Dear Mothers: We’re Not Meant to “Bounce Back”
I exercise almost every day. Doing so helps me feel strong (and not just physically), it keeps my mind from dominating the ever-so-precarious mind/body/soul balance, and it allows me to better embrace, make sense of, and appreciate my often-crazy life.
But no matter how fit I become, I will always have the body of someone who has carried, birthed, and nursed four babies. My belly is soft, squishy, and covered in stretch marks (you can see them here), my thighs and butt stubbornly store fat (just in case I decide to keep going with this baby-making trend, probably), and my breasts look more like those you’ve seen in Nat Geo than any other magazine on the rack.
I have the body of a mother, and given that it’s been nine years since my youngest was born, there will clearly be no “bouncing back,” no matter how many calories I burn, crunches I do, or hours I spend at the gym.
Thankfully, I’ve not only made peace with this fact, but I’ve come to see it as a truly beautiful thing.
I work with mothers for a living. More specifically, I support women as they grow, transition, recreate their lives, reclaim their worth, and heal their relationships with themselves. The more women I witness, and the deeper I journey into motherhood myself, the more obvious it becomes to me:
We’re not meant to “bounce back” after babies. Not physically, not emotionally, and definitely not spiritually. We’re meant to step forward into more awakened, more attuned, and more powerful versions of ourselves. Motherhood is a sacred, beautiful, honorable evolution, not the shameful shift into a lesser-than state of being that our society makes it seem.
The very notion that we are meant to change as little as possible, and even revert back to the women we were before we became mothers is not only unrealistic, but it’s an insult to women of all ages, demographics, shapes, and sizes. It makes a mockery of the powerful passage into one of the most essential roles a human can live into, and it keeps women disempowered through an endless journey of striving for unattainable goals that wouldn’t necessarily serve us even if we could reach them.
The world needs the transformation motherhood brings about it us. The softening, the tenderness, the vulnerability, the shift in prioritization, the depth of love — these are some of the qualities our hurting world needs most.
But here’s the thing: awakened, empowered mothers who know their true worth (especially those of us with relative freedom, opportunities, and privaledge) are a threat to so many of our current social structures and cultural norms.
- The “beauty” and fashion industries (among others) count on our dissatisfaction with our bodies and lives after babies. The more in touch we become with our inherent worthiness, beauty, strength, and purpose, the less products of any kind we need to help us feel good and love our lives.
- Our needs are not in line with “the bottom line.” Businesses and workplaces will be forced to rethink their profits-before-people prioritization once we decide, collectively, that our needs matter. Ample maternity leave, affordable healthcare, part-time positions with benefits, and increased flexibility are more likely to become the norm once we see ourselves as worthy of having our needs met. This shift is strongly resisted by those who benefit from the way society is currently structured.
- We still live in a masculine-dominant culture in which feminine power terrifies people. Just look at how often people recoil and squirm around the subjects of birth, menstruation, and menopause, for example. Culturally, we’re not comfortable with femininity in its realness and fullness yet. We must first be tidied up, plucked, shaved, sterilized and photoshopped before we’re seen as presentable, acceptable, and not disgusting. Though motherhood presents many reasons and opportunities to dissolve this distorted paradigm, the shame we still feel around our bodies, our vulnerabilities, and our needs often keeps us trapped by and limiting ourselves.
It’s up to each and every one of us to decide whether we will embrace the sacred evolution into motherhood in all its messy, mysterious beauty, or fight it right alongside the industries that count on our dissatisfaction and disempowerment.
Of course, it makes sense that we would want to “bounce back” after babies. The seeming ability to do so is a sign of strength and desirability in society’s eyes, and who doesn’t want to feel strong and desirable? Consider the many advantages of changing as little as possible once we become mothers, or downplaying the effect motherhood has on our needs, perspectives, bodies, and hearts:
- We gain the favor of bosses and co-workers.
- We’re rewarded for appearing strong (even superhuman) and taking on as much as possible without breaking.
- We feel less vulnerable and appear less “needy.”
- We create less waves within marriages, families, workplaces, and social circles.
- We aren’t forced to justify shifts in prioritization that don’t make sense to other people.
- We run less risk of “losing” our sense of self.
- The less physically marked we are (by stretch marks, weight gain, loose skin, etc.), the less body shame we have to endure and the greater chance we have of being seen as beautiful, or at least acceptable, in society’s eyes.
With so many advantages to “bouncing back” as quickly as possible, why on earth would we want to embrace and celebrate the stretch marks, the cellulite, the spit up, the sleepless nights, the vulnerability, the increased dependency on others, the often-terrifying uncertainty, and the shift into a whole new way of feeling, being, and prioritizing?
Because the world needs us to. Because we’re living under masculine models of power, strength, and success, and until a balance is restored by their feminine counterparts, true healing and peace in this world are not possible. Because healthy societies cannot exist without deep reverence and support for sacred transitions and natural evolutions. Because you and I are among the first women in the history of the world with a real shot at reviving the sacred feminine to the degree her presence is needed.
Years ago, when I was raising babies and feeling a little desperate for a sense of self beyond the exhausted, overwhelmed milk maid I felt I had become, I did everything I could to “stay strong” and keep motherhood from “breaking” me. I was determined that if I simply did more of the “right” things, I could finally feel as if my contributions were enough — as if I was enough — and dig myself out of the disempowerment I felt. I now see that by holding so tightly to a more masculine understanding of strength, I was actually repressing and resisting a new strength trying to be born in me: the more feminine strength of vulnerability.
It is vulnerable to ask for help. It is vulnerable to admit that you don’t know what to do. It is vulnerable to depend on others physically, financially, and emotionally. It is vulnerable to gaze into the eyes of your newborn baby and realize that she is completely dependent on you for her wellbeing. It is vulnerable to imagine evolving into something unknown (and culturally dishonored). It is vulnerable to lose yourself to love. It is vulnerable to trust your instincts. It is vulnerable to claim strength and beauty in ways that aren’t culturally condoned.
It is vulnerable to let motherhood change us.
And yet, by doing so — by claiming our right to this sacred, messy and sometimes terrifying evolution — we position ourselves as capable, heart-led leaders in the healing of the world.
- We start by validating the uniqueness and worthiness of our own needs.
- We start by looking in the mirror with awe and reverence for the miraculous changes in our physical bodies.
- We start by seeing ourselves as powerful, not despite having changed, but because we’re more vulnerable to love and in need of connection.
- We start by banding together as mothers and women instead of allowing fear and judgment and shame to divide us.
Many in positions of power and influence want us to see our emerging strengths as weaknesses. They want us to think that the only way for us to be beautiful is to deny, minimize, and hide the marks of motherhood. Our vulnerabilities are studied by ad agencies and marketing gurus in order to be capitalized upon and used to control our perceptions and prioritization.
According to our society, motherhood makes us less sexy, less feminine, and less powerful.
But deep down, you know better, don’t you? You felt your true power the moment you smelled your beautiful baby’s sweet head, having ushered him into the world. You come into your true power every time you sit down to nurse your toddler, tend a bloodied knee, or listen with rapt compassion. You exercise your power every time you own and ask for what you need and deeply desire. You strengthen your power every time you disconnect from cultural distortion and reconnect with your worthiness as a divine being entrusted with the task of nurturing, guiding and supporting the growth of other divine beings.
You, dear mama, are powerful beyond measure. But feminine power looks (and feels) very different than masculine power, and is often misunderstood, undermined, and overlooked.
Fortunately, more and more people are waking up and seeing through the smoke screens of false empowerment and misleading marketing. Paradigms are shifting (however slowly and painfully), and there are plenty of things each of us can do to hasten change:
- Redefine femininity for yourself. Unhooking ourselves from cultural definitions of what it means to be feminine is no easy task given how inundated we are with high heels, perky boobs, and puckered lips, but doing so can make all the difference in our perceptions of beauty, self-worth, and desirability.
- Honor your needs. This requires identifying them, naming them, learning creative ways to meet them, speaking them aloud, and understanding that they will change day to day and over time.
- Connect with other women vulnerably and courageously. Though petty, surface-level, and judgment-tinged connections are culturally acceptable and promoted, they aren’t feeding us, nor empowering us on any real level. Be as authentic, courageous, and heart-led as you can in your interactions. The world needs us deeply connected.
- Root yourself in something permanent and life-giving. The more rooted we are in realities and roles that shift and change (including motherhood, partnerships, careers, and appearances), the more likely we are to feel destabilized when such shifts inevitably occur. Conversely, the more rooted we are in The Divine and her many manifestations, the steadier we will be whenever our world is being rocked.
- Forget trying to be beautiful. You already are. Do what makes you feel strong.
- See the “beauty” industry for what it is: a profit-driven machine that grows in direct proportion to our shrinking self-esteem. They do not have our best interests in mind, no matter how convincing their ads and promises.
- Recognize the challenges inherent to our generation of mothers. While we have it better than our foremothers in many ways, we are disadvantaged in ways they weren’t. Information overwhelm, rampant anxiety, decision fatigue, device dependance, and a heightened sense of responsibility for our children’s every perceived need, are new forms of oppression that have just as much potential to keep us from thriving as those our grandmothers fought to free us from.
- Learn about and practice self-compassion. Self-awareness alone sets us up for even greater self-judgment and self-loathing. Learning to be gentle and compassionate with yourself and your process is key to deep, healing growth.
- Keep your heart open. Hardening ourselves off from the world, though tempting at times, will only slow the much-needed shift into higher realms of consciousness. Better to let your heart break than to keep it hidden and lonely.
- Treat your body as a sacred temple. You did not create your body. It was gifted to you for a short while. How might you better honor this miraculous gift? How ought a person speak about one of the greatest gifts she could possibly be given? The more reverence we have for our bodies, the less susceptible we are to misleading messages.
- Disconnect vulnerability from disempowerment in your mind. We tend to avoid vulnerability largely because of its common association with oppressive circumstances and feelings of disempowerment. While these can be linked (and often are), they don’t have to be. Conscious, intentional, self-honoring vulnerability is a very different thing than the vulnerability that accompanies truly oppressive circumstances and mindsets.
I, for one, have no interest in “bouncing back” to a less-evolved, less-awake version of myself, even if it means gaining weight as I age, embracing wrinkles, and going gray. I am becoming more ME with every day, every challenge, and every opportunity I’m given to grow, expand, and heal. I am learning to love the whole of who I am, and celebrate the parts of myself that mark me as a mother.
There’s too much I hope to accomplish in my lifetime not to fully embrace the powerful ways in which motherhood has grown and changed me.
We’ll know we’ve arrived at a place of greater masculine/feminine equilibrium when our culture celebrates and reveres the aging process, women’s bodies are seen as equally beautiful postpartum as pre-pregnancy, and a women’s many natural states of being (hairy, milky, full-figured, flat-chested, saggy-breasted, at ease, enraged, wise, pregnant, gentle, fierce, birthing, wrinkled, stretched, aging, menstruating, and menopausal, to name a few), are seen as sufficient, miraculous, and worthy of honor.
Until then, we must envision the future we want, affirm the inherent worthiness and beauty in one another, and make sure our children hear truth from those of us divinely ordained to guide them.
In awe of us all,
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