The postpartum period is often romanticized and for good reason. The warmth of holding an infant in your arms is nothing short of intoxicating, and even the most exhausting late-night feeding session is often book-ended by serene moments where it’s just you and your baby; they’re looking at you and you’re looking at them and the rest of the world ceases to exist. Mostly, having a new baby is incredibly good.
But being postpartum isn’t all magical scenarios and Instagram-worthy photo ops. Some parts of it are — what’s the technical term here? — complete bullshit. If you gave birth, your body is recovering from labor and delivery, which even at its best, is physically pretty traumatic. Whether you brought your baby into the world vaginally or via C-section, there’s likely a whole lot of bleeding, swelling, and sore muscles going on. You’re physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, your hormones are relentlessly unpredictable, and downright dangerous messages about the postpartum body can make it difficult to appreciate the lasting physical signs of pregnancy. If you’re breastfeeding, you’re still using your body to sustain another life, and at the continued cost of your bodily autonomy. And if you’re not breastfeeding, by choice or out of necessity, you’re still at the mercy of a tiny human potato-sack who needs you, your personal needs and wants be damned.
In short, the postpartum time for your body is a whole mess, even when it’s technically all good and medically unremarkable.
The haze of sleep deprivation, the mental legwork of adjusting to motherhood, coupled with the physical transformation that occurs when a pregnancy ends can make it far too easy to feel disconnected from your physical self. Let’s face it: As mothers living a country that refuses to provide tangible structural support to families, the infant phase is our triage mode. We’re just trying to get through the day, scrounge together enough hours of sleep to remain semi-functional, then find the energy to do it all over again.
There are ways to fight the urge to disassociate and feel more connected to your postpartum body, though. Of course, what works for one person may not work for another — our experiences, our bodies, the ways in which we became parents, and our mental health histories are all different and will factor into our postpartum experience in unique and personal ways. But trying any of the following will help stretch out those serene moments that make postpartum life more than worth it, and ground you in your body during the moments that can feel impossible to overcome.
1. Go Outside For a Walk
Sure, a walk around the block might sound like the absolute worst — especially since, right now, that walk includes social distancing and wearing a mask — but getting up and getting your body moving is a great way to remind yourself of the power your body holds. I mean, not to get all “be one with the Earth” on you or anything, but it’s truly incredible that our bodies are able to move our brains through the world, allowing us to see or smell or taste or hear or touch or just experience the communities we call home.
Sometimes the world being just you and your baby is a welcomed reprieve from *gestures wildly at the state of the rest of the world*. But sometimes, that isolation can be more hurtful than helpful. Get outside, get some fresh air, and move those badass limbs of yours.
To be extremely clear, I’m not saying I felt sexy when I’d just given birth. Nope. Not even a little bit. I know plenty of women who absolutely did — who were turned on by the sheer power of their bodies and enjoyed the sexual benefits of raging hormones — but I was not among them. After having a tiny human attached to some part of my body all day long, the last thing I wanted was to have someone else touch me.
But after seeing a psychologist for postpartum depression and anxiety, I was encouraged to masturbate. Not only does the release of oxytocin — the “love” hormone — which is just magical happy medicine for our brains, self-gratification can be a grounding exercise, where we feel “one” with our bodies and connected to our beings in a very primal way.
Did it take me a while to “get into it,” as they say? You bet. But was it worth it? Absolutely.
I know, I know: This is basically that “sleep when the baby sleeps” nonsense that feels impossible. And for many new parents, it is. But that shouldn’t stop you from fighting for sleep with all you’re worth — and insisting on prioritizing your ability to rest when it’s at all possible to delegate awake duties to other people.
Studies have documented the negative effects of sleep deprivation, especially on mental health. Sleep disruption can impact our ability to regulate our emotions and impair cognitive functions; it can exacerbate pre-existing mental health disorders. The ability to feel at home in your own body is certainly impacted by a severe lack of sleep, so when you’re able, go to bed. Have someone else feed the baby, change the baby, hold the baby, and tend to any other lingering responsibilities. No, you probably won’t be able to “sleep when the baby sleeps” every single time that adorable bald potato catches a snooze, but prioritizing your ability to sleep will go a long way in feeling connected to your postpartum body.
4. Do something non-baby related
Honestly, get away from your baby. Take a break. Do something with your body that has nothing to do with sustaining another life.
True story: I was two weeks postpartum and in an absolute haze when the disconnect from my body was at its worst. I felt completely disassociated from reality, like I was an outsider watching my life unfold. I was also convinced, as a new mom, that I had to do absolutely everything for my baby. In fact, postpartum anxiety had such a strong hold on my psyche that I was simply afraid to let my baby out of my sight or to allow even his father to do basic baby-caring things, like feed him or bathe him or put him down for a nap.
It was my mother, who was visiting for a week, who pulled me out of my haze by physically taking my baby from me, handing my baby to his father, and taking me out of the house for a haircut, a coffee, and a drive. She knew, as a seasoned mother of two, that I was never going to start feeling like myself if I didn’t take a moment or two to start actually focusing on myself and what my mind and my body needed.
It can be hard to “let go” when you’re trying to just get a handle on life as a mom, but you had a baby, not a lobotomy. You’re still you, which means you should absolutely prioritize time away from your baby where you can focus on just you and the things that make you feel good and happy and like the multifaceted human being you are. So whether its a work out, a get together with friends, a cut and color, a massage, or just time alone — do something non-baby related, and do it for you.
5. Wear whatever the f*ck you want
If “dressing up” and throwing on a full face of makeup makes you feel more like yourself, go for it. If the thought of putting on a pair of jeans has you running to the nearest Lululemon, by all means, spend that money on that spendy spandex, honey! Comfort should be the name of your postpartum game, dear reader, so wear whatever makes you feel more at home in your post-pregnancy form.
6. Don’t try to force yourself to feel a type away about your body
Here’s the deal: Anyone who identifies as a woman or femme and finds a way to feel positive about their bodies is a goddamn revolutionary. We live in a culture that demands those who can get pregnant do so. If you have a uterus, you’re “supposed” to get pregnant; if you get pregnant, you’re “supposed” to stay pregnant; and when you have a baby, you are “supposed” to find a way to show as little physical evidence as possible of ever having experienced a pregnancy. We are not set up for success when it comes to how our bodies function and look around the topic of making babies, neither before nor after the fact. So if, in the middle of all that pressure, you can find a way to fall in love with your postpartum body, lean all the goddamn way in.
But if you don’t feel positive about your body, do not consider this some kind of feminist failing. It’s alright to not like your body. It’s alright to feel zero feelings about it, too; to just be apathetic about the changing flesh bag that carries your brain around.
You don’t owe anyone some body positive declaration via social media, nor do you owe our unforgiving society food- and gym-related exercises in self-hatred. Simply own how you feel about your body, while making space for the very real possibility that you might not feel the same way a day, a week, a month, or a year from now. Bodies are weird, man, and so are our complicated and complex feelings about them.