Pregnancy is a time of extraordinary softness and expansion.
Physically and emotionally, a pregnant woman swells—swelling somatically through the body and spiritually through a capacity for love that transcends anything she’s previously experienced.
A woman’s shapeshifting, pregnant body is an elastic marvel.
Her mind, body and soul expand—expand, expand in dramatic proportions.
And with that in mind, here are four things for a growing goddess to consider:
1. Elegant Expansion
The new being inside the womb is growing and pressing against the boundaries of the body.
Carrying life, a woman’s uterus increases up to 20 times its original weight. The flexible uterine tissue extends to accompany 1,000 times its original capacity. As the baby develops, the uterus is pressed upwards into the woman’s abdomen, eventually reaching the liver.
A woman’s blood volume increases by up to 45 percent by the time she gives birth. Her breasts become tremendously fuller as they prepare for lactation. This phenomenal growth means an increase in the blood vessels, muscle and connective tissue that comprise the uterus.
But the expansion doesn’t stop there—once the uterus is large enough it grazes the abdominal wall. This internal pressure parts the deep abdominal muscles as they extend to accommodate the nascent human.
Throughout the body, the blood vessels enlarge. The heart pumps harder. The leg veins may become visibly engorged. The pelvis adapts to the weight of the baby by expanding.
2. Yes, she will gain weight, perhaps a lot of it.
Chemically, there is also expansion.
The hormone relaxin begins to course through a woman’s body, softening and loosening all of her ligaments in preparation for birth. This hormone will linger for months post-delivery as her body slowly shapeshifts back to its previous dimensions, internally and externally.
Oxytocin, the chemical messenger of feeling good, dominates a woman’s brain as she bonds with her baby before and after birth.
The keyword, expansion, is essential to the natural processes of pregnancy and the postnatal phase.
Sadly, the experience of pregnancy and the first year of child-rearing have been catapulted into the language of “contraction” by the dominant culture.
When a woman goes into labor, common parlance will enforce that she’s having “contractions”—when in fact what is happening is best described as a dilation.
The woman’s body must open (not contract) as she gives birth.
3. Culture is not our friend.
Once a woman gives birth, she enters a cultural territory that enforces the idea of “contraction” rather than expansion. Contractions expel the baby into the world.
And next, something truly disheartening happens.
All of this beautiful softness and expansion is contorted through the cultural lens of “fitness.” New mothers in our culture face a billion-dollar industry geared at reversing all of this healthy, juicy expansion and turning it into a kind of rigid athleticism.
Three words that define the post-birth weight loss culture in America—mommy boot camp.
To which I respond with a deeply heartfelt—F. . T. . S . . ! (Figure this phrase out. Clue, it’s a common, vulgar parlance for “so done.”)
Within weeks of giving birth—and still living within the remarkable biology of growth, fluidity and expansion—a woman feels a cultural expectation to “lose weight,” to “get fit.”
After going through arguably the most athletically demanding experience available to humans, giving birth, a woman receives messages that she’s somehow too soft, too big.
She’s not the right size.
She’s not a super taut, toned and conditioned athlete.
She’s not ready to compete in a push-up contest. Her biceps aren’t popping as she cradles her child—it’s a travesty!
Talk about a Yang response to the greatest Yin force in nature.
And so, the language of “boot camp” enters the forefront.
There are options for enrolling in post-birth classes that are based on hardcore conditioning to get “back in shape.”
Rather than having the time and spaciousness to enjoy and embody her newly expanded state, a woman is pressured to “fit into her pre-baby jeans” and look “as if she never even had a baby.”
Please excuse my use of the wordless exclama-question-marks to emphasize my criticism of this cultural empire of new mama boot camps and the image of uber-skinny moms running uphill pushing their babies in strollers with added barbells in the storage compartments.
Instead of embracing the post-birth phase of yielding to the new life, bonding, breastfeeding and nesting—the culture seeks to wake us up at five a.m. to work with a “trainer” and reclaim our pre-baby body through potentially dangerous jerking motions while someone yells at us.
Another example of this cultural rigidity for new mamas is the push for breastfeeding “because it helps us lose weight.”
This contorts the focus of this most intimate of nature’s nourishing acts into a way for a new mother to “lose weight” instead of “gain bonding,” or “gain one of life’s most cherished relationships.”
4. If we’re plump, be patient.
After pregnancy we may be softer. Sometimes forever.
The essence of the maternal is this softness. The way we have yielded to life. The way it has come through us without resistance.
The truth is that a woman’s post-birth body is chemically challenged to “lose weight rapidly.” To maintain her health, rebuild her tissues, heal from the birthing process and become nutritionally sound during the nursing process, losing weight rapidly is not advisable.
A woman’s body is not an ideal blueprint to become an overnight athlete.
With the same cosmic patience that infused your pregnancy and birthing experience, approach your new body.
If a mama chooses to enroll in New Mama Boot Camp, be aware and notice if it feels truly wholesome and healthy to do so.
It can truly take a woman’s body years to fully heal internally and return to a less expanded state.
Allow this process to happen naturally.
Treat yourself the way you treat your baby, with that surge of boundless patience and unconditional love, with that vigilant concern for everything your baby eats and drinks, with that awareness of your child’s even slightest discomfort—that’s all for you too, Mama.
Note: Carlie Partridge would like to specially thank Cynthea Denise, whose yoga classes in the Bay Area for new mamas have provided a powerful pregnancy perspective to Carlie, and thousands of others.
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Assistant Ed: Laura Ashworth / Ed: Catherine Monkman