How many times have you looked at a photograph of yet another starlet jumping off the delivery table and directly into a bikini on the cover of some tabloid and thought to yourself, "I could bounce back like that too, if I had a chef and a nanny and a trainer"?
Well, I work out like a celebrity (two hours a day minimum). I have access to a chef that prepares organic, local, delicious, portion-controlled meals for me daily. After giving birth to my son 20 months ago, I hired a nanny to help me at home so I can juggle (not balance) my roles as entrepreneur, wife, mother and friend. With all these celebrity-like amenities at my disposal, one would think that I bounced back from my pregnancy like a celebrity, too -- ready to pop into my two-piece on the cover of US Weekly under the headline "How Lauren got her Lithe Look Back in Just 6 Short Weeks," right? Not. A. Chance.
So how long has it taken me to bounce back?
I haven't. There is no such thing.
It took me almost 365 days to just feel "normal," or, better yet, stable mentally and physically. Almost another year later and I'm finally feeling strong, lithe and sexy again -- in a whole new way, much different than before my pregnancy.
I've bounced forward.
When it comes to uniquely female experiences -- with conception, with pregnancy itself, with reconciling our new bodies post pregnancy -- we can't seem to cut ourselves any slack despite all the information out there telling us that what we are going through is normal.
I admit that even I fell into the media pressure trap. Pregnancy was not kind to my 4'11" frame, and after 41 weeks it ended with a C-section, followed by hernia surgery eight months later -- not the romantic experience I had been conditioned to think it would be. And for the first 6-7 months after I had my son, I thought my metabolism had shut down. I honestly thought something was wrong with me. I mean, Selma Blair had her baby two weeks after I had Mars in July and she was back in her skinny J-Brands in late August. What? How? (Perhaps this is what is really going on in Area 51? Preggers celebs have full body replacements four weeks after birth?)
I may not be the editor of Life & Style, US Weekly or People, but I do have some street cred. As a fitness expert and new-ish mom myself, I think that it's time to redefine what the postpartum body really looks like. I don't have to tell you that after you have a baby, everything changes: your body, your sex drive, your sex life and the way that you feel about yourself. The media-driven, 6-8-week baby bounce back is unrealistic and insulting, and we know it! It takes the average woman 409 days (at best) to get her body and her sex drive back post-baby, so why do we continue to try to measure up to the hype even though we know better?
If you're newly pregnant or planning for your first, every woman who's been there should be telling you this: While this is a beautiful blessing, it's also a long, hard road before, during and after. Especially after. Get ready to find out just how human you really are. Get ready to meet your new (real) postpartum body.
You will never bounce back. But you can and will bounce forward.
And with the right expectations and patience with yourself, that means that the best you've ever looked or felt could lie in wait for you after pregnancy. So how exactly does one bounce forward?
Prepare for and Accept
• You'll never be the "old" you again. This is not a bad thing. You've got a whole new life (and body) now, Mama. This could mean it's fuller, richer, thinner, curvier, and likely stressed. Whatever it is for you, it's going to be different than what you've always known.
• The recovery process is not a competition. Just like your pregnancy (and your baby), your experience will most likely be radically different than it was for your girlfriend, mother or sister.
• It's more than okay to be bummed about your body for a while. It's not shallow or selfish. It's tough to not recognize yourself. They don't call it post-natal recovery for nothing. When I was working out to lose the baby weight, I would become so frustrated when I wasn't seeing the crazy fast results I was expecting. It was maddening until I literally stopped and visualized the baby that was once in my stretched out belly. That helped me to cut myself some slack and to prioritize how to spend my energy
• It's also okay to bitch and complain about it. We all feel you. Don't bottle it up and let it break you down. Get it out and work it out.
• Get the support you need. As women, we are so busy supporting everyone around us, we forget that we need some encouragement, too. Every time I would get down about my body, my husband would remind me of what that very same body had helped me to accomplish. That I had just incubated an entire, new human being in that body and given him life and birth. No small feat. His reminders made me grateful for him, and for my body. So, surround yourself with those encouraging voices in your life -- we all have at least one. Your life partners, your fellow mothers who have been there and understand. Sometimes we need a reminder of how strong we already are.
• Try not to countdown. Giving yourself a deadline is setting yourself up for feelings of failure and disappointment. Even I did it for the first three months, thinking that's how long it would take for me to "bounce back." (Little did I know!) Take your time and don't give in to the pressure and stress to lose the weight in your fourth trimester. Those first three months are such a delicate time.
• Give yourself room and say no when it feels right. It took me almost a year to start feeling comfortable in my skin again. I pushed off publicity opportunities, said "no, thanks" to public speaking engagements and photo shoots because I didn't want to deal with the pressure and stress of it all. With all that a new baby brings, being ready for the beach vacation your friends are begging you and your family to accompany them on is the last thing that you should be stressed out about.
• Get active in a way that makes you happy! There are some folks who won't have to lift a single weight or walk a single mile, and they'll lose the baby weight. God bless them. But for the rest of us, we will have to get active to see the pounds shed, so take the work out of working out. Did you play basketball in high school? Grab a ball and shoot some hoops at a local park. (Take a friend who's willing to watch the stroller and chat with you while you practice your jump shot for 30 minutes.) Did you used to love tennis? Jumping rope? Take it back up again! You will be giving so much to this baby, it's crucial to find some time to do something that will make you happy and healthy too. That's the greatest gift to give your child, after all.
No matter where you are in the bouncing forward process, turn down the external volume and chatter (and pictures of Selma Blair), so you can turn an ear to what's happening internally. Once you start listening to your own body, you'll be much less confused about what is "normal" and what you need. And if you don't have a chef and a trainer and a nanny, no need to fantasize. Guess what? Turns out, that doesn't do the trick either! Until a celebrity comes forward and tells the real truth about what they've just put their newly-recovering bodies through to appear on the cover of Us Weekly in four weeks, if I were you, I wouldn't give it another thought.
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