Category Archives: postbaby body

A Letter To My Belly

 

Dear Belly,

Every morning my little one pulls up my shirt, kisses you, and says, “I came from there!” You are fleshy now, stretched. I feel warmth and softness when I touch you. Mother. You hang over my jeans a bit. My sagging muffin top. I try not to mentally airbrush you out of pictures- the little traces of shame that still linger, the empire cut shirts, even though I haven’t been pregnant for five years.

Twenty years ago disgust for you filled my world. And crushed my spirit. All the self-loathing, anger, fear and shame were stuffed into you. I’m sorry. So many apology letters written to you in those first years of eating disorder recovery. But I did grow to accept you! And fed you. And then you created an amazing child! (Ok it was my womb, but you are the flesh that stretched to accommodate). You grew and stretched beyond what I thought was possible

Belly, I’m sorry that there are so many images in the world that don’t look like you. I know those images make you feel unloved, disgusting, flabby. I’m sorry those images make you feel wrong.

Those images tell you all kinds of crazy sh*t:

“Be smaller! Be flatter! Do this to be loved! Be big and full of yourself until age seven and then be flat and hungry. But don’t feel hungry! Just look thin! Don’t get angry! Hide your intuition. Don’t listen to it. Be attractive by not being yourself! Don’t get stretched. If you get stretched, get sucked and stitched back in.”

I just want you to know, Belly, they’re wrong, those messages. Contrary to what the images tell you, there is nothing wrong with you. Let me say it again as you have received those other brutal messages so many times.

Belly, there is nothing wrong with you.

Get your (skinny jean) skeletons OUT of the closet

“It is true that there are skeletons hiding in our closet, but

there is treasure hiding there, too.” -Teal Swan

Since this month’s theme is CLARITY, I have gone through my closet again. Ugh. De-cluttering. But Wait! Don’t stop reading! As Marie Kondo says in The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,

Putting your house in order is fun! The process of assessing how you feel about the things you own, identifying those that have fulfilled their purpose, expressing gratitude, and bidding them farewell, is really about examining your inner self, a rite of passage to a new life.

Though I let go of my “skinny ED (Eating Disorder)” clothes twenty years ago, there are other clothes holding emotional meanings from my past: a soft velvety pair of pants that I wore prior to becoming a mom, a t-shirt that has been balled up in the drawer for the past 16 years because a dear friend gave it to me. The memory of this friend is far better than the t-shirt. The shirt is ratty, bulky, stained, and doesn’t give me joy.

According to Marie Kondo, this is the hallmark test:

“The best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in hand and ask Does this spark joy? If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.

Although easy-sounding, this can be tricky.

When I ask my clients to bring in their clothes from their eating disorder or pre-pregnancy days and ask,”Does this [shirt/dress/pair of jeans] give you joy?” they almost always say unequivocally,

“YES.”

And then I ask “Is it REALLY the [shirt/dress/pair of jeans]?”

To which they say “YES.”

Then we sit there and look at each other in a staring contest. However, since therapy is expensive, this usually only lasts a few minutes at most. Then they might say something like:

“Well, maybe it’s the memory if wearing this pair of jeans and feeling confidant.”

Or

“I wore this dress on my first date with my ex-boyfriend.”

Or

“When I was [this size], I didn’t ever feel anxious.”

Or

“I was happy when I wore this.”

Then I ask them where the happiness came from.

“The shirt/dress/pair of  jeans” they say.

“No,” I say. “From you. The happiness came from inside of you.”

Them: “No, it was the jeans.”

Me (Their Best-Self): “Go buy another pair.”

Them: “They’re not the right size.”

Me (Their Best-Self):

“YOU are the right size. You are the right size. Right now. Your stomach is the right size. Your thighs are the right size. Your JEANS may be the wrong size, your DRESS may be the wrong size, but not you.”

“But what about the happiness I felt when I wore these jeans?”

(Eventually, the resistance is softened, and we get to the tears and the grief…)

Marie Kondo:

“When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future….The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life…The best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t.”

Do you really want your eating disorder in your life? What else was going on while you were able to fit into your skinny jeans? Were you not obsessing about food, tired all the time, worried about somebody finding out or seeing “the real you” because underneath it all you were exhausted, anxious, and barely functioning? What about your pre-mommy days? So your tummy was smaller. Did you wake up in the morning filled with joy about everything in your life, your relationships, your career, and your connection with a Power Greater Than you because your stomach was free of stretch marks? I doubt it.

Happiness, in my opinion, is more about being in acceptance with what-is rather than what-you-would-like-to-be-different. If you have a little black dress that you used to wear in your pre-mommy days that doesn’t fit (and never will because spanxs-are-for-women-who-are-willingly-subjecting-themselves-to-torture-and-do-you-really-want-to-belong-to-that-club), is it really making you happy hanging there in your closet? Or is it looking at you every day saying:

“You used to wear me. Now you are a hippo-that-wears-sweat-pants.”

That doesn’t sound like a happy item with which to be to be hanging on. That sounds like a shaming, mean voice that should not be allowed in your house and definitely not in your closet. It is interesting to see what emerges when I have clients write goodbye letters to the clothes they are letting go of. Saying goodbye to the illusion of happiness being tied to an unattainable body shape/size can often bring up grief…which then can lead to freedom, which feels like, yes, you guessed it, happiness. Not like euphoria, more like self-accepting contentment. My closet has clothes that fit me now. If my body changes size again, I can get new clothes! But for now, I have space. Space to be me. As I am. There is no better gift than that.

(And plus: now I have space for an altar in my closet!)

Other creative ideas:

FullSizeRender-3 copyCut up your old clothes and turn them into journal covers.

Paint or write with fabric markers on your skinny jeans how “I am no longer a skeleton and you are no longer in my closet” on them. Frame and hang them up.

 
Bring your old clothes to a store that will trade in old clothes for store credit for new ones. (If you are feeling too emotional to try on different sized clothes without judging yourself, bring a friend or just drop off the old clothes to release them).

 

Fat Chat

I remember attending a class postpartum in which all the moms brought their babies in strollers and exercised together. I was in that early phase of exhaustion and urinary incontinence (Who tells you about this prior to having children?!) I was just trying to get out of the house with baby and get some fresh air and exercise. Any exercise. There was this one woman who mentioned taking (__________) the name of a supplement supposedly helpful for losing weight. She desperately wanted to lose the baby weight. (I am deliberately leaving it blank the name of the supplement not give anyone’s ED any ideas. More on “ED” later). I have to admit in that moment I had a dual response. My Healthy-Self thought:

“Uh Oh! Steer clear! Eating Disorder false promise of thin-ness= absence of all discomfort! You know that no supplement is going to take away feelings or give you the nonexistent ‘perfect body’! Lovingly challenge her now! Tell her to love herself the way she is now and ask what else is going on? You know you are talking to yourself when you are talking to her.”

 And my very tired postpartum self, who was subject to “ED” (aka the voice of an “Eating Disorder”ed self-critic) thought:

“Ooh a way to lose weight quickly postpartum! Woo Hoo!”

Did I get that supplement? Of course not. I was 13 years recovered! from an eating disorder at that point and knew better. Did I have a vulnerability to an ED thought during that moment? Of course! I was exhausted and in the huge, life-changing rite of passage of mommy boot-camp! My body was different, my Psyche was different, and I was walking around in a sleep-deprived fog. My Healthy-Self left that group disappointed that my usually strong Eating-Disorder-Psychologist-Feminist-Crusader had not spoken up to what I knew to be true: No supplement will change the difficulty of being and becoming a mom! No supplement will teach you how to love yourself the way you are!  Losing weight is never the answer to complex life difficulties.

This is what I know to be fundamentally true for eating disorder recovery (and cultivating a foundation of love from which to live): Losing weight or trying to change your body is never the answer. The solution is never about hating, punishing, or trying to escape from your body and always about loving and accepting yourself. My clients often ask me: Always? Yes. Always. And yet it is hard to talk about this with women, in groups, where “fat chat” is so common. Andrea Wachter and Marcea Marcus, Licensed Marriage and Family therapists who also specialize in eating disorder recovery, and authors of the book The Don’t Diet, Live-it workbook (www.innersolutions.net) coined this term:

Fat chat is complaining about eating or weight, gossip about who has gained or lost weight, conversations about the latest diets, discussions about cosmetic procedures [Mummy tucks], etc…when we engage in fat chat we are missing opportunities for more meaningful conversations about our lives.

What would a meaningful discussion have been in that moment? Maybe “I feel very alone in this new mom thing. Do you ever feel that way?” Or “I wish my baby weight would go away, too, but I’m also proud I had a baby and of the baby my body grew. My body needs to rest and recover from childbirth more than lose weight right now.” Or maybe if I was being fiercely challenging “I can’t afford the luxury of fat chat right now. I am trying to find my way into who I am as a person, as a Mom, and as a strong woman who has given birth.”

The good news? I can absolutely say that now. Any of those. All of those. My warrior-self is back. Look out ED voice! Look out fat chat! Boot camp is over! And Healthy mama is in the house! Thanks to “How to be a dad” for this beautiful image:

tiger belly

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