'Bouncing back' or stepping forward after childbirth?

I met a mother out and about in our local area in the summer who was carrying a tiny baby on her chest. Naturally, I gave her a huge knowing smile and she smiled back a little wearily. I asked her how old her baby was and she replied, "three days." My jaw dropped, I tried to hold it up but it just fell to the floor. "Wow! Congratulations and well done!" Afterwards, I thought about whether I felt 'well done' was the right thing to say. On one hand, she's given birth and well done can never be said enough to postnatal mothers. She's also up, dressed, baby sound asleep happily on her mother's chest and she's back to a fraction of her 'normal'. That takes some doing, and if that's what she felt she needed to do, for her (and not for anyone else including society) then very well done indeed. 

In the western world there's a big emphasis in 'bouncing back' after childbirth, and I wonder how many mothers are told "well done" for staying in bed for the first week or two after childbirth? Then I found an amazing article written by Mother of four, Beth. 

We’re not meant to “bounce back” after babies. Not physically, not emotionally, and definitely not spiritually. We’re meant to step forward into more awakened, more attuned, and more powerful versions of ourselves. Motherhood is a sacred, beautiful, honourable evolution, not the shameful shift into a lesser-than state of being that our society makes it seem.
"The very notion that we are meant to change as little as possible, and even revert back to the women we were before we became mothers is not only unrealistic, but it’s an insult to women of all ages, demographics, shapes, and sizes. It makes a mockery of the powerful passage into one of the most essential roles a human can live into, and it keeps women disempowered through an endless journey of striving for unattainable goals that wouldn’t necessarily serve us even if we could reach them.
"The world needs the transformation motherhood brings about it us. The softening, the tenderness, the vulnerability, the shift in prioritisation, the depth of love — these are some of the qualities our hurting world needs most."

This is such a beautiful read. One that resonates with me deeply. Don't get me wrong, I don't for a second think that having children is the excuse we all need to wear loungewear for life, give up on healthy eating, exercise and adventure in favour of a sedentary lifestyle. It seems my whole life I've experienced women tell me that I'll have to say goodbye to my figure when I have babies. "Those are the boobs of a woman without kids I'm telling you!" or "Come back and talk to me when you've had a baby love!" I'd always just smile and feel a sort of sadness that a) A little ashamed that I didn't have a child and b) that my body wasn't quite worth anything more than an eye roll and soon it would be gone. 

In my experience, it hasn't gone anywhere. But there's no doubt about it, my body is different now. I'm proud of that. I'm almost 9 months into motherhood - equalling the time my baby spent growing in my womb - and I'm still taking it step by step because everything has changed. As this article quite rightly states, it's a powerful passage women travel into a new state, a new shape, size, chapter, headspace.

But here’s the thing: awakened, empowered mothers who know their true worth (especially those of us with relative freedom, opportunities, and privilege) are a threat to so many of our current social structures and cultural norms. 

  • The “beauty” and fashion industries (among others) count on our dissatisfaction with our bodies and lives after babies. The more in touch we become with our inherent worthiness, beauty, strength, and purpose, the less products of any kind we need to help us feel good and love our lives.
  • Our needs are not in line with “the bottom line.” Businesses and workplaces will be forced to rethink their profits-before-people prioritisation once we decide, collectively, that our needs matter. Ample maternity leave, affordable healthcare, part-time positions with benefits, and increased flexibility are more likely to become the norm once we see ourselves as worthy of having our needs met. This shift is strongly resisted by those who benefit from the way society is currently structured.  
  • We still live in a masculine-dominant culture in which feminine power terrifies people. Just look at how often people recoil and squirm around the subjects of birth, menstruation, and menopause, for example. Culturally, we’re not comfortable with femininity in its realness and fullness yet. We must first be tidied up, plucked, shaved, sterilised and photoshopped before we’re seen as presentable, acceptable, and not disgusting. Though motherhood presents many reasons and opportunities to dissolve this distorted paradigm, the shame we still feel around our bodies, our vulnerabilities, and our needs often keeps us trapped by and limiting ourselves.

It’s up to each and every one of us to decide whether we will embrace the sacred evolution into motherhood in all its messy, mysterious beauty, or fight it right alongside the industries that count on our dissatisfaction and disempowerment.

I, for one, have no interest in “bouncing back” to a less-evolved, less-awake version of myself, even if it means gaining weight as I age, embracing wrinkles, and going gray. I am becoming more ME with every day, every challenge, and every opportunity I’m given to grow, expand, and heal. I am learning to love the whole of who I am, and celebrate the parts of myself that mark me as a mother.

There’s too much I hope to accomplish in my lifetime not to fully embrace the powerful ways in which motherhood has grown and changed me.

We’ll know we’ve arrived at a place of greater masculine/feminine equilibrium when our culture celebrates and reveres the ageing process, women’s bodies are seen as equally beautiful postpartum as pre-pregnancy, and a women’s many natural states of being (hairy, milky, full-figured, flat-chested, saggy-breasted, at ease, enraged, wise, pregnant, gentle, fierce, birthing, wrinkled, stretched, ageing, menstruating, and menopausal, to name a few), are seen as sufficient, miraculous, and worthy of honour.