My Postpartum Journey & The Myth Of Bouncing Back

To my younger self,

As you paw at your newly deflated stretch marks in the mirror or routinely pull the ‘before’ clothes from the far reaches of your closet to try on your favorite jeans (just in case for some magical reason they now fit) or feel guilty for not folding that load of laundry because your still-healing body has been held hostage by the bed, there’s something you need to know.

The thing that you can’t see now — but you will, and I promise is true — is that a great shift recently occurred within the space/time continuum. What once was your big, expansive world has now sharply contracted, transforming things once small into behemoths, shifting time into something unrecognizable.

You see, as your body expanded, cracked, and opened to usher life into the world, you unknowingly conjured a new universe into existence. A universe that, not unlike your own placenta, is tucked out of sight. It will grow with and around you to protect you and prepare you for what comes next before it falls away and evaporates.

I know you’re feeling the tension between the foreign and familiar. Struggling to find out how old parts of you fit within the new parts of you. It’s confusing. At times, it’s sublime. During others you feel as though you’re ‘failing.’

Decades of passively ingesting fictional or celebrity depictions of new motherhood have made it all too easy to feel inadequate as you actually navigate this complex journey for yourself.

Yes, the myth of ‘bouncing back’ is so incredibly harmful, yet so amazingly pervasive.

Because of these unrealistic expectations you’ve internalized about new motherhood, you’ll beat yourself up for being too tired to do anything but rewatch the same TV series on Netflix (how many times is it really acceptable to watch Friends? The Office? Bones?).

You’ll be frustrated that after almost a full year of carefully expanding your body, six weeks after giving birth you’re still unable to squeeze into any of those old clothes optimistically still hanging in your closet.

Remember that for centuries, social, religious, and medical beliefs have equated a woman’s worth with her ability to fulfill her ‘biological destiny’ (as pre-determined by society), sending the message that your value is contingent on your body doing things it is ‘supposed’ to do.

Though that’s a load of bullshit, the echoes of these sentiments have deeply informed how you feel about yourself. And unlearning is hard to do.

Have patience. It isn’t every day that you are able to bring a new universe, and with it, a new you, into existence. It’s strikingly novel, and therefore strange, but, as much as you can, embrace and revel in it — it won’t last for long. It may seem all-consuming now, but once you’ve left it, it will feel unfathomably far away. Just like those jeans, instead of trying to force-fit the old into the new:

– Ask for help when you need it.

– Exercise because it brings you closer to your body, not farther away from it.

– Don’t feel guilty about what you ‘should’ be occupying yourself with.

– Call the friends who make you laugh, who ask how you are, and who are thrilled and proud that you’ve summoned a universe of your own out of thin air.

– Respect the experiences, both bad and good, that brought you here.

– Take the time to mourn the shedding of your old skin — your old self — but know that this is the very beginning of a new chapter in which you’ll love yourself, feel your power and be rooted in your values more than ever before.

– Remember that though an hour in this place can seemingly stretch over days, it is finite. Whether welcome or not, this too shall pass.

After all, If someone told you that you’d be living in your very own, self-made universe for a short time, what would you want to do with it? Would you attempt to wrestle on those jeans again? Or would you prefer to bask in the unfamiliar, new magic of this new cosmos?

It won’t be long before you’ll feel like ‘you’ again, only with a deeper knowledge of yourself. So focus on bounding forward, not bouncing back.

Aubrey Howard, co-founder of Nyssa, is an avid maker, reader, writer, and repository for ideas. Her professional work explores the nuanced interplay between the information we create and consume and how it guides our behavior, relationships, understanding of ourselves, and, ultimately, our wellbeing.