This essay is a part of Verily magazine’s ongoing series Making of a Mom.
I stood in the hospital bathroom and examined myself in the mirror for the first time since giving birth: My greasy hair was pulled into a makeshift bun. I had new bags under my eyes, the circles so dark they looked like bruises. My stomach was a deflated kickball, revealing stretch marks I hadn’t realized were there. My flesh spilled out of the mesh underwear a nurse had lined with a frozen pad and then helped me step into. (If I had any sense of privacy left after giving birth, that moment forced me to release it.)
I had never been so tired in my life—my legs shook with the effort of standing, and my limbs felt as though they were filled with sand.
And yet, when I looked in the mirror, what I felt was not disgust or shame or a desire to fix myself.
What I felt was a deep sense of admiration.
Before I became a mother, I had never been particularly connected to my body. I thought of my body as a possession, something I could control and subdue. Add in a personality bent on achieving perfection, and the result was plain cruelty.
I believed my body was most worthy at its smallest, and everything I did was to serve that goal. From middle school on, I lived in a constant state of food restriction. I overexercised, “earned” what I ate, punished myself when I binged, and for a while, had a full-blown eating disorder. I tried on my smallest pair of jeans daily, pinching my flesh in punishment and shame when they got a little too tight.
And then I got pregnant.
For the first time in my life, the choices I made about food and exercise weren’t just about me—my baby would be directly impacted by everything I did. Restricting myself could have dire consequences for the baby during pregnancy, not to mention after she was born. I knew I didn’t want to pass on my disordered eating to my daughter, and trying to hide it from her wouldn’t be enough. I needed to get healthy for both of us.
Before getting pregnant, I would have rolled my eyes at anyone who told me to listen to my body. But during pregnancy, my body discovered its voice—and it would not be ignored.