Mom Butts, Stretch Marks and Sagging, Oh My!
By: Lisa Donovan
There are big secrets in woman/motherhood. Unfair secrets that someone should really tell a girl. Secrets about what pregnancy and childbirth and nursing your children will do to your body. Nobody tells you, in detail, about what is in store. Nobody wants to talk about it because, by talking about it, you might be admitting your own imperfections. Fair enough. But, I think that it is high time some one laid it out there. And after long and repeated conversations with my other friends who have kids about what an injustice it is that we had no idea what was in store for our bodies — I think it is high time we all joined in this unveiling of the true circumstances that your body has to face while becoming a mother.
One of my closest friends, we'll call her Jill, was taking a bath with her four year old daughter while her two year old son napped. Jill was sitting in the bath playing "swim, fishy, swim" when she noticed her daughter looking intently at her breasts. Her daughter said, casually "Mommy those are your nibbles, right?". Knowing that she was talking about her nipples, Jill said yes. Her daughter still looked very admirably at her mother's chest. She sighed. Then she said, "Mommy I can't wait to have nice, long boobies like yours one day". And thus began a tailspin of image deterioration for my friend Jill. She knew that her body had changed and, not being an utterly self conscious person, she was rolling with the punches and chalking it up to one of the trials of motherhood. She hadn't noticed a huge difference after she stopped nursing her first born, but as she was slowing weaning her second she was gradually noticing that her breasts were not as secure in their relationship with gravity as they had once been. She has admitted that she thought that because she had such luck the first time around that she was blessed with good genes or some such nonsense. I think we all thought that after we had our first born. The reality is this: if you nurse one child you might get away with seemingly similar breasts as your pre-motherhood days. But let it be known, right here and now, that if you have multiple pregnancies and nurse more than one child, your lovely breasts will never be the same. Slather the shea butter, pour on the restorative lotions — but while you do it, realize that you have no control over this. After your final days of nursing, your chest will lose most of it's mass and you will never regain it's youthful elasticity again — shea butter or not. They will be smaller and, well, looser than before. I have talked with friends who have had horrible trauma over the damage done and I have friends who have only a slight variation of change. Either way, no one is happy about it, but they are dealing.
It's the same song and dance with stretch marks. Those women who say "Oh, they are my battle scars that I proudly own from my blah blah blah..." need to be shot. They are unwelcome and unsightly and as far as I know, to some extent, unavoidable. Again, I feel like it is a second pregnancy issue more-so than a first pregnancy one. Most of us came out of our first child relatively unscathed by stretch marks. But, with the second child, it was somewhat unavoidable. I do feel, though, that you can win this battle if you are preemptive. I was dutiful with the lotions and creams with my first born — not so much with the second. I didn't have as much time to worry about my body stretching out and leaving marks. This seemed to be the case with most of my friends — so the jury is still out in our circle as to whether it is nature or our lack of diligence that aided in these awful demons' existence. If you are pregnant, don't go a day without a healthy does of a good quality cream (shea butter is perfect) — everywhere! These nasty little buggers show up in the oddest places, trust me.
Let's talk about a little thing called urinary incontinence, shall we? Most women only have to deal with it within the first few months after labor. That seems acceptable. But, after having hashed out what the many faces of post-pregnancy forces are, I was intrigued to realize that many of my closest friends are still (one and two years after) dealing with that constant urge to pee and a little embarrassing, what's a good word for this, squirt when they sneeze, cough or laugh too hard. Horrible. Advice from their doctors: don't quit the Kegel exercises that you learned in pregnancy. Not only do they help with this problem, but they are rumored to improve your sex life. Double whammie.
Speaking of sex life — here is a topic that always (always!) gets brought up when discussing our physical states post pregnancy. We change. Our hormones change and we go through everything from wanting (needing!) it five times a day to never ever wanting our husbands to be in the same room with us again. It's fine. It's normal — as long as you are communicating with your husband about the why's and what-fors. If he has been paying attention, he will probably have already noticed that you are different both in and out of bed. Don't leave him in the dark. You have the right to be weird after your body has gone through all that turmoil. You don't, however, have the right to let it ruin your marriage. However much you might feel as though what you are going through is inconsequential to your husband, you're wrong. We have all gone through it, and if you are wondering if you will too, the answer is probably yes. We have all noticed that it took about a year for us to finally feel somewhat in control over our bodies, in this regard, again. For some reason one year is a golden marker. Which reminds me of some good advice I was given in the line of a Victoria's Secret six years ago shortly after I had my first child.
I had, foolishly, gone to a Victoria's Secret three months after I gave birth to my son (See. No one told me what a horrible idea that would be — I needed this article back then). I thought that it would lift my spirits and help me celebrate my new body. Ha! I had a breakdown in the dressing room. I tried to collect myself and walked out of the dressing room with red eyes, snotty nose and the lovely inability to catch your breath that occurs after you cry so hard that you seem as if you have just run a marathon. I left the bras in the dressing room. When I walked out, I picked up the first pair of pajama pants that I saw. It was a weak attempt to cheer myself up. I got in line with the pants and my sleeping three month old in his carrier. A woman behind me noticed my glaringly obvious distress and asked about my baby. I told her he was three months old and she gasped and said, "Oh dear". Not knowing what she meant by that, I said "excuse me?". "Honey" she said, "What were you thinking?". She had three kids herself and she went on to explain the "one year" rule to me. According to her (and any woman who has any experience with this), something magical happens to your body a year after you give birth. She had noticed it with all three of her children. She was a very attractive younger woman and I wanted to believe her, I really did. But, it seemed like sweet talk to me. It seemed like she just wanted to make me feel better. At that moment, with black and white images of gorgeous quasi-naked supermodels mocking me from their big life size posters with their sensual smiles, flat bellies and firm, taught bottoms, I couldn't believe that my body would ever be normal again. But, like clockwork — when my son turned one- I started noticing that the weight was falling off by the pound. My skin was regaining most of it's elasticity. I could fit, not only back into my size eights, but eventually into a new-for-me size six. I think of that women fondly and often — and I tell as many women as I can about the one year rule.
I can't fit all that my girlfriends and I talk about into this one little article (like our resistance to the dreaded "mom butt" and our inability to complete a thought most days). Just know that you are not alone. There are women across this country that are feelin' you — in a big way. We are going through the same things — some for better, some for worse. What is all boils down to, I think, is realizing that even though there is no formal invitation or induction — we are all now a part of the same community. Even if we have never met, it is important to be there for one another and to offer up our valuable experiences with this strange trip of motherhood.