I’ve heard stories of women feeling like goddesses during their pregnancy. I did not. Thankfully, my pregnancy was healthy, but as I progressed, I began to feel as though I had lost complete control of my body. It felt permanent. I was terrified that things would never go back to “normal,” that my body would expand forever.
I was eleven years old the first time I went on a diet. I weighed, at most, 65 pounds. As my first diet coincided with the low-fat craze of the nineties, I attempted to subsist on plain bagels and Saltines alone. My subsequent diet involved a slightly older, 80 pound version of me, and a package of over the counter diet pills.
From a very young age I was a serious student of ballet. The girls who got the top roles at my studio wanted to be bone thin, and I wanted to be just like them. As my studies intensified and turned into a professional career, my relationship to my body worsened. I was pushing my body to the limit in the studio, yet denying it basic nutrition and care. My body perception became completely distorted and went into a downward spiral.
I quit dancing professionally at the age of 24, and my body image pendulum swung in the other direction. I ate anything and everything. I gained 20 pounds and lost muscle tone. I couldn’t bear to look at myself in a mirror. I didn’t let people take pictures of me.
By the time I became pregnant at 34, I had developed a much healthier relationship to food and fitness. I ate healthy food when I was hungry and moved my body most days. It took me the better part of a decade to get to that point. Generally, I felt good about my body, though I still didn’t spend much time in front of a mirror or on a scale. However, in pregnancy I realized that some of my deep insecurities about body image from my youth were entrenched. As my body expanded, my anxieties began to resurface. If I no longer had my “dancer body” that had defined my identity for so much of my life — who would I be?
Then something incredible happened. At the same time that I was feeling this intense fear of what my body was becoming, I was also developing an incredible respect for it. Each time I went in for an ultrasound, I was in awe at how I was creating another human being without any conscious action. I get chills thinking about it even now.
After giving birth to my daughter, a lot of the built up fear simply dissipated, mostly because my attention was tied up in learning how to be a mother. I continued to be amazed at what my body could do. I could produce enough food to keep a tiny human alive! My uterus began to contract and suddenly my postpartum belly was smaller! I was able to function without enough sleep! I felt love in a way I had never before!
Early motherhood taught me to be patient with my body. I began a fitness program solely because working out provided me an element of control in a new, very chaotic world. I worked hard to get back to a place of strength, but also allowed myself to be kind to my body. It was really the first time I had done so since I was in second or third grade. I simply did not have time or energy for self-deprecation.
Today, I feel stronger than ever. I’m more in tune with how my body works, how it moves, and how it is influenced by hormonal fluctuations. I am more detached from what others think about my appearance. Strength, not aesthetic, drives my fitness programs. I am healthier in my mind and body than ever before.
Through losing control of my body and surrendering to the truths of motherhood, I unconsciously created space for a relationship of deep respect and appreciation.
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