Today I am excited to continue my blog series about pregnancy and postpartum experiences with body image and recovery. I am very fortunate to feature the voice of a local Denver therapist Brittni Fudge, who has a specialty in helping new parents navigate the trials and tribulations of parenthood, and she comes with a plethora of experience as a parent to three children herself. She writes today about accepting your body after pregnancy…from a unique perspective.
Mind Over Matter: When Grieving Your Postpartum Body Opens the Door to Acceptance
By Brittni Fudge, MA, NCC, LPCC
Pregnancy and the postpartum years bring so much change—it seems not an aspect of life is left unchanged. Aside from the obvious physical changes in my body as my baby grew from the size of a blueberry to a pumpkin, my body has never functioned like it did pre-pregnancy.
Even though my youngest is 3 years old, I am still trying to get my pre-pregnancy body back… not in terms of weight or size, but in terms of its function. For me, carrying and delivering three babies has impacted the way I walk, stand, my posture, and my hips.
I’ve seen seven different physical therapists and one surgeon who all say in a knowing voice, “well, you’ve had three kids” as they assess my hip and pelvis function. I’ve had two hip labrum reconstruction surgeries and over a year after the last surgery, I am still seeing a physical therapist to try to sit, walk and stand without pain.
In the past eight years, roughly three of those years were spent in pregnancy, three in the postpartum period, and a year and a half (and counting) have been spent on recovering from hip surgery. That leaves about a year of fairly problem-free issues.
All of this has taken a toll not only on my body, but my mind. There are days when I have been so angry with my body and the fact that my functioning causes me pain that I can’t think of anything else. There are several days when I pass a runner on the street and will find myself fighting off tears knowing how far away I am from that goal.
Once I heard one of my favorite running songs come on the radio and started crying on the spot. This is all fairly abnormal for me, but it speaks to the degree to which I’ve been ignoring my feelings about all of this. Even as a therapist who knows the value of acknowledging and processing feelings, it has been easier to shove them down and focus on something else (which let’s face it, with three kids, I’m constantly focused on their needs instead of my own).
Lately though, I’ve started to grieve the functioning I’ve lost and am looking forward to continued healing. I’ve learned that my body is more resilient than I give it credit for. I am realizing that on the days when I can’t ignore the pain for more than a few minutes, I have to remember how resilient my body has been. What I’ve noticed is that when my mind can be as resilient as my body has been, my pain decreases. My frustration with my body can quiet a bit and I can truly see how far I’ve come. This lesson has been my saving grace.
Whether pregnancy and the postpartum journey have left you frustrated with how you feel in your body or how you look in the mirror or, let’s face it, the fact that you no longer can sit through an hour long meeting without having to pee, there are some things we can do to view our bodies from a place of peace and acceptance rather than contempt and frustration.
Here are a few practices I do to help:
- I keep a gratitude journal – Gratitude has been proven in tons of studies to be one of the largest predictor of increased wellbeing. Taking a few moments to write down what I’m grateful for keeps me focused on the positive while giving me an opportunity to look back at how far I’ve come. (For example, in April 2015 I wrote “I’m thankful my surgeon says the surgery went well” while in May 2015 I wrote “I’m thankful for my ice machine that helps with the pain” and in May 2016 I wrote “I’m thankful I could do two Walk+Talk sessions (link to http://www.kindredcounseling.com/services/walk-and-talk-therapy/) with minimal pain).
- I repeat positive mantras to myself. These include:
- I can do this.
- My body is getting stronger and more flexible every day.
- You got this.
- Chin up.
- It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
- I adjust my expectations and try new things. For a long time I was in an exercise rut out of necessity, as my injuries didn’t allow me to do much. But then for a long time I was in an exercise rut out of habit and fear.
After 6 months (yes, half a year!) of debating whether I should try my neighborhood Bar Method Studio, I finally made myself try it. And although it was so hard in the beginning, I found out there were so many things my body could do that I didn’t realize was possible.
I became stronger, more flexible, and my pain started to decrease a bit! Next on my list is to try cycling and yoga. It might take me 6 more months before I actually try it, but I’m adjusting my expectations and realizing there’s a lot more out there than running. It turns out that an endorphin boost from Bar Method or walking is just as good as the endorphin boosts I miss from running.
What this all comes down to is what I was taught as a young competitive swimmer: mind over matter. While I had been focusing so much on how weak my body had become, I was given the opportunity to strengthen my mind to overcome these weaknesses. It’s still a difficult battle that I fight every day, but with mind over matter, my good days are starting to outnumber my bad days. And I am forever grateful for the lesson.
Brittni Fudge owns Kindred Counseling, PLLC, where she provides counseling for moms in all stages of motherhood. Brittni’s first role is a mother of three children under age seven, and is also a mental health therapist, Love & Logic facilitator, parent coach, and former school counselor. Brittni is on a mission to support mothers in their mental health so they can be fully present with their littles.