Sunday, November 9, 2014

4th Trimester:Post Partum Body Image and Yoga

Now that I'm 3 months postpartum, I am so happy to exist beyond the pregnancy and feel at ease with how amazing it all is again to get to nourish a little being into this life.  It is nice, however, to begin feeling at least a little tiny bit like my old self again. That said, I told myself after looking back at my first postpartum experience that I wouldn't care about my pregnancy weight gain this time around. That I'm sure a year after birth, I'll look back at this time with gratitude for the experience and wonder why I ever cared. Well, that's true and all but the fact that I still have a good sized squishy belly and am still 2-3 sizes from my usual size is something that I'd say the majority of women face in the early months postpartum. 
It isn't a problem, it's simply a transition. I have the cutest, healthiest little dude a mama could ask for. I am so loving up this special time and in no rush to speed it up, but it's also nice and helpful to other mamas out there if I open up about this stuff. So in my quest to keep things relatable, and I suppose that's all relative...I am happy to share the final photoshoot (see previous post) with the brilliant Cara Brostrom from our almost year-long adventure through my pregnancy experience.

I like putting this topic out there again, as I did after I had Isak, because I hear it from my mama friends, my sisters, and my mama students. I feel it's important to talk openly, as women, about every aspect of motherhood and this whole experience. The difference now is that Instagram is around and social media in general makes it easier for all sorts of body images to be shared. I love that platform just as much as the next yoga teacher 
(ha!) so I'm not hatin' on it, just trying to keep it real. We live in a society that puts a lot of pressure on moms in general, but the pressure to slim down post-baby in our culture can be extremely offensive and annoying. Even if you don't pay attention to media, many well wishers (I'm so guilty of this as well) will comment, "You look great!" after baby comes out. It's the first thing people say maybe because it's what they think we want to hear? And hey, maybe we do look great but there's much more at work behind the newly postnatal mama. I know people mean no harm and are probably genuine in sentiment, but per usual to our trained brains in this culture, we often comment first to women on how they look. It can be enough to send a new mama into spiraling thoughts about her appearance. It's something to try and notice and try to catch yourself on. 
How about,"Congrats on bringing life into the world, you amazing creature! What can I do for you?" or "You seem so natural as a mother!"
Instead we get glances at our bellies like they should be miraculously flat again. I even had an acquaintance ask when I was only a few weeks postnatal, "are you expecting again?" Doh! To which I replied, "No, I just had the baby." The person then looked at my middle and said, "Oh, you look great!" Case in point...

Luckily, I have fantastic friends, a loving and supportive husband, and a sister going through it all at the same time that I can vent to weekly. I don't mean to perpetuate the topic, but when I see the majority of postnatal yoga images or yoga teachers showing off their advanced asanas and already toned bodies after baby on Instagram, or in books or on's evident that that standard gets out much more than the flip side. 
Well, the reality is that most new mamas take time in losing the weight and take time to build their practice again. There are only a small percentage who can continue right back into arm balances and bikini wearing after the first few months. To them, more power to ya! It might be truly who they are and I have nothing against either of those things. I've been there...just not until a good year and a half to two years postpartum. And something tells me that's more of the timeline that most yoginis (teachers or not) can relate to. For many, and perhaps myself now after a 2nd birthing, baring skin in a bikini again isn't as much on my priority list. I simply want to look as strong and radiant as I feel. That could end up taking shape in a variety of directions and I know when I eventually get to that place again, I'll be okay with wherever I end up. 

You see, I didn't overeat all the time while pregnant (of course I indulged sometimes as those cravings you hear of can be no joke). I practiced yoga throughout my pregnancy (as you've witnessed in my photo journey here on this blog). I ate nourishing, mostly vegetarian meals full of variety, nutrition and flavors. I still gained 50 pounds just as I did with my first pregnancy. This was hard because I told myself that this wouldn't happen again, plus I felt like I was even more active this time around since it was Spring and Summer, but alas the pounds piled on. (Just so you gain perspective: I am usually 120-125 lbs. on a lean 5'5" frame. I've always set exercise and nutrition as a priority, being a yoga teacher and former athlete.)
I realize now that this weight gain just might be what my body needs to grow another life. My midwives continued not to care because I start out small and super fit and remained a different version of fit and healthy with no risks throughout my experience. My belly grew out to a huge status this second time that brought on lots of comments from passers by. I struggled throughout the pregnancy (again) with this new body but constantly tried to remind myself of the power and beauty I had because I WAS strong and I WAS beautiful, even as the body shifted again with another new human growing from it. Each passing day I vowed to love being big and probably the highest expression of what it means to be in one's feminine power! Heck, I even led a retreat in late 3rd trimester and modeled for a Prenatal yoga book! And I had a most beautiful birth. 

Now that the baby is out, however, I look into my eyes in the mirror and genuinely smile in love toward myself, yet try not to cringe at the rest of me while I continue day by day in the prickly transition of this very strange current body. This is very different than simply gaining weight. I mean, I grew a human! Gaining weight is part of the process. So I should be easy on myself. And trust me, I am many days. It's more that once the baby comes out, it's so different than having the baby attached as a part of your body. You've just gone through this incredibly profound experience and yet now all of a sudden physically you feel so far from yourself. People no longer comment on how you "glow" anymore. You look in the mirror and you see a tired woman who is still healing on every realm from the experience of birth. You put pressure on yourself about the added weight, even though you know you shouldn't. You don't feel even remotely sexy (that comes back, yes, but not right away), and you have absolutely nothing to wear. So for me, doing something for myself (like getting a haircut, or buying some new clothes and accessories) goes a long way. It varies for each new mama and definitely helps...but if the self-love doesn't come from within, then what good are those temporary things? This is where your mama tribe of friends (either online or in person) comes in. You know, the ones who are reading this and it resonates with them. It helps to have outlets of other goddess mamas to relate to. 

This second time postpartum I feel has been even harder for me body image-wise even though I knew what to expect. I lose the first 20 pounds within the first month. It's the next 25-30 that hang on for another few months to a year and slowly start to come off as I continue to breastfeed and get back into a regular routine of yoga, walking and exercise. 
My belly got even more stretched, so the loose skin is more prevalent in my middle than after the first time giving birth, and though I can hold a strong plank, my core has a long way to go before it's toned. My hips and thighs are probably the biggest they've ever been from this experience. It's so strange to see myself in this new way in photos and in the mirror. I feel strong and able and I feel beautiful but can only hope that some resemblance of "me" will arrive in the months to come. I'm happy to have all that I I said earlier, which is all that matters.  I'm just so grateful to have another healthy baby. And so, isn't this part of our lifelong practice as yoginis, or just as humans? Letting go of the potential outcomes. Being ourselves. Finding beauty in every moment. Embracing imperfection, transitions, and all of the lessons put in front of us. This is all part of the work and I've been in the thick of it this autumn. The feelings are the same cycle I went through after having Isak, so I remember and breathe them out. Who cares if it will probably take longer this time around to shed the weight (not just physical) of the pregnancy? 
Plus, I exclusively breastfeed, and though it's different for every woman, apparently it's actually better to lose the weight slower because then your toxic load (which we all have from environmental exposure...even if you pay attention to what you put in/on your body) isn't dumped as fast into your milk, and the baby will hopefully steer clear of that junk a little longer.
*Please do read, Breasts: a natural and unnatural history by Florence Williams!

It takes at least the whole first month to 2 months to heal from the birth, and even more than that to find a rhythm with the breastfeeding (if you choose to do so). When you're a completely new mama, you might be overwhelmed with it all and exhausted. And when you already have another child, there's not a whole lot of other time to spend on oneself as the mama. You have to be really good at managing the time for self care (instead of cleaning or accepting every playdate) or good at delegating duties to your partner or family. This takes time to figure out, but once you do, it will be a game changer. I've been trying hard to carve out some yoga time for myself every week. Some weeks I've been getting in 3 or more (short) practices, and others just 1-2. But every day I do at least a down dog or other basic poses that will stretch out my overtired upper back and shoulders and find length from all the holding and feedings of the day. The pose I miss the most is perhaps I have to get better at starting with that?
Really, all new mamas would probably benefit most from just doing savasana or a meditation every day instead of worrying about exercise or other practice. This is what I find I truly need, but of course there's the urge to want to move your body again! And start losing weight to feel great in your own skin again. At times I find myself overdoing it in that need to want to feel that resemblance of me, but then surrender I do. Luckily I know myself well enough now to just sit with my breath in some yin or restorative postures those times I really need it instead of busting out another vinyasa. More importantly, when I step on my yoga mat, I feel the same me as always. In my heart space, in the poses, in the breath, I am me and always will be, no matter the size or shape. I'm looking forward to continuing the task of simply treating my body with love and respect and embracing what that holds.

Me and baby Gus at 8 weeks post-birth, photo by Cara Brostrom

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Postnatal Yoga Photo Journey

Here I am around 2 months after birthing my sweet Gus. I'm in my home practice space where he and I share interrupted yoga time together of on/off nursing, giggle and smiling breaks, walking around the room breaks...before I get too hungry or tired and then the practice is done for the day.
Soon enough, he won't be so teeny or nursing as much, and this stage will be gone. I'll love getting out to class more often (or at all), and the regular nap schedule (so one can hope) will mean a longer home practice. But this moment in time is one that provides such deep connection and brings a humbling aspect to humanity. I am so very lucky to get to be at home with him and experience it.
To all of you 4th trimester mamas out there (whether now, in the recent past, or still to come), be as loving as you can to yourself now. Know that time brings healing, newfound confidence again, and much more wisdom than you ever thought you'd have.

All photos copyright Cara Brostrom Photography. Thank you Cara for your unending support, friendship, and art as a fellow yogini mama. I am forever grateful.

My 3 year old provides welcome interruption for a hug and hello

Mom and Baby Yoga time

Nursing break!

Shirt by my friend An Li and pants from Be Present