These were the words of encouragement (okay, commands) I gave to my significant partner before our first time having sex in the three months since I'd given birth to our daughter.
These were the words of encouragement (okay, commands) I gave to my significant partner before our first time having sex in the three months since I'd given birth to our daughter. Talk about a pre-sex buzzkill, right?
In response, my ever-supportive partner remained calm. “It feels the same,” he said as soon as he was inside me.
He’s right, I thought. Then, No he’s not!!! He can’t be!!!
Physically, my doctor had reassured me that I was fit for sex, but psychologically I was a wreck. I was terrified that things would be permanently different ~down there~ or that I wouldn't be able to experience pleasure like before.
Most of all, I was extremely aware of the extra pounds I was still carrying on my hips, thighs, and butt. I didn't want anyone, even my loving, sweet partner, to accidentally graze my mushy tummy or my engorged breasts.
The brutal truth: Twelve weeks after pushing a tiny human out of my vagina, I still didn't feel quite like myself.
When I first found out that I was pregnant, I assumed I’d be one of those women who lovesbeing pregnant. I imagined pulling a Demi Moore and posing naked for my partner every few weeks or so, clutching my belly with one arm and hugging my breasts with the other so he could capture every glorious stage of my natural transformation.
After all, I had always been super confident about my body. Sure, I had my insecurities like any other human woman, but for the most part I was comfortable and happy with my willowy figure. In my twenties, I had been the person who'd take their clothes off first during hookups, or would be the one to suggest late night skinny-dipping.
But as soon as I started to gain weight during the first trimester, every uptick in the number on the scale unnerved me. Rather than celebrating the “miracle of life,” I found myself lamenting every bit of bulge that appeared on my butt, breasts, and belly. Even my upper arms seemed thicker. I felt wider everywhere-from ankles to neck-maybe because I was imagining it, or maybe because I was retaining that much water. My naked body looked foreign and unfamiliar.
Throughout, my partner was reassuring. “Do you realize how hot you are?” he’d say whenever he caught me naked. He looked at me longingly like he always had, and seemed genuinely turned on by my expanding form (especially my plumped-up chest and ass). Strangers were kind as well, often going out of their way to note how I “carried well,” or appeared to be “glowing.”
Still, I couldn’t see myself the way they did. By the second trimester, I dreaded getting dressed each morning because nothing seemed to fit. I sometimes recoiled from my S.O.'s touch. I avoided mirrors. Try as I might, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d lost something-that I was no longer as attractive because of how my body had changed.
Obviously, weight gain is normal (and necessary) during pregnancy. But I couldn't get my brain to accept that. I obsessively looked up info online about the dangers of gestational weight gain to a mother's and a baby's health-hypertension, gestational diabetes, delivery complications. Even after testing negative for gestational diabetes, I worried about every additional pound.
I’d be lying if I said I was mainly concerned about health risks. Mostly, I just hated the way I looked-and I wasn’t used to feeling that way about my body.
I tried to figure out what "normal" was, and sent frantic texts to friends asking them how much weight they’d gained during pregnancy. But the responses didn't help me much in my panic. One friend reported gaining 40 pounds during her first pregnancy, but only 17 during her second. Another friend gained 32 pounds by week 24, but barely gained in the weeks thereafter. Yet another gained 65 pounds, but lost it all somehow within two months postpartum.
The information I gathered confirmed one thing: That every body, and every pregnancy, is different.
One morning, 30 weeks into my pregnancy, I found myself standing in front of a full-length mirror, scrutinizing every inch of my third trimester figure. The reflection I saw in the mirror looked nothing like that person I was, the person who used to be so eager to get naked.
In that moment, what I loathed even more than the sight of my body was the self-conscious woman staring back at me. You are about to be the mother of a daughter, I reminded myself. If you want her to have a healthy body image, you’re going to have to do something about your own f*cked-up attitude. You’re going to have to rewire your brain, because thinness should not equal confidence.
That morning, I pledged to be kinder to myself. I wanted to be a mom who accepted herself at any weight. Who felt good about herself for reasons that had nothing to do with her appearance. Who would not be a hypocrite when she told her daughter to love herself for her heart, her mind, and her character.
I hid the household scale in the back of a closet and forced myself to compliment my own reflection. “You are smart,” I told myself. “Stop being so hard on yourself.” During sex, I tried my best to shelve every toxic thought that popped into my head. Slowly but surely, I re-learned how to enjoy myself in bed.
And slowly but surely, it helped. By the time my due date arrived, I was sending my partner hilarious nude selfies so we could marvel together at my metamorphosis. I had to admit: The female body is truly capable of magnificent things.
Of course, developing an authentic sense of body confidence is an ongoing process. After giving birth, I faced a new set of hurdles that impacted my sense of self. I became preoccupied by how long it would take to shed the baby weight, and how weird sex would feel after the vaginal trauma that is pushing a pumpkin-sized baby out of a canal more suited to cucumbers.
It's a process-and it's something I'm still dealing with (in case you couldn't tell by the first-time post-baby sex story). The difference is that now my daughter is here with me, in the outside world. Every time I hold her in my arms, I’m reminded of just how important it is to lead by example.
If I want my daughter to be comfortable in her skin, I have to keep working toward being comfortable in mine. I have to keep being kind to myself, reminding myself that I am more than my weight or my body shape. I have to learn to feel like myself, no matter what the scale says.
I'm doing it for both of us.
Mélanie Berliet is the Chief Editorial Director of Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog. You can follow her on Instagram or Facebook.