I never suspected I would be still at home when my son turned one year old. I always assumed I would hop right back into work, while a smaller, quieter part of me thought, “But wouldn’t it be nice if you were able to remain at home?” That little voice got its way. A year has come and gone and I am still a stay at home mother, and while I have mixed feelings about that (some days it’s all I want in the world, other days I can’t wait to go back to work, and I often think on those days there aren’t enough jobs to apply to or perhaps I’m not doing it right), I have been grateful for this time at home as it has allowed me to truly come into my new role as a mother but also to redefine and rediscover myself.
Because what is the first year of motherhood but change?
We often, as a society, focus so much on the baby. It’s a worthwhile focus, because these tiny things that are born develop and mature so rapidly. Every week it’s something new and it all goes by so fast. But in this wonderment of the lives of children, mothers are often forgotten. There is, truly, so much going on with the mother and it’s worth giving some attention to.
While society often forgets mothers, while I’ve been at home in this last year I’ve tried to truly look at myself and learn about myself. My body is changed since pregnancy in so many ways, and I’ve had to come to love it again. But also, I found I needed to learn how to enjoy life again without the severe focus of work which I’ve already discussed in this previous post.
But for this entry, I’d like to focus more outwardly than mentally. Although, I suppose, any discussion of the physical body does coincide with discussions of mentality due to societal constructions.
Prior to getting pregnant, I had just overcome an injury from a winter fall and while on our honeymoon it was the most walking I had been able to do in months. Long before this, as a teen and in my early twenties, I was incredibly active and fit. That went steadily downhill as I began to work office jobs and was trapped at a desk for hours, only to walk for 10 minutes to a car and then sit in my car for nearly two hours to drive home. When I got home in the evening, my freetime was spent doing classwork and housecleaning. I rarely had time for a gym, nor much passion for it, and only was able to venture outdoors on weekends.
Weight came on, my physical fitness declined, and I was not in the best shape of my life. Eating well, though, and maintaining an otherwise healthy lifestyle. I knew I was doing everything I could outside of being more physically active but my unfortunate work/life balance just didn’t allow for much physicality.
I was in the process of trying to accept my body when I got pregnant and immediately I was nervous that all the inward progress I had made when I was faced with the necessary weight gain and physical changes pregnancy brings.
Giving birth was simple, the least amount of pain I felt, and without complication. You can read more about that here. But it was the start of my postpartum journey that was tricky, and I’ll skip over that in favor of focusing on the now.
I gained over 30 lbs while pregnant but the weight gain was entirely in my torso. My breasts and stomach expanded and when I had my son, I dropped the 30 lbs within three weeks. That rapid weight loss has left my stomach skin quite baggy. It reminds me of the stomach of someone who had gastric bypass and rapid weight loss afterward. I lost so much weight so quickly that my skin didn’t have the time to shrink with it.
At a year postpartum, the skin hangs off my stomach and can be folded and is often tucked into my pants. There’s a slight bump at the top of my stomach where abs used to formerly be, as my abs apparently had minor tearing during pregnancy. This is a common thing that happens–the separation of abs–and not something that can be corrected (I believe it grows smaller over time, but otherwise full correction is done surgically). Below that bump is the sagging skin.
In the last few months leading up to my son’s one year birthday, I began to notice the skin growing a little less baggy. Not that I am gaining weight in my stomach area, but that it seems to be tightening slowly but surely. This element of my body is the one I have the biggest struggle with. Since the skin is soft and doesn’t have any structure of fat or muscle beneath it, it squishes and anything I wear presses into it with ease, causing folds and creases I find embarrassing.
I am trying to get that mindset out of my head though. It’s amazing what my stomach did. It’s amazing that I grew an entire human in my belly. That a whole body and organs and blood and life developed in there and was fed and sustained in there. I should be more gentle with my stomach and I’m working on that bit by bit.
My breasts are similar. While pregnant and breastfeeding I went up two bra sizes but now that I have stopped breastfeeding they’ve become similar to pancakes stuffed into deflated balloons. I suspected this would happen, as I have large breasts to begin with, but it’s still somewhat of a surprise. Still, they’ve retreated to their previous size and while their shape is different, I am glad to not be as big as I was during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The stretch marks covering my stomach have lessened in color. They used to be dark and angry looking but now are taking on a silver hue. My skin darkened, my breasts became a deep brown in color, but they too have returned to their previous skin tone.
All the hair I retained while pregnant began to fall out at two months postpartum and picked up speed between the 3 and 4th month, falling out in handfuls and causing me to clean out any brush I used a minimum of once a day, as well as plucking clumps of hair from the tub when I showered. By the fifth month, the hair loss had returned to normal, and at this point my hair regrowth is at about 2 inches.
My hair seemed to slow up in growth during the period where I was losing it all, but now is growing quickly and regaining curls that seemed to have been lost after I gave birth.
Skin-wise. I’ve heard horror stories of postpartum acne and certainly experienced a bad strain of acne shortly after giving birth. But otherwise, it’s returned to being hormonal for me. I break out prior to my period and sometimes a little around ovulation, but that’s it. I’m uncertain if there will be more change in the future as my body continues to rid itself of some pregnancy hormones now that I’ve stopped breastfeeding.
My SPD pain has significantly improved. The relaxin hormone which causes SPD arrives at the start of the second trimester, which is when most women typically begin to feel symptoms. The hormone lessens after giving birth but still stays within the body while breastfeeding and will have a boost in levels around ovulation. Because of this, I’ve still experienced SPD pain all of this time. It flared up randomly while I was breastfeeding, but I suspect that was due to my period not being quite predictable. Since I stopped breastfeeding the pain has been regulated to only the week of ovulation with each month the pain growing less and less painful.
I have discovered other pains though and this, I realize, started prior to the relaxin hormone entering my system when I was pregnant. I have had bad muscle pain in my right hip and butt-area. It sometimes gets so painful it goes down my leg to my knee and at its worse the pain reaches my foot. I began going to physical therapy in January and after we worked diligently on getting my SPD pain under control, we’ve been able to begun focusing on my other problem areas–such as this leg pain. It appears that the muscles surrounding my pelvis are quite mad and have tightened into something like a constant state of contraction. Imagine when your muscle is in a knot in your shoulder and it has to get massaged out–that’s what the inside of my right hip is doing, near my pelvis. Obviously you can’t quite massage a muscle deep inside of you but there are exercises that help to relax the muscle which I do daily.
That pain has begun to thankfully improve as well. So while we work on stabilizing my pelvic muscles, we are also working to strengthen other pelvic muscles so as to keep my pelvic bone in place in the future, should I decide to get pregnant again.
A Year Difference
For every hard day I have, where I am still in pain physically, I consider where I was a year ago from that day. It’s always an improvement. I always get frustrated at first as I think “God, I am still dealing with this pain. I feel like it will never stop. I’m so tired of this and I miss my previous physical health.” But then I think of where I was a year ago and it’s amazing to see the improvement.
Recently, we had a few unseasonably warm days where the temperature climbed into the 60s and the sun warmed our faces. We went to the park and took the waterfront trail for a walk. This was after wandering around the playground with our not-quite-toddling little one. But we walked all the same, with myself primarily pushing the stroller, and we walked further on the trail than we ever have since the first time we visited this town. I marveled at that, what progress I had made, as we recalled that even last summer I could barely walk within the confines of the park (the trail leaves the park and goes on for a few miles through the city).
While I am impatient and desire my old level of physical ability, I have to keep in mind that there is improvement–slowly and steadily–and how lucky I am that there is improvement at all. It makes me all the more interested to see where I will be in another twelve months.