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To the mom who’s wondering if she’ll ever get her pre-baby body back

EXERCISES
Lopolo | Shutterstock
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This is what I wish I could tell my younger self.

You spent the last nine months hearing about how hard you’re going to have to work to “get your body back.” Nine months feeling like every new pound pushed your real body just a little farther out of reach. And now you’re looking in the mirror accessing the damage, and it’s daunting.

It’s not just that you gained weight, or that those stretch marks haven’t had the chance to fade –what’s daunting is how unfamiliar this new body looks. Maybe your ribcage has widened and the whole structure of your torso is different. Maybe your feet are broader or your normally dry skin is oily now. And you realize that even if you get your abs (and pelvic floor) back to their pre-pregnancy strength, some of these changes are here to stay. How are you supposed to get back to the body you had before?

I want to say to you what I can’t go back to tell my younger self:

You’re never getting your pre-baby body back.

But that’s not because pregnancy ruined your beautiful body and left you with a sagging, leaking, problematic model in its place. Sagging and leaking notwithstanding, you’re never getting your body back because you never lost it. This body is you. It’s yours. And if it looks different, that’s because it should look different. Your body just brought a child into the world. It’s not supposed to look like a body that has never done that.

The expression “getting your body back” is meant to highlight the differences between your pre- and post-baby physique, and those differences are real.  But we end up taking the phrase a little too seriously. We end up feeling like something’s been destroyed, and if we ever fix it, it’ll only be through a mountain of effort and luck. (And that having another baby after this one will set us way back again.)

It’s great to care about your health — you should. It’s great to want to be strong and fit. It’s great to want to be beautiful. But don’t buy into a standard of beauty that can’t see the beauty in a body that’s given birth.

There’s nothing wrong with a culture that celebrates the beauty of a pre-baby body. The problem isn’t that beauty standards generally follow the culture’s understanding of youth and health. The problem is when the definition of beauty gets so narrow that there’s no room for the natural stages that our bodies goes through.

This changed body of yours — it’s not weak, it’s not unhealthy, it’s not broken. It’s what your body looks like after bearing a child. It’s miraculous, how our bodies are able to accommodate a whole new life. Can you blame them for looking different after it all? It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s certainly not a problem to be fixed.

Sometimes I think about how much I’d like it if, say, I could tighten up the skin that stretched out under the onslaught of squirming and kicking from two big babies — like a blown up balloon once the air is let out. There’s nothing wrong with wanting tighter, smoother skin. What’s wrong is when I feel like I should be ashamed of something that’s normal, and even necessary. Where else would those growing babies have found the room they needed, if my skin didn’t have its natural elasticity?

Shouldn’t a body that’s been pregnant look like a body that’s been pregnant?

Let’s not be so quick to disown these amazing bodies of ours, just because they change. That body is just as worthy, just as beautiful, just as yours as it ever was — and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Read more: Why you should take those “unreasonable” pregnancy mood swings seriously

Read more: The little decision that prepared me the most for my postpartum weeks

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