- Coming Clean -

COMING CLEAN: Building Postpartum Body Confidence

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How my toddler’s swim class has taught me to embrace my postpartum body — and swimsuit season.

There are two sports I’ve always admired but could never fully embrace for myself: running and swimming. The athletes in both these worlds seem to have such a beautiful strength and grace as they traverse the land and water. No equipment necessary besides clothing; the body at its best in performance as the magical machine that it is.

When it comes to the water, a swimmer I am not. I have vague traumatic memories from my childhood of being pushed into the pool at my grandparents’ house and the horror of going through puberty while facing my peers in a swimsuit in junior high mandatory swim classes. The revealing getup is probably the biggest deterrent: If I could wear a full swim pantsuit in the water I would. It’s one of the few swimsuit trends I miss from the 1880s: a below-the-knees dress and leggings? Yes, please!

I’m kidding — or am I? The greatest joy of my spring shopping was finding a swim skirt, which offered modest coverage.

Then one day in my daughter’s baby swim class, fellow swimmer Alice, age 2, came dressed in a surf-style full-body rash guard, since she had been too chilly in the water to enjoy participating. Right after class, I started researching rash guards as my new must-have.

You see, signing up for swim classes for Sylvia last September at Life Time Fitness wasn’t just about her gaining confidence in the water. I want her to learn to not fear the water — or swimsuit season — as I’ve done for so long.

I love to tread water, and it’s become my summer ritual at the cabin when we take the boat out. My in-laws clocked my time at one hour a few years back (although time is a curious thing in the summer, so I question the accuracy, even though I’m grateful for their generosity). If I had to swim a distance, or was stranded and needed to get to shore, I know I’d struggle greatly. My endurance is surely not there, but, really, my recollection of a strong swim stroke is foggy. And I still can’t jump in the water without plugging my nose.

For me, part of being a confident mother includes conquering my fears. I don’t want Sylvia to grow up with the impression that what we fear paralyzes us from progress or holds power over us. Sure, I have an inexplicable fear of bats (more on that in another blog post), but I have to remind myself, for her and even my own sanity, that a bat is quite small, that it is just another creature on this planet with a purpose, and that seeing one won’t be like a scene in the Great Outdoors. The bats will not defeat me!

While learning to be a stronger swimmer is good for us both, even more important for me as a mom to a daughter is showing her I’m not embarrassed by my body. Yes, I may be a bit overdressed in my swim skirt and long-sleeve rash guard, but I look hella cute and am rocking the look — at least, that’s what I think, and, really, that’s what truly matters.

Body confidence now has been more elusive than ever. I worked really hard to lose weight before I became pregnant, and gained it in the recommended range for my starting weight (about 30 pounds overall during pregnancy). I had to dissociate that weight gain as half of my recent 60-pound weight-loss success, knowing that anywhere from 10 to 17 pounds is lost right after birth as water weight, blood, and the baby. And the other pounds would take time, but I would walk, eat right, and resume my weightlifting routine once I was cleared by my doctor at six-weeks postpartum.

Ah, the dream vs. the reality. A mid-November birth encroached on Thanksgiving, which was followed by family gatherings for Christmas, and with the cold Minnesota winter, all I wanted to do was hole up with my little one while on maternity leave and stare at her sweet face. Oh, and watch Downton Abbey.

Once I was back to the office in March, I busied myself with work and a new role, managed childcare, and juggled breastfeeding and, oh, that’s right, feeding myself. With dinner an afterthought, my food plan was about getting in smoothies, salads, and healthy snacks during the day, but dinner, well, what’s easiest? My husband was busy with his business, too, so the few hours we had left before sleep we spent catching up and revising schedules. Getting in a workout was the furthest thing from my mind after exhausting days.

A year-and-a-half passed, and it happened: I completely and fully understand all mothers’ struggles to get in shape and take good care of themselves when there’s a baby that needs all your attention. I’m right there with you, ladies.

So I’ve really focused on embracing a new mindset for my postpartum body: It’s not about getting my body back; it’s about making this body the best it can be. This is the mantra I repeat. I remind myself of how I grew a human being inside this body, and birthed it nine months later. I recall the fast and furious 7 hour and 45 minute labor and delivery, and think, holy smokes! Way to go, Courtney! This body of mine is powerful and capable, and I have to treat it right.

Even though the weight loss has taken longer than I expected (and who’s to say what the timeline needs to be?), I’ve been making progress by focusing on nourishing my body with whole foods, incorporating more movement into my days (weightlifting, I’m coming for you!), and getting better sleep each night.

No doubt a good care plan will improve my body confidence at the pool. The boost to my ego might even make me a better swimmer.

Photo by Karen Lewis; courtesy of author.

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