Body Image and Post-partum Depression

I saw this post on my Facebook feed this morning:

“As Men we often take for granted the ultimate sacrifice women have to make during the 9 month pregnancy process. Her body will go through unbelievable changes. She will be at risk of several different serious health issues. Her eating habits will increase. Her moods will swing. Her sleeping patterns will adjust. He self esteem will take a hit. And most importantly her life will be at risk. But we unfairly expect her body to snap back in place as if she was the mother on the Incredibles. She will be left with battle marks and scars. She will try and hide them. She will struggle everyday with the feeling of if she is attractive enough. But the reality is, she has sacrificed her body and vanity to bring a life into this world. We should cherish her, compliment her daily and let her know that she is even more beautiful now than before.”

baby-tummy

I teared up when I read that. One, it was written from a man. Two, my tummy looks similar to the picture above. Three, I have had issues with my body image since having children.

I know I can’t change society’s perspective on what female beauty is, and even though I see posts like this one, and super models advocating about what is “real” beauty, it’s all bullshit.  Our society puts way too much pressure on us women to look a certain way. So much so, we are willing to “sacrifice” our own life to go under the knife and change our bodies. If that is not an option, we will starve ourselves, purge and take extreme measures to accomplish an unrealistic view.

Before I met Dan, and after my divorce, I dated a man 15 years my senior, who thought it would be a good idea to “buy” me new boobs and a tighter tummy. He actually made me an appointment for a consultation with a plastic surgeon. This was the beginning of the end for that relationship. Not only did I begin to feel insecure about my naked body, I discovered he had a secret that most people would consider sociably acceptable. That secret, however, not only ended our relationship, but destroyed my self-esteem.

It took me a few years to feel good about myself again. I met a wonderful man and then one year later I got knocked up, my third pregnancy. Since I was a bit older with this one, I gained a lot of weight. What’s so funny is how people thought it was okay to verbalize their opinion on how I looked. My favorite was, “WOW! Are you in a lot of pain?” The most common remark was, “Are you having twins?”  Even now, I still have a bit of baby fat around the waist and still get snarky remarks. Isn’t it funny how I was told I was too skinny when I was younger, to now being told I carry a little too much around the waist. And then we wonder why us girls struggle with body image?

I could go on and on about this topic, (perhaps another time) but it’s not really what I want to write about. What I do want to discuss isn’t easy for me to write about. I know it won’t be easy to read either, so I ask you to bear with me for just a few more minutes.

I know having a baby is one the joyous moments of a person’s life. As the gentleman on the above post stated, a woman goes through a lot of changes- not only physically, but emotionally as well. Sometimes women go through the baby blues, and other times postpartum depression ensues.

Postpartum depression (PD) is tricky- but very real. It isn’t a black and white condition- in fact it can capture it’s victim in many forms. My PD was severe enough I wanted to die. I wasn’t suicidal, just kept thinking and believing I would have been better off dead- that my family would be better off if I was dead. I isolated myself as well, and was angry at the world. Of course those are just words on a screen, going through emotions like that isn’t easy and isn’t easy to describe.

What makes PD worse is that the people around you don’t understand what the fuck is wrong with you. Those close to me, besides my husband, probably had no idea. I mean having a baby means joy and warmth and love and rainbows and butterflies- not grief, anger, pain and boy was there a lot of pain.

I am not sure what it is about pregnancy that suddenly a woman’s body is no longer her own. It’s like all the rights are stripped away once conception takes place. She can’t eat that, or drink this– she’s not gaining enough, she’s gaining too much– natural birth vs. epidural. I just don’t understand why suddenly a pregnant woman is nothing but an incubator and no longer a person. Just ask any pregnant woman who has had strangers touch her belly. We would never just put our hand on a stranger’s belly, but for some reason we think it’s okay to do so if she is pregnant.

So here is a personal story for you. It is my story and I feel strongly that it needs to be told and heard. Please take note that this not told in judgment or blame. It’s just what happened.

When my third baby came into this world, she came via cesarean section. I labored for more than 14 hours(maybe more than that, I really don’t want to remember) and even though I was almost completely dilated, she wouldn’t drop. My epidural didn’t take either, so even though I couldn’t feel my legs, I could feel every hard contraction. The last contraction I had, her heart beat dropped significantly, so much so that the doctor stated that I needed to have a C-section. The hard news was given to me as they were prepping for surgery. Since the epidural was not working I was to be put completely under and my husband was not allowed to be in the room.

Naturally I was terrified. I had never been under before so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Everything went black.

When I came to, I was shaking, cold and my womb was empty. My husband was  holding our daughter trying to comfort me,  but I couldn’t hold her. I had missed the first precious moments of her birth. I had planned on doing skin to skin moments after birth, and then nurse her. I was looking forward to having a life moment with my husband since this would be his first experience having a baby.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I found out other people met and held my newborn while I was still unconscious. I can’t explain in words how upsetting that was for me. Not only was I disappointed in having a cesarean, a cesarean where I was completely unconscious, but I was heart broken that I couldn’t be with my husband the moment she was born.

The first year of her life was very difficult emotionally. Lack of sleep, sore nipples, healing from the C-section, and processing what happened at her birth.

We are so hard on women sometimes. The gentleman in the post said, “But we unfairly expect her body to snap back in place as if she was the mother on the Incredibles” I know he was referring to her physical body, but we need to be more sensitive and aware of her emotional well being as well.  It is unfair to expect a woman suffering from PD to snap out of it and go back to “normal” in a time frame that is convenient for everyone else.

What was most upsetting was the lack of support I received. I was somehow “over reacting” or needed to “get over it.” See, because I was unconscious, meant that I shouldn’t have been upset that other people met and held my baby before me. I should be happy that the baby and I were healthy- who cares if I had a cesarean.

The message I received was that I was only an incubator. My feelings on the kind of birth I wanted and grieving over the loss of that was somehow selfish and unnecessary- so I felt even worse about myself for feeling that way because I wasn’t SUPPOSE to feel that way. I was suppose to be happy. PD is something a person just cannot control.

It’s taken a couple of years, with a lot of therapy and the grace of Prozac (I love you Prozac!)  where I am finally starting to feel like myself again.

I can look back and not feel as emotional, although it still brings a ting of regret, but I learned a great lesson.

I would rather be a kind, forgiving, loving and gentle soul, than have a body that society thinks I should have. A woman’s beauty is not her skin, or hair, or a Victoria Secret body, but how brave and courageous she is in times of adversity, to stand up to the bullies of this world and to love her family unconditionally. Sometimes being brave is asking for help when you need it. Sometime acts of courage is forgiving others. Sometimes being kind is saying good-bye to relationships that are harmful. Sometimes beauty is in what we do for others, and not what we put on.

I wish we could stop praising and criticizing our looks, and start noticing the bravery and the beauty we bring to the world. Imagine our conversations and Facebook posts consisting of “I was nicer today then I was yesterday.” or “I brought beauty to my home today when I listened to my child talk about her world.” or “I finally forgave him.” Instead we focus on the physical- we notice she doesn’t wear make-up or she wears too much. We notice the big boobs- or lack of. We notice the kind of clothing she is wearing-or lack of.

We rarely take the time to really know someone. To know if they are struggling with the confusing and painful issues of depression. To know if they need help. To know if they need space. To know if they need support.

A woman is so much more than her looks, and her body- and a woman who is pregnant or has been pregnant, doesn’t deserve our harsh judgment. There is always more to her story than she gives- so be kind, be loving or just shut the fuck up.

Love Always.

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