Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Postpartum Series: Body image, Part 1

Update: View Part 2 of this Body Image series here.

This is a tough one. Mostly because body image is just such a hot spot for most women. I am writing this post to be honest about my journey, struggles, and the areas Jesus has redeemed for me. I hope you will fight any urge to compare yourself to me, good or bad.

Once I got pregnant with Lola, I immediately felt beautiful, womanly. Nothing about my changing figure bothered me a bit. I embraced every day my belly grew, and hardly gained any weight until about halfway through pregnancy. By 18 weeks I was only six pounds up from my pre-pregnancy weight. Overall, I felt fantastic.

I did notice by the end that my face had gotten puffier, but wasn't concerned at all. I figured that was all water weight and would slip off within a few months postpartum with nursing and keeping active. By my 40th week, I think I had gained somewhere around 35 pounds—healthy and very normal. I gained a few stretch marks right on the underside of my belly in the final four weeks, which was disappointing, but definitely not the end of the world. Despite my new stripes, I was still feeling lovely and totally embraced my shape.

I gave birth to Lola and immediately my belly was gone with just a little one in its place. I couldn't believe my silhouette in the mirror just hours after giving birth. My stomach wasn't all that droopy either, just a slight bulge. I was feeling good about my postpartum figure. Here I am one week postpartum.

Lola and I struggled with nursing and I was up all day and night for the first few weeks nursing and pumping. I drank lots of water and ate whatever people brought us for meals. I was in survival mode. I experienced the classic night sweats and frequent peeing throughout the first month, which was my body expelling all the extra fluid it has been holding onto. My swollen ankles, feet and fingers went back to normal and by six weeks postpartum I was feeling okay. Not normal, but maybe 75% normal. I had lost around 20 pounds (almost all of it immediately after birth) and was feeling okay about that. I assumed the remaining 15 would leave me soon, especially since I was eager to hit the pavement.

I started walking every day. Up and down hills—as many as I could find—I went. I was super motivated. I was mostly expecting the weight to simply go away on its own. The exercise was to just speed the process along and get my heart and lungs back in gear.

A few weeks pass and nothing...nothing...is changing. I started my PEPS group and many of the women were talking about how quickly their weight was falling off, a few of them even saying that they were at or below their pre-pregnancy weight. I began to question why I was working my hind-end off yet nothing was changing. I was doing the same things, if not more, as them. I was nursing my colicky baby probably 16 out of the 24 hours each day, I was busting my butt pushing the BOB up and down hills, I was heavily bouncing and rocking her to sleep 4 or 5 times a day. It made no sense. There was no evidence that anything was changing with my body.

I decided I would go back to eating vegan like I was when we got pregnant. I swore of all animal protein and roasted a huge pile of vegetables. I ate like this until Lola's next check-up. Her pediatrician, a medical doctor who runs a holistic-care pediatric clinic, was concerned about my diet. Being the incredible, educated woman that she is, she explained that I may be putting Lola at risk for a seizure by potentially letting my body become deficient in B12. She suggested I meet with the nutritionist in her clinic.

I quickly set up an appointment with the nutritionist and we got to work examining my diet. I did a week long food journal, which showed that adding more protein could be beneficial to weight loss. I honestly felt shameful sitting there talking about wanting to lose weight. I felt like I had a problem, like I wasn't the healthy person that I strive so hard to be. The appointments were much more about my weight than Lola's health. She suggested I add dairy and eggs back in, and keep fatty foods to a minimum. She was very adamant about adding protein powder into my diet, so I opted for a vegan brown rice protein powder. It all felt really weird and not true to myself, but I took her advice and implemented it.

Time passed, we bought a house, and I continued trying to lose weight through walking and eating really healthy. My spirits were really low at this point. I decided to try a drastic hair cut to change the way I looked. I liked it for a couple weeks and then felt horrible. Even worse than before. It made me feel like my puffy cheeks and oversized body were even more emphasized. I also felt really masculine.

I accepted that this was just the way things were going to be and moved forward, feeling fairly depressed, one day at a time.

Summer arrived and the proverbial cloud lifted a little. Lola was much more independent and the sun shone through our windows all day. We ate tons and tons of fresh produce from our garden and the market. I began running a little and walking consistently again. We were very active all summer long. I felt alive again.

However... sometime around six months postpartum (I'm not exactly sure), I gained more weight, about seven pounds. Nothing about my diet or activity level really changed, and Lola and I continued to nurse about the same. Pretty rapidly I gained pound over pound. I couldn't understand why this was happening. After a couple months of gaining, my weight finally plateaued and stopped rising. I felt relief that it stopped, but was angry.

Sure, I was hungry all the time and eating a lot to keep up with breastfeeding, but in my opinion that's exactly what I should have been doing. I would eat—and still do—when I was hungry (and occasionally just for fun), and wouldn't limit how much I was eating unless it was something really carb-y like homemade pizza. To keep me satiated on my extra ravenous days, I would power up on eggs and avocado over toast with hot sauce. This was an almost daily staple for me all summer.

I felt hopeless. This wasn't me in this body. I hardly recognized the person I was seeing. In my opinion, I looked old, sad and unhealthy. I couldn't do anything about it, I tried everything aside from "dieting", which we don't believe in, without success. All I could do was embrace that this was my figure for now and I needed to be okay with it. I started to genuinely pray for acceptance of my body from Jesus. My husband spoke a lot of sweet, Godly, and encouraging words to me, but they were empty to my soul.

For my birthday, my husband gave me money to buy some new clothes. He took me shopping and cheered me on. I hated it. I had no idea what size I was and everything fit weird. My belly was squishy, ribcage a ton wider, thighs much thicker, boobs huge. We went to a few stores and all I got was a load of discouragement. Nothing looked good or worked on my new figure. After a few trips out, I eventually curated a pile of new clothes. It was nice to have things that fit, even if they didn't look how I wanted them to...

I don't mean to create suspense, but considering this is only half the story, I suppose this is enough for one post. I'll be back soon with part two to this Postpartum Series post, including where I'm at now with this second pregnancy. Thanks for coming along on this journey with me.

xo and talk to you soon,

More from our Postpartum Series:
A Postpartum Series: Breastfeeding


  1. I admire your honestly. We have had a very similar post pregnancy body experience. I too just assumed everything would just melt away between breastfeeding and my always active lifestyle and good eating habits.

    When all was said and done I actually gain 54 and was only down 8 when I got home even though I birthded a 9+ pound baby! It seemed to go in stages- I'd lose a couple pounds then nothing for weeks, then lose a couple more then nothing... Then I'd quickly be up 5+ but then lose a couple again. Of course my emotions matched the roller coaster of the scale.

    I'm glad you have such a loving and supportive husband. Chris was so sweet through it all even though it was very hard for me to let myself believe his words. It really hard to not compare ourselves to other women, especially in this area (my super sweet, wonderful and best friend SIL was pregnant with me, said gained 20lbs and was back into post pregnancy pants just a week after). We are all different and the Lord made us so for a reason. Looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

    XO/Lena @ Root&Blossom

    1. It funny, because I see pictures of you and think you look awesome! Like you never had a baby. That's what's so great about talking about this stuff. I often build stories in my head that aren't even close to the truth.

      That's wild that you only lost 8 pounds immediately and Gabriel was 9! It's so strange how nursing (I think it's from nursing at least) causes our bodies to be creatures of their own. I feel like I have no control over it at all. I agree, it was and IS definitely hard not to compare myself to the other mamas like your SIL. Good for her, but all I can say is UGH.

      Thanks for sharing. xo

  2. Kelsey, I really enjoyed reading this post. I have struggled with body image in this current pregnancy and am not looking forward to how I'm going to feel after baby comes. Your words are encouraging. I love that you prayed to Jesus to help you accept your body. I need to do that as well -- instead of only finding myself worthy if/when I look a certain way. Thank you for your honesty! I look forward to reading the rest.

    1. Thanks for sharing, friend. I remember you saying that you felt that way during your pregnancy with Grant. It seems like you were able to get back in shape pretty quickly after delivering. I'm planning to try Stroller Strides after this baby is born since you had such a good experience. Nursing might still not let me lose weight, but at least I'll know I'm healthy. I'm glad you felt encouraged by these words. xo


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