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Motherhood and Body Image

Today I'm opening up and sharing a big part of my past that only a few of you will know about. So, I'm taking a deep breath and writing this from the heart. This post has been on my mind for a while but now that I have finally finished my pregnancy and breast-feeding journey, it feels like a really good time to write it. 

Throughout my teens and early twenties I suffered from anorexia. It was grim, sad and an incredibly difficult and long journey to recovery. One thing that always kept me fighting was knowing how much I wanted to have children in the future. Anorexia can have such a damaging effect on your body that it can damage your fertility. I didn't ever know until I fell pregnant with my first baby whether I had done too much damage or not. I was so lucky. 

Self-portrait - taken for an exhibition on eating disorders . 

Self-portrait - taken for an exhibition on eating disorders

I made a really, really good recovery and although anorexia is far from just about food and weight, I know that I have a healthier attitude to food and weight than the majority of women I know. I came out of the whole thing having learnt so much about myself too. The recovery process taught me a lot about being reflective, about taking care of myself - physically and mentally - and about what living a good, happy and fulfilling life meant to me. 

Self-portrait - taken for an exhibition on eating disorders . 

Self-portrait - taken for an exhibition on eating disorders

But what it didn't really prepare me for was what to do, feel and think about my body during pregnancy and beyond. When I was first pregnant with Imogen I can vividly remember my mum telling me how 6 weeks after giving birth to me she was back in her clothes and at her brother's wedding in a pre-pregnancy outfit. She went up one bra size and ended up a bit smaller after she stopped breastfeeding. She made it all sound super easy but as my pregnancy went on I found it impossible to see how this was going to be the same for me. 

Pregnant with Imogen in 2006, Image taken by Stef

Pregnant with Imogen in 2006, Image taken by Stef

Unfortunately pregnancy and how it effects your body doesn't seem to be genetic. I put on a huge amount of weight when I was pregnant with Imogen and not quite as much, but still a lot, with all my other pregnancies. My body didn't ever bounce back within weeks and although I breastfed all my babies, my body seemed to need to hold onto body fat to do so, rather than magically make it all disappear like it does for some lucky women. It's only ever been after I've stopped breastfeeding that my body has been happy to really start shedding the baby weight. 

Pregnant with Rudi in 2013, Image by  Lisa Jane

Pregnant with Rudi in 2013, Image by Lisa Jane

On several occasions I was asked by strangers if I was pregnant when I wasn't. That hurt so, so much. I certainly wasn't following in my mother's footsteps when it came to this pregnancy thing! And it was sometimes very hard to cope with. When you have suffered from an eating disorder for so long there is always the knowledge at the back of your mind that you know that if you really wanted to lose weight fast you could. You know exactly how to do it. But you also know that it's a very dangerous path to take. You can't switch it on and off as easily as you might think you could. And as much as I have wanted to see the baby weight fall off as fast as possible there is no way in the world that I'd want to go back to those dark days....especially as a mother. 

Happy mother of four, taken by Stef a week after Rudi was born.

Happy mother of four, taken by Stef a week after Rudi was born.

I am also highly aware that I want all my children to grow up with a healthy attitude to food, weight and body image. I want them to see me eating normally, eating the same as everyone else, eating cake and other treats when I want to, and just simply enjoying food. I want them to see me being happy in my body. I want them to know that I exercise to keep fit, healthy and maintain a healthy weight and not because I'm obsessed with how much I weigh. I don't want them to see me on a yoyo diet for years and think that's how women have to live. 

This year is the first year for 8 years where I won't be pregnant or breastfeeding. My body will be slowly returning to something a bit like it was before I had children. I am exercising regularly but not crazily and I'm certainly not dieting in any way. In fact I'm not sure I could with having four children to keep up with! But I am realistic about my post-baby body. For a start I'm 8 years older than I was when I was first pregnant and I have had four babies and breastfed them all. There's only so much stretching and shrinking back again a body can do! I want to be proud of my body and celebrate what it has done. But also to be happy and comfortable with it. 

IMG_6345 (1).jpg

I want to be strong, healthy and happy, rather than a particular clothes size. It's not always easy to think like this and not just because of my past. The pressure for women to ping back into shape within weeks of giving birth is really unfair and most of the time really unrealistic. Some women are lucky and it just seems to happen but others aren't. There should be no comparisons. We are really busy being a mother for a start. Newborns take a lot of time and energy, and new mothers deserve to rest when they can and to enjoy this time rather than worrying about getting their figures back. 

A little selection of iPhone images, which make me smile! 

A little selection of iPhone images, which make me smile! 

I am sharing all this with you today because I want other women to feel ok with their post-pregnancy bodies. I want women to be kind to themselves and their bodies. I have a few hopes, wishes and goals for me and all the wonderful mothers I know:

To be kind to ourselves.

To celebrate in what we have done through giving birth and feeding our babies.

To not feel like we need to still look like we are in our 20s (unless you are in your 20s, in which case celebrate that in style!) 

To nourish our bodies with good food, exercise, relaxation....and cake! 

To be happy. Happiness glows from the inside out. 

To take time to exercise, so we are strong, fit and healthy.

To take the time to find clothes that suit you, that make you feel good and fit your body as it is now and not as it was pre-babies. 

To be comfortable in our bodies.

To share all this with our children, both girls and boy. For our children to see happy, confident, strong mothers who are comfortable in their bodies.

And, to be loving and kind to each other as mothers, whatever our shape and size. 

Lots of love and happy thoughts! xxx 

Dear Max, a 3rd birthday letter