Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The First Year: Physical and Emotional Progress

In my last post, I talked about breastfeeding through Ellie's first year. Today, I'd like to talk about the overall adjustment to motherhood. I talked a bit about this early on in my Struggles post back in June, when Ellie was just two months old. Essentially, we can consider this the update to that post. I hope it doesn't come across as too much as a downer, but rest assured I am being entirely frank about my experience and my feelings now, one year later.

Where I am one year after Ellie's birth: physically, mentally, emotionally.

The answer to all of the above is probably "not quite where I'd like to be."

Physically, I still kind of feel like I don't recognize myself. I'm still not happy with how my postpartum body looks. I gained somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-45 pounds during pregnancy. (Remember how all I could stomach was carbs in the first trimester? Yeah, things got a little out of hand.) Since Ellie was born, I have lost all but five of those pounds with little to no effort whatsoever, but those last five are lingering. Although it's not even the number that makes me feel so uncomfortable as much as my overall shape. It's just different. It's...round. I'm just still not really sure how to dress this postpartum body, which leaves me feeling frumpy and awkward a lot of the time. And I'm not really eager to buy a bunch of new, better fitting clothes because I still have grand plans to do some hardcore exercising to shape up first...plans that continuously get thwarted by screwy nap schedules, or unexpected work, or whatever other excuse is convenient at the time. Basically, I need to quit whining and get it in gear.

On a somewhat related note, a friend of mine shared this article on Facebook just yesterday about appreciating the postpartum female form and the history it carries. Women are in such a rush to go to great lengths to erase all signs of childbearing after the baby is born, but maybe we don't need to be. The whole article really resonated with me, especially excerpts like this one:
"Pregnancy is an intense transformation, childbirth an even more intense act. The recovery time is complicated and multi-layered. And what we are left with is a body that has created a child and often nourished it for a period of time afterward too. It's easy to be proud of the act, but we follow that nod with an intense effort toward eradicating all signs of it." (source)
I found much of that article reassuring and empowering, and after reading it I went to take a shower and took a moment to really look at my postpartum belly, Ellie's first home, and remind myself of the amazing things my body has done. Yet, inspiring articles aside, I do still want to get myself in better shape - not so much to kick those last five pounds necessarily, or to flatten out that roundness (although nobody would be complaining about that if it happened, that's for sure), but just to feel better about myself and more confident in my new mother skin. It really is such a shock to your body image, all that change, and I am still searching for a way to feel comfortable with my physical self again.

As for mentally/emotionally, I feel great about being a mother in general. There's no complaints there whatsoever. This is by far the greatest thing I have done with my life and not only am I so in love with my life as a mother in the present, I can hardly wait to see what the future brings. It's awesome.

But, Eric posed this question to me a couple of weeks ago and we discussed it more in reference to coping with Ellie's birth story than with motherhood in general. And frankly, I don't have the closure and acceptance I hoped I'd have by a year out. In fact, I feel like I've gotten to be less okay with everything as time has gone on. In the immediate aftermath, it was easy to say how even though literally nothing went according to plan, and I ended up with an epidural, the doctor breaking my water and a c-section (all things I desperately wanted to avoid), it was okay because everything happened exactly as it needed to happen to get Ellie here safely, with both of us as healthy as we could be. And that still remains true. But with a little distance comes a little more anger. Not at my doctors, not at myself, but just at the situation. My labor and delivery sucked, and I still feel betrayed by my body. I approached labor and giving birth like a physical challenge, one that I was excited to face and overcome. I wanted to experience what so many generations of women had experienced before me. I wanted to fully experience labor, I wanted to feel the urge to push, I wanted to push my baby out, I wanted to feel her on my chest and watch her take her first breaths. My body, on the other hand, had a different plan and I feel cheated out of that experience. I feel a little embarrassed to admit it, but I still cry sometimes when I think about how badly I wanted to feel all that and how that is not at all the experience I got.

To be honest, it also makes me a little nervous for future pregnancies. I desperately want to try for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) with my next pregnancy. I know I can commit myself to that and I plan to do everything I can to make that happen. But I worry that I'm already putting too much pressure on myself and putting too much hope into that plan. Because what if it doesn't happen? What if I end up with another c-section? I want to experience a natural, vaginal birth so badly and I'm afraid it will be that much harder to cope with if I can't do it again.

On the flip side, despite not getting the experience I wanted, sometimes I am able to frame the experience that I did get in positive ways. Not always, but sometimes. Because at the end of the day, I was strong. I endured a lot. I battled through, doing everything I thought was best for Ellie at all times. I worked hard and I was committed. My c-section scar is a battle wound, a badge of honor for what I went through to bring my baby into this world. And on days when I can think like that, I know I'll be okay.

She was totally worth it.

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