Your body will rarely change more than it does during pregnancy. For 40 weeks your body stretches, squishes and softens. It is both completely magical and utterly exhausting. When your baby arrives earth-side your body changes in a matter of minutes. Most new mums struggle to accept the rapid switch from rounded, blossoming bump to saggy, marshmallow belly, but what about those of us who didn't get to keep the baby to show for it all? Those of us who bear bags under our eyes due to the exhaustion of grief and trauma rather than night feeds and nappy changes? It's a lot easier to accept your altered physique when you can look at the fresh, beautiful babe asleep in your arms and know you've done something truly miraculous than when your arms physically ache with the emptiness, all you feel is disappointment and betrayal.
My body didn't know my baby had died. It went through a physically and emotionally challenging 46 hour labour, not knowing what my brain did, that at the end of it I would not be taking my baby home. When the life I birthed was silent and still, my body behaved in exactly the same way it would have if my son had been born live and kicking. I still got the rush of oxytocin when I laid eyes on him and my hormones still did everything they were meant to do. It still ached afterwards, it still dribbled if I sneezed a bit too hard, it still bled, It still produced milk.
It took a while due to the shock, but I woke up from one of my many grief stricken naps 11 days after my son was born to find a wet patch on my shirt, I knew immediately. My heart sank and I felt that guttural devastation all over again. I held so much in the desire to breastfeed my son. We knew he was poorly and would spend the first few months of his life in hospital and so I had dealt with the intense lack of control I felt by focusing on my ability to pump my milk for him. When that little wet patch of liquid gold appeared I felt like my body was mocking me. It had failed. I had failed. And the one thing that had given me purpose, the one thing that only I, as his mother could do when it felt as though I would be obsolete, was being paraded in front of me, mocking me. In that moment I had never hated my body more.
I lost myself completely after my son died. My body felt like the enemy and I was in no position to attempt to befriend it again. Even when I fell pregnant with my daughter five months after giving birth to my son, I struggled to find the magic I once had.
I felt guilty about it but my body felt different to me. It's very difficult to trust your body to do the thing that broke your heart and shattered your world, but, as with everything, it just took a little time and a little patience. I told myself that if pregnancy was all the time I had with her, as it had been with her big brother, I wanted to embrace it and make as many memories as I could. I lovingly rubbed my bump with creams, I dressed my body to show off my growing belly and I had some beautiful maternity photos taken. It wasn't easy but eventually I fell in love with my body all over again.
Now my daughter has been out as long as she was in and my body still feels a bit alien to me. It took me 28 years to love my body before babies, I can't expect to love it again so easily, not when it's been through what it has. All I can do is take care of it as best I can. Sometimes that means nutritious food and lengthy walks round the park. Sometimes that means eating an entire packet of Jaffa Cakes in the bath and planning my next tattoo. Instead of seeing failure and betrayal in my stretch marks and crepe paper tummy, now all I see is love. I feel pride and redemption in breastfeeding my daughter despite a difficult start and I am thankful to my body for keeping her safe for 37 weeks. I try to look at my body with tenderness, for the two lives it created, for the one it has nourished inside and outside and for the one it housed for 34 beautiful weeks. I look at my body now and I know which silvery stretchmark belongs to which baby. I know which parts of my body changed with which baby and I love that I will bear those permanent reminders of my magical children forever.
And on the days when I really can't stand it, I remind myself that it is one of the few connections my children have to each other. They will never meet and that breaks my heart more than I can explain, but knowing they shared the same space, listened to the same heartbeat and felt the same love is something to be cherished.
The pressure on us as mums is relentless. We're constantly berated for not doing enough or doing too much, doing this when we should be doing that - but the idea that we need to get our 'pre-baby-body' back is utter nonsense. It is literally impossible. Your organs have been squashed, your pelvis has altered and you've either had your cervix dilate to the size of a bagel and pushed something pretty huge out of it or you've had your abdomen cut open and had something pretty huge pulled out of it. Your body is not the same as it was. It will never be the same as it was. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. You've grown a human being. Regardless of whether that life is dribbling jam on your shoulder at the minute or whether they're nestled firmly in your heart, you've done something incredible. Your body has done something incredible and it deserves to be treated with the same love and respect you would bestow upon the life it created. Be gentle on it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. To keep up to date with features, blogs and videos on the topic, follow the hashtag #MyMumbod.