It took exactly 50 pounds to lovingly grow my daughter. Nearly 10 months of pregnancy resulted in more physical changes than I’d ever experienced in my life. Stretch marks accumulated on the bottom of my ever-growing belly, and I assumed it would all suck right back in after giving birth. I have the media to thank for this, since most images of early motherhood show celebrities magically “bouncing back” months after labor.
But my belly didn’t suck back in. And despite all my physical efforts, I didn’t lose a single ounce of the baby weight.
And now, with all the added pounds, I find myself pregnant with my second child.
For the average person, weight gain can be a tough thing to deal with. But for me, it was absolutely brutal. From a very young age, I was conditioned to believe that I was only worthy and lovable while thin. I fought for my worthiness by spending my teenage years and much of adulthood making my body as small as physically possible. Often going great lengths to conform, I would pop diet pills and purge my food to lose any extra pounds.
But in 2015, I became pregnant and everything changed.
I suddenly found myself becoming larger to grow my daughter, and while I knew I needed to gain the weight, I spent most of that time in complete denial about what would come next. I had convinced myself that I’d dive right into losing the pounds immediately after I gave birth. I’d do whatever it took again to get back to the impossible ideal I had spent my whole life chasing. Not once did I consider allowing my postpartum body to remain as it was, and (gasp!) embrace it with a full heart.
So, when the weight didn’t magically slip off from exercise and dieting, I fell into a complete shame spiral.
Why was I the only mom who couldn’t figure this out?
Would I always have this mama pooch?
Who is going to love me as a size 16?
Thankfully, I discovered the body positive movement last year and it changed my life. Since then I’ve dedicated much of my time to falling in love with my postpartum body. Part of this mission has involved challenging the status quo of how women are perceived in the media, along with the parts of us that society often considers “flawed.” This has helped me embrace my new pockets of cellulite, plus-sized clothes, and the way my tummy hangs softly where it used to be firm. I also eat foods that nourish me and joyfully move my body any chance I can. And while I’m no longer a size 4, I am truly learning to embrace my awesome mom bod for all that it is.
Or so I thought, until recently.
Pregnancy can do some strange things to a woman’s psyche. For me, seeing those double lines on the stick again was like a cruel body image joke. Immediately, all my self-love efforts felt like they had been for nothing. I definitely planned for and wanted this second child, but in that moment, I stood there in the bathroom trembling with tears.
Because deep down, I felt so afraid.
I knew I was going to have to gain even more weight to grow this child. I didn’t know what I would look like or how I would feel on the other end of it all — and that terrified me.
It’s amazing how one small setback can seemingly erase so much hard work. I had spent the better part of a year learning to love myself, and now suddenly, there I was, completely hating on my body for something that hadn’t even happened yet. And honestly? I didn’t have a whole lot of answers to my worries in that moment.
But I do have one thing I didn’t have before.
I now have an amazing support group in the form of my caring husband, trusted loved ones, and a really awesome therapist. These are the people who love me at exactly the size I am now and will continue loving me no matter where this journey takes me. When I forget how worthy I really am, I can call on my network to help remind me.
I’ve also begun to realize this network includes me. I’ve spent the last 12 months scouring the Internet, finding so many reasons to love my body at any size. I’ve also learned that someone’s weight does not determine the full scale of their health. In the past year, I’ve met plus-sized athletes, moms of all shapes and sizes, and even young people who have totally inspired me. So, I know I have the tools to keep the self-acceptance going long after the birth of my second child.
Motherhood is a vulnerable, messy, beautiful experience. If I’ve learned anything from it, it’s that I am so much stronger than I ever imagined myself to be. Even though I can’t predict the future, I can make this sincere promise to the body that has endured so much in my lifetime. I will surely stand by her as she grows and shifts to care for her new baby. I will be patient and understanding when she needs a break.
And I will most definitely tell her over and over again how very loved she is.