If My post-partum body could speak
BY judith goldstein
In between high school and college, I went from being the perfect, straight A student, cheerleader, and track team runner to an overindulgent, stereotypical party girl. My college years were filled with debaucherous drunken nights, stoned whimsical days, and a repeat button that see sawed between academic reality and twilight fantasies. After college, my career in the hospitality industry further cemented my partying ways and sealed a cycle of minimal self care. In those days, I didn’t care how badly I treated my body as long as I looked good on the outside.
Once I finished college and I spent time abroad, I felt as if I had taken my hedonistic lifestyle to the extreme and I knew it was time for a break. About a year after my graduation, I went on a substance cleanse. About three months into it, , I met the man who would become the father of my child. Just three months after we met, I became pregnant. My pregnancy was not planned, and to this day I marvel at my body’s intelligence. Somehow, as my body become stronger and healthier thanks to my ongoing cleanse, it knew that I was healthy enough to carry a baby. It felt like, in that miraculous moment, my body made that decision for me.
Despite this revelation and the miracle that lay before me, my pregnancy perpetuated a series of anxieties in me. I was scared I would lose my freedom and my identity. What was most scary to me was that I would lose my naturally fit body. I had run track and danced for most of my life, so my physique had always been slim and fit. It’s sad to say these words, but because I never really felt confident with my looks, I had always relied on my body as a way to get attention and make heads turn. It feels pathetic, but it was the truth: my body was the tool I used to make people like me, to make them think I was strong and capable and of course to make them think I was sexy.
I was terrified of losing my figure, and by extension, changing how people saw me. During my pregnancy, I continued to dance, walk, and do yoga classes. I ate very healthily and kept as fit as I could possibly be. To my pleasant surprise, I gained almost no excess weight while carrying my daughter.. Despite my fears about becoming a mother, it seemed that life would continue with ease.
But in the months following Shai’s birth, things didn’t go the way I envisioned. As I heard more and more stories about women losing weight during breastfeeding, I gained weight, I gained more weight than I ever had in my life. This was a huge blow to my confidence. The body I was inno longer felt like mine. This disconnection to who I had been versus who I was in that moment continued to wear on me.
My pregnancy and labor came during a time of many changes. I had just moved to Israel. I was with the father of my child, a man I had not known for long and didn’t know if I wanted to stay with. And my body, the one constant in my life, was ballooning. I felt unprepared for everything in this new life, internally and externally.
Shortly after Shai’s first birthday, I decided I needed to do something to regain control over my appearance. I put myself on a strict diet, banning dairy, meat, sugar, processed foods, and refined flours. I began running four times a week, five miles a day. By the the third month, I started to see an improvement. My body was leaner and stronger. By the eighth month, my postpartum body became tighter than it had ever been in my life. I was proud of my accomplishment and felt more secure, physically, than ever.
Unfortunately, the progress of my body was no reflection of the progress of my soul. I came to realize that my need to look good to please people came from a deep-seated pit of self hate and worthlessness. Perhaps exercise made everything look “perfect” on the outside, but it surely didn’t heal anything on the inside.
Reluctantly, I understood that it was time to stop feeding my ego, and start feeding my soul. My daughter deserved a mother who would leave a true and positive impact on her life. I wish I could say that the journey was as straightforward as my physical journey, but I knew deep down that it would be much more challenging. I am reminded of something Barack Obama once said: "Progress doesn’t travel a straight line, but instead zigs and zags in fits and starts.” In order to strengthen the muscles of inner peace and self love, I would have to embark on a journey that was longer, more demanding and more epic than any journey my physical body would ever take.
It’s been more than six years since I promised myself that I would heal my soul, connect to my inner love and I would be a mother who shows, by example, how to stay connected to your truth. Despite years of practice, I still struggle. I waver endlessly between self love and self loathing. I look at the outside for validation. I break down when faced with feelings of failure.
Recently, I made a commitment to get rid of anything in my life that caused a rift between me and my soul. This meant that I had to take a good look at my life and choose to leave some habits behind while adopting new ones in their place. I began meditating every day, I committed to doing bi-monthly workshops, and for the first time in my life, I began to pray. I don’t know where all of this will take me, or If I finally find the inner love and joy and strength that I can show to my daughter. But I do know, from my experience with my physical body, that when a child comes to your life, they bring with them things that will shake your world and make you face yourself in a way you have never had to face yourself before. When this happens, there is a choice: to give up, or a choice to give in. I choose to give in, because maybe, just maybe, I’ll come out even more than I was before. And that’s what Shai has done, she’s made me more. Becoming more isn’t always easy, but in the end, it’s always rewarding.
I know that I can already look back and see that I’ve become a more gentle, compassionate, and patient person, but I hope that one day I can look back at that zigzag line and see the complete transformation. The true test of progress is not how I appear on the outside, but how I feel about myself on the inside. My pregnancy might have changed my body and made me accomplish peak physical strength, but for me, the true impact of motherhood is breaking through the barriers of shame, guilt and pain that I have built through my lifetime. I’ve done so much to connect with and expand that beacon of light that lives in all of us, and I’m still striving to do more. I forget sometimes, that all the love and light that I need is inside of me. But I am determined to stay on this path, for both myself and my daughter.
When I became pregnant, I was afraid I would lose my freedom. But in fact, giving birth was the beginning of the zigzagged path to free my soul.