It’s 7:47 a.m. on a Saturday morning and I’m hustling to get a spot in my very popular 8 a.m. step class. The usual crowd is made up of mostly women in their mid- to late-30s through their early 50s. However, this morning I find myself striding through the doors of my upscale suburban gym behind two young, first-time moms. Here’s what I overhear:
“You look amazing. You’re so thin,” says Mom #1 to Mom #2. Both are carrying very adorable children under a year old.
Mom #2 grimaces. “Oh, no. I’m still a few pounds heavier than I was before Charlie.”
I look at this woman. She is, without question, thin. As a body conscious mom of three, life-long exerciser and current Jawbone UP addict, I think I’m a decent judge on this score.
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” says Mom #1. “I still can’t run as many miles as I used to before Chloe and it’s so hard to keep the weight off. I just don’t want to give up my wine.”
You go girl. Do not give up the wine. Meanwhile, this woman is even skinnier than her friend.
I get it. After the initial shock of bringing home baby fades and you’ve settled into the whole motherhood thing, you turn your laser beam focus on “getting your body back.” Somehow, even though we know that life will never be the same, we expect our bodies to be.
I watch the women head towards childcare, knowing exactly how they feel. Here’s what I want to tell them:
1. You will never look the same again. Your body has changed. Forever. Even if you get back to your pre-baby weight, those pounds will be in all kinds of different places. The terrain has shifted and stretched, drooped in the most inconvenient spots and plumped up in others. For me, some bits feel worse than others: the way the bottom of my bum hangs out of my bathing suit; the new fold of skin at my knees from carrying all that extra weight for nine months (times three); my sagging belly button. Other parts emerge more beautiful than they were before: the curve of a hip; more pronounced cheekbones; lush, hormone-infused hair.
2. Your body will not function like it once did. Not only is the way your body looks irrevocably changed, but the way it works is too. I probably won’t ever be able to run five miles again without feeling that painful tweak in my right hip. A totally flat belly may be a thing of the past, no matter how many reverse curls I do in a day. I can’t do jumping jacks without squirting pee. Holding plank without pooching out my belly or hunching up my shoulders is forever a goal. Two and a half years after my third daughter arrived, I’m still figuring out what works and trying to let go of what doesn’t.
3. Instead, your body will do amazing things you never dreamed it could do. Your body will not fail you as you get up for the fourth time in the middle of the night to feed a hungry baby. You will be able to hold an infant or a 1-year-old or a toddler for ridiculously long periods of time — cuddling, soothing, shushing — and your biceps will grow strong and defined from it. Your core will tighten and hold you firmly in place as you lift your child from the crib or catch her as she jumps from the bed into your arms. I didn’t know how fast I could sprint until my toddler slipped from my grip and darted towards the parking lot. You will surprise yourself. Marvel over what you are capable of with this new mama body.
4. Beauty is where you find it. The talk about post-pregnancy beauty is relentless. We get it: yes, our bodies have sagged and crinkled and jellied and no, that doesn’t mean we’re suddenly ugly, but we each catalogue those changes with varying degrees of self-acceptance. Our body-obsessed culture doesn’t help prepare us for our newly hewn post-baby bodies or feel good about them. The challenge is to blow all of that off and realize it’s not just our bodies that have changed. The way we view the world is different too. Beauty abounds in the most unexpected places, making the minor and mundane suddenly magnificent. I remember looking at my daughter’s impossibly long eyelashes as she slept thinking they were the most gorgeous things I’d ever seen. And who hasn’t called their new baby’s poop beautiful? The trick is to include yourself in this expanded version of beauty: the soft lines around your eyes, whether from smiling or lack of sleep, make you more interesting. Your rarely used singing voice now sounds sublime as you soothe your child to sleep. And that rounder booty? It’s hot. Period.
These are the truths about my post-baby body. Realistically, I still struggle over accepting the body I’m in and what it can and cannot do. I won’t deny being jealous of celebrity moms with their trainers and ready-made, low-calorie meals. I’m not psyched about my incredible shrinking bladder, my forever-sore lower back and the fact that I own a pair of Spanx.
Still, there’s no going back, so why waste time feeling bad about it? The choice that makes the most sense sanity-wise is to champion the mama body I’ve got and never, ever give up the wine.
This piece was published in partnership with HuffPost Parents. Read more: A Polite Request For All The Second-Time Moms I Meet.