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Learning to Love My Postpartum Body, Thanks to My Husband

husband-body-truthOver the weekend, I headed downstairs to jump on our elliptical, long after the kids had been tucked into bed. It’s (unfortunately) the only time I can find to try and pretend I’m the sort of mom who exercises on a regular basis.

As I tied up my tennis shoes, my husband cast an admiring glance my way.

“You’re looking good,” he commented, craning his head for a better view. “Your legs always plump up a bit during pregnancy, but they’re back to looking really fit — good job, honey.”

I stared at him, aghast, too stunned to even reply. Because, well, he was exactly right. My legs really do plump up a bit when I’m pregnant. I know this. And though I’ve only been working out in the loosest sense of the word, I have noticed a small change in fitting back in my “normal” clothes after having my fourth baby two months ago.

But still — I didn’t know if I loved him or hated him for delivering such an honest statement. Did I love hearing the compliment? Yes. Did I love hearing the word “plump?” Well …

On the other hand, as a woman with typical body self-esteem issues, I’m pretty sure I’ve put my husband in a no-win situation for most of our relationship. When we first started dating, I was only 17, which meant, of course, that I had the body of a 17-year-old. And even then, I complained about how fat I was.

“Just look at this roll!” I would exclaim, grabbing chunks of imaginary fat. They may have felt real at the time — but, why did I do this back then? The 28-year-old-mother-of-four me would like to smack that skinny girl upside her head.

Throughout our years as a couple, I’ve struggled with a hate-hate relationship with my body. If I asked my husband how I looked and he responded with the typical, “You look beautiful!” I would sulk, convinced he was lying because I knew I was overweight. Obviously, I thought, he was just saying what he thought I wanted to hear. He didn’t actually mean a word of it, hmpppphh. He must think I’m an obese whale! Is that Shamu I hear calling for me?!

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but I must have conditioned my husband over 11 years together that I actually didn’t want him to always just tell me I looked gorgeous no matter what, because in this strange postpartum time after our fourth kid together, he has really changed his tune.

The “You are stick-thin, honey!” praises have changed to, “Well, sure, you have a little extra skin on your belly, but honey — you have had four giant babies! You are way too hard on yourself.”

The “You don’t look fat at all!” comments have changed to, “Well, actually, maybe that dress isn’t the most flattering thing in the world …”

Now, I’d like to be clear and mention, just for the record, that my husband tells me almost daily that he thinks I am a gorgeous and beautiful woman. Which I know he has always believed along the way.

But for the first time in our relationship, he’s also telling me the truth about my body. And now that I have what I had often reprimanded him for, I’m not so sure I like it.

Because, on one hand, what wife doesn’t want her husband to constantly tell her that she looks like a supermodel even if she knows she has a little bit of baby weight to lose and her legs really are plump from pregnancy?

But on the other hand, this newfound truth from my husband has also brought me a refreshing feeling of freedom that I didn’t expect to feel. I’m no longer swatting him when he tells me how beautiful I am because I actually know that he does see some of my flaws — and he still thinks I’m the sexy woman he married.

The crazy thing is — I think I’m starting to believe him.

Maybe it’s a change in him, a change in us, or just a change in myself, in finally learning that no matter what this body of mine will go through — babies, birth, weight gain, mastitis — I will always be beautiful in his eyes. I love that he is able to recognize how important it is for me to feel good in my own skin and I love that he gives me time to exercise and compliments me on my efforts.

And it’s almost like now that he is finally brave enough to acknowledge that “extra skin” I am carrying on my belly, I am able to see myself in a new way, through his eyes.

And what I see there is actually quite comforting —

I see acceptance — for a body that isn’t runway ready right out of the delivery room, a body that comes with its own genetic make-up and tendency to gain weight in my arms and belly, no matter how many miles I run.

I see sacrifice — for a body that hasn’t just carried these babies for me, but for us. A body that hasn’t been truly mine alone for a really long time, and maybe that’s a blessedly beautiful thing.

And I see love — for a body that my husband is willing to accept, stretch marks and flaws and all, and a body that I may just come to love, too.

 

Image via j&j brusie photography

 

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