Babies, Bellies, and Body Positivity

Abby August 2017

Queen of the remote

My daughter walks with her tummy out.

She’s 14 months old and has perfected walking, carrying her 20-pound frame on two strong legs, little Buddha belly stuck out. Perfectly pleased with herself and proud.

She’s a fearless, rough-and-tumble girl with an adventurous spirit. There’s not one corner of our house she hasn’t explored, not one object she hasn’t examined or played with or climbed. The world is her playground. When she falls (which is often), she gets back up and keeps on playing, carefree and confident.

My prayer for her is that she carries this confidence with her wherever she goes.

That, as she grows up, she wouldn’t waste her youth worried about her weight, that the world wouldn’t send her the message that she needs to suck that tummy in.

Because despite the significant strides that have been taken in the body positive movement, diet culture is still a billion dollar industry–and it feeds on our fear of feeding ourselves, of living our best lives as we are, not 20 pounds lighter.

I pray that she wouldn’t be afraid to take up space, to view her body as a home for her heart, soul, and mind, and not an undesirable shape that needs to be punished into submission.

That, rather than seeing parts that need to be sculpted and trimmed and toned, she’d see hands that can embrace and create and heal, legs that can dance with joy and chase after her dreams, a beautiful belly that digests and nourishes.

And that she’d always walk perfectly pleased with herself.

Proud.

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Belly love

 

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Harry Potter, the Black Dog, and Literary Chocolate

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[photo courtesy of google image search]

It was recently World Maternal Mental Health Day, so what better time than the present to channel my inner Gryffindor (I’m actually a Hufflepuff, but sometimes you need a little Gryffindor courage) and admit that I’ve been struggling.

I knew I was predisposed to developing postpartum depression/anxiety after the birth of my beautiful daughter in July, but the black dog didn’t bite until this past January.

After months of house hunting with a new baby, getting in bidding wars, and losing on several houses in a hot market, we finally bought our first home and moved an hour away.

The stress of moving combined with sleep deprivation caused by a regressing/teething baby, and long hours of momming due to my husband’s work hours, brought the black dog out of the shadows and I finally had to admit that I wasn’t quite myself.

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[photo courtesy of google image search]

I’m in good company. It seems like my social media feed is full of articles written by new moms who struggle to keep their black dogs at bay.

As a hopeful romantic who always dreamed of having children, I thought motherhood would be a breeze. I envisioned blissful days tapping away at my novel with my gently cooing baby content in her bassinet beside me, and then tucking my dozing cherub into her crib at dusk and walking away, perhaps scribbling some enlightened motherly thoughts in my journal and reading a little Jane Austen before settling in for a full night’s sleep.

I thought my maternal nature would enable me to interpret every cry and fulfill all of my daughter’s needs without once questioning my abilities as a mother.

Oh, how naive I was. Motherhood is miraculous, beautiful, and life-changing, yes.

But it’s also hard as shit. 

Add some sleep deprivation to the mix (which is literally torture) and some major life changes and you’ve got some dark days ahead.

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[photo courtesy of google image search]

Despite all the Bell Let’s Talk and CAMH initiatives, despite the countless celebrities and high-profile people who have opened up about their postpartum difficulties (and mental health struggles in general), it’s still so incredibly hard for me to talk about.

No matter how many hashtags and coloured shirt days there are, year after year, the stigma remains. If the stigma was truly gone, perhaps I wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable and vulnerable right now, like I’ve been wearing an invisibility cloak and have just now decided it’s time to take it off.

So there it is.

The invisibility cloak is off.

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[photo courtesy of google image search]

Although these last few months have been difficult, there’s been some light. A local mom group, library activities and outings, meds, prayer, music, daily exercise, and the support of friends and family have all helped alleviate some of the darkness.

I’ve also been learning a lot about the importance of self-care, which is particularly important as a mom when you’re constantly meeting the needs of others. I’ve learned that “me time” isn’t selfish–it’s a means of survival.

My “me time” happens every night after the baby finally goes to bed and I hand over the monitor to my husband so he can keep an eye on her for a few hours. I dive into bed, put my earplugs in, and get lost in a good book before getting some uninterrupted sleep.

Which brings me to Harry Potter.

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[photo courtesy of google image search]

Full disclosure: I’ve never read the series before.

Despite being 11 and the target audience when the first book was published, many Christians were leery of the series based on their “glorification of witchcraft and magic” … even though the author herself is a professed Christian.

As I grew up, what prevented me from reading the books was my natural distaste for anything with hype and desire to go against the grain.

Flash forward 20 years and I can say with all sincerity: Harry Potter has saved me. 

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[photo courtesy of google image search]

Now I can see why everyone has been trying to get me to read the series for 20 years. Now I understand why, when I told a coworker my intention to read the series on my maternity leave, she said, “Oh Alison … enjoy getting lost in the magic.” Now I know why it’s such an enduring series, and all the hype is well deserved.

And although I wish I had read the books as a kid, I think they came to me at just the right time, when I needed them the most.

In that hour or so just before bedtime, I become completely immersed in a magical world, distracted by a story that has me unreservedly embracing full-fledged fandom.

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[photo courtesy of google image search]

In Prisoner of Azkaban (my favourite of the series thus far, although I’m only a quarter of the way through Half-Blood Prince), Harry first encounters the Dementors, which are said to be based on Rowling’s own experiences with depression.

Professor Remus Lupin (one of my favourite characters), tells Harry:

Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.

Harry discovers he’s more susceptible to the evil creatures–he faints when they’re near while his friends Ron and Hermione do not–much like some people struggle with their mental health while others do not. It doesn’t mean you’re broken or weak.

Lupin tells him:

You are not weak, Harry. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

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[photo courtesy of google image search]

The kind professor, who is also stigmatized, gives Harry chocolate after his first experience with the Dementors–the chosen remedy to sweeten sadness. Eat, Lupin says. You’ll feel better. Chocolate won’t prevent the Dementors from coming back. It won’t completely cure Harry from being affected. But it helps.

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[photo courtesy of google image search]

The black dog may always be lurking in the shadows, ready to bite. The Dementors may come and go and sometimes you’ll find the strength to ward them off. Sometimes you’ll feel them drain your peace, hope, and happiness.

But you’ll get up again. I promise. You’ll find the things that sweeten your day, that save you, that reveal God’s love to you, however small … be it chocolate, tea, friends, therapy, nature, or the power of a good story.

You’ll find your way home.

Always. 

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[photo courtesy of google image search]

If you’re struggling with postpartum depression, don’t be afraid to get help! There’s some great resources through Life with a Baby (if you’re in Ontario) and Postpartum Progress.

Be Thankful, You Ingrate!

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As I was going for our daily country drive (which seems to be the only way to get my baby daughter to take a decent nap), I passed a church with a sign out front that simply read:

Be thankful for what you have. 

The message of that sign really hit home. In the words of a former pastor, “If you can’t say amen, say ouch!”

I’ll be 100% honest with you: I can often be an entitled ingrate, grinding my teeth at the abundance enjoyed by others, mistaking my own feast for leftover crumbs.

We’re currently looking to buy our first house in a new city because my work is relocating there. We’ve fallen in love with 6 houses, have bid on 6 houses, and lost on 6 houses.

The real estate market is hot, prices are at an all-time high, and we’re feeling pretty low and discouraged. It’s easy, so easy, to let my thoughts turn bitter, to clench my fists at the unfairness of it all. It’s so easy to forget all the ways in which God has been faithful.

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But the words of the sign are a wonderful reminder:

Be thankful for what you have. 

And if you stop to think about it, that’s a lot. 

As I drive down country roads lined with trees turned orange and red, fields that shine gold in the sunshine, I often look in my rearview mirror to see the sweet sleeping face of my daughter who, just a year ago, was a tiny bit of cells joining together. The blessing I didn’t know I had.

And my heart swells with thanks.

 

Blessed Bodies

In praise of postpartum bodies.

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Woman holding child in arms by Amelia Bauerle (Bowerly) (1873-1916)

Our bodies are beautiful, these bodies that housed miracles.

How can we, after experiencing the magic of childbirth, not expect to be transformed?

We’re expansive. Rounded. Softer.

Our hearts, our hips, wider to allow for the sweet passage of so much love.

Our bellies, our breasts, fuller for our appetite to nourish.

 

And we’re pressured to “get our bodies back” as fast as possible.

Get our bodies back from where? Where did they go?

Why punish our bodies for being womanly?

Why whittle our middles when those middles created life?

 

Our bodies are blessed, forever touched by the sacred, the irrevocable link between mother and child.

Let’s be healthy. Let’s be strong.

But let’s also be soft, embracing the size and scars that remember our journey.

Here’s to Moms in all Forms

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Here’s to moms in all forms.
Biological moms. Adoptive moms. Stepmoms. Surrogate moms. First-time moms. Moms to one, and moms to many.
Here’s to moms who have loved and lost. Moms who have loved and let go. Moms with empty arms and broken hearts. Moms whose babies are being formed in vitro.
Here’s to spiritual moms. Doting aunties and forever friends. Sisters, grandmothers, nieces, cousins. All those who support and pray and nurture and champion and protect and support.
It takes a village.

make your own cake

linger on

linger on

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that you have to love yourself the way you want to be loved.

You can’t expect people to read your mind and know what you need.

You can’t expect people to do anything, really. Expectations often lead to disappointment.

You have to make your own cake.

Only you know the ingredients required to make you feel loved and okay–whether it’s lots of rest and downtime, time spent in nature, nourishing food, a tangible reward, a spa day, etc.

You have to treat yo self.

And if you receive love from others, well, that’s just the icing on the cake!

In the wise words of Jeff Winger from Community:

None of us have to go to anyone, and the idea we do is a mental illness we contracted from breath mint commercials and Sandra Bullock. We can’t keep going to each other until we learn to go to ourselves. Stop making our hatred of ourselves someone else’s job and just stop hating ourselves.

Hope is a four-letter word

He is my light, my strength, my song

He is my light, my strength, my song

Hope.

A small word that feels so flimsy, tenuous, whisper thin.

Dandelion seeds scattered with breath.

Just have hope

–a punch in the gut.

A four-letter word, bitter and twisted in the mouth.

Like hinging your life on nothing.

Air.

A concept.

Because:

My circumstances are too deep, too dark, too heavy.

Suffocating with their too muchness.

And I can’t hold them with human hands,

And my eyes can’t see for the tears that blind.

And hope is a slap on sensitive skin.

hope is a white flag

hope is a white flag

But maybe that’s the point.

Nothing is ours to carry.

To plan. To plot.

To wrestle into being.

To hold on tight with human hands, so weak.

To see with human eyes, so myopic.

It’s light, a letting go.

It’s heavy, an anchor for the soul.

It’s hinging your life on everything, because in the end, there’s nothing left but

Hope.

It’s everything.

Despite the bad news.

Despite the diagnosis.

Despite the years of waiting.

Despite the years of yearning.

Despite the pain.

Despite the despair.

Despite the rain.

Despite the scorching heat of the desert,

Despite the thorns and stones of the wilderness.

Despite the feasts of others when you’re dining on crumbs.

Despite the failure, the fears,

the groaning, the tears.

Hope is both the stubborn holding tight,

Hannah’s silent prayer, Jacob’s I will not let go until you bless me grip,

And the wild, free-fall from great heights,

letting be, letting live, letting go.

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

“In Christ Alone”
Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2001 Kingsway Thankyou Music