I have never had the healthiest body image, and pregnancy and postpartum have definitely tested my sanity in terms of how I look and feel. During my first pregnancy, I was somewhere around 20 weeks when I “popped.” I was relieved that I passed the phase of: “Is she chubby or pregnant?” I rejoiced in my round, pregnant belly, and shied away from wearing loose flowing clothes in exchange for form fitting tops that showed off my growing bump. At 35 weeks pregnant, I posed for some prenatal yoga pregnancy photos, and as fate would have it, two nights later, I felt an extreme itchiness and discomfort on my belly skin. Despite my neurotic regimen of smearing every oil and cream on my belly, I awoke to a large circle of stretch marks and an odd wrinkledness to my skin. I knew that once my belly deflated after giving birth, there would be some weird over-stretched skin that would never bounce back. I was ready for a non-bikini belly, but I was not ready to learn that I had developed an epigastric hernia. This presented itself as a bulge from my navel to my sternum, leaving me looking about four months pregnant. I actually will need to have this fixed by a surgical procedure. It feels like just another blow to my delicate, already imbalanced body image.
These issues and experiences have encouraged me to see my physical state of being in a new way. During my first pregnancy, I had to accept a new and different body. This acceptance came easier in my second pregnancy than my first, as I learned so much from the first time around. I understood the repercussions of attempting to maintain my non-pregnant exercise and fitness regimen. As I have written in the past, I think my rigorous cycling/spinning was a factor in my difficult first labor. The repetitive movements on the bike may have caused some pelvic instability and tightness.
While I did not gain much weight during my pregnancies, and returned to my normal size relatively soon (except for my hernia), I am left feeling very different inside of my postpartum body. My joints are stiff, I don’t most as easily, and the hardest and most surprising part is that I feel weaker now than I did during pregnancy. Perhaps my body lost some physical strength after giving birth, as I was less physically active while sitting and breastfeeding.
I feel overly tired, less coordinated–I even feel a sense of loss. This feeling is especially present during my yoga classes. My yoga practice, for which I spent years honoring and shaping, has changed dramatically. But, I guess I am really learning a yogic lesson. It is not about the perfect pose, but about the impermanence of the perfect pose. Much like the impermanence of my former self and body.
Jane, one of our Mommy and Me teachers at the Prenatal Yoga Center, once said that the postnatal body is like the Hindu god Shiva–the destroyer. Shiva represents the destruction of ego and the shedding of old habits and attachment. From this destruction, comes rebirth. For the new mother, the birth of a new being. While I do struggle with my attachment to my former body, physical capabilities and ego, I am greeted each day by my greatest teachers- my children. They remind me that the “destruction” I have endured was for the privilege to grow as a person and as a mother. For this I am grateful (I am also grateful to the surgeon who will fix my hernia)!
For those who have also experienced issues with the physical and emotional changes of pregnancy and postpartum, I invite you to share your story. I believe we can all learn from one another. Thank you!
Debra Flashenberg is the founder of the Prenatal Yoga Center. She is a certified doula, Lamaze coach, midwife, and certified vinyasa yoga instructor. She is continuously in awe of the beauty and brilliance of birth and is the proud mother of baby boy Shay.