body. There did seem to be a lot of support for having surgery, but that's not what I wanted for my body right now.
I had really dark thoughts about my body.
One time I wondered if it would be better to just burn the skin, so that it would be more understandable when other people saw it.
I felt overwhelming guilt for allowing myself to gain so much extra weight during pregnancy.
But at the same time, I kept reflecting on the journey of growing my child inside me, of giving birth to him. I ate organic foods to benefit his growth, and I ate when I was hungry. I grew a healthy baby who was able to withstand almost two extra weeks in the womb, plus three days of labor.
Giving birth left me feeling empowered.
I’m incredibly thankful for how my body was able to create, open, and push with such great force. The energy was the greatest I’ve ever felt.
I’m proud of what my body has accomplished.. But I also remember feeling like I was looking at a stranger every time I looked in the mirror.
I wished I could simply pop back into place. But that's not what was happening.
I saw other moms who seemed to have an easier road. Their bodies didn’t have skin sag or diastasis. They seemed to lean up early and go on with their lives.
Meanwhile, and for the last two years, I’ve been working hard to lose the weight in a healthy way, while also remaining hopeful that my skin will continue to repair.
I took the long road.
I didn't want to rush my body or my skin on this journey. I knew (from studying skin) that it takes a long time to rebuild elasticity, and it may never rebuild its initial elasticity; but I also knew that if I rushed it, I would be skinny but with skin issues that were more severe and lasted for longer.
I knew I needed to avoid extreme dieting to maintain my milk supply and that extreme or quick weight loss would leave me feeling tired and create unsustainable, unhealthy eating patterns.
So I decided to work on my body consistently and at its own pace.
So far I’ve lost about forty pounds.
Here are the lessons this journey has taught me so far:
Your body is your own, and it’s unlike any other. That's why it doesn't really make sense to compare your body to another. You have a different metabolism, a different amount of weight to lose, and a different fitness journey.
Focusing on what other people were doing didn't make sense for me at all. My body's needs were different. I needed to tune in to who I was deep inside and trust my body to make the most of this journey. By doing this, I was able to focus my energy internally and understand how I was feeling inside.
I dedicated myself to working towards optimal energy rather than external physique, because I knew that if I was going to feel great in my own skin I would need to feel great inside and out.
This was so hard for me! For a while, I would look at my body in the mirror each day and say, "Come on, where's that girl I know?" But that didn't change the fact that my body needed time to heal and time to lose the extra weight in a healthy way.
I'm not saying that I just waited for the weight to go away on its own: I worked at it every day by eating lots of fruits and vegetables and getting lots of exercise. But I didn't rush my body, because it was still healing and providing milk for my son. And I needed to nourish and care for myself while I went through this process.
I was always hard on my body before. I was always working to make my body a better version of itself. Even so, I hadn’t realized how much of my confidence was attributed to my body.
Losing that part of my confidence really shook me postpartum. I just didn't know how I could feel like myself again, looking the way that I did.
But then I started to have compassion for myself. I realized that I could have forty or more years in this body and in this skin, and I don’t want to go through the rest of my life wishing my body could be something else.
I found compassion for the grief I felt in losing the body I once had.
I found compassion for my husband who stood by my side and encouraged me daily to keep working on my body.. but still somehow found me beautiful, even though I wasn't yet able to see myself that way.
And I found compassion for all the mothers whose bodies change as we carry our children, each in our own way.
In this place of compassion, I became eager to tell this story, so that as mothers, we can start talking more about loving ourselves and our bodies’ changes after baby versus feeling the need to return to our pre-baby state, ignoring the need our bodies have to heal and morph into something new.
I could not have survived this journey without the gratitude I have for my body's accomplishment of growing and birthing my son. I’m still in wonder at how my body was able to grow and birth another human. And I’m so grateful to have a healthy child, plus my own health postpartum.
This gratitude has helped motivate me on the days when it’s hard to look in the mirror. It's also helped me celebrate my journey in postpartum weight loss, finding gratitude for each new benefit my body is able to bring to my sense of self and feeling complete again post-baby.
My "new" skin is just my old skin. We've been together for a long time, and if all goes well, we have a long journey ahead. I didn't always love my body, and even now there is work I can do for self-love, but I'm able to look at myself in the mirror and be comfortable with who I am.
I know that this body-empowerment journey was ours. We were in this together each step of the way, and now I can say I'm finally, for one of the first times in my life, fully comfortable being as I am in this moment.
I'm comfortable listening to my body, with its need to stretch, to shrink, to rest.
I'm comfortable looking in the mirror, remembering where we have been, feeling hopeful for where we will go.
I'm comfortable teaching my children to love their bodies just as they are, because now I can be an example of that.
This journey has taught me so much more than how to lose weight and minimize skin sag after baby.
It’s taught me to be patient, compassionate, thankful, and comfortable in the body I have.
And I hope that together as mothers we can start to talk more about this journey and support each other with compassion. I also hope that instead of feeling guilt, shame, grief, or sadness, we find ourselves empowered by the gift of birth and the transformations our bodies go through during that journey.
Annabelle Bayhan is a business strategist, coach, writer, speaker, and community builder. She helps mission-driven business owners leverage digital marketing strategy to grow sustainable businesses that fulfill their core life desires while living vibrant, balanced lives. She uses business as a tool for freedom and full expression of one’s self and has an innate ability to understand when people have blocks in the way of exuding their true selves. She is an advocate for thoughtful leadership within society, and she helps business owners mold into the leaders they are meant to be. Learn more at https://www.annabellebayhan.com/.