To my pregnant and postpartum friends: take that weight off your shoulders, not your belly

I am about to turn 45 and haven’t been pregnant for almost 13 years now, but I have a number of wonderful younger friends who are still firmly in their childbearing years. I am writing today to them.

Dearest friends, I see your adorable posts on social media and am thrilled with all the sweet experiences you are having now, just as I remember enjoying a decade and a half ago. I can’t help but “like” your comments and pictures of growing bellies and ultrasounds and new babies. What an amazing period of life you are in — and difficult and challenging and exhausting and … the list goes on. The joy is equaled by the fatigue and all the other challenges that can come from pregnancy and taking care of an infant.

But I’m going to say this with all the kindness and tenderness I can show in the mere printed word (hopefully you know me well enough “in real life” to be able to hear me saying this): please stop worrying about your weight.

I have seen your posts over the course of months and been concerned for you when I’ve noted multiple comments about how much weight you’ve gained (in exact number of pounds) and how you were already planning during your pregnancy to lose it post-delivery (yes, I see your Pinterest boards too). I’ve worried a little for you when you talked about your weight a mere two weeks after giving birth.

cathy pregnant
This was me just before giving birth to my third child. Do celebrities ever look like they’ve swallowed a torpedo?

Believe me, I was there. Three times. I gained the exact same number of pounds each pregnancy: 38. And each was different. I started out about 25 pounds overweight with my first and ate pizza almost nonstop and didn’t exercise at all. With my second, I started out maybe 10 pounds overweight and exercised for about the first six months and ate a little better. With the third, I was at just about an “ideal” weight starting out and exercised up until a couple of days before delivery (I looked pretty ungainly, I’m sure, with my huge belly on that elliptical machine, but it felt good). I still gained the same amount of weight each time. And every single time postpartum, I breast-fed my girls and counted calories (keeping them to a reasonable amount for nursing) and exercised after six weeks had passed after delivery. On the last one, I got back down to a really good weight for me six months after my baby was born.

I went into all that detail to show you that, yes, I’ve been there. And for me, losing weight postpartum was work. I felt the pressure. Yes, I hated seeing the pounds pile on during each month of pregnancy, especially after working so hard to take them off during previous ones. I feel bad saying that now because I wish I hadn’t been worrying about something so superficial as how I looked while I was growing the amazing human beings I’m now proud to call my daughters. But the (sad) truth is, I would feel the same way again even now if I were to be pregnant again. I struggle more now with my weight since I’m older; it’s even harder now! And I struggle with the struggle. I want to be healthy but I don’t want to allow myself to be caught up in our society’s “religion” of thinness, of image, of appearance. I am working to be kinder to myself and try to separate myself from the bombardment by media and culture that tells me how I look is a huge component of my worth.

Because this is the truth, one that goes completely opposite to the messages we see and hear all the time in our media-saturated culture: My worth is not tied in any way to how I look, whether it’s how much my body weighs or how many wrinkles I have (or that aging neck that’s manifesting itself) or how gray my hair is.

And that’s true for all of you. Even though society is pretty much shouting from the rooftops (and our ever-present computers and handheld devices) that we’re supposed to be thin, that it is possible (because, hey, look at the celebrities!) during pregnancy, except for a cute “bump,” and then entirely thin (no more bump) immediately after giving birth, and thin all the rest of our lives, that is just A LIE. Pregnancy changes us. Life changes us. And we’re all different anyway. We all have different body shapes and shouldn’t be worrying about trying to fit our square or triangular or hexagonal pegs into round holes. People come in all different shapes and sizes and colors. Make the best of your own shape, size and color. Take good care of your body. Value it for what it can do for you, for the part it plays in who you are as a whole. Treat it kindly and with respect. But don’t spend a disproportionate amount of your time and energy trying to make it what society says it should be. It’s only going to make you more exhausted than you already are, and when you are pregnant or taking care of a baby, you have NO ENERGY TO SPARE. You know this.

So, my dear friends, stop posting about your weight and size. Stop worrying about it. Take gentle loving care of your body and your psyche. Delete your Pinterest “Fitspiration” board. Those things are just plain dangerous. And please keep posting those baby pictures. I can’t get too many of those.

Sure, the new prince is getting attention, but so is the royal post-baby belly

royal baby bumpYes, the world has gone crazy over the royal baby. And people have plenty to say about how this very soft news has eclipsed some other very important news. I could say lots about that, being a journalist myself, but for right now let me just say that even as a journalist who does like to stay informed about vital news events, who doesn’t like to take a little break from all that is depressing and frustrating to enjoy a cute little baby? My own four daughters are now getting sadly far past the baby stage, the youngest now going into first grade (!), and I find myself missing a little bit those sweet days of their infancies. So yeah, I’m feeling a little nostalgic and enjoying the baby photos.

A secondary focus of talk around the blogosphere has been Kate’s post-baby belly. There are many who are applauding her willingness to just let everyone see the reality that is a woman’s belly right after birth: it’s still quite large. I remember looking down at my own belly after giving birth each time and thinking it looked like a huge lump of bread dough (enough for probably four loaves) that had risen for hours and then just been punched down. Soft, squishy, lined and utterly non-sexy. I honestly have to join in and say, thanks, Kate, for not trying to hide that belly. I’m sure with all her resources, she could have minimized its size or shape by dressing a certain way or wearing Spanx or… something. But she didn’t.

On the other hand, other observers have noted it’s sad any of us are focused on the Duchess’s appearance at all. The fact we’re applauding her for her “honesty” just shows we’re still focused as a society on a woman’s appearance rather than other much more important attributes. And I have to say I agree with that as well. (Another point made within this same observation is that aside from the belly, Kate looks pretty darn good: her hair and makeup look great. And not many new moms get that kind of beauty treatment the day after giving birth. Sure, that’s true. But at the same time, how many of us have to step out of the hospital a day after giving birth to show off our baby to billions of people? The fact is, Kate and the whole royal family have a role to play, and when it comes down to it, she’s doing it with a lot of grace. So if she gets stylists to spiff her up a bit for photo ops, so be it.)

But my conclusion is this: we still live in an appearance-obsessed society. I think most of us would like to see that change. I know I would like to make people more aware of just how much we all think about looks, so that’s why I write occasionally about the topic. But I don’t think our society is going to change overnight. I’m OK with “baby steps.” And if Kate, playing the role she does in British society and even on the world stage, feels best about fixing her hair and donning nice makeup and a pretty but simple dress to show off the newest heir to the throne, even while feeling comfortable enough to show off the reality of the post-pregnancy belly, more power to her. The belly is a baby step. I say, focus on the ways we’re making progress, celebrate and applaud those, and then still remember that we can make more progress in the future.

Every day with her is special

In honor of World Down Syndrome Day, I’ve decided to post in honor of my own special child, Marissa, who’s 13 1/2. I’ve written a bit about her already, but this post is specifically about my fun little kid.

Fourteen years ago, I found out I would be giving birth to a child with Down syndrome. I felt very blessed to know ahead of time that my baby had this extra chromosome. I’m the type of person who likes to be prepared, so it was nice to have half of my pregnancy to learn more about Down’s and just be ready to have a child with a disability. For me, what made it particularly nice was that her birthday was like any other baby’s birth: a day of joy and welcoming, with lots of photos, phone calls, snuggling with the new little one. If we had been surprised by her extra chromosome that day, I am sure a hush would have fallen over the room and there would have been feelings and reactions other than just pure joy and excitement over a new addition.

Marissa was the sweetest, most content baby I’ve had. She was happy to sit in a car seat or bouncy seat and just sleep or lie awake and watch me and smile back at me. She is still a very happy girl, no matter what. She has moments of frustration or anger or sadness, but they’re so fleeting it’s almost as if they never happened.

We’ve been very blessed that Marissa hasn’t had any health problems, no heart surgeries or anything that we’ve had to monitor. Over the years, she’s had a variety of therapies and extra services through early intervention programs and the school system, and she’s done really well. In fact, for a long time I could practically forget there was anything “different” about her. She walked right before she turned 2, and she has always talked fairly well and mostly clearly. She loves to read and does a great job sounding out new words. She just seems unbelievably bright to me and to others.

It’s now that she’s a teenager that I am more often reminded that she isn’t really in the same peer group as kids her age. She’s always been very small for her age, and the older she gets and the taller and more developed everyone around her gets, the more that distinction is pronounced. She is the size of an 8-year-old and behaves much like a 6- or 7-year-old, really. For a long time, she’s been quite happy playing with her younger sister who’s 4 years her junior; now she seems to be just as content to play with our youngest, who’s almost 5.

She was strictly in a regular classroom at school for some years, up until about 4th grade, when it seemed a better strategy to put her in a class with other students who had some learning disabilities of various kinds. She still gets to interact with her peers in p.e. or in art or computer classes now, but she has a better opportunity to have learning tailored to her needs in a special class. And I’m happy with that, mainly because she gets plenty of attention and seems quite happy with her class.

Marissa is eager to help and do nice things for others and she loves to hug. That actually can become a small problem sometimes because she’ll hug anyone, even someone she’s never met, and we have to keep reminding her not to do that.

At this stage of raising her, I’m honestly most concerned with her biological changes; she’s slowly starting to grow into a womanly shape (even though she’s still really tiny height-wise), and that means she’ll soon be experiencing other womanly changes I’m not sure how to address or warn her about as I did with my oldest. It’s all kind of a trial and error situation, raising her, but that can be said for any kid, I suppose!

There are tons of resources available out there now for parents of children with any disability, and there are many wonderful places to find information and support if you have a child with Down syndrome. The difference between what’s out there now and what was available just 14 years ago boggles my mind. The internet was barely around when she was born, with not nearly as much information as it has now, and my city library was where I turned for some information when I had my amniocentesis. I found a book that had a little useful stuff, but I think I was just looking for some photos of cute kids, and then I didn’t really find any. Now, there are some wonderful sites and resources that feature gorgeous photos of beautiful children and youths with Down’s, and it does my heart good. This organization, Band of Angels, apparently was around in 1998, but it wasn’t as easily found as it is now, and it just has beautiful photos. When I meet someone with a new baby who has Down syndrome, I either buy one of their products to send or tell the parent about it. It’s just reassuring to see other kids with Down’s given the adorable-photo-shoot treatment. I found it comforting, at least, when I learned about it.

In the first months of her life, I was actually given some books and tons of pamphlets and packets of information about Down’s and different resources available and services and ideas of things I could do to give her a stimulating environment and help her develop. Honestly, I barely read any of them. All that information is simply too overwhelming. When you’re just trying in those early days to get some sleep when you have a baby waking up at night for feedings and diaper changes, that’s the last thing you have energy for: reading and researching. And then as she grew, we had some good support systems referred to us, so I didn’t feel the need to go searching for a lot more.

I think it’s that way parenting any child. There’s always more you can do for them, but never enough time and energy. So you just do the best you can to make their life happy, fulfilled and enriched. Now, I just hope and plan for her to have opportunities as she finishes up with the school system to be able to live semi-independently and have some kind of work and a good support system and network of friends. I want her to have a happy life, just as I want for my other three daughters. And she seems well on her way. Marissa is one happy teen.

Happy world Down syndrome day.