Exclusive: There Is More To Motherhood Than A Post-Baby Bod

Our cultural conversation about pregnancy, birth and motherhood is way off from what the actual experience is. And it's hurting women.
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kate spencer

The above is an email I got from Us Magazine. I huffed and deleted it, and then sent a frustrated tweet out into the universe, as that is how we express ourselves in these modern times. "Post-baby bod is a four letter word," it said. Then I stewed.

My second daughter is now 4 months old. My eldest is 2 and a half. I've had an emergency c-section and an unmedicated vaginal birth. I've been doing the pregnant/kid thing since March 2010, and in that time I've noticed one thing: Our cultural conversation about pregnancy, birth and motherhood is way off from what the actual experience is. And it's hurting women.

Not that celebrity culture is the only way we stay informed. But while women a hundred years and fifty ago got answers from elder women around them, it seems like we now look more toward public figures for instructions on how to live our lives. (See: Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbooks. Both of which I own, and from which I've never made a goddamn thing.) And the narrative being played over and over again on TV, online and in magazines goes something like this: OMG OMG IS THAT A BUMP ON _______?!? LOOK HARDER AT HER STOMACH, IS THERE A BUMP OR IS SHE JUST FAT NOW?!?!? OMG, THERE'S A BUMP! _______ IS PREGNANT!! PREGNANT STAR STAYS SEXY IN FANCY MAXI DRESS! ________'s CHIC NURSERY FOR BABY! _______ HAD BABY, SO BLESSED! COVER STORY WITH HAZY SHOT OF HAPPY CELEB FAMILY IN BED TOGETHER! LOOK -- _______ IS SKINNY AGAIN! THANK GOD.

And that's it. There's no talk of the hard decisions and challenges that arise when bringing another human in the world: coping emotionally, miscarriages and health risks throughout the pregnancy, emotions that range from excitement to loss, how the partner is coping, decisions surrounding the birth, doulas, home birth, hospital birth, breastfeeding, milk supply, c-section recovery, vaginal recovery, colic, sleep, schedules, being tired all the time, depression, regret, fear, hiding in the bathroom crying. Agonizing decisions about work, caregivers and new priorities. Maternity leave. Paid time off. Unpaid time off. Pumping at work. Making time for your partner. Making time for yourself. A body that has changed but can also do incredible things.

Instead it's mostly about getting skinny again after the baby is born, which we're told over and over again is the MOST IMPORTANT THING. And it's not. I know it's not, and yet I have a constant dialogue in my head about how I have thirty pounds to lose and my thighs rub together and my stomach is bloated and has the texture of a grape that's not quite a raisin and my face is fat and I'll never fit into my old clothes again. I say this to friends (who haven't had kids) and the response is: "Focus on the amazing thing your body just did, girl! A baby came out of you! You're being too hard on yourself!" And they are right. I know this. But I can't shake the feeling that I'm a failure because I'm not the size and shape I once was. And then I feel dumb and embarrassed for focusing on my looks when I should be celebrating how awesome it is that I'm a mom to two healthy, wonderful kids. It's an exhausting, stupid cycle.

There is an important conversation to have about motherhood that we're not having on a larger level. I know this because I talk to moms all the time. None of us are talking about maxi dresses or nursery colors or how we worked out for 90 minutes a day with our trainers while wearing a corset. We're talking about how our maternity leaves don't feel long enough. How often there's nowhere to pump at work so we do it in our cars. How frustrating it is to be making too much milk/too little milk. How some days we can't stand our partners, and on other days they totally save us.

This is not to say health, exercise and weight loss aren't important parts of the conversation. But that's just it -- they should be one small part of it, not the WHOLE THING.

Recently Kristen Bell tweeted a picture of her breast pump from backstage at the CMAS, which she was hosting. It was one of the first times I'd ever seen a celebrity discuss an aspect of motherhood that felt real and relatable. And while most sites reported it as "LOL a breast pump!" to me it signaled much larger things: The challenges of being a working mom. The things women do to care for their kids. The choices and sacrifices we have to make. The general awfulness of having your nipples suctioned by a plastic beast you paid a ton of money for.

It gave me a bit of hope that there are public figures out there changing the focus of the conversation. Maybe when Kim Kardashian debuts her post-baby bod, she'll mention how hard it is to work out on two hours of sleep when your c-section scar is burning and itchy and your boobs are engorged with milk. That would be a story I could relate to.

[Please note: This post was written while I used my breast pump, because of course.]

This post originally appeared on Kate Spencer's Tumblr.

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