…for just having had a baby!
Perhaps you’ve been in this scenario. You get back to work following your (too short) maternity leave and several well-meaning of your colleagues comment- “Oh my gosh you look so good… for just having had a baby!”
Or you run into a neighbor at Target pushing her two month old in the stroller with her 2 year old walking alongside and you comment how great she looks… for having a newborn and a toddler!
Or you’re at church talking to your girlfriend, a single mom who is trying to keep it together with her three kids under three and you hear a well-meaning elderly woman comment how she looks less tired today than the last time she ran into her.
Of course- that is in addition to all of the “Are you sure you’re not having twins?” and “You look like you’re about to pop!” or the equally difficult “You have such a tiny bump!” that women experience during pregnancy.
Almost all of these comments are well meaning; I don’t think that anyone intends to offend pregnant women or freshly made mothers. However, what is it about the journey to motherhood that makes society feel that women are fair game for otherwise inappropriate comments?
It all begs the question – are women defined by the fact that they are mothers? Or further, are women not more than the appearance of their bodies in the postpartum or early motherhood years?
I will be the first to tell you- I’m not one that was offended when someone wanted to touch my pregnant belly (despite not particularly liking it), asked me any number of overly invasive questions like “are you dilated yet?” (you do REALIZE what you are asking in that question, right?) or “did you tear?” (again, do you know what you’re asking here???), or made a comment on my postpartum shape.
I’ve also been blessed to be born with a fair amount of IDGAF when it comes to the (unnecessary) opinions of other people about things that are none of their business.
When you think of what women’s bodies go through on the journey to and through motherhood, it’s significant.
Some women are lucky to get pregnant without intervention, and others have to inject themselves with needles for days and days, take mood-altering and expensive hormonal supplements, and undergo invasive medical procedures just to try to get pregnant.
Then, for 10 months (can we please stop saying 9 months- 40 weeks = 10 months!), a woman’s body stretches, grows, reshapes, aches, loosens, and changes in ways that can only be described as truly miraculous.
And of course, a mom’s body goes through the most incredible thing in the world,a natural cycle set off by a magical sequence of hormones excreted from her body and her baby’s body communicating, that begins the labor and ultimately leads to delivery. Her body has created and then pushes out another human being.
And thus begins the fourth trimester- an exhausting period of little or no sleep and massive hormonal changes while earning to feed, diaper, and care for a tiny person that can’t communicate with you. A woman must recover physically from her birth, not just physically (which is no small feat) but mentally and emotionally.
Of course, should a mom choose to nurse her child, her body is physically keeping another human alive during that time, another incredible feat of nature that even conceptually, is difficult to understand the power of. Some nursing moms have to deal with eye rolls and obnoxious stares as they try to feed their babies; others having to listen or respond to comments and opinions about where, when, and for how long they should nurse their children.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have relatively smooth postpartum periods. My first one was rough, I won’t lie, but even then my body did a good job of returning to a somewhat normal state. My second and third births were very smooth recoveries, physically and emotionally. Despite the fact that I always seem to carry the last 10-12 pounds of pregnancy weight until I’m done nursing, I’ve also been blessed that my body has allowed me to return to a somewhat normal size and shape in a respectable amount of time. But then I quickly was getting pregnant again, so the cycle just continued.
I will digress for a minute here to mention that I did engage in a postpartum workout plan after this third baby- the program was by Glow Body PT– an incredibly inspiring mom of three that has quick, effective, and challenging workouts. Most postpartum workouts are 20 minutes long and the 12 week program is only 4 days per week. Every two week you start new workouts so you never have a chance to get bored, just better. My friend Katelyn at The Happy Homebirth Podcastintroduced me to this program after she had her baby in June, and I am so glad for this workout program. I am going to start my second 12 week cycle at the beginning of Lent in case anyone wants to join me!
In the last 52 months of my life, since November of 2015, I have been pregnant for 30 months and nursing for 20, totally 50/52 months where my body has not been my own. 50/52 months where I’ve been subjected to comments and opinions on my body.
While again, I feel like I can handle any thoughts or opinions that anyone has about my body, should I really have to? I know plenty of moms that suffer from crippling postpartum anxiety or depression, and maternal mental health, which I blogged about in a post here) is a serious debilitating condition that doesn’t get nearly enough attention here in the United States. I can only imagine how well-meaning comments may affect their self esteem or ability to continue to care for themselves or their little ones.
So what SHOULD you say/do:
I learned a long time ago in my professional life not to offer a problem without an accompanying solution, so I’d love to make some suggestions about alternative things to say in these scenarios, if you’d be so kind to hear me out (I’d also welcome your suggestions in the comments below!):
My first suggestion is to simply avoid discussing a pregnant or postpartum woman’s body. Compliments can come in many forms, but don’t have to take on the personal nature of an opinion on someone’s body.
A good way to do this is to ask about the transition to motherhood or inquiring about what the challenges have been so far? You could ask what the most unexpected aspect has been or what she likes most?
A second thing you could do is make a genuine inquiry into her well-being and offer a way to help. Not ask if she needs anything (most women are inclined to say “Thanks, but it’s okay”), but say- I’d love to come help you with laundry- would Tuesday or WEdnesday work for you? Or something like “I’m going to be bringing you a meal this weekend and play with your beautiful little baby to give you some time to take a long shower- let me know if lunch or dinner is better!”
Lastly, as my mom has told me many times and your mom has probably told you, if you don’t have anything nice to say (which includes making comment about a woman’s body as a not nice thing to say), simply offer a heartfelt congratulations on the baby and be on your merry way.
I’d love to hear if you have had any experiences with comments on your pregnancy or postpartum body, or if you know anyone that has. How has that made you feel?
I’d also like to take a moment to mention that I’ve been fortunate enough to be featured on two pregnancy/birth podcasts in the last two weeks. Despite having recorded these months apart, they aired within a week of each other.
The first is with Katelyn Fusco of The Happy Homebirth Podcast– I shared my three birth stories with her and touched on laws and regulations of homebirth in Pennsylvania, life with 3 kids under 3, and learning to accept help!
The second is with Adriana Lozado of The Birthful Podcast– of course I also shared my birth stories here, but also was able to discuss my journey with codependency recovery and dive a little more deeply into the struggles that I faced loving someone in and out of addiction and going through a divorce while pregnant.