Postpartum Body Issues and How I’m Dealing With Them
See that photo at the top of the page?
That’s an old photo – from when I was about four months pregnant, in fact.
That photo’s probably all you’ll be seeing of me right now, though, because here’s the thing: I’m just not loving my postpartum body. Or, you know, my postpartum FACE – which did actually deflate once Max was born, thankfully, but which still doesn’t look totally normal to me yet… although that COULD just be the dark circles and lack of makeup, mind you.
You’re not really supposed to admit to not loving your appearance after having a baby, though, are you? In fact, you’re not supposed to admit to even THINKING about your appearance after having a baby: because you’re supposed to have BETTER things to occupy your time now – or to, at the very least, be so delirious from the lack of sleep that you just don’t care any more.
Well, I’m currently 5 weeks postpartum, and I’m writing this post in maternity leggings and a giant sweater, with no makeup, and third – or is it fourth? – day hair, so I guess it’s true to say that I really haven’t had much time lately to look after my appearance. It wouldn’t, however, be true to say that I haven’t CARED about it: in fact, when I left the hospital and realised I still looked 9 months pregnant, I was actually pretty horrified by the way I looked. I know it’s vain to admit it, but, well, I guess I’m the living proof that it’s possible to have a baby and STILL be a bit vain, really, because while I HAD known that I wasn’t going to just instantly snap back into shape once Max was born, what I hadn’t realised was the effect that was going to have on my self-confidence.
(If anyone needs me, I’ll just be over here, hiding under my duvet…)
It took at least two weeks for my belly to go from looking pregnant to just looking flabby. During that time, my face and hands were still swollen and huge looking, and I just didn’t look anything like my usual self. The only clothes that fit me were maternity clothes, but the problem with that was that most of the maternity clothes I’d bought were designed to emphasise the bump, rather than hide it. Once the baby was out, and the belly was no longer hard and round, but soft and … spongy… those clingy, bodycon maternity pieces just made me look… am I allowed to say “fat” here, or is that going to offend someone? I really, REALLY don’t want to offend anyone, but the truth is, I felt fat. And also frumpy, flabby and… just kind of knackered, basically.
I still do, actually.
Here, though, are the only two things that have helped me:
Sexy, aren’t they? You can always trust me to bring the glamour, folks…
I’d read a bit about abdominal binders when I was pregnant, and the brand that kept coming up was Belly Bandit, so I was really keen to give them a try.
Both of these products work a bit like an old-fashioned girdle, with the idea being that they’ll help pull in your belly, and help you get back to something approximating your pre-pregnany shape – or will at least create the illusion that you’re back to your usual shape while you’re wearing them, anyway. Once you take them off, the fat just explodes out of you, and you look like Jabba the Hut again, no joke.*
(*Totally a joke, obviously.)
If the idea of being “sucked in” to a girdle immediately after having abdominal surgery makes you want to reach for your smelling salts, a bit like the Victorian lady you probably associate with those garments, however, fear not, for the the Belly Bandit C-Section undies are designed for this very purpose: I mean, the name ‘C-Section Undies’ kind of gave it away, didn’t it?
So, yeah: as well as helping bring your waist back, these giant knickers are also designed to protect the incision area, reduce swelling, and eliminate bacteria. Apparently a lot of women like to start wearing them as soon as possible after their surgery, because they find it comforting to know that the incision area is being “held together” so to speak. I, however, was not one of those women: in fact, right after my op, the very thought of putting anything even remotely close-fitting around my belly sounded like absolute torture to me, and I just couldn’t – excuse the pun – stomach it. My scar still felt sore and swollen at that point, so it wasn’t until around 10 days postpartum that I mustered the courage to give it a go.
I tried the Belly Bandit C-Section Undies first. I’d used the size guide on the Belly Bandit website to work out which size to order, but honestly, when I first took them out of the box, they still looked impossibly small to me, and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be able to get them past my hips. Much to my surprise, though, they DID fit – and I didn’t even have to wriggle into them either: hallelujah! The biggest challenge here, actually, was doing up all of the hook and eye fastenings at the front of the underwear: not a huge deal, obviously, but you do feel a bit like you’re inserting yourself into some kind of corset, and I’ve got to say, it’s a bit of a pain when you want to go to the loo, and you have to undo them all, and then fasten them back up.
(With that said, I AM pretty lazy/impatient, though. You, on the other hand, might not find the extra 30 seconds of corset-lacing too much of an imposition on your time, and that will be because you are a much more patient soul than I am, obviously. Here, have a cookie…)
(DO NOT HAVE THE COOKIE: THAT WOULD TOTALLY DEFEAT THE PURPOSE OF PANTS DESIGNED TO SQUEEZE THE FAT OUT OF YOU.)
(Nah, seriously: have the cookie, girl – you deserve it…)
Once they were on, though, they were much more comfortable than I’d expected: yes, you definitely notice that your belly’s being held in firmly, but I didn’t find it uncomfortable (Put it this way, if you’ve ever tried Spanx, you’ll be fine with these…) and even if I had, I’m vain enough that I just might have persevered, because while these won’t win any prizes for sex appeal, they made a huge – and instant – difference to the way my belly looked in clothes. In my first week postpartum, I’d been so self-consious about my swollen appearance (Yes, I know I’m going to get scolded for saying that, but I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s looked into the mirror after having a baby and wondered if all those people who kept asking if I was having twins were correct, and there’s still one in there…) that I’d panic-bought a couple of oversized, baggy jumpers to wear with my maternity leggings, but, thanks to my trusty C-Section Undies, I was able to ditch those.
(Which was a relief, because they were honestly kind of awful, really. I got a couple of these in different colours: they look great on the model, but, even with my altered shape, they’re almost comically overized on me – like, the sleeves reach almost to my knees, not even joking – so I look more or less like I’m wearing a large, woollen tent in them…)
I still wasn’t anything like back to “normal”, and I still wanted to stick to loose, comfortable clothing, rather than anything too clingy or fitted, but, for the first time in months, I was able to get back into non-maternity clothes. Sure, they were just sweatpants and even MOAR loose-fitting tops, but they were at least something different from the maternity wear I’d been stuck in for months, and that small change really helped me feel just a little bit more like myself again – albeit a self who was now wearing sweatpants all day, accessorized with a stylish pair of white surgical stockings, and a smattering of baby sick. GOD.
(Did I mention how much I hated those freaking surgical stockings? Did I? DID I?!)
So, at the risk of over-sharing (And given that this is an entire post about my under-pinnings, I think we’ve probably passed that point, haven’t we?), I’ve been wearing these most days since then. I obviously have no way of knowing what my recovery would’ve been like without them, but I did notice that my belly seemed to start shrinking faster once I started wearing them. Within a couple of days, I could get back into some of my beloved circle skirts (I haven’t actually been WEARING them, you understand – in fact, my whole wardrobe since Max arrived has mostly revolved around the question, “Could I also sleep in this ‘outfit’?”), and a day or so after that, I was back into a pair of non-maternity jeans. They’re a size larger than I’d usually wear (They were too big for me before I got pregnant, but we were ‘trying’ at the time, so I figured I might as well keep them for just this eventuality…), and they’re still a little tighter than I’d like, but I’m still very much enjoying being able to wear clothes that don’t reach my boobs, courtesy of those infernal ‘over the bump’ bands, so, yeah, small victories people – small victories.
Once I’d managed to successfully insert myself into the pants, meanwhile, I also decided to try the Belly Bandit abdominal binder. This is essentially a large piece of stretchy fabric with velcro at each end, so you can fasten it – ideally as tightly as you can. Here’s what the Belly Bandit website has to say about it:
Your Body Formulated Fit. Designed to emulate the contours of your natural curves, our patented B.F.F. features latex-free, eco-friendly material and corset-inspired construction. Six support panels and two compression panels help reshape your belly, waist and hips while providing comfort and support.
And the verdict?
It’s pretty amazing, really.
And, I mean, if you’re thinking you’re going to put this on and miraculously turn into Gigi Hadid or something then that’s sweet and all, but yeah, NOPE. With both of these garments, the rolls of fat will still be there when you take them off – so it’s not THAT kind of amazing – but when I wear this, it makes a dramatic difference to my shape, pulling in my stomach to the point where, in some outfits, it doesn’t really look all that different from my pre-pregnancy shape.
(These outfits would be the loose-fitting ones, by the way. I did try it with a skirt and stretchy top, and instantly realised that, although it made my belly look flat, and my waist small enough to get into my skirt, the Belly Bandit had basically pushed a roll of fat up to just under my ribcage – well, I guess it had to go SOMEWHERE, huh? – which… wasn’t a great look, either, really. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…)
I haven’t been wearing this every day, mostly through laziness, really, although I do also find that it forces me to sit/stand up much straighter than usual, too: that’s actually not a bad thing in itself (I have truly terrible posture, and since having Max, it’s only gotten worse, and I keep catching myself shuffling around hunched over my belly, to “protect” my scar) but I’m currently more or less a prisoner of my own sofa, and I don’t always want to sit there with a ramrod-straight back, like Miss Jean Brodie or something.
I do, however, use the Belly Bandit when I’m going out somewhere, and, as I said, I’ve found it to be the key to wearing clothes that I wouldn’t otherwise feel I could “get away” with. I also noticed that, as soon as I started using it, I started to get comments about how my body was “snapping back” – it wasn’t really, but the Belly Bandit makes it look like it’s at least headed that way, and that’s good enough for me … for now, anyway.
The fact is, though, while Belly Bandit has definitely helped me feel more like myself when I’m dressed, I’m under no illusions that my body is anything like back to “normal”. I’m currently around 10 pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight, and those excess pounds are coming off reeeaaaallllly slowly. This is, of course, totally normal – I can’t count the number of times people have quoted the whole, “nine months on, nine months off!” thing to me, and I’m under no illusions about how long it’s going to take to get my body “back” – if I ever do.
(As with absolutely everything pregnancy and childbirth related, there’s no shortage of people ready to tell me that I will NEVER get my body back, and that I’ll just look this way forever. These are presumably the same people who look at photos of my house and go, “JUST YOU WAIT UNTIL THERE’S POOP AND TOYS ALL OVER IT, LOL!” (I think of them as the ‘Just You Wait Brigade’…), but while I’m never a fan of the obvious schadenfreude, I’m not dismissing them out of hand, either: I know things will likely never be quite the same again, but that doesn’t mean I can’t rage against the dying of the light, you know?)
With that said, I’ll also hold my hands up here and admit that the weight is coming off super-slowly at least partly because I’m not trying very hard. Or, you know, AT ALL. It is, however, still very early days, obviously: I’m currently just under 6 weeks out from Max’s birth – I won’t be cleared to exercise until after my 6-week checkup, and, even then, I can already tell it’ll be close to impossible to find the time/energy for it right now. I’m hoping that once the snow melts and we get past our current rough patch, I’ll be able to start going out walking with Max in his pram, but for now, it’s honestly not a huge priority.
Food-wise, meanwhile, I’m doing my best to eat as healthily as I can, but I’m not counting calories or anything, and, well, Cadbury’s Creme Eggs are back in the shops, so there’s that, too. In other words, I know this is going to be a marathon rather than a sprint, and I’m just thanking my stars that I’m going through this phase in the winter, when I’d probably be mostly just wearing jeans and sweaters anyway. I think it’ll be a whole lot harder in spring/summer if I find I still can’t fit into some of my favourite clothes, but… er, I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, though, progress has been so slow that I’m probably going to have to buy a couple of things in a size up from my usual, just to tide me over – leggings and jeans are all very well, but my maternity leggings are staring to go see-through from over-use, and there’s literally just that one pair of jeans that (just about) fit, so can you blame a girl for wanting to hit the Zara sale section hard around about now?
So. This is the point of any post about postpartum body issues at which the author will inevitably conclude that, although her body is totally and utterly wrecked, and she cried the first time she saw it, it totally doesn’t matter, because she’s just SO AMAZED by what that body has created that she no longer cares what it looks like. Then some stuff about “battle scars” and how stretch marks are a badge of honour or whatever.
Yeah, doesn’t really sound like something I’d say, does it?
Well, let the record show that I am, of course, completely and utterly amazed that my body managed to produce a healthy baby, and I’ll never stop being grateful for it. I firmly believe, though, that it’s possible to be grateful for what your body can do, but still not exactly love the way it looks afterwards – and that’s where I’m at right now. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to get back into some of my favourite clothes, and will feel a little more like myself – until then, at least I have my trusty Belly Bandit to help me out!