I was prepared for the fact that I would still look several months pregnant when I left the hospital after having my baby. And I had been lucky enough to love the way my pregnant body looked. But I was unprepared for how I would feel about my body as it has healed postpartum.
You hear it all the time, the juxtaposition of the latest celebrity to “bounce back” quickly after pregnancy with the admonishment “it took nine months to put the weight on, so don’t expect to lose it quickly.” As someone who has struggled with disordered eating, I knew that basing my body image on external standards was a trap. But this wasn’t external standards. Looking in the mirror at my soft belly and breasts, punctuated with a linea nigra that is still as dark as it was the day I went into the hospital, I didn’t look like myself. And after an unplanned c-section and five long weeks spent laying in bed or on the couch, I didn’t feel like myself.
My Postpartum Yoga Practice
I’ve practiced yoga for twenty years, been a moderate-distance runner for over ten years, and have always been a generally active person. Though I noticed the effects pregnancy had on my yoga practice and exercise routines, I was able to keep up regular activity for the entirety of my nearly-42-week pregnancy. When I started going for long walks again five weeks after my surgery, I thought I was finally going to be able to go back to my old routines.
I waited until after my six-week checkup, and got my doctor’s blessing to return to my yoga practice. The following Monday, I decided to do my practice while my son napped. From the first moment of that practice, when I folded forward into a standing forward bend, I could feel the difference in my body. I only made it ten minutes that first time back on the mat.
I didn’t look like myself and I didn’t feel like myself. For the first time, I felt like pregnancy had taken something from me. I didn’t do yoga again for weeks. I did go for walks with my son in a sling, and I did three weeks of strength workouts from a trainer on Instagram. But my yoga mat stayed rolled up and hidden in a corner, a testament to how I avoided facing the fact that I once again didn’t like this body I now had.
Picking up the Mat Again with My Postpartum Yoga Practice
The first day of March, just over two months from my son’s birth, I decided to roll out my mat again. I came to the mat without expectation, and instead of “doing my practice,” I sat for a while and listened to what my body wanted. And then, I moved. I practiced for twenty minutes that day, and as I finished that practice, I made a deal that I would come back to the mat every day, not to judge, but to practice with the body I had.
Yoga has been a constant companion in my life since I first started practicing as a teenager. Through the years, I’ve practiced many styles, some gentle and restorative, and some so vigorous you need a towel to mop up during the class. But through it all, I’ve connected to the meditative purpose of yoga: to move the body in order to still the mind. And part of stilling the mind is allowing it to exist in the present moment, rather than imagining the future or wishing for the past.
So when I practice yoga now, I don’t grumble at the fact that I do cobra pose instead of upward-facing dog during my sun salutations, or that some days my practice doesn’t include any standing poses at all. I simply listen to what my body needs and appreciate the practice for what it is on any given day. In return, I may not be back to my former level of strength or flexibility, but the practice is satisfying on a deeper level, giving me a small break during the day to rest and accept.
And by resting and accepting for those 20-30 minutes each day, I’ve made peace with my postpartum body so far. I know intellectually that my body doesn’t look any different than it did less than a month ago. I probably haven’t lost any pounds. But I feel differently when I look in the mirror. Instead of seeing the softness and the difference, I see me. I see that I never needed to get my body back, because it never left me.
Guest Post from Jenn
Born and raised in the DC area, Jenn lives in Prince George’s County with her husband Dan, and their son Elliot, whom they welcomed into their family in December 2018, and their cat Sophie. Jenn spends most of her time trying to figure out this mom thing for the first time and writes about her experiences with pregnancy and postpartum life, especially focusing on issues surrounding body image, pregnancy after loss, and mental and physical healing. She enjoys her daily yoga practice, walking outside, and a nice cup of tea. You can keep up with her motherhood journey at her personal blog ceci n’est pas un mommy blog or on Instagram @cecinestpasunmommyblog.