The Marks Of Life

I’ve had this song going round in my head for days.

In case you missed it, it’s blogger Sophie McCartney’s take on Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape Of You’ from a Mum’s perspective; gagging at the smell of baby poo and vomit, dealing with toddler tantrums, wondering where that strange smell is coming from, dealing with fussy toddlers at mealtimes, thanking God for CBeebies. It’s all there.

It was funny the first time, and the second, and the third… And now whenever ‘Shape Of You’ comes on the radio I no longer hear Ed’s original lyrics. Even if I do sing under my breath because I don’t really want the kids singing ‘Smell of Poo’ at the top of their lungs at every opportunity; scatological humour being their very favourite, of course, they’re kids…

Except one refrain keeps jarring with me; “What have you done to my body?”, sung as she wriggles and struggles trying to fit into a pair of jeans.

I can’t blame or credit my kids for my body – it looks pretty much the same as it did before they came along; saggy bits, wobbly bits, stretch marks, flat feet; it all predates them! No blame on their little heads!

Which got me wondering… do some skinny mums resent their kids for what pregnancy has done to their figures? Even if it’s just a tiny tiny bit, buried deep in the subconscious, that’s terribly sad.

Personally, I feel it would be far better to resent society and the beauty industry for suggesting that women should conform to some unrealistic ‘spring back into shape’ notion immediately after childbirth – but it’s hard to argue with the subconscious!? I know the mum in the video is playing for laughs, but as the saying goes ‘ many a true word spoken in jest’.

I’d never considered how the flipside of pressuring new mums to get back into shape, actually subtly implies that the children are to blame; the magazines don’t tend to call it ‘pregnancy weight, but ‘baby weight’, after all and language is a very subtle but powerful manipulator.

I don’t buy magazines, nor seek this sort of thing out online, so I don’t see this on a regular basis, but now I’ve been thinking about it, I’m glad this sort of content doesn’t appeal to me. Certainly, having a quick look before writing this showed just how much judgemental content there is out there for new mums in terms of body image.

When I’d just had my babies, I was blissfully ignorant of any such pressures! In hindsight, being fat and opting out of mainstream media actually seems like a really positive life choice! I just got on with being a new mum, trying to fathom my path through the sleep-deprived, bodily-fluid-covered, chocolate-digestive-fuelled world that is early parenthood; enjoying it and being exhausted by it in roughly equal parts.

At a time of the greatest upheaval and steepest learning curve in their lives, women should be able to just be with and enjoy their babies! But seriously, could this actually affect how women bond with their babies – wasting valuable time and effort trying to get back into the pre-pregnancy skinny jeans, and potentially feeling a sense of failure if they don’t achieve that lauded goal at a time when our hormones are naturally all over the place surely can’t be ideal?

I know I moan at times of the treatment of bigger mums. But actually, in this case I’m glad that my early days as a mum weren’t infected with this kind of poison. I felt no such pressure. Plenty of other pressures around keeping a tiny human alive, but none of this nonsense, and for that I am eternally glad.

For me, pregnancy and childbirth was (and should be!) a time of absolute wonder and amazement at what my not-so-little body was capable of. Well, wonder, amazement and general queasiness, but hey, that means the hormones are all working as they should, right?

Right from the first realisation that carrying a child had suddenly awakened my ‘spidey-senses’ and I was now able to detect the nauseating whiff of a tuna sandwich from half a kilometer away, to feeling the babies wriggling around inside me, to discovering that the dairy had sprung into production surprisingly early (about 20 weeks early!), through to having two awesome, pop-a-pea-out-of-a-pod births, and then feeding them well into toddlerhood, my amazing body did all of that, and I’m bloody proud of it. Wobbly bits and all.

In the Willy Russell play/film Shirley Valentine, the inveterate charmer, Costas talks about Shirley’s stretch marks:

Don’t, don’t be too stupid to try to hide these lines. They, they are lovely, because they are part of you, and you are lovely, so don’t, don’t hide, be proud. Sure. These marks show that, that you are alive, that you survive. Don’t try to hide these lines. They are the marks of life.

Shirley replies – to the audience; “Aren’t men full of shit?”, but do you know, I’m with Costas one hundred percent. Shirley reads too many magazines…

Don’t Assume, ASK!!!

“Don’t judge a book by its cover”, so the saying goes. But time after time during my ante-natal appointments I found that I was persistently judged by my ample cover…

Presumptive statements like “You need to cut back on the junk food”. Without actually asking about my diet first.

“You should be getting more exercise”. Again, without asking how much exercise I was already getting!

As soon as I found out I was pregnant I enrolled in Aqua Natal exercise classes twice a week, run by my local NHS service, and was pleased (and somewhat surprised) to discover that I actually had more energy, more stamina, and was seemingly fitter that a lot of the skinnier women in the pool with me.

Even I had made assumptions about myself. So perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised when Health Care Professionals do the same…

What got me thinking about this today was this article I read on Lauren Laverne’s ‘The Pool’ Website: Why the BMI is just one more unhelpful figure for women

Why BMI is yat another unhelpful figure for womenThis isn’t new news. Especially since scientists and doctors have been pondering the “Obesity Paradox” for a while now – that people in the BMI ‘overweight’ range, 25 to 30, may enjoy significantly lower mortality rates than their ‘normal weight’ counterparts.

Forgive me for linking to a health article in the Daily Fail, but for once, this one written by cardiologist Dr Carl Lavie is actually quite balanced, well put together, and helpful (if you can ignore the sensationalist headline).

What the science seems to show is that obesity in and of itself, while not necessarily ideal, is secondary to your level of fitness in determining how ‘healthy’ you are.

Feel free to remind your presumptive healthcare providers of this!

If I was being told the same unhelpful advice in ante-natal sessions now, I’d be fully prepared to challenge the speaker on their assumptions first. Trouble is, at the time, all I could do was mumble somewhat defensively that actually I was eating healthily and getting a reasonable amount of exercise…

Now I’d be a bit more confident at pointing out the blatant rudeness and frankly unscientific approach to advising more of something, or a change to something, without establishing a baseline first.

Also, as anyone who’s ever been to anything espousing the values of SMART goals – you’re much more likely to achieve something if it’s Specific, Measurable etc. I think a more targeted suggestion recommending increasing exercise to three sessions a week from the two I was already doing (having asked about that in the first place) would be far more person centred and motivating.

For the record, I’d really recommend Aqua Natal. I totally credit those sessions for the two incredibly easy, pop-a-pea-out-of-a-pod births I experienced, and no-one can see your wobbly bits in action!

x

Big Birtha

Sharing the love

The BigBirthas website has been active for a little over two years now. While I haven’t ever got as much time as I’d like to work on the site, it isn’t hard to stay motivated, as every so often I get a lovely email from someone in the BigBirthas community about how the site has helped them.

I don’t usually share them, but thought maybe it’s time I did (with permission!) so here is my most recent lovely email from ‘Jo’:

I just wanted to say an enormous THANK YOU for your website! I have just discovered I am pregnant after trying to conceive for some time so am over the moon! But am already being body-shamed and fed so many scare stories from the medics that I fear they will make me high risk purely through scaremongering! I’m certain sure my body is not high risk and needed some evidence and research to back it up!

Your wealth of information and reassuring guidance on your amazing website has calmed me down and empowered me to advocate for myself during appointments and in particular, push strongly for a water birth which I have always wanted. This must have taken an awful lot of time and effort (there is so much info there!), but it is a lifesaver for women like me. I will be visiting your page often throughout the next few months!

Thank you

Jo

So for Jo (huge congratulations!) and everyone else reading this, you are most welcome. It has been and remains truly a pleasure.

I’m only sorry I still haven’t got round to finishing researching and writing the many articles that are still languishing in my ‘draft’ box – many of which are little more than titles. I still think I will get round to it! But it seems the right time to reflect. I’ve been involved in a few campaigns over the time that BigBirthas has been active – trying to positively influence birth treatment and outcomes, for everyone, not just the larger ladies in our community, and now the Maternity Review was just published yesterday. I’ve not read all of it yet (there’s over 100 pages!) but it does seem to be suggesting more woman-centred care, which can only be a good thing, in my opinion!

So if you’ve just found out you’re pregnant and are apprehensive of what the future brings, welcome. There’s a community here. Be strong. Have faith in your body’s innate abilities. Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. Request to see the evidence base on which treatment is being recommended, and object/refuse/work to find an alternative where you experience prejudicial treatment that has no good evidence for its imposition.

And if you’re ever feeling low, or as though you’re not ‘supposed’ to be pregnant, do a Google image search for ‘fertility goddess’ or ‘mother goddess’. See those carvings and sculptures of women with big breasts, big hips and big tummies?

The ancient people who made those figures knew what they were talking about.

You are a goddess.

Don’t you forget it.

Why you shouldn’t make assumptions based on size

It really frustrates me when I hear that a health professional, when faced with a larger patient, has said that they need to exercise ‘more’, without actually establishing what exercise the person does in the first place.

This interview is an excellent example that size is not an indicator of activity levels:

http://totalwomenscycling.com/lifestyle/interviews/interview-plus-sized-athlete-krista-henderson-on-focusing-on-fitness-not-weight-loss-53606/#73Hb9MOR2gU9FSHm.97

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How many medical personnel would take one look at Krista Henderson and assume (wrongly!) that she barely gets herself off the couch?

One of the arguments for not allowing bigger women access to a birth pool is ‘the difficulty in getting in and out’.

I can think of a better way of finding out whether I can get myself in and out of a pool, and it’s not by looking at me and making a snap judgement based on prejudice.

Similarly with blood pressure. Don’t assume that I’m going to have high blood pressure because I’m heavy – you can check my blood pressure easily enough, so let’s do that and then change my treatment if need be, not assume the worst case scenario and restrict my options based on assumptions rater than facts.

In the event, my blood pressure was always on the low side, and more than once it was commented on with surprise how’ sprightly’ I was getting in and out of the pool and up stairs etc. We, Krista Henderson included, should be judged on what we’re capable of, and not our clothes size!