Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Postpartum Series: Body image, Part 2

We left off in Part 1 of this Postpartum Series topic with my husband giving me money for my birthday to get clothes that fit my new body, but the process of shopping to find the clothes was horrible. I was squishy and much bigger in almost every part of my body and everything I tried on seem to cling in all the worst areas.

Early on, I was urged by a few people to get my hormone levels checked. Maybe something was off and causing my body some sort of hormonal upheaval. My thyroid was the potential suspect. I figured this had to be it! I went to my doctor and got some labs done (blood work). I couldn't wait to get the phone call back that anything was out of line and she had something to fix it. My thyroid levels were totally normal, as was pretty much everything else. What the heck? More anger.

By this point I was certain that my body was holding onto the weight because I was nursing Lola. I looked it up online and saw threads of women talking about how they couldn't lose an ounce until they stopped nursing and then within a month or two they would lose it all—some women claiming to lose 30 or 40 pounds almost instantly just from weaning! I started to think about weaning Lola. I obsessively turned over the options in my head.

What if I wean her and nothing happens with my weight? I would feel stupid and devastated over missing out on our breastfeeding relationship. Am I vain for wanting to wean her simply to lose weight? I think so. What is best for her? Nursing her. How long do I want to nurse her for? I think through a year and a half. Why would I stop early then? Because I'm lame and being selfish. I wish I could just test it out to lose the weight and then go back to nursing her. Sorry, Sister, that's not going to happen. I really want to lose the weight before I get pregnant again. Is that even healthy going into another pregnancy 25 pounds heavier, just 10 pounds under my pregnancy weight? Will this reset my body to think that this is the weight that it should go back to after having another baby? Will I ever be able to lose this weight?   

This was probably around 10 months postpartum. I set a goal of getting through 12 months, and pushed forward finally realizing that I needed to be praying for wisdom from Jesus. I did end up dropping a feeding or two since it felt natural, but nothing about this was reflected in my weight.

I went in to see my doctor to discuss ovulation and pregnancy. We talked about my weight and diet a little as well, and she wanted me to do another food journal. I didn't want to. I was so depleted and tired of my already healthy eating habits being scrutinized. She suggested that, from what I told her about my current diet, I might not be maintaining a stable blood sugar throughout the day by eating meals and snacks that are low in or lacked protein. Basically, sugar equals fat. So a snack of crackers and fruit is a theoretical horrible idea. She urged me to add more protein like nuts, yogurt, and fish and never eat a carbohydrate without eating protein at the same time. It made some sense, but I couldn't understand why I needed to be so picky about the mostly nutritious food that went into my mouth when I see others eating half as well as I do and not having a weight problem! Literally, hummus and crackers is the extent of our junk food around here.

She agreed that it could still be my hormones and ordered a thyroid lab. While the labs came back within normal range, she knew my distress and reached out to her naturopath colleagues. She came back and suggested that I might have a sub-clinical thyroid issue where my levels were normal, but not ideal for my unique body. She prescribed a small dose of synthetic thyroid hormone, which was the same stuff I took throughout my pregnancy with Lola. I started taking it hoping for the best.

Month 12 crept up and pregnancy was on the brain. Lola turned one and a couple days later I went to my local La Leche League meeting, which I had been to a few times before. One of the leaders is my lactation consultant from when Lola and I were first struggling with breastfeeding. I told her about wanting to get pregnant, not being certain I was ovulating, and explained the dreaded weight issue. She and the other leader basically told me that they didn't think I was holding onto the weight from nursing. I couldn't believe it. I detailed the stories of the women online and real-life friends who claim that they lost weight after weaning. I couldn't tell if they were just saying this to promote breastfeeding, or if they genuinely believed what they were saying.

In the same meeting, I was observing the other leader nursing her older child—maybe 3 or 4 years old. I melted. That's what I wanted. Every care about my body image flew out the window and I saw so clearly what I actually desired the most. It wasn't about nursing my child through the age of four that I was struck by, but the idea that I didn't need to set a boundary. I wanted to nurse Lola until we were done. This might be 14 months, or maybe it would mean tandem nursing both babies. Whatever it would be, I knew I wasn't done nursing her and decided I would keep going.

Immediately after that meeting, I took Lola in for her 12-month doctor visit. I explained the same saga to her pediatrician, who always cares about my health as much as Lola's since I'm breastfeeding her. But she, too, didn't think I was holding onto the weight from nursing. Whattheheck! I felt even more shame about just being someone that couldn't lose their baby weight. She also talked to me about adding in lean protein like fish to my diet. I listened and genuinely considered what she was saying. At this point, I honestly believed that I was just an unhealthy person that needed to get her act together. I didn't think I was unhealthy, but everyone else was basically telling me so.

I picked up a pound of wild salmon on the way home and nervously cooked it for dinner that night. My husband was on board, but pretty confused considering I hadn't eaten fish in over a year. The fish was okay, but definitely not my favorite thing to eat. I jabbered on about all that I had heard, felt and saw that day, and concluded that I was going to keep nursing as long as Lola and I wanted and that I was going to lose the extra weight by eating "better" (Groan!). The next night I got a positive on my ovulation test and got pregnant...

I started to make some changes to my diet like adding in fish once a week and trying not to eat carbohydrates without protein. I also felt a lot of peace about the decision to keep breastfeeding, as well as knowing that we were pregnant and there wasn't much I could do anymore about my weight. Although I did still wonder whether losing weight was an option at this point.

I had my first appointment with my new midwives around five weeks pregnant and was sure to bring up my postpartum weight trials. I mentioned that I was on a small dose of synthetic thyroid to try to lose weight and that I was really insecure about my body going into this pregnancy. And you know what? She gave me the most freeing words anyone had said all year, "You don't need to try to lose weight anymore. And really, you've been feeding a baby, your body needed that extra weight. Since you're going into this pregnancy with your extra fat stores already built up, it's pretty likely you won't gain a ton this time. Just focus on being healthy and nourishing those two incredible babies (Lola and Baby #2). Make sure you're eating enough." I sighed relief and felt the all the weight of the year melt right off. #punintended

Shortly after I got pregnant my belly began to swell, very similar to my last pregnancy. Within a couple weeks I couldn't button my pants and seemed to have no control over my gut sticking out. Unlike last time when I felt womanly and beautiful, this time I felt gross and self-conscious. And the worst part was that none of my maternity pants fit around the hip/butt/thigh area. It's a sad day when your maternity pants don't fit. I felt more shame about my body.

Over the past three months, my belly has slowly continued to expand, but I'm struggling. I honestly feel like a whale (crass, but the best way to explain how I feel). Part of the problem is that the last time I was pregnant was mostly through the warmer months, so everything that could fit me now isn't for the winter season. We're on a super strict budget, which has made it difficult to splurge on new maternity wear, but I've bought a few things like new jeans* and long-sleeved tops. All of my bras and nursing tanks are all too small as well because of my expanding ribcage, but it's going to be awhile before we can scrape together the extra cash for that. So for now I shove myself into undergarments that pinch and hurt and remind me even more of this uncomfortable trial.

*Can I get an amen that maternity jeans just suck all around? Especially when you're running around with a toddler all day and having to hold them up. Wah!

Through all of this though, Jesus has revealed so many truths to me that I've struggled to understand or believe in the past. There's no getting around it, this is a hard circumstance. This isn't something I'm supposed to just pretend to be happy about. I'm not happy about it and it's really difficult. I'm facing anger, bitterness, and discontentment, but through all of that I've learned that I have the opportunity to give that to Him and trust that He will remain faithful to me even if my body isn't.

That looks like putting ALL of my hope in God's good, generous, unchanging character, and rejecting the temptation to put any hope in a new better looking body. This isn't a one time thing either. At least for me, this is an almost daily act of letting go and resting in Jesus regarding my body image. I've had to learn that everything I have I've received from God, and that God only gives good and perfect gifts (James 1:17). Which leaves me at a place where all I can do is trust that all I'm experiencing is a good and perfect gift from God.

But, seriously, God, a gift? You really consider this a gift? I've learned that sometimes those gifts are wrapped in painful circumstances, but His purpose is to create steadfastness in us through patience and endurance. I can have joy in the trials because I know God is at work in me. A wise woman from my church's women's study put it this way: "There's a purpose for trials. For believers, it's to grow our faith. For unbelievers, it's a preview of eternal sorrow." I don't know about you, but I want to be in that first category! Sign me up for a life of earthly trials if it means an eternal life of joy without trial beyond this world.

I want to be content. I want to stop comparing my body parts to other women's. I want to graciously receive this gift God has given me and milk it for all it's worth. I want to freely receive the gift of the baby growing in my belly without the nasty strings [I've] attached. I'm praying for this heart change.

It's been great for me to get this journey out of my head and share it with you. I'm looking forward to sharing more as I continue to grow (and so does my body!). I'm curious how my body will react when I finally wean Lola sometime before the baby is born. I'm also eager to see if my body responds differently after having this next baby. I honestly hope so! I pray that if you're also struggling with body image that these final words would penetrate your soul as they have mine.

Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." —Matthew 11:28-30



More from our Postpartum Series:


  1. You are beautiful. I gained almost 55 pounds with Hayden....I was huge. It took a while and my new body was difficult. However, with two-weight came off easier. It's just I never.ever.ever. sit down. It sounds like you have done everything you can. Bravo, mama. Also, I used the bra extender clips for my widening rib cage. Have you seen them? I would give mine to you, but have to look for them. Much cheaper then buying new undergarments or squeezing into them. Ps. Maternity jeans suck, suck, suck. They are good for a few weeks and then just dig into your underbelly:(

    1. I feel like I'll probably gain around that factoring in the weight that didn't come off from Lola. You definitely seem like you've lost it all, so I hope I do too! This might just be a season of baby-making where I hold onto the extra 20 lbs. I just hope it comes off someday. The bra-extender is a great idea! I'll look into that. I most often use my nursing tanks, which just need to be sized up.

  2. Hi Kelsey,

    Thank you for sharing your deeply personal experiences; I've been enjoying reading your posts.

    I can completely relate to the desire to have one's pre-pregnancy weight and figure back--I still wish for mine. (I have this squishy belly that contributes nothing to keeping my pants up--it just spills over any pants tight enough to stay up.) I wonder if I will ever wear a bikini again. It feels like such a loss because I liked my figure--I never felt pretty but at least my figure was good. Still, it's worth it because of William.

    Anyways, congratulations to you on your second pregnancy. I'm very excited for you!

    1. I'm glad you've enjoyed reading along! I'm also relieved to hear I'm not alone. I can totally relate to how you describe your belly. I feel the same way. I'm going to try Stroller Strides after this next baby is born and try toning up, which isn't something I put much effort into after Lola was born. Maybe that will make a difference.

  3. I really liked stroller strides, and it helped in more ways than just physically. I think the exercise and socializing helped my state of mind. I would do it now, but I don't want to pay for an entire month when my job situation is so random and unpredictable (I am getting on-call work from two companies, and am waiting to hear back from several more--I could get hired for a full-time job at any time.)

    1. Jennifer, I remember you having a good experience at SS! Maybe you'll be able to do it again someday. I hope your job circumstance irons out soon!

  4. I was blown away by your raw honesty and emotion, which I really felt while reading your two-part post. I definitely think you're admirable because of your courage in sharing your personal experiences. I also admire you for choosing to facing them head on. Anyway, I hope everything goes well with your second pregnancy. All the best!

    Chantel Fett @ Knight and Sanders


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