By Stella Damasus
“I am pregnant.”
These three words are life-changing for everyone involved. It could be good or not so good news but will definitely change lives instantly. All of a sudden, there are thoughts of a new being, new furniture, new room, extra security and safety measures, hospital visits, meal plans, changes in your financial plan, baby shopping, sleep pattern and routine changes, work schedule, growth of the stomach, etc. What I often think about when I see pregnant women is, do they consider the changes that will happen in their bodies after giving birth? Have they thought about what they would do when that time comes? How their new look would affect their daily lives and how to handle what they see in the mirror? What about those who cannot escape the stretch marks that won’t go, no matter what you do (except laser removal)?
When I got pregnant with my first child, I thought about everything else except for handling my new body and reacting to others who saw this new body. When the baby comes and starts to breastfeed, you are happy and comfortable because everyone celebrates you and brings gifts. Your family members are helping you out as much as they can (hopefully). Your husband is doing his best to relieve you of the night duties and give you regular massages. These continue until it gets to a time when the baby is almost one and about to start walking. The jokes and side comments begin to filter in gradually;
“You are still big, you have to watch it now,”
“You are not eating for two anymore so what is going on?”
“You have to start working out, you know your husband is young and good looking”
“Your child will soon start walking, what is your excuse?”
“When do you intend to get back to your old self?”
“You have to lose the pregnancy fat and be YOU again.”
It gets worse, but I am sure some of you can identify the sarcasm and subtle jabs you get from (primarily) other women. I really didn’t want to give this a name or term so that it doesn’t feel like another campaign or movement. I am more concerned about how it makes people feel than creating a movement that might end up overshadowing what is really important, which is that there are things we should never say to women in that position.
We all know that we are all built-in different ways, with different metabolisms and systems. Some of us retain water; some take prescribed medicine that makes them add weight. There are a million and one factors that may cause a woman to lose weight quickly and another to take more time before the weight loss starts to happen visibly. It’s not easy for a woman to go through pregnancy, give birth, breastfeed, and stay up most nights to tend to a child. Don’t forget the postpartum stress disorder that can be more severe for some women. Is there an exact time frame for women to lose all the fat from pregnancy? I am not talking about the stomach now; I mean the whole body that went through significant internal changes.
- Who decides how long it should take a woman to lose weight after giving birth?
- Why should a mother be made to feel worse than she already is because of the changes in her physical body?
- Who says that because she still has some of the weight, she is no longer her true self?
- Why should we make it seem normal for a man to go out there and cheat because his wife is still bigger than before she got pregnant?
- When are we going to cut ourselves some slack when it comes to BODY SHAMING?
- If you really feel a certain type of way about another woman’s post-pregnancy body, then call her and offer to pick her up to come to the gym with you. Do it with her and encourage her. Make it about her health and energy rather than weight.
- Visit regularly and offer to take walks with her so she can get her heart pumping.
- Get healthy meals and deliver to her if you cannot do it yourself.
- Take her to buy groceries and offer to carry the baby while she walks around the store to get what she wants.
- Ask her to dress up and wear some makeup because you are taking her to lunch. It will help take her mind off, and when she sees people out there, it will encourage her to get back into the swing of things not because of her weight but her work or career.
- Find ways to get her involved in physical and psychological activities that will help her improve.
- There are better and more subtle ways of helping her get her energy back, get stronger and healthier than shaming her.
A man once told me that he found his wife sexier and even more desirable after she gave birth. He said her breast were bigger and softer, her buttocks were round and supple, her waist was inviting, and her skin was glowing. He couldn’t get his hands off her. So, the weight gain is not the end of the world; neither does it change who the woman is. Her mind and spirit are still intact. In fact, some women get into another phase of life after childbirth. This phase becomes their more intelligent, more patient, understanding, more nurturing, and better-analyzing phase.
Give her time to deal with the physical changes, emotional roller coasters, psychological issues, and hormonal imbalance that come with childbirth before you begin to take shots at her because of the weight.
My mother is the type of friend I want around me in times like that. She loved my look after childbirth and told me every day how proud she was of me. I told her that I didn’t like the fact that I was FAT and couldn’t wait to get back to my skinny self. She was very upset that I used the word FAT. According to her, “when a woman adds weight during pregnancy and gives birth, we don’t ever call it FAT, we say she has filled out in the right places and is a beautiful mother. Your journey to womanhood is complete, and this is the sign”.
I asked her if it was just an African thing, and she said NO then reminded me of the power and strength of the African woman. She made me feel like I was even more beautiful than before the pregnancy. That boosted my confidence, and I noticed that I started to carry myself better and smarter. I ended up looking and acting sexier for my husband, who also noticed that difference, which he totally loved.
After a while, it felt like my body began to shrink and shed off the weight by itself. All I did was try to be active at any opportunity. I would go to the market with my baby strapped to my chest, go to church, take walks, dance for an hour, etc. I didn’t have to do anything out of the ordinary to make me lose weight. It was the love, care, encouragement, confidence, and smart choices that helped me lose the weight and not the criticisms. I didn’t even know how much weight I had lost until my old clothes started to fit perfectly again.
Body Shaming does more harm than good, especially from a woman to another woman.