Any yoga instructor worth their salt will begin a class explaining to the new students that yoga is not a competition. You should trust your body and not push yourself or compare yourself. They will reassure you that your body will build strength in time and tell you to enjoy your practice.
Two weeks after giving birth to my baby, I had to remind myself of this simple message. My belly was very soft, my thighs still massive from all the cake and McDonalds consumed during pregnancy and my ass was huge. I caught myself out during a late night feed searching things on my phone like “how soon after birth can you exercise?”
In my head, I was freaking out about getting my pre-pregnant body back. I was thinking about how I would re-enter the work force and what job I should do. I was stressing about building content for my site and getting newsletters sent out. I was thinking about putting my toddler into childcare. Also, that I should have more healthy options for dinner and start meal planning again.
All this running through my head less than a fortnight after I brought life into this world. Then I realised I needed to slow down. What was I doing? It had taken nine months for my body to change. Almost a year to grow a human, and there I was, two weeks after that process wanting my body to go back the way it was and concerned about my work!
My parents come from a small village in Egypt a couple of hours out of Cairo. It is very common for extended families to occupy entire apartment blocks with one family living on each floor. When a woman gives birth, the family and villagers get together to help the new mother with all the household duties to ensure the new mum does nothing but rest and enjoy her baby. The resting period is generally a month or so, where the mother and baby do nothing but eat and rest. It is a time for the mother to allow her body a full recovery and give her an opportunity to bond with her newborn. A tradition practiced in many countries all over the world.
In countries like China it is referred to as a confinement period. A strict hiatus from strenuous activity for 40 days where family (or hired help for the more affluent) step in and takeoever. The mother even expresses her milk so she can get uninterrupted sleep! Can you imagine?
Living in Australia, things are very different. Women are going back to work sooner and sooner due to financial demands and competitive industries. Extended families live interstate or overseas and support is generally not readily available.
My mum and mother-in-law are a plane ride away, one and three hours respectively. Having moved interstate five years ago, I don’t feel close enough to my friends living nearby to ask for help without feeling like a burden. So I always felt like I had to get things done on my own. I know most of my friends are in the same boat.
Still, my mum came to help in the first week after my son’s birth and my mother-in-law was here a week after that. Even so, I still felt as though I had to get things done myself. I thought that if I stayed in bed I was being lazy. I had a VBAC so a natural birth was a new experience for me. I thought that the fact I had a natural birth meant that I should resume normality even sooner and attend to things as they were.
It wasn’t even external pressure. All of my family was happy to help and never implied anything to suggest I should be back on my feet. I only pick up gossip mags when I visit the dentist. I have no interest in how soon a celebrity gets their body back after childbirth so it certainly wasn’t that.
It was all down to my own expectations. The pressure I put on myself. I need to be healthy, I need to be a good mum to my toddler as well as my new born, I need to be a successful writer, I need to think about contributing to our family’s finances, be a loving wife for my husband.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important to be ambitious and have goals. I am incredibly driven and I make no apologies for being that way. But the time after birth is a very special time. One that shouldn’t be downplayed by modern pressures and expectations that women put on themselves. Regardless of where that pressure is coming from.
Enjoy this time with your special little person. Give your magnificent body the time it needs to recover from the incredible transitions it has made over the nine month long process. Be kind to yourself and your body. Accept all the help offered to you. Your loved ones and the people around you genuinely want to do what they can to help you.
No matter where you are in the world, having a baby is a joyous occasion and people want to share and be a part of that joy.
I have slowed right down and accepted help to allow me time to rest. Recently my husband went away for work and I called in all the favours from all the people who offered. I had mates come and stay, hang out with the toddler, help with the laundry and cook for me. I didn’t feel like a burden at all. The gorgeous people that I am so fortunate to have in my life overwhelmed me.
When the guilt starts to creep in I remind myself of my yoga instructor and her message. My body will strengthen in time, but for now, it’s time to love my new baby and relish each moment with him.