‘You’re HUGE!’ I looked pregnant for MONTHS.’: Mom details postpartum life, ‘We hold ourselves to RIDICULOUS standards’

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“I had a lot of assumptions about being a mom before I actually became one. I wanted to conceive quickly and easily. I never figured it would be a problem for us, as we were both young, healthy, and active. Instead, it took two years, surgery, and many failed pregnancy tests. We spent time with a fertility specialist, and the surgery I had confirmed endometriosis, something I’d spent most of my life with undiagnosed. Waking up to a surgeon showing me pictures of my ovaries was shocking. I remember the tears falling down my face and feeling sick at the sight of these pictures. I almost fainted. My husband was incredible, he slept in a chair by my bed until the nurses finally sent him home, reassuring him I would be fine. He felt so guilty and helpless. Having surgery and finding out I had endometriosis was finally some clarity in this infertility journey we’d been handed.

Courtesy of Hannah Findlay

Post-surgery, I quickly moved to a plant-based diet and reduced all inflammatory products, such as coffee, meat, and dairy. It was so hard but so worth it, as I was able to assist my body’s healing with nutrition, and within three months we found out we were pregnant. It was weird; we stopped taking pregnancy tests because they became so hard and demoralizing month after month, but after realizing I was late for my period, we luckily found a spare one at home. We’d not long moved houses, so it was a miracle to even find the lone pregnancy test amongst all the boxes. I still remember walking out of the bathroom into my husband’s arms, tears streaming down my face—he knew instantly we were finally pregnant. A beautiful life moment together we will never ever forget.

I wanted a fit, active pregnancy. I wanted the glow, the cute bump, the beautiful maternity shoot. Having been a fitness instructor prior to pregnancy, I assumed my body would ‘handle pregnancy’ and I’d be one of those ‘fit moms.’ Instead, I could barely walk, gained nearly 66 pounds, and couldn’t face a camera without seeing the worst in me instead of the life I was creating. My mindset became really negative due to not being able to move like I was used to, and I hated to see my body change. The physical toll pregnancy took on my body took me by surprise. I had always prided myself on being able to push my limits physically, yet here I was struggling to move through back and pelvic pain. I was constantly asked, ‘Are you having twins? You’re HUGE!’ The physical toll was hard, but the comments hurt just as much. It blew me away how easily people commented on my body, like I was no longer a person with feelings.

Courtesy of Hannah Findlay

It wasn’t until months later postpartum when I could look back and see the incredible beauty and miracle that was my body. It took me a long time to get to this place, which wasn’t helped by the many times I was asked by strangers when I was expecting. The ab separation I had also took a long time to heal, and consequently I looked pregnant for months after giving birth. I wanted a natural, drug-free birth in a pool at a birthing center. My midwife said, ‘I see no reason not to give birth without complications, at this center.’ I prepared with a calm birth course, meditations, and positive affirmations. Instead, I was induced in a hospital and my baby was assisted out with episiotomy and forceps. This was a direct result of being diagnosed at 36 weeks with gestational diabetes, and the doctors intervening as they were worried about how big my baby was getting.

Turns out she was 9 lbs 1 oz. She was beautiful and perfect. Having such a late diagnosis of diabetes meant my natural birth suddenly became medical and I had to be monitored throughout. This was not how I wanted it to happen. I distinctly remember being prepped for the OR and the doctor saying, ‘We are going to give you one opportunity to push, and if the baby doesn’t come out you will need an emergency C-section.’ I was in so much shock, my body would not stop shaking. I remember them saying, ‘Time to push,’ and even though I could feel nothing from my waist down, I pushed so hard and instantly heard the room full of doctors, nurses, surgeons, and medical staff clap and cheer as my baby was born. I was so grateful she was able to be born without surgery at the time, but as the elation of birth and meeting my daughter gradually wore off, I became sad and angry the birth I dreamed of was taken from me.

Courtesy of Hannah Findlay

My diabetes went away after pregnancy, and it’s my hope with the right diet and movement I will be able to avoid it a second time and have the natural birth I’d always wanted. I wanted to exclusively breastfeed for as long as I could, because all I’d heard was ‘breast is best.’ It never dawned on me it might be hard and might not work out. I exclusively bottle fed from eight weeks and felt like a failure for months. Recurrent mastitis hospitalized me three times, and by the third time I had reached my limit of drugs, lactation consultants, and breastfeeding advice. I pumped exclusively, and then moved to formula and didn’t look back. My baby thrived; we have a beautiful bond, but I still hope to breastfeed my next baby. If I can’t, I won’t let myself feel guilty or like a failure again.

As I look back now, I see just how anxious, depressed, and alone I felt during this time, despite the amazing support around me. My husband woke up every night and sat with me while I breastfed in excruciating pain and through tears. He even stayed in the hospital with me while I was attached to a drip for three days. As hard as it was, he spent a lot of extra hours with our daughter, which he still looks back on as special, even though it ended as a challenging experience for us. They still have an amazing bond to this day. I wanted to bounce back and resume my fitness career within three months of birth. I naively thought pregnancy and birth would be easy to recover from because I’d been so fit and healthy prior. Instead my bladder prolapsed, and I still can’t run or jump without consequence and risk.

Courtesy of Hannah Findlay

Post-birth complications hit me hard. Ab separation and pelvic organ prolapse meant it was eleven months before I could get back to my classes, and I am still limited in what I can do physically, but emotionally I have grown through the process of learning about my body and am beginning to trust it again after feeling like it let me down. Initially, the diagnosis of a bladder prolapse daunted me and left me incredibly low. I felt like all the things I loved to do, like running, aerobics, lifting weights, riding bikes, even in the future running around with my kids, would be something I’d never do. The heaviness and physical symptoms of the prolapse took a long time to improve, and reminded me daily my body had ‘failed.’ It wasn’t until I realized if I didn’t change my mindset around this, my future would be filled with things I couldn’t do rather than things I could.

Courtesy of Hannah Findlay

I started to focus on pelvic floor rehab and small goals to improve my prolapse. As my body strengthened and began to repair itself, I started to feel so much better. I began sharing my journey online and found a whole community of women who wanted to bring awareness to these types of post-birth complications. The silver lining of it all is a greater respect and knowledge of my body, and a passion for helping other women prioritize their health. I wanted to look like I’d never had a baby and retain the body I was so attached to, but still never loved completely. I was so upset to see my body change, I loved watching my bump grow but not the rest of my body. It was hard mentally to want to retain a fit body but have no control over what was happening.

So instead, I was stretched and scarred, and the creams never worked. Basically, my body will never be the same. It has taken me months to love my postpartum body and stretch marks, but I still have days where I struggle. However, I know I would pick this new body over my old one every single time, just to meet my daughter again. I am now so proud of this body and all it has done for me. I wear what I want to wear, I take photos of myself, I actively catch the mean thoughts before they become a conversation in my head, and even though I still struggle with the stretch marks and my changed shape, I am the happiest I have ever been in my body.

Courtesy of Hannah Findlay

I wanted to make all our baby food from scratch and give her only the best. After months of making homemade food and seeing it thrown on the floor or refused, I lost the enthusiasm. Now I regularly buy pre-made baby food, but only organic, ha. And once my daughter turned one, she started to eat solids more regularly and finally started to enjoy my homemade cooking. I wanted a nursery that was Pinterest worthy, toys made only of wood, and clothes only of natural fibers, because that’s all I’d ever seen on social media. I felt immense pressure for it to be perfect and styled. Instead, I just finished her nursery and she plays with the dog bowl more than her toys, wears hand-me-downs and homemade knits, and none of it matters to her (or me). Her nursery is filled with fun vintage finds because I love thrift shopping. She has lots of homemade gifts, hand-me-downs, and love, and it’s perfect.

Courtesy of Hannah Findlay

I wanted to be a mom of more than one. I wanted a large family with around three or four kids. Instead, I’m too scared of what’s happened to my body to even contemplate the thought of doing it again. I have days where I can imagine adding to our family and as more time goes by, I will be ready to relinquish my body to the beautiful surrender and sacrifice of pregnancy and birth again. I know my husband and I will add to our family one day, but only once I am physically ready. Even my husband is nervous to see me go through this again, but encourages me to keep trusting in my body and my newfound appreciation for its strength and resilience.

Courtesy of Hannah Findlay

I wanted to go back to work but also be there for my baby. I was brought up by my mom at home until I was five, and I wanted the same for my daughter. I didn’t realize the pull of a career would make this decision so hard. I never realized how hard it would actually be. I feel for all the moms who don’t have the choice or the support. I wanted beautiful self-portraits of my motherhood journey to share and inspire, like the other beautiful moms I’d seen online. Instead, I wore my farm boots and sat on a chair in the middle of our paddock to remind myself of the ridiculous standards we hold ourselves to. Real is more inspiring than perfect.

I visualized motherhood in so many ways other than how it played out. All I really wanted was the daughter of my dreams and now I have her. As I hold her and watch her grow each day, my heart and soul growing with her, I realize despite everything that happened, I’d do it all again for her. Her love was all that ever truly mattered.”

Courtesy of Hannah Findlay

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Hannah Findlay of New Zealand. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories like this:

‘Pregnant at 18, I heard, ‘You’re young, you’ll bounce back!’ It became etched in my mind. Stretch marks and loose skin? BAD.’: Mom learns to cherish postpartum body, ‘This body is my home’

‘I have stretch marks, saggy skin, a weird fat fold around my C-section scar. I don’t really love myself. This has to stop.’: Mom insists weight does not define us, cannot keep letting ‘my imperfections consume me’

‘I had a panic attack before I posted it. My body has fat, it has rolls, it’s got stretch marks from before my pregnancy. But that doesn’t make it any less postpartum.’

‘Ewww put that away. I’ll never get stretchmarks like that when I’m pregnant.’ It was such a personal attack – feelings of shame and disgust had me cringing at my husband’s touch.’

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