My body just did an amazing thing. Well, a year ago. One year ago, almost exactly, I went through a med-free birth and delivered a beautiful little girl. I was on a natural high for a few good months, and still, looking at my daughter and remembering what I did on that day gives me a gust of confidence when I'm feeling down. And even though I’m going through so many emotions still on the inside, society expects and does certain things to new moms that are just wrong — the most standout thing to me lately being the compliments on our bodies or the way that we look.
Truth be told, it can be amazing to get a compliment about the way you look after giving birth, and there were honestly some days that I craved it. But overall, it’s really been bugging me whenever people who I haven’t seen for a while blurt out, “You look amazing!” as soon as they see me. It’s become a weird social norm, and there’s something about it that just doesn’t sit right with me.
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I’m not sure if it’s something that people feel compelled to say, trying to build up a new mom's self-esteem when she might be carrying some extra weight or not feeling wonderful, but hearing it over and over again whenever you’re just going about your day-to-day life is... well... it’s enough to make you start thinking about it.
But the thing is: that’s really not what we should be thinking about.
There’s so much going on with a new mom, so much more than meets the eye, and we need to be aware of that. Her body has just been put through the ringer no matter how she gave birth — or even if she adopted the baby, for that matter (hello, lack of sleep and high-flying emotions are a reality of caring for a new human, whether you just pushed that human out of yourself or not). It’s a really intense time when the new family is finding their stride and thinking about big parenting decisions, so stopping to chat with mom about how good she looks is sort of a slap in the face. Aren't there better things to talk about?
Moms need more than this, and as a society, we can do better by them.
After giving birth, I promised myself to love my body, let my body take its time, and most importantly, to be kind to myself. I accepted all these things and felt wonderful, until the visitors came.
It really boils down to the social support that moms need after giving birth, which is hugely important. A recent study on the topic by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health honed in on this issue because there's so much research being done about social support in relation to postpartum depression, but little when it comes to women's general perceptions during the postpartum period.
Their conclusion? They shared that, “Instrumental support plays a significant role in meeting women’s basic needs during the postpartum period. In addition, women’s expectations surrounding support can have an impact on their ability to mobilize support among their social networks. The results of this study suggest that identifying support needs and expectations of new mothers is important for mothers’ recovery after childbirth. Future postpartum depression prevention efforts should integrate a strong focus on social support.”
This postpartum period, which is technically defined as being up to six months (but if you’ve given birth you’re well aware that it can feel and be so much longer) is a crucial period of time when moms need support. They need the women who they regularly interact with socially to be there for them, to help out when needed, or just be present enough to talk. When those friends come to you with compliments and conversation about how great you look, it puts an unwelcome pressure to live up to those expectations. In reality, there’s so much that’s more important during this time.
And you know what? I completely fell victim to that pressure.
I’ve always been health conscious and determined to “bounce back,” but after giving birth, I promised myself to love my body, let my body take its time, and most importantly, to be kind to myself. I accepted all these things and felt wonderful, until the visitors came. The compliments that they bestowed on me got in my head and shifted my really healthy thought process to something much darker.
So instead of giving myself that time that I so badly needed to just be, I started pushing myself to look better and better— and quite frankly, it overwhelmed me. My focus wasn’t where it should have been and I almost had to re-teach myself how to get back to a healthy state of mind and focus on the important things — like my baby, my family, and myself.
So if you know you’re going to be visiting a new mom, stop to dig a little deeper. Find out what she needs, what she's struggling with, and where she can use some help in her life.
Just be there and stop focusing on the way she looks — even if it is a kind compliment. Moms need more than compliments; they need genuine emotional and physical support, and talking about how they look — positive or negative — just gets in the way.