This is a really personal post that was actually quite hard to write. It’s not often that I dig really deep inside and try to understand exactly what I think about myself (the way I look, the way I feel and what I’m happy with or not so happy with). The hustle and bustle of everyday life and looking after a 6 month old baby means that I can often gloss over what I may be really thinking and just keep going. Even writing this introduction I have tears in my eyes (not because it makes me sad but because it is so personal and its not often I make myself so vulnerable) and I’m not sure whether I want to put it out there for people to read.
However, I feel like I need to be strong and share my story of how I actually felt when Theo was first born no matter how hard it is to share.
I’ve called this post body confidence but it really goes deeper than that, I think it is really more about body and mind confidence.
What does body confidence mean to me?
For me, it’s about feeling good in my own skin. I want to feel happy about my body, what it looks like and what it feels like. I don’t want to dread looking in the mirror, I want to be able to look in the mirror and be content- to see past only the physical but be happy with what’s on the inside as well.
This doesn’t mean having sculpted abs or being a particular dress size. This may be some peoples’ goals, which is fine, but it’s not for me. My only motivation is to feel healthy, to look after myself and to be happy in my own skin.
It also means being in control of my feelings. This doesn’t mean always being calm and happy but rather knowing that it’s ok to not always feel like this (and it would be totally unrealistic to feel happy and calm all the time). For me, being in control of my feelings means being honest with myself about how I’m feeling and to talk about it, try to understand why I may be feeling a certain way and to do something about it, if I want to. This isn’t easy at all but I know that by trying to do this, I will feel better.
Having a baby and body confidence
Having a baby has a huge impact on your body. In a purely physical sense, I could feel my body changing while I was growing my baby. Organs had to move out of the way, pressure was placed on my bladder and my uterus expanded to accommodate my growing baby, which meant my tummy got bigger and bigger. Being pregnant and growing my baby was a wonderful feeling, I was happy when my bump was getting bigger as I knew my baby was getting bigger and developing. However, I also worried a lot and found it hard to have confidence that my body would do what it needed. While you can see your tummy getting bigger, you can’t see all of the other changes and I found it hard to trust that my body would do what it needed to. After all, I had never done this before and so how did I know that my body would do what it needed to do to look after my baby? This took up a lot of my brain power and was pretty exhausting at times- I would look forward to every appointment we had just so I could get some reassurance that everything was ok.
Having a baby bump did not dent my body confidence, however, thinking that I was putting on weight elsewhere and wondering whether my tummy would go back to it’s pre-baby size did play on my mind. However, the worry about whether my baby was ok was front of mind and I didn’t have much brain space to think too much about my weight. I did think a lot about stretch marks and whether I would get them. I also thought a lot about how to prevent stretch marks and would obsessively put cocoa butter on my tummy every morning and evening. I had a thought in my head that I didn’t want stretch marks (I’m actually not sure why now but it was definitely a thing while I was pregnant…) and this meant I was always checking in the mirror and asking Jamain if I had any.
Physical changes are not the only changes that impact on body confidence. Hormones can play a role too. For me, I think this was the biggest challenge I faced. I found myself very emotional and my mind went into overdrive. During my pregnancy, I was so worried about making sure I did everything I could to protect and help my baby develop. Am I eating the right things, is the pollution in London (where I work) harming my baby, what about if I fall over, am I resting enough, am I active enough… this is a lot of pressure to put on yourself. All of this pressure I was feeling to try and be the perfect pregnant mum for my baby had an impact on my confidence. I felt like the stakes were so high and I didn’t want to mess anything up. My mind felt like it was in a whirlwind that never stopped.
After I’d had Theo, it seemed like my hormones were even more all over the place and if I thought my mind was in overdrive while I was pregnant, it was nothing to how I was feeling in those first few weeks. I worried about everything; was Theo eating enough, was he sleeping enough, was he sleeping too much, was he too warm or too cold, what if I don’t wake up in the night to him (I honestly remember thinking that I would never be able to sleep again and even now I sleep very lightly), what if he’s ill and I don’t realise?
There was so much going on in my head that I couldn’t see the woods for the trees. I remember while I was pregnant that I was always being told that when your baby arrives, it’s the most wonderful thing and you have instant unconditional love. While this is true, it’s also way too simple and didn’t fully capture what I was feeling at all. Yes, meeting my baby for the first time was the most wonderful experience and I loved him unconditionally and always will. However, this wonderful feeling was sharing space in my head with all of the worry and questions. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do everything ‘right’ for Theo but I didn’t even know what ‘right’ was. I wasn’t giving myself the time and space to learn. I felt like I knew, but didn’t take on board, that all babies are different and you actually need to take the time to learn what works for them and you. It was like I was clinging on to the things I had read and what I had been told in classes and couldn’t move away from it. It’s clear to me now that what you read and what you get told is just one person’s view, there are so many other ways of doing things but at the time this rational thought was no where in my head.
Thankfully the hormones did start to even out and I began to feel a bit more normal (and rational), however, the worry and overthinking everything was still there. I’ve now come to accept that this is actually a part of parenting and by accepting that I was still learning (and so was Theo) it doesn’t feel like worry or overthinking anymore. It feels like learning and navigating the most wonderful journey (that is also the hardest journey). It would be strange for me to have something that I cared so much about and not think so much about it. It definitely took me a few good months before my confidence grew and I could start seeing things clearly and thinking more rationally.
In terms of my body, I was surprised and disappointed that after giving birth I still looked like I was 6 months pregnant. I don’t know what I expected, it seems obvious now that my tummy would not shrink back to it’s original size straight away but at the time I was disappointed. I was also very unsure about my body as it felt different. I had stitches and although my actual stitches weren’t uncomfortable, the thought of them made me feel uncomfortable and I really wasn’t very confident in how everything would heal and whether it would be ‘normal’ again. I found all of this really hard to talk about and it was only after 3 and half months that I felt ok about the fact that I’d had stitches and felt ok talking about it (even though I still don’t really like to).
Where am I now?
Well Theo is now 6 months old and it feels like we’ve come a long way. I’m loving my time with Theo, he is such a wonderfully happy, social and expressive little boy. I also feel like I trust my instincts more and tend not to overthink too many things. I’m not saying I don’t overthink or worry, I definitely do but I deal with it by talking to Jamain and don’t let it get on top of me. I think experience counts for a lot and I’ve now had 6 months with Theo and my confidence has definitely grown over that time (it grows each time he has a healthy weight gain or hits a milestone). I think ultimately I want the best for Theo and I feel a huge responsibility for nurturing him and helping him develop. It was totally overwhelming at first but now I’m relishing it.
Not only has Theo hit big milestones, but I feel like I have too! We went to our first wedding on the weekend and I wore a dress for the first time since Theo was born. This felt like a big deal as I’ve lived in my jeans, leggings and t-shirts. I was also unsure of what I’d look like in a dress. I’m so pleased I took the time to find a dress that I felt comfortable in and it felt so nice to be a bit girly! We also went on holiday recently to a hot country and so I had to get comfortable wearing shorts or I’d overheat. Even before having a baby I didn’t like to wear shorts so it felt huge to wear shorts post baby.
Being on holiday also meant another milestone, we wanted to take Theo swimming and so I wore a swimming costume for the first time. I must admit that I spent a while at home while I was getting my clothes ready to pack trying on different swimming costumes to see which one my tummy and thighs looked ok in. In the end, when we were at the swimming pool, I was so excited to see Theo in the pool (it was his first time swimming) that I didn’t think twice about how I looked. I was there with Theo and Jamain and having so much fun.
I’m also looking after my mind. My career as an economist kept my mind active and stimulated before I had Theo and now that I’m on maternity leave I realised that I need to work hard to keep up my brain development. Learning is very important to me and I’ve taken to listening to audio books on a wealth of subjects (including investing, how to have better quality sleep and how to focus, to name a few) and also listening to podcasts and videos on youtube. My current favourite people to listen to are Robin Sharma (he promotes finding your greatness within) and Dandapani (he speaks a lot about us having a choice about how we feel and where we put our energy). I’m able to invest this time in myself as Jamain and I agreed that I should have some dedicated time to myself every week to invest in my mind. I typically go for a walk with my headphones in, which is great because I’m learning as well as getting some exercise. It was hard to be away from Theo at first (even though it may only be an hour or so) but the benefits of this time have become so clear to me that I really wouldn’t give it up. I feel so happy and internally grounded after my time, which I’m sure benefits Theo too.
I will just keep going on this journey and being honest with myself about how I’m feeling and what I’m thinking. There are always going to be new adventures and Theo will continue to grow and develop. While I find some things scary (I don’t really like change and I like to know exactly what’s going on and how to do something) it’s also exciting and I love seeing Theo learn and try new things. Watching Theo grow and develop is truly wonderful and I know I have a lot more to look forward to over the next 6 months.
I’m also going to pushing myself more to get out there and try new things with Theo. One example of this is that Theo and I start baby swimming lessons on Tuesday. I’d put it off for a while as I didn’t feel comfortable being in a swimming costume but now I’ve had the experience on holiday (and the lessons are booked and paid for) I feel very committed to it (and I’m sure we’ll have a lot of fun).
My final thought (for now)
Nothing could prepare me for having a baby, even all of the advice and wisdom I was given while pregnant came nowhere close to giving an insight into what it was actually like. While I’m sure this post won’t come close to preparing anyone for what it’s like to have a baby (everyone has their own unique experience), I hope that by being honest about how I felt it will at least help to get the message out there that it’s ok if everything isn’t wonderful and rosy all the time and it’s unlikely to be so. Ultimately, it is a wonderful experience and I’m so happy to be where I am right now.