Over Coming Body Dysmorphia and Postpartum

Left: Summer 2007, 20 years old, no tattoos and no baby. Right: Summer 2019, 32 years old, four tattoos and one baby later

Being a mother is probably one of the best worst things that has ever happened to me.

I love my daughter, I’d give my life for her, but I hate what has happened to my body and my mind. For the first year of Adelyn’s life I was completely unaware how bad my postpartum depression and anxiety. I thought I had it under control but nearly two and a half years later, I’m finally seeing how deep my depression went. The depression didn’t just stop with dark, negative, thoughts it crept into my vision and how I viewed myself.

In truth this wasn’t my first time dealing with body dysmorphia. I came of age in the 90’s heroin chic and I never fit the aesthetic. Even though I am small and petite, 5 ft tall and never maxed out over 99 pounds, I wasn’t thin. For my size I was thicker. I was a swimmer, I had bigger thighs, broad shoulders and I had a full C by the time I was 13 and larger by the time I graduated high school. Nothing about me was tiny expect my height. I would go on a fast and diet just trying to emulate the girls who were my height but had a slimmer figure.

When I entered college I started to lose even more weight and at one point I was down to 92 pounds. It wasn’t something I was actively doing and I felt great about the way I looked. But by my 21st birthday I found out why I had been drastically losing weight while so many of my colleagues had put on 5 to 15 pounds. I had Celiac, an autoimmune disease, and was living on borrowed time when it came to how much longer my stomach lining would stay intact not following the proper diet.

As my health improved so did my weight, but I didn’t see it that way. I watched the number on the scale go up and up. It was a scary thing to break triple digits. In my mind, a small number meant I was healthy, but the larger the number on the scale became the more I worried. That turned into watching what I ate. It’s sad that I was finally able to enjoy food without the fear of getting sick but I wouldn’t allow myself to do. I had a fat distorted image of myself in my mind.

Even well into my 20’s I was still unable to shake the false narrative I had created. I was eating healthy and working out but I was never truly comfortable with my stomach. I didn’t have abs like the other girls. No matter how hard I tried my stomach was soft.

I’m not entirely sure why we do this to ourselves.

No one is going around touching my stomach or measuring my waist. The only person who had a problem with the way I looked was me, myself and I. And somewhere in my late 20’s I figured it out. I stopped caring if my stomach was flat. I ate and drank what I liked and I worked out because it made me feel good not because I had to stay skinny. I even joked about working out so I could eat and drink more knowing full well that wasn’t a real thing.

When I hit 30 I was feeling great about myself. There was a mental “I don’t give a fuck” switch flipped and it was great. But also I was pregnant. I was carrying my first child and nothing in the world was going to make me feel guilty about loving myself and taking care of the tiny beast within me.

The only problem with this new found happiness seemed to be my body didn’t get the memo. Morning sickness was more like all day sickness. I couldn’t eat or even smell most things without vomiting. I was unable to workout because any drastic movement would make me vomit. It was a very exhausting pregnancy. Between the vomiting and lack of appetite I stayed tiny for most of my pregnancy which brought on a new problem. For the first time in my life I was worried that I wasn’t putting on enough weight. I kept asking my doctors if it was okay that I was still tiny.

Such a strange turn of events. I spent my life wanting to be skinny and tiny in a way that was probably unhealthy only to be worried I wasn’t growing enough.

By the time the nine months were over I had reached a max weight of 131. Which for someone barely ever getting over 105 that’s a lot to adjust to. Thanks to a C- section Adelyn came into the world a whole whopping 7 pounds, bringing my pregnancy weight down to 124, and even though I don’t have the number for how much my after birth weighted I did google it. After birth is usually around 7.4 pounds making my totally pregnancy weight to only 117.

Most of the weight I gained belongs to my daughter and what kept her alive.

It was only a few days later that I started to wonder how much I weighed but I did myself a favor before giving birth. I hid the scale. Even when I went to the doctors I tuned them out when they told me my weight. Since I had a C- section I wasn’t able to work out as quickly as I wanted too but I wasn’t going to let that thought take away from any happy or stressful moments I was having with her.

Once again I wasn’t in full control of what my mind wanted to do. Every single day it was a constant struggle for me to come to terms with my new body. At one point my boobs had become so enlarged that could have fit in an F. It was gross. I hated seeing myself like that but I couldn’t do what I had done in the past. I couldn’t starve myself because I needed enough food in my body to create food for her.

Every single day for three months was an internal fight. My body still wasn’t for me, it was for my daughter, it was still the force keeping her alive and I hated it. I felt like a cow every single time the pumps were hooked up to me. Secretly, I missed my life before this little life sucker came around and at the same time I loved every single second of it. I was emotionally distraught when one of my boobs stop producing milk. It meant I had to switch to formula far earlier than I planned. I cried for days about losing the bond that breastfeeding created and at the same time I craved the freedom it was giving me.

I didn’t know if this made me a bad mother or not. I was switching my baby to formula and going back to work all in the same month. I kept asking myself how could I do this to her?

She didn’t die because I had to go back to work. My baby didn’t love my any less because she drank from a bottle. I didn’t miss out on those late night cuddles because she was becoming independent at 3 months old. In fact, despite all my worrying she’s grown into a wild, sassy, toddler clone of myself. It’s creepy and one of the reasons I had to learn how to accept this new form of myself.

It wasn’t easy. Both my body and mind had changed so drastically in that year that I felt like I no longer knew myself. My hips were wider and my butt was bigger. My mid section was squishy and I could murder anyone who could bring harm to my baby and that included myself.

I couldn’t let myself fall back into my old ways. If I wanted to get my pre baby body back I would have to earn it. There are no easy ways out. I knew all too well that taking short cuts it would never last and only have a negative effect on my psyche. I changed the way I ate to clean eating and lots of yummy wine. Eventually I had to face the facts that I didn’t have the same amount of free time working full time and taking care of Adelyn, the wine had to go, too many empty calories. This decision made me look at what else I was putting into myself that was just extra weight which in turn made me kick Starbucks to the curb. This choices made my wallet a little fuller and my waist was a little slimmer.

Though I have not fully learned to accept my new self, I can tell you that two and a half years into this experiment called motherhood it’s getting easier. I’ve shed some of my pregnancy weight and gotten rid of most of my pre pregnancy pants. Besides taking up space in my closet they were horrible evil things telling me lies every time I put them on. For a while they tried to convince me that one day they would fit again, but they never will. No matter how much I could starve myself I’d never lose bone and it was okay to fully admit that to myself.

Coming face to face with this realization has helped me battle my body dysmorphia and thankfully, by the grace of God and all in the universe, I survived my postpartum depression pretty unscathed. It’s perfectly okay that I don’t love the new me just yet but I have to accept her as what she is.

A fierce loving mom, who is a bit of squishier in some places, yet still completely awesome.

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