I’m 21 months post-partum and only now starting to feel like myself again. Only when I became a mom did body consciousness hit me again since adolescence. A lot of new moms hear ‘you’ve just had a baby, relax’ but you still feel the pressure – even if you know why your tummy is a bit heavier or you’ve developed back fat. It doesn’t help make you feel more confident about yourself. I’m sharing some of the things that’ve helped me feel like Aisha again.
Face the baby blues
About 10 days after birth, I started experiencing ‘baby blues’ and I was worried it’d turn into full-blown postnatal depression. Baby blues are very normal and many women experience it after birth because of the hormonal rollercoaster ride we go on. I was overwhelmed, frustrated and angry with everyone and I’d cry for no apparent reason. Your body’s just gone through one of the most physically demanding things it ever will, it’s no wonder you’re not yourself.
My advice is to give yourself a break – try not to do everything. As new moms, we feel the responsibility is only ours, but the way I see it, I did all of the work carrying this baby, so while I recover, someone else needs to step in. You’re not a failure as a mom if you ask for or accept help. It’s your way of recovering so you can take care of your child sooner. If you have a relative or a good friend, ask them to stay with you or come over regularly to help so you can rest. Even two hours of solid sleep can help you recharge. It will help your mood and atmosphere in the house during this stressful time. Maternity leave really is there for you, so do the bare minimum of what’s needed.
Focus on one thing at a time
I knew why my body was the way it was, but I felt sorry for myself and thought it’d magically disappear. The truth is, you have to actively do something about it. Two things can help; diet and exercise. Start with one of them. By diet, I don’t mean a temporary-diet-fix but a lifestyle change. If you never used to eat healthily and exercise before pregnancy, it’s going to be a huge undertaking to do that all now – as well as care for a newborn and return to work. Use maternity leave to focus on recovering and on your baby. When you return to work, focus on getting settled there.
As you get used to being back at the office, shift your energy to either exercise or eating better. Try to do something that’s sustainable for your life. There’s no point doing something just to lose the weight. You need to be able to keep it up, so make sure you enjoy it and can afford it. If you dive into a boot camp that you hate, you’ll resent it and make up excuses not to go. Remember that for you to shift weight, you have to put in the work. Most of the time it won’t be easy but focus on the end result to keep you going. If gym is out of your budget, find something you can do at home – start by walking your baby in the stroller. Zumba once a week wasn’t shifting anything for me, so after about two months, I upped it to twice a week, then three.
Change your eating habits
I suggest changing your eating habits and lifestyle. Do what makes sense for you, your family and budget. I started living a low GI lifestyle a few years ago before I got pregnant but stopped when I was expecting because of my cravings for carb-heavy meals. It was supposed to be temporary but it took me a while after I had Kai to get back into the low GI eating. After I’d been back at the gym for a few months, I knew my eating had to be my next focus. I also know that if I completely ban myself from eating something – it’s all I’ll want. So, I have a ‘cheat day’. If I feel like something sweet, I’ll have it on that day. If I don’t, then I won’t. I’ve also stopped adding sugar to food and replaced it with raw honey. All of this was pretty hard at first, but I’m so used to it now. Give yourself some time for your body to adjust. Once your body knows better, it’ll expect better.
Give yourself a little makeover
It sounds superficial but clothes make up a huge part of how you represent yourself to people. I’m not advising you to go on a shopping spree, especially if your wallet doesn’t allow. After I gave birth, 95% of the clothes I had couldn’t even go past my knees to get to my hips. My biggest ‘problem area’ was my tummy. After all the water weight was gone, I was left with a droopy mum-tum, totally out of proportion to the rest of my body, and it didn’t work with my wardrobe. I used to wear a lot of low-rise pants and jeans that would make my mum-tum roll flop over the waistband all the time. I had a post-maternity capsule wardrobe which included a few items to help me transition and still look decent. It was about comfort at that point rather than style because I also didn’t know how to dress my new body.
My mind was trained to buy things that were of a certain silhouette and I’d forget that I didn’t look the best in that silhouette anymore. I’d have many frustrating moments in shops or in front of my closet because I couldn’t find something that fit me and made me feel cute. I kept telling myself that I can’t get comfortable being in a place where I just wear clothes for the sake of it. It was by accident that I found my new silhouette and that was because I saw a colleague rocking some jeans. She told me her secret was high-waisted ones. Once I tried them, I instantly felt sexy. Now I feel cute, and my body looks snatched. My go-to is high-waisted pants or skirts with a tucked in or cropped top. My new look keeps my mum-tum in check so it’s not popping over the waistband anymore. Once I figured out my new silhouette, it’s done wonders for me. I’m able to dress quicker in the mornings, I carry myself differently and I feel great. I’ve never looked back.
I’ve stopped mourning the loss of the old me and am now celebrating the new Aisha: a stronger, more conscious, more evolved me. I’ll never be the same again; which isn’t a bad thing at all.
Aisha O’Reilly is a young African woman who loves natural hair, beauty and being a new mommy, among other things. Her aim is to inspire and encourage fellow women by giving them a peek into her life, with all of its ups, downs, questions and adventures in her blog, Aisha and Life.