My son was born just over a year ago.
You might not believe that to look at me: I weigh a little less than before I was pregnant. To be honest, my tummy has never been flat, but it is flatter than before. My tummy is unadorned by stretch marks. My son was born via Caesarean section, and the scar (admired as being 'beautiful' by many a midwife and obstetrician) is neat, tidy and has faded so much it can barely be seen. My son guzzled up my breast milk, but my boobs are as full as they were pre-pregnancy.
According to articles such as this one, my post-pregnancy body is not 'the real deal'. It implies I am not a 'real mother'.
There really is little to envy about my post-pregnancy body. My tummy hasn't really changed and has no stretch marks not because I was lucky to avoid them, and not because of lavish application of Bio Oil.
My tummy hasn't really changed because it didn't get a chance to: I was pregnant for only 24 weeks.
My pregnancy came to an abrupt, traumatic end when I was diagnosed with the rare, life-threatening pregnancy complications HELLP syndrome and pre-eclampsia. My son Hugo was born by emergency Caesarean section.
Sadly, Hugo was too small and premature, and died in my arms aged 35 days.
My boobs haven't changed because while I expressed my breast milk for Hugo, he was so premature my body wasn't quite ready, meaning the amount I was able to express was small.
I now weigh less than before I was pregnant because I am taking care of my body: having pre-eclampsia puts me at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. I have had quite enough of illnesses and hospitals. However, in the months immediately after Hugo's death I comfort ate my way through my body weight in cake and chocolate.
Hugo is my first and so far only child.
I am very much, emphatically, without doubt, still a mother. Anyone who dares suggest otherwise, for whatever reason will rather wish they had not.
The body of the article itself is great. I understand that articles such as the one linked to above seek to reassure women that seeking to emulate celebrities who snap back into shape soon after giving birth to their children is unrealistic, and unnecessary.
Post-pregnancy bodies are beautiful, and nothing to be ashamed of, whatever size they are. After all, that body has done something incredible: grown a brand new human being.
The headline: "The real shape of a mother: Flabby tummies and cellulite" is the problem. Yes, headlines need to be eye-catching but it's another example of the importance of considering the impact words can have. The headline is no doubt well-intended, but carries the implication that mummies without flabby tummies and cellulite are less of a mother.
Ridiculous, I know. But there is so much pressure on women in general, and pregnant women in particular. Whether or not to have children; when to have them; how many to have; how you give birth (let's not get started on those who think having a Caesarean section 'isn't really giving birth'), the type of pain relief you have in labour, breast or bottle, cloth nappies or disposable...the list is endless.
Every human being is different. We each have different interests, life goals, hair colour, height, weight, different looks...you get the idea. The main point is that we are all different. Diff-er-ent.
Judging someone because they have made a particular choice (or ignoring the fact they didn't actually have a choice), or have a particular body type is absurd, and can be hurtful.
Why can't we give other women a break for the choices the make (and the choices they are unable to make, decisions taken out of their hands)?
This is a debate I have been aware of for some time, and I was inspired to write this post because of being so cross after reading Budding Smiles' blog post. I felt cross not because of anything Hannah had said, I hasten to add, but because she felt she had to write it, and wonder if her size 8 body and lack of stretchmarks meant she isn't a 'real mum'.
As Hannah rightly says, it needs to be okay to just be a mum. If you love a little human being with all your heart, you are a mother. You don't need to have grown that little human being yourself, either – women who have adopted, or have their baby thanks to a surrogate are all mothers too.
Post-pregnancy photo galleries often feature an image of the woman while pregnant, and next to it the proud new mum holding her baby against her tummy. These compilations never feature mothers who have experienced a loss
Let's stop the judging, the labelling, the pigeonholing. Let's instead reconsider the way we view motherhood, and what makes a mother.
Let's support each other, send each other some love and support.
Let's remember you don't have to have a mummy tummy to be a mummy.
Let's remember those who have lost a baby, at any stage of pregnancy or after: without a baby in your arms, you are most definitely a mummy.
No matter what your body looks like.
Advice and support:
For anyone affected by the death of a baby, contact SANDS
Parents of sick and premature babies, can find support at Bliss
The Birth Trauma Association supports those who've been affected by birth trauma.