The myth of the “pre-baby body”


Two weeks before having my son

After having my baby something I heard a lot of the time, apart from “is he sleeping?”, was “oh my god, you look great!” or “wow, I can’t believe you just had a baby!”. While it is nice to be told you look great, it felt like what the surprise in those comments was really saying was “I expected you to look not great.” That having a baby would ravage my body, that it would make me a lesser version of myself. It often came from other mothers who would then tell me how terrible they thought they looked after having babies.

Society is obsessed with this idea of a “pre-baby body”. A quick glance at any pregnancy or parenting magazine will tell you how important it is to lose the baby weight, how to gain “just enough weight” while pregnant, what super foods to eat, and how to feel sexy again (by losing weight). The celebrity gossip magazines almost always have a story about some star returning to their “pre-baby body” with a step-by-step guide on how you can do it too by exercising 6 hours a day and eating nothing but kale protein smoothies. But surprise! there is no returning to your “pre-baby body” – because you had a baby. Your body has changed in an irrevocable way. You grew an actual human inside you. Why is this something to be ashamed of? I am what society would call “lucky.” Without doing much of anything, my body, when in clothes, resembles mostly what it looked like before I fell pregnant. Take those clothes off though, and my breasts hang loose with stretch marks, my tummy is dark with lines and the incision scar from my emergency caesarean looks like a smile under a pouch of soft skin. My back aches more easily, I bear scratches on my chest and arms from baby newborn talons, and my feet are sore in anything that doesn’t have an insole. My eyes are dark from 6 months of sleep deprivation, my hair is in a perpetual state of mess and my face breaks out constantly from forgetting to eat or eating poorly.


Eye bags for days…

Other markers I bear of motherhood are strong arms from rocking and nursing, an ability to open almost anything one-handed, a clear voice from constantly singing lullabies, a soft and squishy body which my son loves to grab in great fistfuls and my cat loves to knead, bruised knees from rolling around playing games on the floor, and a heart filled with joy. Whilst I sometimes look wistfully at old photos of myself (being a burlesque performer I’m in the unique position of having many semi-naked photos of myself) I wouldn’t want to return to that body. I am grateful for my body with it’s many bumps and lumps. It’s like a constantly evolving map of my life: here is that scar when I fell off my bed as a kid, here are the lines from many laughs and smiles, here is the incision that my baby was born through.


Bath time is the best time

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel good and healthy in your body, and maybe for some people that means losing some weight, or hitting the gym, or wearing makeup, or wearing suck-me-in undies. What is wrong is when we expect all these things of women, and especially when we expect mothers to “bounce back”  straight away. Bounce back to what? I think most mothers would never want to bounce back to their life without kids (although it is nice to visit every so often).

So, next time you see a new mother feel free to tell her she looks great because she’s a mother and not in spite of being a mother. And whatever you do, don’t ask her if the baby is sleeping at night.


Standing on the precipice


It’s been about six months since I checked in, and that’s because I have been crazy busy with working on my solo show Adult-ish and several other projects during Adelaide Fringe. Then, immediately following the end of Fringe my husband and I moved house and we’re still spending time each spare moment setting it up, buying new furniture, and cursing the inordinate amount of Ikea packaging sitting under our garage. But the biggest distraction for me is the imminent arrival of our first kid, due in the middle of August.

If you’ve seen my show, you’ll know that I’ve always wanted to have a baby. I hit puberty and my body started sending out maternal urges! It’s taken quite a bit longer to get there than my younger self thought (I was sure I’d be married to a rich lawyer with three kids by now), but it has been the best journey. I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way and with anyone other than my husband. I’m glad I’ve had a number of awesome experiences over the years that would have been difficult with a baby. That’s not to say I think my life will be over when I have a kid, but just that I really have no idea what life is going to be like. I’m trying to have as few expectations as possible because I’m sure that no matter what I predict it’s going to be completely different. Sure, I’ve tried to get a sense of what my new life will be like – I’ve read books, I’ve watched films and documentaries, and I’ve been listening to the entire back catalogue of The Longest Shortest Time (which I highly recommend, by the way), but all I can really picture right now is standing on the edge of a precipice. It’s foggy and I can’t see what’s on the ground below, but I know soon I’ll be leaping off the edge. It’s a terrifying image in many ways – I have so many new worries and fears, and my anxiety keeps surfacing in dreams about the baby coming too soon, not being a good Mum, and the good old I’ve lost something/I’m running late/I didn’t do the thing I was supposed to do dreams. But it’s also exhilarating. I truly am leaping into the unknown and the future is full of so many possibilities – about who I will be as a parent, who my child will be, how my marriage will change. I already feel so much love for this kid (even when he kicks me in the bladder) and I’m so excited to meet him and get to know him. Right now though I’m trying to enjoy the time when I still have two feet on the ground, before I take the jump into who-knows-what.