The Awkwardness of Comments on a Woman's Body After Birth
In today’s world, there’s a lot of pressure on women to bounce back quickly after giving birth - from media, from their communities, and even from strangers. What a lot of people don’t realize is that even the most well-meaning comments about a new mother’s body can be triggering or hurtful... and that the effect can be downright devastating.
“Hey, your stomach is looking smaller.”
“Wow! You look like you’re losing the baby weight!”
“It must be feeling good to have your body looking almost normal again, right?”
There’s an expectation that, with little to no recovery time, our bodies, not to mention our hearts and minds, can - and should - revert back to our pre-pregnancy state of being. When in reality, a woman and her body are both changed forever through the process of giving birth.
Ultimately, there is no going back to “how you were before,” and when a woman’s experience doesn’t match whatever is being projected onto her by a well-meaning commenter, it can make her feel as though something is wrong with her. As though she’s failing at the “back to normal” game.
This is not to say that you can’t be feeling totally great in your body again, or fit and strong after giving birth. In fact, I have seen woman after woman become even fitter and stronger after pregnancy, when she’s able to source the support she needs. But for so many women, that just isn’t the case.
We currently live in a society that starkly undervalues perinatal care for women and that does very little to educate us around how to support the women in our communities through these experiences.
While it’s normalized to comment on women’s bodies, we’re not taught how to check in without invading that territory of commenting on physical appearance.
This plays out in so many harmful ways.
For instance, another really common thing I’ve seen happen with my clients is having someone say to a woman who is anywhere from a few months to a full year postpartum, “When is your baby due?!” Can you imagine? Societally, we’re not equipped with the knowledge to navigate situations like these, and mothers are the ones who are paying the price... bearing the brunt of our societally conditioned awkwardness when it comes to talking in a supportive way about birth.
In a recent session with a postpartum client, we were discussing how she was connecting with and relating to her body after giving birth and how she’s had to really advocate to get the support she needs in recovery, even when it comes to speaking with those nearest and dearest to her. How she’s felt that pressure and expectation that she be getting “back to normal” even though her experience is that absolutely everything has changed.
At nearly six weeks postpartum, it’s only now that she’s beginning to have the space she needs to prioritize her own physical well-being again, and for a lot of women, it may take even longer than that.
Regardless of how long it takes, a certain amount of spaciousness and a baseline level of support is required before a woman begins feeling a genuine desire to connect with her own body again, because no matter how well it goes, giving birth is a traumatic experience. An experience that requires a supported recovery.
What’s more, aside from the natural trauma of the actual birthing experience, there is so much other newness and acclimation that has to happen in the days and weeks following a new baby’s entrance to the world.
From sleepless nights and navigating new responsibilities to establishing ever-changing routines as the baby develops and constantly needing to adjust, both within oneself and within co-parenting and other supportive dynamics, newly minted parenthood is a lot to take on.
In the midst of all that, the recovery and recalibration of our physical bodies is often pushed to the back burner.
In other words, there’s a lot that has to happen before a new mother can truly begin to focus on reclaiming a sense of herself and redefining who she is after having done this amazing thing of birthing a baby into the world.
Thankfully, for those who have the means, there are a lot of resources out there to support us in reconnecting to our bodies and beginning to work with them in whole new ways post-baby.
For instance, I’ve been working with the new mother I mentioned earlier in various capacities since she gave birth - from breathwork and pelvic stabilization to opening up around areas of tension in her upper body stemming from constant feedings and carrying baby. Even with all that support, she shared feeling as though her recovery is still in its early stages.
When I asked her she feels her recovery is going outside our work together, she shared how challenging it can be to receive support around these experiences as a new mother when we just aren’t given the language to talk about the toll that birth takes on our bodies. How isolating it can feel when we these conversations aren’t normalized and when we aren’t taught how to reach out to the people around us for the emotional support we need.
We talked more about what she’s longing to be asked by the people in her community, and she said that a question as simple as “How are you doing?” would go a really long way towards making her feel supported. And that comments about her body are most definitely not helpful. She longs to talk about how her actual experience of birth was and to be able to share vulnerably what it’s been like to have to advocate for her own needs in recovery in a society where women aren’t necessarily taught to prioritize our bodily well-being, even after an experience as traumatic as giving birth.
As a society, it’s so crucial that we ground into the truth that women are so much more than their physical appearance.
That when it comes to supporting new mothers, it’s important to remember there’s so much more going on in the recovery process than bodies “bouncing back.”
Giving birth is huge, life-altering experience that affects so much more than our physical bodies, and recovery is a process that involves all of us - body, heart, mind and spirit.
We need community to do heal. Whether you’re a new mother or simply supporting someone who is, I invite you to remember that honoring and accepting a woman’s post-birth self just as she is at this moment in time is the first step as we come into NEW definitions of health, strength, fitness, integrity, and wholeness.
And to all the mothers out there, I encourage you to remember that when it comes to getting the support you deserve, it is never too late to get started or to let the people around you know what it is you truly need. Have patience with yourself, and start where you are, just as you are.