Body image

I 'got my body back' after having a baby, and it was awful

March 13, 2014 at 10:02 AM ET

Erin Shetler with her daughter
Courtesy Erin Shetler
Erin Shetler with her daughter, after she regained her "baby weight"... and her peace of mind.

If I see one more story or blog about a celebrity who "gets her body back after baby," I'm going to toss my Girl Scout cookies. It's not because I'm jealous or I'd like to downgrade from my size 16 jeans. It's because I did get my body back after having my daughter, and it sucked. 

Let me explain. Like most births, my daughter's delivery did not go as planned. It was fast, early, scary and punctuated by a doctor who treated me so poorly that the state later investigated his care. The experience left me with postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder, with symptoms such as feelings of helplessness, horror, anger and inability to sleep. I never had thoughts about hurting my baby, thank goodness. But I spent my first few months of motherhood in a terrible place where I felt alone, hurt, abandoned and scared. 

During that time, I did get my body back — and more. I lost 45 pounds in six weeks, more than I gained during pregnancy. Because guess what? Sometimes when your mind and heart are screwed up, you don't eat. So I fit easily back into my skinny jeans and took all the compliments graciously. I can't believe you just had a baby, people said. You look so healthy!

What a crock. Sure, I was skinny. But I was the least healthy I've ever been. My normally low blood pressure was through the roof. I didn't sleep; I spent half my time on the bathroom floor and the other half wishing I could be there to make everyone go away. I loved my child but I felt so hurt and crazed. I didn't ever produce very much milk, and we were in the pediatrician's office every other day for two weeks, checking her weight. I ingested mostly coffee and, when breast-feeding failed, wine. I'm a good eater, but for the first time in my life, I had absolutely no appetite or interest in food. I remember occasionally feeling hungry and thinking, "that will go away if I sit here long enough." And it did. It wasn't because I cared about being skinny. It was that I found it hard to care about anything. I remember thinking I'd trade 10 pounds to feel better any day. But I couldn't. 

Thanks to a counselor, a doctor, and a group of volunteer lifesaver moms who help women with postpartum problems, I did get better. And I ended up trading about 40 pounds to do so. Today, not pregnant, I weigh more than I did the day I delivered my daughter. It's not something I'm super proud of. What I am proud of about my body is that it's here. It's present. It's off the bathroom floor. It's in love with my amazing daughter. It's at the library with her, stacking blocks and making friends. It's at a new job, realizing my professional talents never really went away. It's hugging my amazingly supportive husband, whom I scared the crap out of while I was sick. It's rocking my girl when she wakes up in the middle of the night and listening to her sing herself back to sleep. It's making silly faces at her while I pump gas. And yes, it's occasionally sharing a giggle and a bag of french fries. 

Speaking of bodies, I'm so in love with hers. Her thigh rolls that are starting to even out as she starts walking, her cheeks, her crooked feet and smile. And her brain, which I can see working and loving and learning, and which I'd trade another 40 pounds for in a heartbeat if it meant she kept growing and learning and loving like she should. 

So the next time you feel the need to comment on a woman's body after baby, even if it's a well-meaning compliment, consider this instead. Ask her how she's feeling. Talk with her about whatever she'd like. Share with her a time when you felt vulnerable and reached out for help. Tell her you think she's doing a great job. Because these things are just as important to her health as her physical fitness. Bodies are important, but they're not the most important part of being healthy after baby. 

Erin Shetler is a TODAY Moms reader who sent us her essay on our Facebook page. Click here to connect with us on Facebook, and please let us know if you have a story you think we should tell.

TOP