My Battle with Body Image After Postpartum Trauma

My Battle with Body Image After Postpartum Trauma

Body image was not something that I struggled with as a teenager. It’s not like I thought I was gorgeous – I had other insecurities about my looks – but I was athletic with a fast metabolism and clothes fit me well and easily. My insecurities were many (i.e. I’ve battled life-long depression, which went untreated for 26 years), but they had different roots.

Umbilical Hernia and Rectus Diastases

After 12 years working in youth ministry with pre-teen and teen girls, I thought I had all the answers for those struggling with body image. “God made you unique,” and “God made you the way you are for a reason,” and “God made you beautiful just the way you are.” I had a host of Bible verses to back up what I told these girls (Psalm 139 and 1 Samuel 16 were my favorite) and never thought twice about it…until I was in their shoes.

The thing is, now that I have my own body image issues at 34 years old, I can’t take my own advice.

God DIDN’T Make Me This Way

My postpartum friends, on average, all shrunk back to their cute teeny waists within 4-6 weeks of giving birth. I’m a year postpartum and still look like I did at 4-5 months pregnant.

God didn’t make me this way.

After two emergency surgeries and rectus diastases (separation of the abdominal muscles), my body just hasn’t bounced back. I’ve been in physical therapy for 10 months, exercise 5-6 times a week, and eat a fruit and vegetable rich low-fat diet. I’m stronger and healthier than I’ve been in several years, and yet I feel just about as awful about myself as I did at 13, just for different reasons.

Postpartum Hairloss

God didn’t make me this way.

I don’t fit into clothes the right way and the ones that do fit rub on my incision from my two surgeries and it’s not going to get better for years because I have at least one more surgery to look forward to. I lost my hair to the point of having large bald spots around 3 months postpartum and it’s just now starting to grow back.

God didn’t make me this way.

The Damage

Not feeling good about myself has deepened the depression I’ve been living with because of the trauma of my postpartum illness even further. It’s affected my ability to be present to my son and to fulfill the physical and emotional needs of my husband. It’s hindered my ability to be a good friend because I just don’t have the energy…or the courage to be seen in public.

Most of the time I wear an abdominal brace to provide the support that my abdominal muscles can’t. So, if you see me out and about, you may wonder what the issue is. Well, this brace may suck in my damaged belly, but it is not comfortable and is only a temporary solution.

I can’t believe any woman is the same woman after experiencing childbirth, even if their bodies transform back to a normal figure. My transformation is a completely different one, which leaves me feeling isolated. I’ve been damaged internally, having to navigate healing from Postpartum Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P-PTSD) as well as external damage from my complications that nearly killed me. I’m learning to accept my new body – the scar down the entirety of my abdomen, lack of belly-button (yeah, I used to have this awesome outie belly button that basically disappeared after my surgeries), and abdominal muscles that fail to hold in the rest of my internal organs, not to mention the bulging umbilical hernia.

Learning to Function in My New Body

I don’t feel beautiful, I certainly don’t feel sexy, and most days I struggle to feel even remotely pretty. I don’t have control over my scarred “Mommy Tummy,” but I’m not going to just give up. I’m doing the things I do have control over, if only to get through the day.

I continue to work hard in physical therapy, exercise, and eat right. Even if I know these things won’t alter the way I look on the outside, they help me feel good on the inside. The same goes for continuing the counseling and medication that help me deal with my mental health issues.

L.a.S.E SkincareI started using a new facial toner that one of my college cross-country and track teammates developed. My bad skin was the source of much of my teenage insecurities and finding a product that makes my skin look great gives me more confidence each day. It feels good to like the face I see in the mirror. Finding a hair stylist who helped me deal with my alopecia (hair loss) lessened the sting of that ordeal as well.

Finally, I try to focus on the good gifts that God has given me. My life, for one. I’ll take feeling ugly over being dead. My son, who has brought joy I never thought possible. My husband, my family, and my friends. And so on, and so on, and so on. This part is not easy when I hit a wall of depression halfway through the day and my son is crying for my attention and doesn’t have the words to tell me what he needs. I often need someone to remind me of this, so I reach out and seek encouragement when I need it.

I obviously don’t have things all figured out, or I wouldn’t be writing this post. However, I refuse to be that woman on social media who paints only the happy things and looks like she has her life all together. I certainly do not. Not even close. I do hope that there’s at least one person out there who reads this and finds comfort in knowing that he/she is not alone.

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