A few summers ago, I had a life-changing experience. I dug my pre-pregnancy clothes out from the back of my closet, deciding it was time to see what should go and what could stay. I was ahead of Marie Kondo—I knew there was a dress back there that didn’t bring me joy. And it wasn’t because it didn’t fit me anymore: It was because in keeping it, some part of me thought that I was supposed to wear it again.
Sadly, women are expected to “bounce back” after having babies. Spend a few minutes in the grocery store checkout line and you will see enough magazine covers proclaiming that “it can be done.” Celebrities wearing designer gowns on the red carpet weeks after giving birth, headlines screaming “She got her body back.”
It took me some time to realize that bouncing back after pregnancy wasn’t about looking the way I did before. It’s really about recovering mentally and physically from the experience of becoming a mother. It’s about embracing your body as it is, today.
For 20 years, I maintained a tight, toned physique. I was a runner with small breasts and a six-pack. I completed three Ironman races, five marathons, and hundreds of smaller races in between. I spent my free time training and believed my lifestyle—driven by my career and my athletic goals—was perfect.
I had no idea that having two C-sections 18 months apart, turning 40, and switching to part-time work from home would upend my life so completely.
Pregnancy and motherhood have changed me from the inside out. I didn’t start to accept the new me until after my second pregnancy, when I realized how much I was doing just to get through the day. A seven-hour bike ride on a Sunday morning is nothing compared to getting two kids fed, dressed, and ready for school while simultaneously doing laundry, unloading the dishwasher, walking the dog, and prepping for a meeting that takes place 10 minutes after my son gets on the bus. I feel like a superhero.
Kyle Tucci, a mother of twins and a 2-year-old in DeWitt, had a similar experience. “I’m too busy with three kids to direct my energy to unnecessary nitpicking after my body just grew and birthed a singleton (C-section) and twins (VBAC) in a 22-month span.” Tucci currently accepts her body as a work in progress. “The adjusting takes time and patience. Kind of like dealing with a spunky toddler,” she says.
Six years have gone by since my first pregnancy and I’ve finally adjusted. During that time, I continued teaching fitness classes and running in the occasional race. I have a completely different body now. Wider hips, a little belly, and breasts that give new meaning to the phrase “bounce back.”
One of my neighbors recently told me that I look better now than before kids because I have a vibrancy that she hadn’t seen before. I’m living larger. The hours I used to spend training alone have been replaced with socializing, book club, experimenting with recipes, doing puzzles with my husband, drinking too much wine, and taking naps on the couch with my kids and my dog. Workouts usually mean learning the moves for a class I’m teaching and thinking about how I can help people see their bodies for what they DO—not how they look.
I’m not thin anymore, but my workouts have made me stronger and more flexible than I was before. I have a new appreciation for what wellness really means, and I wouldn’t have found it if not for becoming a mom; my life would still be defined by finish lines and numbers.
The postpartum period isn’t a time to think about how you’ll “Lose the Baby Fat for Good.” Let your body find its natural course and don’t be disappointed if it lands somewhere new. Be open to new experiences and a different kind of strength.
The dress went in a dumpster that afternoon. I didn’t have to fit into that dress, and that dress didn’t have to fit into my life. Being a mom shouldn’t have to “fit” into anything at all—not a dress, not a stereotype, not someone else’s expectations. Being a mom is free-form. It’s an imaginative, inventive time to redefine your life. You can’t put a zipper on that. You can’t buy it in a store. All you have to do is listen and let it in.