This is my son’s belly. He is very proud of it. He is also proud of his poo and pee. He lives in a shame free land (so far). I will protect him from shame for as long as I can. He is in Erikson’s “Shame vs Doubt” stage exploring the question “Is it ok to be me?” He happily runs around, showing off his belly, exploring this question. I will fiercely fight for him to hold onto the truth that lives in his belly that it is not only ok but ESSENTIAL that he be himself.
I remember 15 years ago very early in my eating disorder recovery thinking in the midst of horrible body image distress “My belly is so fat- it looks like it is pregnant!” It wasn’t pregnant- it was full of shame, anger and unexpressed emotions. It was FAT: Feeling Are Thick. It was also nowhere near the size of a pregnant belly, having lived the reality, I now know. If I were to talk to my younger self now, I would say, with great compassion and fierceness, “Honey, you are nowhere near to having a pregnant belly. You want to see a pregnant belly? HERE. Now. What is in there that needs to be birthed and expressed? Get it out because it is not only ok but ESSENTIAL to your recovery and your life that you be yourself.” My older self has learned that. And my belly is now (mostly) free from shame and anger having receivied many apology letters for how I abused it and having been listened to much more frequently over the past decade and a half.
I’m not going to say it wasn’t difficult with body image postpartum (see “Dear New Mama” and “Does being a Mommy make me look fat?” previous posts). However, I AM proud of my Mama belly. I grew a child in there. Yes, my belly looks different in a bathing suit because I GREW A CHILD in there. Wow. That is pretty miraculous. Thank you belly.
A friend of mine sent me this video postpartum. It is well worth watching the celebration of a woman’s body and belly.
You can trust yourself. It may seem like the other mothers and “experts” have it all figured out: how to latch baby perfectly onto their breast as soon as baby pops out of the womb, how to have baby sleeping through the night by three days, be on a schedule, have baby gaining the right amount of weight and mama is losing the right amount of weight, never struggle with postpartum depression or wanting to say “F*ck this new mother hood thing! I’m going to Hawaii.”
You can trust your Mama intuition. It is in there, in your heart and belly. You can listen to, grow, and trust that intuition. You DO know and you DO have that intuition light inside. Trust yourself. Listen to that quiet whisper of knowing. You can trust yourself, you can trust that light.
Dear New Mama,
It’s harder than anyone told you it would be, but it will get better. You will feel like the bottom dropped out of your body, you can’t feel your stomach, and it looks like a deflated balloon. You will feel tired, more than tired, bone weary exhausted. You are in Mommy boot camp. There is nothing wrong with you. You are a Good Enough Mama.
It might not get easier in the way that you think or would like, but it will. It will get easier, it will get different, it will get better.
Common sense disclaimer: this blog is not intended to diagnose or treat Postpartum Depression (PPD). For a list of resource referrals for PPD screening and treatment, see end of blog.
Recently, I attended a talk at a well-known research university and teaching hospital in San Francisco on the maternal brain. I was so excited to learn more about how the brain is affected during pregnancy and postpartum for mothers, especially as it affects women in recovery, women who struggle with Postpartum Depression (PPD), and their bonds with their children, I excitedly prepared to meet other clinicians and mommies working with mommies and their postpartum brains.
To Read the full article, go here: http://psychedinsanfrancisco.com/?s=postpartum+depression
If you have PPD or if you are in exhausted new Mommy boot camp, consider that your vulnerability is actually your greatest gift. Consider that the emptiness is the way out, because the way out is through.
National Postpartum Depression Hotline: 1-800-PPD-MOMS
Suicide Prevention & Crisis Hotline (415) 499-1100 It is important for women who might be experiencing suicidal thoughts/ideas/plans to call this number.
Postpartum Support International to provide resources in your area:
TALK Line Parental stress, child abuse prevention, emergency respite care, single parent network, parents’ group, crisis counseling, substance abuse services and ongoing therapy. (415) 441-KIDS (5437) TALK www.talklineforparents.org/
GoldenGate Mother’s Group therapist referrals and resources:
Postpartum Stress Center:
Linda Shanti McCabe holds a doctorate in Clinical Psychology and works with women (including pre and postpartum) recovering from food, weight, and body image issues. She holds SoulCollage® groups for women (including pregnant and postpartum) using expressive arts to find and express the many parts of the Self. You can find her at: WWW.DrLindaShanti.com