Today I want to talk about partpartum body image and eating disorder recovery.
I often say that recovery is a process, not a goal. My own history with disordered eating has taken me through restricting, purging, overeating and binging, fad diets, and fitness trends all in the futile attempt to control my body and my emotions. Over the last four years, I have considered myself in full remission. I even came to continuously respect, care for, and usually even like my body, even after my first child was born and I didn’t entirely “bounce back.” (For the record, I hate that term.)
My body is a stranger to me. After giving birth to twins, there are strange hills of rippled flesh hanging from displaced and damaged muscles. I am trying to be loving. I am trying to be kind. I am wondering when I will feel at home in this new body. I make myself look in the mirror, my own exposure therapy. I make myself touch my stomach softly while marveling at the two tiny humans that grew there. And I cycle through emotions I thought I had healed. I have a twinge of disgust for the woman who thought she might get out of this pregnancy unmarred. I try to replace that with compassion for her disappointed optimism.
I said to my husband last week, “I have National Geographic boobs now.” He wasn’t thrilled with my word choice. “Do you think you should be calling them that?,” he asked with a grimace. It took some reflection to figure out why this response stung. You see, this term was not meant to be entirely self-degrading. Sure, it was definitely said with sadness and mourning, and a hint of mean to it that anyone with an eating disorder history may recognize. The phrase “National Geographic boobs” calls to mind - and Google search results - native, tribal women with stretched, pendulous breasts. I suppose this is used as insult in our culture, as maidenhood, not motherhood, is celebrated as desirable. But I think it stung, because there was a quiet thought trying to bubble up saying, “and what would be wrong with having National Geographic boobs?” In that phrase is also a fair amount of awe and respect. There is a complete ownership of womanhood and motherhood in those images that feels primal and important. This is what breasts are SUPPOSED to look like after birthing and nursing children. This belly is the natural outcome of the gift of growing life. I don’t have to find any of those outcomes aesthetically pleasing... yet (still working on my own internalized messages), but I am trying my damnedest to keep this real beauty, the beauty of life, growth, transition, and motherhood in the forefront of my mind as far more important than whether my body meets any other standard of beauty. I’m trying my damnedest to remember that I can set my own standards of beauty that take into account my body as a whole, rather than the singular aspect of appearance.
Maybe one day in that striving, I will be home in this new body. I can feel it trying to welcome me. I can feel it asking for my care. I can feel the healing that is ongoing, the healing that is still to come. Until then, I can practice responding to my body with care. I can practice being patient and compassionate with my mourning, with my disgust, with myself. To do this, to make it to other side of this transition, I have to use all I have learned in recovery, all that I still teach about recovery.
Dear hearts, long term recovery is still hard some days, and is still worth it every day. This is the process of recovery.