As I’m mindlessly scrolling through my Instagram feed around 10 p.m. when I should be sleeping (but you know, peace reigns), I see a relatively well-known celebrity post a picture of her slender post-baby body. She’s wearing a tight dress, doing her signature pose, and smiling alongside a seemingly harmless - even ‘inspirational’ caption. Part of her caption reads: “It took a full 7 months, but my body did return to pre-baby. For new moms out there or pregnant moms, I promise you everything will go back, in fact your body may even look better, and you’ll have this beautiful life you created to cherish forever.”
Yeah. I admit, I was mad when I read it. Mad because that didn’t happen for me, and also mad for thousands – possibly millions – of women reading this damaging and misleading statement. There’s a lot that bothers me about the caption, but unfortunately it wasn’t the worst part. After flaunting her extremely thin frame, not surprisingly the comments starting flowing in. Some people reacted with “wow” next to a heart eyes emoji, #bodygoals, fire emojis, claps, praise, and so on for this woman. Plenty more responded with concern for the tiny new mom, as well as some negative comments that would be filed under body shaming, which I don’t condone either. Now, did she mean to make anyone feel bad about themselves? No, I’m sure not. Have I seen worse things written online and in the tabloids? Yes. But the part that I really struggled with was when another woman replied something to the extent of, “You look so good! I want to have a baby, but am so scared of losing my figure!” To which the celebrity (Bravolebrity to be exact) responded, “Don’t worry, you’ll bounce right back!”.
It’s taken me a long time to write this. Months after this influencer/businesswoman/mother replied with this comment, I’m still bothered by it. Admittedly, I’m bothered because I did not bounce right back, and I know I’m not the only one. What is the opposite of bouncing back? Standing still? I carried a big freaking basketball for ten months, and instead of bouncing back to my pre-baby body like one, I felt like a brick. A heavy, tired brick. After baby #1, it was hard to lose the weight, but it was doable. I had the opportunity to work out at a gym that offered childcare, I took advantage of the baby’s nap times by eating real meals (some healthy, some not, but better than the present Mac & Cheese shoveled into my mouth while bent over the stove), taking much-needed naps, etc. Enter baby #2. My beautiful, sweet, angel of a daughter was born and suddenly my metabolism was in the toilet, trying desperately to tread water, just as I was.
Those first few months were hard, as everyone knows. I was adjusting to life with two and anxiously waiting for the weight to start peeling off. I breastfed; this time aware of the misconception that breastfeeding makes you lose weight faster. After being told my daughter had a dairy allergy, I gave up dairy secretly hoping it would make me drop a few pounds. I was active, cleaned up my diet, but months passed by and no real weight had come off. There was no bounce back. Not even a b o u n c e. I was discouraged, but patient with myself. I was counting my blessings and not my calories. My husband innocently said that I’d have “plenty of time to be in shape for summer”. When five more months passed and my progress was stagnant, I was feeling pretty bad about myself. After blood tests, doctor visits for an autoimmune disease, and countless failed attempts to bring my baby to the gym (8 minutes was the record before she turned purple from crying so hard) I realized this was very different from the first time around.
If you know me, I’m petite and always have been. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to be plus-sized or have a daunting amount of weight to lose. Number-wise, it’s actually not that much. But since I play a constant game of Peek-a-boo with 1-3 pounds, 15 or 20 seems like an eternity away.
The point of this essay isn’t “woe is me”. What a tough life, huh? The last thing I want to do is be some privileged Caucasian woman that’s fortunate enough to conceive and deliver two healthy babies and then complain about how hard it is for me to look good.
The point is, women’s bodies are incredible, and they are all vastly different. For some, plenty of my friends included, their bodies did “bounce back”. And while I may have uttered “wtf” under my breath, good for them! I’m happy for them, and happy for that celebrity’s experience after her firstborn. However, promising a woman you don’t know (or even one you do) that they will “bounce right back” after growing a human and pushing it out of their body is irresponsible, misleading, and potentially damaging to a postpartum mom. In a postpartum “update”, the celeb proclaimed that most of the baby weight “had come off naturally”, saying “I haven’t dieted or exercised”. Well, that’s cool because I’ve given up 3 major food groups, walk my daughter up 4 flights of stairs to school twice a day WHILE holding a baby, do exercise occasionally, and still can’t fit into any of my pants. A follower on her page commented on the “7 months-and-my-body-is-back” post thanking her for her words of encouragement, saying that her body “isn’t 100% yet” to which the beautiful starlet replied, “Work hard and stay positive!”. Luckily, I am surrounded by supportive family and friends who keep me thinking straight, but I couldn’t help but think about mothers who might be completely isolated, not knowing any better, without nearby friends to tell her that this is horseshit, who believes there must be something physiologically wrong with her if she doesn’t have her “old body” back by 7 months. Or 10 months. Or 18 in my case. Working hard and staying positive *does not* automatically equal weight loss. Or anything in life, really.
While we’re on the topic, does anyone else despise the phrase “getting your body back?” Guess what friends? It didn’t go anywhere! It’s been busy, rearranging itself to house and nourish a human being. It’s accomplished incredible things before, during, and after pregnancy. Unfortunately, it happens all the time though. Strangers (most of them well-meaning) tell us before unplanned c-sections, before PPD, before 45 pounds of extra weight, that we will “bounce right back” and just like that, we’re set up for unrealistic goals that can really hurt our mental health. The “bounce back” era needs to go. You might have a baby and look the way you did before in a couple of weeks. You may never look the same. Each one is OK.
This is what’s hard though: Feeling stuck in the cross hairs of loving the body that has done so much for me, while still feeling desperate to change it. I can’t blame this all on society’s standards, or on this celebrity, or anyone. I’d just like some honesty, and realness, and care when addressing women on their journey to and through motherhood. Being a parent is hard. Losing baby weight is hard. So, let’s not tell others it will all be a piece of cake and set them up for failure, because as parents, we’re going to experience enough of that.
Be patient with yourself,
Melissa Goldin-Magee is a New Jersey native who has lived in Hoboken since 2008. She lives downtown with her husband and two daughters, ages 2 and 4. While her background is in Education and School Counseling, she can now be found cooking, chasing kids around Church Square Park, and running late while holding a large iced latte.