Tagged: body image

Letting myself go

I was looking at old photos of myself on Timehop (God bless Timehop, the regurgitator of past lives!) and realised that I was really skinny. This was something of a surprise to me as I spent a good proportion of my life and most of my adult life feeling fat.

It's like a lot of my old life is something of a shock to me now. I remembered with a jolt the other day that I didn't wear trousers for five years because my ex told me my legs looked a bit like sausages in them. Five years! When did I allow someone else to have such agency over my body?

Even before I met my ex, I think I had some pretty disordered eating. Not quite anorexia – I never really was one for seeing things through – but I did maintain a pretty low body weight that is significantly lower than I am now. (For context: I am around 5'2", and I used to be a UK size 8-10, and now I'm about a UK size 12. Generally not considered "overweight".)

I'm not sure when my disordered eating and strange body image first started. A lot of people (especially girls) start this around puberty, and perhaps that's what happened for me. I think it's a bit deeper than that, though. I was adopted as a baby, transracially, and I grew up around white people so all my life I've looked different from most of the people I was around growing up.

When I went to a predominantly white school, all of this got amplified. I remember that it was a shock because I slowly realised that I was "less than" because of my race. I realised that I was supposed to be blonde haired and blue eyed and I was about as far from that as possible. I started to find myself ugly (and people started to tell me I was ugly to my face). I never had the skinny white girl legs. Mine were muscular and I was just a different build. Really average for my race, as it turns out. But you don't know that as a child if you grow up with people who don't look like you.

Adoption is complex, and I don't know how much of this was tied up in adoption, but I do know I can't separate out being a different race from my overall experience of growing up. My feeling of not fitting in, even though that was all I knew. Anyway, I got kind of chubby. Although looking back, I wasn't chubby. I don't think I was ever actually chubby – I was just short, and not lanky. 

Then one time when I was around 16, I went away on a holiday (to learn a language) and when I was there I got pretty sick and I couldn't really eat anything. And I dropped a load of weight. When I got back, suddenly everyone said how amazing I looked because I was skinny. I was suddenly approved of, and I liked it. So I maintained it.

I maintained it for a really long time. The thing is, I'm not naturally meant to be that weight. (It's about 20-30kg lighter than I am now. I don't know exactly how much as I don't know how much I weigh now.) So I got by on some disordered eating that kept me at my magic weight. My magic weight crept up over time… I kept in a 5kg weight range through school, and then it kind of crept up during my time at university, until it was +10kg, and then it was about +15kg in my last few years with IVF and everything. And even +20kg post miscarriage.

For me, I always thought I was "happy" when I was a lower weight. But when I look back, I was always kind of unhappy. I was happy that I'd managed to keep my weight down but I always felt a kind of anxiety about it. I used to weigh myself every day. The number on the scales made me feel like I was achieving something or I was failing something.

When I met T, after I'd split up with my ex – I had to adjust to a new way of being. I was always very controlled with my ex. He wouldn't think he was, but he controlled a lot about me. He had a huge effect on my feelings of self worth (or not). This was someone who had always dated very skinny women and even told me I was the fattest person he'd ever been with. It made me feel pretty bad about myself that I was that. The whole thing with my ex was that I never felt good enough. With T, I felt good enough. He really didn't care about weight. I actually met him when I was still pretty skinny and I piled on the relationship pounds… I let myself go.

I'm still conflicted about how I feel about it, because I recognise that my magic weight wasn't magic at all, but a strange idea of how I was supposed to look. And T tells me he loves me the way I am. But it was hard in the beginning putting on pregnancy weight – not just because of the weight itself, but the fear that it might be for nothing, like our first IVF and pregnancy was.

This pregnancy that gave me B also gave me a lot of weight. Firstly I had to take IVF drugs which make you put on weight. And also I had to take steroids which make you put on weight also. I got to halfway through pregnancy in a state of fear that it wouldn't work out, but then when I got halfway I decided I was going to try my best not to fear it any more.

I also decided to stop weighing myself. I have weighed myself every day, sometimes multiple times a day, since I was a teenager. I even recorded my weight every day in an app so I could see how much weight I put on. It's a bit crazy obsessive.

When I was properly pregnant, I gave myself permission to stop weighing myself. And I let myself relax into the pregnancy.

And you know what?

The strange thing is, I have no doubt I'm at least magic weight +20kg. Possibly +30kg. And I definitely have my moments of feeling a bit concerned about it (especially if I catch a glimpse of myself coming out of the shower – stretch marks and overhang and pendulous mammaries hanging out) but I generally feel absolutely awesome.

I don't know how it works for other people but for me – my body was always this thing that failed me. I wasn't the same as my white friends. I looked different. I was ultimately not enough – I wasn't enough for my birth mother to keep me; I wasn't enough for my ex to love me how I needed to be loved; I wasn't thin enough or attractive enough or whatever.

But having B was like all vanity went out of the window. I love myself now, because I know I'm just the same as anyone else – I'm fallible and imperfect, but my messed up body gave me B and I love myself for that. 

I love my ridiculous humungaboobs that feed B like a dream… when his dad "flies" him over to me for a feed, he giggles and opens his mouth to latch on. They may be saggy and baggy but they do exactly what they need to do to feed my baby, and I'm proud I've been able to do that and even to pump for him so he's been exclusively breastfed for his entire life, for half a year.

I love my saggy stomach. (This one requires a bit more imagination!) I love that it carried B safely (even though he needed cutting out at the last minute!). I love that I got to experience being gloriously, amazingly pregnant. I once had a big bump that I never thought I'd get to have, and I grew a human in there, and if it looks like a fleshy deflated balloon well – so be it. My bikini days are over anyway and I have an awesome very flattering swimsuit with tummy panels!

I love my fuller face. (Again this is a hard one!) I love that it's the face that my son loves. His eyes light up when he sees me. He giggles and reaches his arms out. We even had to hide the cushion with my face on because he kept staring at it! Yes, I don't have the cheekbones I used to have but they'll come back one day. Or maybe they won't. But I refuse to hate my face because it looks a little bit like my boy's and I love his.

Anyone who sees me now probably thinks I've "let myself go". And I really have.

I've given myself permission to breathe out. (You kind of have to if you had a caesarean, just saying.)

I've given myself permission to not care. I don't have to listen to the whispering voices of bullies from the past, who said I was fat and ugly. I'm not fat and ugly. I am the size I needed to be to carry my baby into existence. I'm the face of my ancestors, who I'm finally beginning to connect with through adoption forums and same race groups, and I refuse to be ashamed of my non-whiteness because I don't ever want to see that shame in my son's face.

Of course I don't advocate being unhealthy. (Well, chocolate notwithstanding.) The thing is, I'm a size bigger than I was pre-pregnancy. But there's a freedom in letting myself have this. I have told myself I won't diet until I finish breastfeeding. Right now, I don't know when that will be. I want to do at least a year. In fact I'm enjoying it so much (never thought I'd say that!) that I joke I'll do it till he's 15… although I think he might decide to wean himself before then! (We have started baby led weaning but B is not interested in the least… It's a messy business!)

I will start exercising again when I have the time, for sure. But it will be just for myself. I miss the enjoyment I used to get from exercise, a bit, but then we are pretty active as we walk almost everywhere and we have Dog, and he gets us out and about. Plus I do swimming with B once a week, if bobbing around in the shallow end counts. (Yes it does!)

The important thing is that I want B to have a healthy self esteem and be happy. And a huge part of that is having happy healthy parents. I don't want him to see his mother dieting or hating the body that he changed by coming into existence. I don't want him to hate half of his race that came from me. We've taken steps… He's in a diverse nursery in the diverse area we live in. So he will never have the experience of feeling the odd one out, like I did. 

And his parents are currently happy together and don't argue that much! (And when they do, it's his mama's fault… Hopefully the hormones will have died down a bit by the time he's more aware!) We are hopefully moving to our new place soon, so he'll even have a bit of outside space. And he has an awesome Dog for a buddy, and a load of new buddies at nursery… Life is good… and we are going to focus on the good things we are grateful for, rather than the bad things we wish we didn't have.

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will know we are massive Disney fans. We have booked to bring B to Disneyland Paris this year, because even though he won't remember it, it's our happy place (and we will save Orlando and the transatlantic flight for when he's older!). We have been every year apart from last year (heavily pregnant) as a couple and now we're going back as a family. 

And of course, one of the best Disney songs ever is from Frozen: Let it Go. I don't tell that many people this, but I can barely ever listen to that song without wanting to cry. It's the perfect song that sums up so much of how I feel. (Which is strangely embarrassing given I'm an almost-40 year old definitely not Scandinavian most likely not a princess archetypally buttoned up British-by-adoption person.)

Let it go, let it go
And I'll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone!

So here's the thing… I never was perfect. But I was trying to be, and it was exhausting.

And I never realised that all this time I needed to find acceptance. Not from other people, but from myself.

My hair is falling out!

There’s a lot I could write about the slightly shoddy thing that is my post partum body, but the main thing of note is: my hair is falling out!

I’ve always had lots of hair. It’s the kind of hair my ex used to get annoyed about getting everywhere (because of course you can help your hair, right?!). Now we have a dog, my hair on any normal given day is intermingled with his among the general detritus of the house. 

But post partum my hair is just falling out all over the shop. 

I didn’t really worry at first because I have a lot of hair. I’ve always had a lot of hair. 

But lately it’s gotten beyond a joke. I first noticed a few strands were coming out but that was normal. 

Then when I brushed my hair, there was so much on the brush that I had to bin it every time instead of once every few times… but I thought that was because – with a new baby – I didn’t brush my hair as often so it was a bit knotty. 

Anyway in the last few weeks (B is now 22 weeks, 5 months old) my hair has started falling out in clumps. It’s everywhere!

I wonder how much I’ll be left with? I’m sort of hoping I can get by with less hair (as I always had a lot) and/or my hair is regenerating!

Although a friend of mine said hers never recovered after having her two kids…

Of course any amount of bodily discomfort is worth it because I had our miracle baby. And we are so happy being parents! I still thank my lucky stars every single day. Any complaining seems a bit… ungrateful. 

But I really would quite like to still have hair…

Day 74: Time to go up a size

Well, I’m now 7 weeks and 3 days pregnant. I still feel a bit on the rough side but the slight upside of this weekend’s less-than-summery weather is that my hayfever appears to have died down. I still have problems breathing which is quite disconcerting, and I have read that apparently pregnancy seems to have an effect on the mucus and whatnot (giving you a runny nose, so maybe it wasn’t the hayfever, although my eyes were also bad and the sneezing… gosh, the sneezing… ugh) and also that it can exacerbate any asthma you might have.

I’m that sort of awkward person who has always refused to believe I could possibly have asthma. I mean, I really don’t. I do however have a little collection of inhalers which I was given when my hayfever got really bad a few years ago. I did that breathing test (where you have to huff-puff into a tube, which isn’t easy I think… or perhaps I’m just making up excuses for why I was so bad at it) and it turns out my lung capacity was pretty poor. There is definitely some sort of breathing thing going on because I do get relief from taking the blue inhaler (salbutamol). But it’s something that only seems to affect me in summer / hayfever season. Anyway, thankfully the itchy eyes and snotty nose and compulsive sneezing has died down, leaving me only with shortness of breath. I’m just taking the inhaler everywhere and hoping for the best.

The weirdest thing now is that I definitely now feel like my stomach has got bigger, and I can’t really believe it could just be down to me being greedy. (Refer to my many posts about pizza… and the little Pizza Baby as I have christened T-to-be.) I sort of feel like there is something swelling under the flab. So this weekend I decided I needed to go and buy a new pair of jeans.

I have these pairs of jeans that I’ve been wearing for the past year or two, and they were miraculously in a size 6 UK. I mean, this is ludicrous for starters because there’s no way I’m a size 6… I pinky promise you it’s not a humblebrag – Marks and Spencer in the UK is known for the vanity sizing. However I am very short, which does mean that overall I’m smaller and can actually get away now and again with buying things in smaller sizes. It doesn’t mean I’m skinny. I’m what could definitely be termed… umm… flabby. I realised this weekend I needed to go and buy a new pair of jeans because the old ones wouldn’t do up without cutting off circulation, and I still want to be able to wear jeans, and I tried on a pair of ASOS maternity jeans and they were utterly horrendous on me. (Not at all like the model on the website who clearly is neither preggers or flabby.) So I thought I’ll just go and buy a pair of M&S jeans in the size up. Anyway… I needed to get a size 10! Which is really good for a UK size, I mean it’s a perfectly acceptable size and all, it’s just not so good when it’s 2 sizes larger than my existing jeans and they are still a bit tight to do up!

Anyway, I bought them. I decided I’m not comfortable buying anything “maternity” until we make it to Week 12 at least and anyway I will always wear the size 10 jeans as “fat jeans”, even if I’m not pregnant. I am hoping that the flab-belly turns into an actual bump at some point so I can feasibly get something pregnancy related like maternity jeans, although I’ve not much hope for the stuff I’ve seen on offer so far. None of the stuff I’ve tried seems to fit in a decent way and is all made for people whose legs are about a foot longer than mine are. (I hasten to add, the only reason these jeans fit is they’re meant to be “ankle grazers”, ie shorter than usual… They aren’t on me!) I’m telling myself the size 6 jeans I bought several pairs of were some sort of sizing anomaly and I haven’t really porked up 2 dress sizes. Eek.

In terms of body image, it has to be said I’m at an all time low. I’m the fattest I’ve ever been. The problem is… pizza… and happiness in relationship… and then the fertility drugs… and pizza. So although I’ve given up drinking I still seem to be porking out. I’m telling myself I don’t mind because it’s more important that Pizza Baby is happy and healthy and gosh, we never even expected to make it to this stage. But part of me still has this kind of “Agh” moment when I happen to catch sight of myself in the mirror and I resemble a beached whale. (Again, I am not humblebragging at all – I’m very short so anything over a size 8 and I start to resemble a chunky monkey, and now I’m a size 10 pushing a 12 I’m beginning to resemble Violet Beauregarde in full on blueberry phase.)

Also, perhaps this is TMI but I’m starting to worry that I’m not very attractive to T. I already started worrying about this about a stone ago, but we were focusing on the injections and everything and trying to get pregnant, and now I think that I’m just ugh fat and minging and it makes me feel a bit sad. I’m not beating myself up about it unduly, I mean it won’t stress PB, but I definitely notice that I feel completely different about my body image than I did before. Like I don’t even want to get undressed in front of him any more. (I used to be the kind of person to parade around in my undies and dance about a bit.) I know this is just a bit of messed up female body image stuff, but it makes me feel worried. I do kind of half think that if the bump works out then that will kind of suck up some of the excess stomach flab, and at least I’ll have an excuse to look fatter, but right now I’m feeling very sensitive about it.

Another thing is that I don’t even want to meet up with people I haven’t seen for a while as I’m conscious that I’ve put on so much weight. This is really screwed up, I know, but then again we’ve all thought to ourselves “Well she’s porked out a bit” or somesuch when we haven’t seen people for a while. I think I just feel very sensitive about it because even before we went through IVF, I put on quite a lot of weight over a couple of years. I was definitely underweight / on the thin side when I met T, having just come out of a long term relationship/marriage and gone through a really tough time. So I had a bit of growing room. But then I kind of grew right through normal and now I’ve headed into porky. I actually now class as overweight on the BMI scale when I used to be at the low end of normal.

This wasn’t meant to be an introspective post but there you go. I think I’ve had a bit of a complex relationship with food and body image before… I’ve never been anorexic as such, but people close to me have, so I’ve always had this kind of complicated relationship with food. I’m more of a functioning fussy eater, although the things I like to be fussy about are junk food (pizza!) and chocolate. I’m one of those people who is sort of all or nothing, and I think being happy in the relationship with T kind of gave me permission to eat what I liked – because I felt secure and loved. T is not thin at all – he’s a normal kind of guy who doesn’t really care if he has a bit of a belly. Whereas I’ve always been on the small side and I’ve fluctuated wildly – I think in total my fluctuation in the past has been 16 kg, which is massive. Weirdly I don’t think people notice much in between although if I go down to a low weight they do start to comment.

The thing is, I don’t want to get back to being underweight / skinny again – I wasn’t healthy then. I was just existing on cigarettes and alcohol (in the wake of my marriage breakup) so it’s not like that’s a sustainable lifestyle. I don’t even like smoking any more. It was just part of my sort of nihilistic phase. I’m actually coping okay without alcohol – I don’t find that I crave it – I just miss the social aspect as not drinking in the UK leads to social awkwardness. But I really don’t feel comfortable being this fat. I think if I get to the stage where I have a bump, I’ll feel more secure that I am pregnant rather than fat. Right now I just keep thinking, what happens if I lose the baby – then I’ll just be fat.

I realise this all sounds rather messed up. But I’m trying to give an accurate and honest reflection of my entire infertility journey and all the feelings that go with it. I hope that in a few months I’ll be a glowing big-bumped pregnant woman and I’ll be able to look back and think “What on earth was I thinking?” – I hope this is just a temporary madness.

Another thing is, I am invited to a work related (ex work) do this week, and it’s someone who I would always support and I feel really bad because I don’t know whether I feel up to going. First of all I don’t feel comfortable in public due to all the reasons above about body image. The last time the people from my previous work saw me (most of them who I haven’t seen since I left, or not recently) I would have been a lot thinner. So I feel like they’ll all be thinking “Omigosh she’s gotten so fat”. Which isn’t a nice idea. The other reason is that I still haven’t got to grips with the idea of going out and not drinking at a drinks reception. I have done the one (daytime) work event where I picked up a glass of champagne and wandered around with it and put it down again, but I’ve not yet braved an evening event. I’ve just avoided them all so far. All my friends know I’m busy at work, and I think when/if I manage to reach 12 weeks then I’ll be able to go out and tell them why I’m not drinking. Anyway I feel bad about this event because I know if the shoe was on the other foot, I’d be really upset if this person didn’t attend my event – we were very close. I don’t know what to do. I think the person will be really upset / offended if I don’t attend but I don’t know if I can really face all my ex colleagues and a not drinking / drunk situation when I am not ready to announce the pregnancy yet.

Sorry this has turned out to be a bit of a pity party! I’m not really sitting around feeling sorry for myself as such. The change in body (putting on weight) without yet having a bump is taking a bit of getting used to. And I just don’t know what to do about social situations.

Do you have any advice if you’ve been at this stage before?

If you’re at this stage or coming up to it, what are you planning to do in these situations?

Answers on a postcard…!