In acknowledging the damaging view I had of my body after stillbirth, I couldn’t avoid that I was applying one of the most toxic of behaviours onto myself, a behaviour I was desperately trying to not have others throw upon me, that of judgement.
I was afraid that others could see my broken postpartum body, and they would look and somehow see from my body’s outward appearance that within me was an abnormality of life, a mother with no baby. That my function as a child barer had been so faulty and that I was incapable of the living up to the word ‘mother’. Blindly, what I did was pre-empt others and their judgements, by casting my own judgement on myself.
My daughters’ stillbirth was late term, physically I looked ready to give birth and mentally I was ready to give birth, but only to a live baby. But the adaptability I had to show to cope with her sudden death was not a perpetual unending reserve, all my love went into her, her birth, her funeral, the unbalanced emotions of saying Hello and Goodbye simultaneously. All that I had left for myself after the hurricane were the dregs of emotional coping; the frustration and the judgement.
This manifested in the need, (and I choose that word specifically) my need, to rid my body of any outward sign of the pregnancy. The process of natural recovery was abandoned. Physically from the process of natural labour and birth, and mentally from the shock and trauma of a child’s death, but in my judgement of myself I refused to allow that flow of natural recovery. I forced my body to become what it was prior to my daughter’s pregnancy and birth. Instead of allowing it be become something that felt so uncomfortable to carry physically and mentally.
It took me just weeks to stop my milk supply, to outwardly ‘recover’ from the natural birth and weeks to rid my body of the extra weight I had carried during the 9 months of pregnancy. Family commented on how I lost my baby kilos so quickly, my answer was always along the lines of; ‘I thought I would be spending all my time with our new baby, so now with all this empty time I just exercise.’ And exercise I did, excessively.
I was seeing all that was wrong with my body. To me it was a complement to be outside and have no one suspect what these last few months had dealt me. To me, I was trying to be normal again; to not be that mother, to not be stuck in the physical body of a new mum and to not be seen with the burdensome label of a bereaved parent.
Thankfully, after the shock had dissipated and my mental outlook normalised, I became aware that no one else viewed this as I did, this judgemental fog was only around my own head and only put there by me, and my judgement of my body was really just a focal point of my grief- a place to focus my frustration and anger. A coping strategy, and a terrible one at that.
Thankfully I began to slow down, I looked at my behaviour and could see how critical I was being. Slowly but surely, I realised that it was okay to love the body that I felt had let me down. This body had given me the only time I had with my daughter. It gave us those precious and sweet times together – the rolls, the hiccups the yawns and stretches the aches and pains, a beautiful birth into the waiting arms of her parents and the love, all the love – that unbelievable outside of yourself love you have for your child. That acceptance could only grow if I would move beyond the fog of self-judgement.
If I could love my daughter as I did, then I could love myself as her mother and begin to love and embrace the body that bonded us. In time, I did rid myself of the judgemental fog. The label of ‘bereaved‘ mother still sits uncomfortably, I like to think of myself as a mother, a mother to all my four children. My body has grown and nourished and given birth to my four babies, we have three here in our home we get to watch grow and one we can talk to in the stars, forever our baby. We truly feel blessed to share her short life and the abundant love she left us with. By changed my self-talk and removing the uncomfortable labelling, I moved passed being just a bereaved mother to being HER mother – that’s what sits well with me. With that, I can be proud of my body for giving me time with her, and these days I embrace all of who I am now, all the scars, tears, rips and pulls, aches, pain and sags that all my precious pregnancies gave me. This body of mine has done me proud, even if I didn’t realise it at the time.
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