My Belly Pooch

Belly Pooch

(Not my actual belly pooch… I’m brave people, but not that brave.)

At my age, my body and I have come to a sort of reckoning. I go to Boot Camp 3x a week and push my competitive self to beat the twenty-somethings in class alongside me and this allows me to drink red wine, eat dark chocolate, and cook with butter. Because, duh! Everything’s better with butter. I’m grateful every day to have a body that’s strong. And generally speaking, I feel good about myself.

But, after four babies my belly… Well, let’s just say that my belly looks like it’s given birth to four babies. You know what I mean? If you’re still pregnant with your first, then you might not know what I mean. But, you will. That’s not me being snotty, people. This is just me being the REP = Realistic Expectations Police.

When we’re first pregnant, we have expectations that even though we’re putting on weight, that after the baby is born – poof! – it’s gone. We might also have expectations that if we nurse the hell out of our babies, that extra weight just rolls right off.

And in some ways, both of these statements have some truth.

I remember stepping on the scale soon after my first baby was born and being amazed by my rapid weight loss program – I’d lost about 20 of the 45 pounds that I’d gained almost overnight! But could you tell by looking at me? No way.

And even though I’ve never felt hungrier than when I was a nursing mother, and thoroughly enjoyed being able to snarf down everything in sight as (slowly, very slowly) the number on the scale started to creep back down, I was still wearing maternity pants for awhile after my baby was born.

But even as I started to exercise more and lost all of the “baby weight” I’d put on, my belly never looked the same. And I think this is an issue for a lot of Mommas out there. Even if you’re really fit, and wearing the same size as you did before the baby(ies) came, your body is now a different body altogether.

And why shouldn’t it be? What an amazing thing you and your body have done together!

You’ve been a co-creator of a brand new human life. You’ve expanded (emotionally, physically, spiritually) to allow this new little person to take hold, develop and thrive inside of you. You’ve sacrificed yourself in so many ways so that this next generation can be realized. You’ve given birth to your baby, either by pushing your baby down and through your vagina, or by enduring abdominal surgery.

Pregnancy and birth change women. Some of those changes remain hidden, they’re deep and internal shifts in how we now move as women through this world. But there are external changes, too. And sometimes, we’re not able to hide these very well.

Instead of trying to hide them, how can we begin to not only accept these changes, but celebrate them?

Part of this work can happen even during pregnancy. The next time you step out of the shower, towel off and find a full-length mirror and give that incredible body of yours the props that it so well deserves. Be amazed at what your body is doing to make space for your growing baby inside of you. Allow your partner’s words of appreciation for how sexy they find your changing body to sink into your psyche.

We’re so weird in this culture. We can’t wait to tell people, “I just ran my first marathon!” And are delighted to hear, “Wow! That’s incredible!” But we never even talk about the much more amazing feat of pregnancy and birth that we’ve gone through! Why aren’t we shouting from the rooftops, “Look at me! Do you have any idea how spectacular I am?!” Instead, we fret about how we look and beat ourselves up at a time when we need to celebrate all that our body is capable of.

But for the record, even I’m not immune to this stuff. No matter what my weight, I have a belly pooch now that wasn’t there before I became a Momma! And no matter how many crunches or core exercises I do, it’s never going to go away – not completely. But now I’m wanting to establish a different relationship with this belly pooch of mine. And it’s all because of a conversation my son and I had the other day:

He pulled up my shirt, hugged me, kissed my belly pooch and exclaimed – “I love your belly!”

Then, he pulled up his own shirt and said, “Look at my belly. It’s so tight and hard.”

(“Like that’s a bad thing?” I thought to myself.)

“Why do you love my belly so much?”

“Because it’s so soft, and squishy. Because it feels like a pillow when I’m hugging you. Because it’s where I slept when I was inside of you.”

I know, right? On a bad day, he’s a really sweet and cute kid, but damn. This was a response that even I had no comeback for.

And then I realized something. For the past seven years, I’ve been wishing for my body to change. I want my belly pooch to just go away already! But maybe I should try to practice what I preach.

Maybe I should try looking at my belly and instead of bemoaning all that it used to be, celebrate all that it has become.

My four babies made me the woman I am today. And I like this woman. So instead of picking her apart, reducing her to a pant size or a flat abdomen, maybe I should congratulate her and her body on a job very well done, indeed.

Embracing the ways that motherhood changes us seems a very empowering place to practice much of what we’re wanting to pass along to our babies as they grow up: self-love, kindness to ourselves and to others, acceptance of differences, appreciation of beauty in all of its forms, and recognition of hard work and effort, to name a few.

You know this parenting thing is a funny business. Sometimes you think you’re here to teach your little ones how to be in the world, and then all of a sudden the coin gets flipped and you wonder, “Which of us is the teacher here? How lucky am I to be learning from you?” And in that moment, you might realize that having a soft, squishy belly is the best thing in the whole wide world.

At least it is to one particular seven year old who has just taught you how to love purely, completely and without judgement.

Now, that’s a lesson worth learning.

Today’s Top 10 List: Ways to Support a New Family

Top 10

Top 10 List of Things YOU Can Do to Make
Our Lives as New Parents Easier

  1. Please stop by the store and pick up the following: (Provide a specific list) (Include the basics that you know you’ll go through in a week and at least one yummy treat you only buy every once in awhile as a special snack. This is not supposed to be a full shopping trip! The person spends $20 on the things you actually need and you’ll appreciate this so much more than receiving another onesie – no matter how cute it might be.)
  2. Please buy me some postpartum panties – a six-pack would be great! Color: black, size: (You might need a size up from your usual, as your body will still look and feel about six months pregnant in the early postpartum period) (This request might fall to a specific person in your life, not just someone random… You know who that special person is!)
  3. Bring us dinner! Here’s the link to our Meal Train account: (the url web address linked to your account) Please drop it off in the cooler on the front porch and leave without knocking. You can text us at this number: (cell # so you won’t have to answer the door) to let us know it’s been delivered. We will sing your culinary praises as we eat your yummy food. We so appreciate your understanding that the pressure of entertaining anyone feels overwhelming right now as we’re still getting the hang of this parenting thing.(Food is THE single greatest postpartum gift anyone could ever give you. Accept all offers until they run out!)
  4. If you can spare an hour or two in the early afternoon it would be amazing to have you come by and hold the baby so I can take a nice, long, hot shower. If you’d consider tucking me and the baby back into bed together and then folding a load of laundry before you leave? I will love you forever! (You will not believe the amount of increased laundry one eight pound little human can produce!)
  5. If you’re more of a morning person, you could come by to make me a quick and easy breakfast (not too early, please) – and then clean out my fridge. If this could happen on a (the day of the week you usually put out trash and recycling) that would be even better! (If they’re willing to take the bins to the curb for you before leaving, let them! That’s one less chore partner will have to take care of this week!)
  6. If you want to vacuum and straighten up while I sleep with the baby it would be like a dream come true for me when I wake up to a cleaner house. Thank you! (Too many Mommas clean house while the baby sleeps, instead of resting or sleeping while the baby sleeps. Having someone take care of a few housecleaning basics is a tremendous gift!)
  7. Are you an animal lover? Have we got the job for you! Come and spend some time giving our pet(s) a little extra TLC. (Pet’s name) is feeling pretty neglected right now and it’s breaking our hearts. (This is a challenge for lots of new parents, you don’t need to add “felling guilty about not taking the dog for a walk” to your new normal. Have someone else do this for you until you can figure out a new routine.)
  8. Come over and hang out with me during the most challenging part of the day (sometime between 5-10 pm). You can pretend to be (partner’s name) and help me out so that he/she can get out of the house and take a break to do something fun by him/herself or with friends. (Having some downtime is so important for BOTH Momma and partner. You will come back feeling rejuvenated for your work as a new parent.)
  9. Do you like to shop for clothes? If you’d head over to Goodwill and pick me up a couple pairs of pants in this size (pant size should 1-2 sizes up from your normal) that would be fantastic! (Mommas hate wearing maternity pants when they’re no longer pregnant, but it makes no sense to buy another whole wardrobe when your body might just need a little more time before fitting into your old clothes. Having someone pick up a few items that you can wear that have a button and a zipper – not stretch pants – helps a new Momma feel better about herself and her postpartum body.)
  10. Come over and hold our baby so we can get out of the house and do something together. It will probably be less than 2 hours (unless we check with you and the baby’s still asleep) It’s so important that we get to do something just for us. (This “date” might not be anything more than a walk around the block at 1 in the afternoon, but you must look for opportunities to connect with one another away from the baby. If for no other reason than to talk and listen to one another uninterrupted.)

Feel free to add to this list or write your own Top 10 List to hand out to friends and family so they have concrete ideas of how to help you in the postpartum period. Lots of people make offers of support – but as new parents, we either don’t know what to ask for in those first few days/weeks, or we feel badly about reaching out for help when we need it the most. Your Top 10 List helps eliminate both of these issues. Make sure to have it hanging on your fridge in the last weeks of pregnancy as well, so visitors are prepared to provide you with the specific support that you know you’ll need!

 

With a nod of appreciation to Elly Taylor for sharing this blogpost by childbirth activist, Gloria Lemay, I’ve come up with this version of the “Top 10 List of Things YOU Can Do to Make Our Lives as New Parents Easier.” It’s an attempt to encourage expectant parents to create their own list of ideas so friends and family can support them in the immediate postpartum period.

I’d planned only to create something to use in my classes, but after I’d written it out – it seemed appropriate for it to land here as well. Read it as intended: a worksheet where couples make it their own by inserting specific information in the blanks. If nothing else, I hope it’s an assist to expectant couples so they can feel more comfortable asking for help that’s practical and allows the giver to feel wonderful by completing one of these small acts of service that will be so appreciated by the receiver.

Did I miss anything? What would you add to this list? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

 

“I’m getting so fat!”

I'm Getting So Fat!

I had two class series that began this past week. Night one, we discussed anatomy and terms using a set of slides that show the changes that occur in a woman’s body from before she was pregnant to just about to pop – 37-39 weeks along. My goal is to have these Mommas walk out of the classroom that evening with a deeper appreciation and respect for their bodies and all the changes that have happened. I want them to be impressed with themselves. And, I’ll admit that I want their partners to be a little bit in awe of them.

The uterus starts out as a pelvic organ, but it’s clear to see by the end of pregnancy that while it might still originate in the pelvis, it has greatly expanded and is now shoving out of the way and applying pressure on all the other organs housed within the abdomen. Depending on how much space a woman has in her torso, the space that exists between the bottom of her ribcage and the top of her hips, greatly determines how she’ll carry her baby: tucked up and inside, or way out in front. Both situations have their drawbacks, believe it or not, as I talked about in an earlier post that you can read here.

I know that I’m fighting a bit of an uphill battle in trying to get women to feel more positive about the physical changes that are happening during pregnancy – but I’m determined to try. I’m someone who had issues with my own body image as a young woman, and sadly I’m not alone. But it was pregnancy and birth that transformed the relationship I now have with my body. 

I was a “tom-boy” as a child and I grew up thinking that at least some of the power men seemed to possess was, in due part, because of their masculinity. Until I got pregnant, that is. Then I remember thinking almost every day during pregnancy – “I’m so freaking powerful! I’m creating a brand new human being – inside of my body! And after my body opens up to birth this baby, my body will make all the food my baby needs. I am incredible. My body is amazing!”

In my youth, I wasted so much time wondering if I was carrying too much weight, or how my body looked as I tried to wear whatever fashions were the most popular, even if they weren’t the most flattering for my particular body type. I still work out and take care of my body today but my focus has completely changed. It’s not so I can be a certain size or see the “right” numbers reflected back to me from my bathroom scale. I work out so that I’ll be healthy and strong enough to keep up with my four children now, and hopefully, I’ll still be around to enjoy my grandchildren someday. This marks a huge transformation for me.

I want that same transformation to happen for the Mommas in my classes. But the issue is that too many women view their bodies negatively during pregnancy. They catch themselves in the bathroom mirror or their reflection from a store window and think to themselves, “I’m getting so fat!” Now is the time to stop berating your body and instead give it some well-deserved love and respect. Now is the time to go out in a bikini and strut your stuff – without concern of your tummy sticking out. There’s no way you could suck it in if you tried, so why not show it off instead? What I’m trying to do is switch out the negative tape that’s been playing in their heads with a positive one instead because I think all of this follows us into our births.

It’s hard to feel strong in our birthing bodies if we feel shame in our pregnant bodies.

I know this message resonates with my students because I can see partners nudging the pregnant Mommas and whispering things like, “See? What did I tell you?” Sometimes I’ll even notice a Momma whose eyes are full of tears – it just happened again this past week – and I know that I’ve obviously struck a nerve.

I’m not trying to make anyone cry, but I am trying to get them to switch out those tapes. I can’t think of anything else that we get to experience that has the possibility of such incredible transformation. Pregnancy and birth allow for both personal and relationship transformations that can forever change how you view yourself as a woman, as a mother or father, and as a couple.

And this transformation begins in how we view our bodies while still pregnant. You are not getting fat – your body is changing to create space within you for that transformation to start even before your baby is born.

How has pregnancy changed the way you feel about your body? Has this been a positive or negative change for you?

The Calm Before the Storm

Storm

Maybe you came home from the hospital or birthing center just a couple of days into this new parenting gig and thought to yourselves, “We’ve got this! There’s food in the fridge, the house is calm and peaceful, our gorgeous baby is sleeping quietly in the bassinet. What’s everyone complaining about? New parenting is a breeze!”

And then, your baby wakes up. But I don’t mean like waking up from a nap. No, I mean they wake up and they are hangry! I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced being hangry before? It’s when you are hungry and angry at the same time – and it isn’t very pretty.

But no one experiences hanger quite like a newborn when they first really wake up. Which happens for most babies, somewhere between day two and day five postpartum. Think about it – they’ve never had real hunger before this, but now they have to ask for it, and their bellies are so incredibly small that they digest their food in no time at all. After they wake up for real, any warm, fuzzy, sunny idea you might have had about parenting a newborn, turns into the cold, dark, stormy reality of actually doing it.

Coupled with your baby’s desire for food, which can seem like it’s constant, you have to deal with lots of other stuff – especially in those early days postpartum. Like a body that has changed so dramatically that you barely recognize yourself. Your pregnancy hormones are trying to regulate, which is no small task. But now you’ve also got to deal with other hormones being triggered so you can make the milk to help quiet the squalling infant that seems to be always at your breast.

Your baby starts to pee and poop – a lot. And suddenly, the pile of laundry climbs three feet higher from yesterday (how can an eight pound newborn create so much dirty laundry?) Your sleep schedules have been seriously interrupted and you find all those warm, gooey, love-feelings that you were having for your partner start to give way to a scorecard of who is doing what in terms of caring for the baby. And unless you’ve set some solid boundaries ahead of time, you’ve also got loads of spectators, I mean visitors, to watch this whole thing unravel.

I’m not painting this lovely picture to freak out anybody who is still in the “waiting to give birth” category. It’s just that I get great feedback from my former students when we get together for a reunion. The last group I met with really would have liked more information about what those first few days might really be like. I know that it’s close to impossible for them to hear about the postpartum period. When they’re in my class, their brains can only take in the answer to one very important and specific question: “How do I get the baby that is currently inside of me to come out?”

But when this group of former students talked about how different their reality was from what they expected in those first few days, and more importantly, how they didn’t know if what they were experiencing was normal, I knew I’d need to address it here as well as in my classes from now on.

Your baby will seem like a little angel at first, and they’ll be your angel again someday, I swear it. But initially, you could get duped into thinking that you’ve got the baby that everyone wished they had, only to find out that you actually have the baby that everyone warned you about!

Take heart. It’s not like this forever. You will see the sun come out again. There are many, many more blue skies in your future. But if, initially, it feels like a storm cloud has settled directly over your house I want you to know that you’re not alone. There are lots and lots of other new parents who are going through the exact same thing.

Finding them and talking about it can be a great way to get those storm clouds to blow over. I could tell at this reunion that even though their babies were months older and the storm clouds were nowhere in sight, they were better for the sharing of what those first days felt like. Knowing that you’re not alone really can help.

So another plug for educators to hold reunions. Seventeen+ years in and they still inform my teaching and what I focus on in my classroom. Also, a plug for new parents to find a support group – either one that’s attached to the hospital where you gave birth, or an independent one in your community. You’ll find great comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.

Did your experience with your newborn look like this? All sweetness and light until… How did you cope with the immediate switch between expectation and reality in those first few days postpartum?

What You Look Like on the Outside is Only Half the Story!

Kate vs Kim

What were your expectations about how you would look while pregnant? Maybe you were hoping that you’d look like Kate whose picture gets plastered on the front of magazine covers in the checkout aisle with a tiny arrow pointing out her adorable little “baby bump.” Maybe you really look more like Kim and now you’re feeling frustrated because your baby bump is neither little nor adorable! I can’t believe that I actually have something in common with Kim Kardashian, but apparently I do! We both “carry big.”

If you’re not careful, this can lead you down a path of negative thinking about your body just by virtue of how you carry the baby that’s inside of you. I want to talk about your amazing body – no matter what size it is – because what you look like on the outside does not tell the full story of all that is going on in the inside.

It’s important to change your negative thinking about this sooner than later. Stop agonizing about how “fat” you’re getting and instead start appreciating all that your body is doing to accommodate your growing and developing baby. Hopefully, this will lessen your anxiety about how you look, and more importantly, lessen your fears about not being able to give birth to “a really big baby.” These fears are only heightened when you listen to the misinformed opinions of others who make predictions of the size of your baby based on how you look on the outside! You might start to consider an induction to avoid giving birth to a baby you’re afraid won’t fit.

A thorough search of the ACOG Guidelines (American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), found no mention of suspected large baby as a medical indication for induction. In fact, in their paper “Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery” they state:

Suspected Fetal Macrosomia (Suspected Big Baby)
Cesarean delivery to avoid potential birth trauma should be limited to estimated fetal weights of at least 5,000 g (over 11 pounds) in women without diabetes and at least 4,500 g (9.9 pounds) in women with diabetes. The prevalence of birth weight of 5,000 g or more is rare, and patients should be counseled that estimates of fetal weight, particularly late in gestation, are imprecise.

If women are of normal weight pre-pregnant, the suggested range for gaining weight during pregnancy is 25-35 lbs. For underweight women, the range is slightly more, 28-40 lbs, and for women who are overweight or obese the range is less,15-25 lbs and 11-20 lbs, respectively. Many women gain outside this weight range – and I like to use myself to illustrate this point.

My husband is a testicular cancer survivor, diagnosed only 6 months after we were married. After 18 months of chemotherapy, surgeries and other treatments, we weren’t convinced we could even get pregnant. I was just finishing the gig of being his full-time caregiver when I was surprised to find out that I was pregnant! There was no established exercise regimen – at all. I ate well and eventually I did a little bit of pre-natal Yoga and some swimming, but nothing strenuous. Over the course of my first pregnancy, despite being considered normal weight going in, I gained 45 lbs.

With my second pregnancy, I was chasing after my 2 year old. Now, if you’ve ever spent a couple of hours with a toddler than you know that it’s quite the cardio workout! Again despite normal weight going in, I still ended up gaining 45 lbs.

Before getting pregnant with my 3rd child, I’d been seeing a personal trainer. After becoming pregnant, I continued to work out at the gym three times a week until I was about seven months into my pregnancy. And… I gained 45 lbs.

With my fourth and final baby, I had completed a couple of half-marathons, and had discovered Boot Camp classes! I continued to work out in my Boot Camp class three times a week until I was 36 weeks along. Guess how much weight I ended up gaining? Yep, 45 lbs!

Apparently, no matter what kind of exercise program I’m doing while pregnant, my body thinks it has to gain about 45 pounds in order to give birth to a healthy baby. But even though I was 10 years older with my 4th baby, my pregnancy, birth and recovery were all easier than any I’d had before! Why? Because I was in much better shape than I’d been with the other three. (Disclaimer: This does not mean you should start taking a Boot Camp class while pregnant! And if you haven’t yet had any exercise during this pregnancy, don’t beat yourself up about it. Walking, swimming and pre-natal Yoga are fantastic ways to prepare for the birth of this baby and all of them can be started at any point in your pregnancy. These simple and joint-gentle exercises help you build up stamina for the hard work of labor ahead – and they’ll also make you feel good now.)

So, if they’re not interested in embarrassing you every time you step on the scale at your clinic visits, why does your provider insist upon weighing you? Because they need to track your weight gain from visit to visit. If you have a significant jump in weight, or you gain very little or no weight at all, these could be indicators for your provider to check on your baby’s development. For example, if you end up not gaining enough weight, you could end up with a baby that has a very low birthweight. If you end up gaining more than what is recommended, you could be at higher risk of having high blood pressure or gestational diabetes. It is important to be mindful of your weight gain.

But I think what surprises women more than how much weight they gain, is how they actually look during pregnancy. If you’re a woman who has a longer torso in comparison to the rest of your body, then you might be able to sneak that baby up and inside of you for most of your pregnancy. You really are one of those women who has a tiny baby bump! But believe it or not, there’s a downside to this. People ask if your baby is okay, or if they’re developing properly because you “look too small to be carrying a healthy baby!” Or they just don’t believe you when you say you’re pregnant!

I had the opposite problem with all of my pregnancies. Maybe you’re like me and my BFF, Kim. I have less than a couple of finger widths between my hips and ribs. There’s very little room for my baby to hide and there’s nowhere for my baby to go but out. People always asked me, “Are you carrying twins?” or “You have how much time left?!” And while fielding these questions is annoying, those of us who “carry big” run the extra risk of buying into the idea that our babies are huge and there’s no way we’ll be able to deliver them vaginally.

You need to stop that train of thought – now. Inside of you, there are many things at work not visible to the eye that should provide a sense of relief and a solid belief that you can give birth to the baby inside of you – no matter what you look like on the outside.

When you were first seen by your provider and they performed that lengthy and uncomfortable pelvic exam, one of the things they were trying to determine is whether there were any concerns about the size and shape of your pelvic structure. If any anomalies were discovered (which would be rare) a Cesarean birth would have already been discussed. It’s safe to assume that your pelvis is just fine size and shape-wise.

But if you still find yourself catching your reflection in the mirror thinking – “How can I possibly deliver a baby this big?” or secretly measuring your partner’s head while they’re sleeping, then remember what’s happening inside your body that will help you give birth to whatever size baby you’re carrying.

There’s a hormone coursing through your bloodstream during pregnancy called relaxin. Relaxin, which is 10x more prevalent in pregnancy, has many properties, but is especially helpful for birth. Relaxin has a softening and widening effect on your cervix and it also relaxes the ligaments in your pelvis creating some “give” for when your baby is passing through during birth. In addition, your baby’s skull is made up of five bony plates that mold together as the baby’s head passes through and out your birth canal. This allows for the smallest circumference of their head to be moving through the birth canal at any one time.

The combination of your pelvis being plenty big enough to birth a baby, the hormone relaxin on board to loosen the ligaments in your pubic symphysis, your baby’s ability to mold its head to fit the space, and the addition of positions in labor that provide even more space for all the twists and turns your baby needs to make on their way out – translates to most women being perfectly capable of giving birth to whatever size baby they have within.

Toward the end of your pregnancy, many people – including your provider – might try and tell you what size baby they think you’re carrying. They might do this by palpating your belly at a prenatal visit but at best, it’s only a guestimate. Some studies show that even when an ultrasound is used to estimate fetal size, the measurement can be off by a pound or more in either direction!

I know a woman from my classes who went through an induction for a suspected large baby, and after a cascade of interventions which ultimately lead to an unexpected Cesarean delivery, she gave birth to a 7 1/2 lb baby! Not exactly the 10+ pound baby her provider guessed it would be if she went to full-term.

Try not to compare your body with other pregnant bodies that you see in the world. Understand that your uterus can expand anywhere from 50-75x it’s original size to accommodate your growing and developing baby. And even though your uterus was considered a pelvic organ before you were pregnant, once the baby gets big enough it becomes an abdominal organ. Depending on how much space you have between your hips and ribs, that baby might have nowhere else to go but out.

Now is not the time to think of your changing body as getting “fat” – this is the time to celebrate all of the amazing things your body is doing to bring a healthy baby into this world. Celebrate those changes! Find some time to give your body and your self-image some much needed TLC.

And remember, whether you’re a “Kate” or a “Kim” what your body looks like from the outside means little compared to what it is capable of doing from the inside!

Did you have a hard time with your changing body while pregnant? Did you feel “too small” or “too big?” How did you handle the comments of others, from your friends, provider or even complete strangers? Did what you looked like on the outside actually translate to you having a “big baby?”