I had a baby in June 2016. She's my third baby, my third daughter. She's now ten months old, and she has eight teeth, which she displays beautifully and often, in her glorious smile. Her hair is just growing in, and the wrinkled velvet of her scalp is covered in fresh down, so it feels like the fuzz of a peach. Her limbs are strong and her movements are becoming precise, but the play of her muscles is still obscured by a layer of plump, gorgeously soft flesh. Her name is Ramona.
I tell you all this, because in a story published recently by an Irish news site, she has been compared to many strange, and most certainly not cute things, including a medium-sized bowling ball (thanks for specifying), a bald eagle (I suppose they got the bald bit right at least), and a 6ft aluminium step ladder.
Because, you see, Ramona was officially the heaviest baby born in maternity hospitals in Dublin in 2016. She weighed in at what the news website informs me was a "staggering" 12 pounds 10 ounces, or 5.75kg (tell me about it, mate, I'm the one who had to lug her around inside me for nearly 41 weeks).
A friend alerted me to the article on Facebook, and I read it bemusedly while nursing Ramona, my record-breaker. I felt proud, reading it - proud of my strong, healthy baby. Happy that I delivered her safely, with minimal intervention. Lucky that I brought her into the world peacefully, with nothing but the Entonox inhaler in one hand and my husband's hand in the other, and a midwife to guide us.
Ramona was not the only one who was compared to a whole host of ugly things. A quick whizz through the comments sections on similar stories of big babies reveals more distasteful, more invasive comments than that. References to husbands watching their baby emerge and feeling as though they're watching their favourite pub burning down. Comments about echo chambers and incontinence pants, speculation about the mothers' diets and health, criticism of their physiques.
Reading the comments, I felt a prickle of shame, a sense of unease about my body and what it has achieved. And that's astonishing when you consider what hard work it takes to grow and deliver a baby. The first few weeks (months, in some cases) can be the most disorienting and lonely time for many mothers. And here's a newsflash for the people who like to joke about a "wizard's sleeve" or a "clown's pocket" (I know, right?) on the internet - these women are your mothers, sisters, wives, partners, friends. And even if they're not, they're thinking, feeling, actual people who can be hurt by your throwaway comments.
Giving birth to the heaviest baby in Dublin wasn't easy. It was quick, and it was blessedly danger-free, but it was hard. I arrived into the labour suite at 1am, and she was born just before 3am. I can't quite convey to you the level of pain I went through to get her out. I thought my body would just give up and die with the agony of it. But less than twelve hours after she was born, I walked out of the hospital carrying her in my arms, to go home to my other two babies. That's pretty badass, right?
And speaking of bodies, I could talk about how I've learned to accept my body. I could say that the soft sag of my tummy is a reminder of how it stretched to accommodate my huge, healthy baby. I could praise the cushiony plumpness of my arms, the steadfast warmth with which I hold and protect my babies. My middle child anchors herself with fistfuls of the hair I used to despair over. The pads of my hips and curve of my waist provide the perfect seat for the baby who is happier the closer to my heartbeat she gets. I'm not an elegant scribble in black ink, but I've learned that there's beauty in a doodle with a chunky crayon. I could say all of this, but the truth is that it doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter, because my body is no one's business. My body is not a site of moral conflict, a subject up for debate. My fat, my hair, my health, my brain - they are mine. I've carved out space in the world for myself - space in which I fit exactly, no matter what shape or size I am. I have realised that it doesn't matter what people think of that space - if they don't like it, they can step away.
It's not always easy, of course. I spent years caring so much about what other people thought. It's so exhausting, and so dull. Imagine the freedom of setting that burden down. Imagine taking the energy involved in all that worrying, all that caring, and filtering it into other things. Imagine the relief of looking in the mirror and feeling at peace. Imagine the joy found in being able to delight in all the beauty and cleverness and strength of others, rather than trying to find all of that within yourself. That's what I hope I can teach my daughters.
So to those princes of the internet who make their jocular, petty little remarks about new mothers' bodies, new mothers' behaviour, new mothers' needs, I say this. You probably don't admire my plump, damaged, body. You probably don't approve of my loud and unapologetic voice. I'm ok with that. My daughters will grow to be kind and tough. They will know that all bodies are good bodies. They will know that it's fine to admit to weakness. And they will never think it's ok to try to make a woman feel bad by posting snide comments about her on the internet. So fuck you.
Follow Aoife on Instagram here.
HuffPost UK Parents is running a week-long focus on 'Mumbod' to empower mums and mums-to-be to feel confident about their bodies pre- and post-baby. We are launching a section on the site that focuses on all aspects of mums' bodies and highlights the amazing things they are capable of. We'd also love to hear your stories. To blog for Mumbod, email email@example.com. To keep up to date with features, blogs and videos on the topic, follow the hashtag #MyMumbod.