Bounce back culture

Disclaimer / before reading this blog post please be advised that it will feature topics that discuss weight loss expectations, body image, breastfeeding and a few other topics surrounding the nature of ‘bouncing back’; if these topics raise concerns for you, please re consider reading and reach out to foundations such as the Butterfly foundation on 1800 334 673 to discuss any concerns you have. It is also worth noting I am not in any way certified to discuss nutrition requirements so this is purely anecdotal and drawing upon the lived experience of myself and others in relation to postpartum and body image.

Bounce back culture… what is it and why are we still so focused on it (even if we don’t want to be) in 2022.

Unfortunately for many new parents; predominantly birthing women, the immediate need to “shed the baby weight” and leave the hospital in their pre-pregnancy jeans is something that is thought about almost as much as they think about baby capsules and learning to swaddle. This is in no way the fault of the birthing parent, given we are surrounded by a culture of social media posts and pages telling us that it's possible to look like you never grew a baby and a new organ over 40 weeks and went through hell and back to bring new life into this world… we are simply asked (in the unspoken sense) to brush it off and bounce BACK to what we were before… but that’s the problem; we are never going to be that person… we are never going to be the same person we were before having a baby so why should our bodies be expected to do what even our minds cannot.

Now, I am so aware that genetically some women are predisposed to returning to a ‘pre baby’ shape immediately, whose bodies return to a state of ‘normal’ almost as soon as the baby is born. But this post isn’t about comparing those who do to those who don’t. It's about dismantling the expectations that they are the majority. It’s to bring a focus to the fact that bouncing forward is maybe something we should all aim to be doing instead of falling back.

Bouncing forward to reach acceptance and pride in our bodies, not beating ourselves up for going up a size in clothes or choosing the old maternity knickers over new straight size ones because they’re far more comfortable. It’s about celebrating what we have just done, over 10 months of growing, expanding, nurturing, fuelling and making a fully grown human being and placenta. It’s to discuss the fact that so many women choose to breastfeed simply because we are sold the idea that it will help to reduce the size of our bodies; even by health professionals which makes my skin crawl.

Full disclaimer, I was one of these women who had a strong desire to make breastfeeding work not only to bond and nourish my baby but to try to shed as many kilograms as could on the way… I didn’t successfully make it past 6 weeks of trying and I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a little part of me that was scared to stop because of what that would mean for my body. I refused to give medication a go in the worry that the mental health ramifications of gaining weight outweighed the benefits of breastfeeding my child… looking back it breaks my heart to know that even those words were thought about, and when discussed with a GP in the midst of a pandemic and lockdown when disordered eating stats spiked significantly nothing was followed up. Studies have even shown a widespread increase in all eating disorder symptoms particularly relating to body image concerns (Miskovic-Wheatley, J., Koreshe, E., Kim, M et al. 2022) during the pandemic and I would be shocked if there was not a single postpartum person who didn’t feel some amplified disdain towards their body due to significant lockdowns. It's heartbreaking.

I recently found words written by a friend (on the gram) and they deeply resonated with me, so I asked her if I could share them and she generously said yes. Mads, a midwife and mama from @goldenandwilde_ wrote that she was “feeling incredible gratitude towards my body for growing two beautiful babies. Mother’s Day helped me to reflect on my changed body. Instead of rushing to get my body back which is so embedded into societal expectations, I have accepted that I too have grown, matured and evolved. My body nourished my sweet babes as they danced within me, roared as I brought them earth side and continues to comfort and nurture them. My body has remained strong for me when my mind was not. As a mother I hope to instill the value in my babies that we should thank our body for all it does instead of constantly wishing it was different.”

I found her words so touching, so moving to see that this woman (who I think is just perfection) could see herself even momentarily in a light other than glowing. To know that every one, no matter what their size, can question their value based upon the space they take up in the world… and I honestly believe it falls down to (to a certain extent) not what we are consuming physically but what we are consuming digitally. These images, adverts and words spoken by friends; the constant comparison and vitriol of who’s doing the ‘most’ to ‘bounce back’… when perhaps instead of competition we need companionship. Maybe we can enjoy moving our bodies for the pure joy that can bring… the mobility it allows and the strength that comes with it naturally. Maybe, instead of chasing a number on a tag or a scale, we can chase our babies more freely. Maybe instead of worrying about the rolls that could show up in pictures snapped by loving friends and family we can worry about what adventures we would miss if we constantly remove ourselves from the narrative.

As someone who has struggled her whole life with appreciating what my body does and what it looks like… I am so tired of feeling the need to prove that I am trying to change it, to reduce it or to find it less than. Because yep, I was smaller before I grew a human and I was more toned before seven layers of my body were cut to remove my baby safely BUT I was also a hell of a lot smaller with my thoughts, my gratitude, my empathy and my ability to listen. So yeah, I guess you could say I have grown since being a mum but I am so glad to have grown in all of the ways that make me a better human and if that means my jeans might be a little larger too then that’s got to be ok.

To wrap this up, and it’s been a long one so if you have made it this far then thank you… if even just once today please speak to yourself kindly like you would speak to your child. Appreciate your body for what it has done and what it will continue to do. Choose movement because it’s a gift to be able to move our bodies freely and choose rest because we deserve to take time for ourselves too. Yes, you are a mother, you are giving, you are growing and you are changing but let the eyes looking up at you see the mother who loves herself like she loves her babies… because it’s not only our job to teach these children of ours the ways of the world but also our job to teach them to love themselves.

Claudia Caldwell Clark is a Melbourne based postpartum doula and Mother. She is passionate about providing modern care for modern mamas. Matrescence By Design is Claudia's passion project. She's followed along the Let's Sleep journey right from the start and is a valued member of this community :)

Website | Book an appointment with Claudia | Hang out with her on IG

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