“Let’s play dollies!” Molly declares, waving her Frozen dolls in my face. “You be Elsa and I be Anna!”
“Ok, let’s pretend they’re going to the park,” I say, bending my knees on the sofa to create a slide for them to go down, in an effort to keep my part in the game horizontal for at least a few more minutes.
“No, let’s go on the bouncy castle!” she cries, making Elsa jump vigorously up and down on my belly. “It’s nice and bouncy, Mummy!”
Sigh. It never ceases to amaze me how young children cut to the heart of the matter. Yes, there’s no pussy footing around. Like my friend’s three year old who told her and the nursery teacher she wanted to paint the whale she had been given “pink and sparkly. “…and what will you call it?” the teacher asks. “Mummy,” she replies calmly. In my case, I’ve been told: “Mummy, you have a big bum bum!” “Mummy, your belly is HUGE! Like a big, BIG ball!” – both statements were made when I was 9 months pregnant.
Yes, lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my body. The body that carried my 9lb 8oz son. A tummy that is now soft and squishy, a belly button that has way more room in it than it used to have. Thighs that meet in the middle. Love handles that I don’t exactly love myself. A pelvic floor that’s still trying to pick itself up off the floor. (Let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be bouncing on that castle myself just yet.)
“It just feels like a long road back,” I complain to the husband. I’m wearing my pregnancy leggings (geez, they’re just so darn comfy) and am surrounded by a pile of clothes that don’t really fit any more. Tops that reveal every voluminous curve. Skirts that allow the muffin tops to spill forth. Bras that provide little support for my now deflated bust. “Well all roads have to end somewhere – you’ll get there,” says the husband most unhelpfully. (But to be fair, men can never really say the right thing when faced with a hormonal woman lamenting about her weight.)
In truth, the personal pressure to peel off the pounds we perceive ourselves to have packed on can often leave us exasperated and downright grumpy. Bread is shunned in the process, carbs labelled an unnecessary evil. Chocolate is salivated over and then guiltily scoffed in secret, with the promise to “do better tomorrow.” Egg white omelettes are begrudgingly whipped up when what we’d really like are blueberry pancakes. Yes, like many of us mums at this stage in the game, I’m not that kind to myself. (Stop me right here if I’m alone in all of this!)
While, on the outside we gracefully acknowledge the “You’re looking great!” compliments or the “You’ve just had a baby, take your time!” comments, the inside story is not always that pretty. If we were to talk to others like we talk to ourselves, then we would definitely be struck off many a Christmas card list. And while my own yoga training keeps gently reminding me of the concept of staying present and patient, my bullish mind torments me over my lack of tone. It taunts me with images of what I used to be and what I used to achieve.
Yes, we’re really not that kind to ourselves, are we?
Lately I’ve also been driving myself mad on social media. Pictures of beautiful, bendy yoginis – hair flowing in the breeze, as they effortlessly contort their chiselled bodies into the pose of the day. Super mums who have six packs despite having twins three months before. Celebrities with perfectly coiffed hair towing beaming toddlers by the hand – all decked out in mummy and me outfits. The “no excuse” parents who post videos of their high intensity workouts, while baby naps peacefully in the corner.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking these people and what they do. I admire their practice, their stamina and strength, and indeed, in many cases, I know there’s an entourage behind the scenes that help them achieve the perfect picture. But sometimes, I’ll confess to yearning to be like them. Sometimes, I’ll wonder where I’m going wrong. And all too often, I’ll criticise my body for not just bouncing back to its former self, without all the effort, without all the negative talk and self-depravation.
Can you meet me here?
While many of us might reach our six-week post birth check up wondering why we don’t magically feel fit as a fiddle, the reality is that our bodies can take a year – or heck, even more – to recover. The pressure to be back on our feet and back in our jeans only serves to add yet another hump to our hormonal, sleep deprived roller coaster!
So, where does it all end? Does it suddenly stop at a number on the scale? Do we feel happier the firmer we feel? Do we bounce out of the house with a spring in our step just because we’ve managed to forgo the muffins for a week? As my “pink and sparkly whale” friend and I chat (believe me she’s nothing like this analogy), we’re able to have a laugh and lift the valve of pressure on it all. We’re able to appreciate what the jiggly bellies stand for and we’re proud of what we’ve achieved, even if it means our jeans won’t rise past our thighs just yet.
While I’m not saying don’t hit the gym, I’m saying do it because you enjoy it, not because you hate your body. For me, this is what it is all about. Acceptance. Patience. Camaraderie. A community who are going through the same challenges. Parents with whom to chat about the miracles we’ve created. Friends to share your cake with. People who can remind you to relax and let go. Yes, this is what it’s all about. So, can you meet me right here?
Life is way too short to spend another day at war with yourself.