I know I'm not supposed to like my body. After the birth of my second child, I have bumps where they don't belong, my pre-pregnancy "fat jeans" are in the closet for that aspirational day when I am going to lose another 10 pounds, and little rolls pooch out when I bend over to pick up my baby. Breastfeeding hasn't lived up to the reputation of helping to shed those pounds, and I feel a little ashamed every time I hear another friend say that breastfeeding took the weight right off, as if I were somehow doing it wrong.
But I have a big, fat secret. I don't just like my breastfeeding body -- I LOVE it.
I love that my son and my daughter were little humans protected and nourished inside me. I love that as they grew, my body grew with them. My body grew as much as it could possibly grow, and then pushed through those boundaries and grew some more. It stretched in ways that were unimaginable to me before I had become pregnant, and now happily echos the shape that it once was when it carried those fully formed beings. I love that my son now rests on those soft folds when he snuggles in to nurse, comforted and supported at the same time.
But when I look in the mirror, I feel a complicated mix of emotions.
I want to feel pride and awe at everything that my body has done. But years of indoctrination by the media and the surrounding culture around the female body image has dimmed that spark, and made me instead turn to the side, suck in my baby belly, and wonder if some more sit ups will smooth my silhouette.
I didn't encounter this conflict with society's expectations and my breastfeeding body the first time around. With my first child, I lost my pregnancy weight within three weeks. I got compliments left and right: "Wow, you look great!" "You were pregnant?" "You don't even look like you just had a baby!" Although I appreciated the praise, those comments always made me pause. I worked hard, growing an entire new person completely within me and then in one very short and very long day, brought her into the world. Why would I want to look like it had never happened? But I thanked everyone and gave the same mantra repeated by women again and again: "Oh, it's no big deal, the breastfeeding is just melting the weight away."
Fast forward three years and it's a different scenario entirely. I struggled with milk production, watched my son lose the chubby folds that he had at birth, and did anything and everything to keep my body from slowing the flow of milk. I noticed that every time I would lose a few pounds, my milk supply would nosedive, and I would have to snack my way back to the point where he would again feel satisfied with nursing.
At first I was frustrated by this seeming lack of progress. But as time went on, I felt more and more at home in this new body of mine, and happy with its curves. I came to love that within me, I had the ability both to run marathons as well as nurture babies. That my pre-pregnancy body was capable of changing so greatly in a few short years, adapting to what was needed from it, being incredibly strong and amazingly soft at the same time.
Now my son is a year old, and I'm not sure how much longer we will continue to breastfeed. My husband and I aren't planning on having another child, and so, as is common with last children, I try to hold on to little details that I may not find meaningful now, but that I will miss sorely when the baby years are over. Early morning breastfeeds, lying snuggled in bed. A baby boy giggling as he bounces up and down on my tummy. The toothless grin that he reserves just for me. Everything about having a baby on my hip, a baby who still seems unsure that he is actually separate from me, and at times acts like he wants to mold himself back onto my side, becoming just another roll that is a part of my new look.
From the experiences of many other mothers, I know that I will likely return closer to my former self when I stop breastfeeding. Or maybe I won't, and my post-baby bump will stay with me forever, declaring to the world that I have been transformed into a mother. Either way, I will cherish the experience of giving birth to two amazing children, and be proud of the body that allowed me to do so, curves and all.
I'm not supposed to like my body. But I do. I love it. My secret's out, and I couldn't be happier.