Body Combat pt II

So here I am again. The battle with my body continues. This time mon corps has produced two little human beans (in short succession). It has nourished and harboured them safely until expulsion, and then produced sustenance for them until I handed the job over to my moo-ing friends and the wonder that is smashed banana. Those bébés are my absolute pride and joy. I’m floored constantly by how much I love and adore every tiny molecule of them. I want to stare at them, all day and all night. So how come I can’t look at my body, baby making véhicule extraordinaire, with that same pride and joy?

I’ve battled with my body confidence for a long time, maybe forever, and here’s the first thing I have realised of late: just because I had bebes I did not magically become something I wasn’t before I became a mum. Let me clarify. I was not an elite athlete or a gym bunny pre-kids. In fact, prior to having kids, I did not know what a gym was. I mean I had a rough idea of the sweaty horror-house, but I was scared of them. I counted walking to the pub as exercise and an olive in my martini as one of my five a day. At best I was “skinny fat” as my wise (and fit) littlest sister would say, which apparently is a technical term amongst actual fit and healthy people for those that can’t be referred to as “fat fat” but no matter the clothes size still wobble.

Questionable choice of top but remarkable waist. Strong male objectification efforts – getting our own back!

Looking back now, of course, I was just fine. But I didn’t like my reflection; I could point to 20 things I hated about myself before finding a single thing that was ok. I hated wearing swimwear and basically was a massive prude. But I was lucky in some ways- I didn’t like my body but it didn’t particularly knock my confidence. I was brought up to be grateful for what I have, and I was frequently reminded that we are all different and physical appearance is just one aspect of “you”. I don’t remember much other discussion or focus on the body (positive in itself) other than engaging in fun exercise opportunities, no doubt to wear us out as much as to get fit. I was – and remain – passionate about the fact (actual fact) that every body is different, each person is fortunate to have what they have, women lucky enough to carry a baby or to menstruate are blessed and strong, and I deplore the negative effects of advertising on women. The way a woman’s body “should” look and all the products and utensils we need to make ourselves more “perfect” or less “ugly”. How we are objectified. Check out some examples here and link through to Jean Kilbourne’s page and see her pioneering work on this topic.

When I was fresh out of hospital with my new bebes, Facebook ads told me I needed just 8 weeks to get my pre baby body back plus some abs and possibly also a job as a gym instructor. Are you freaking kidding me? I need 8 weeks to catch my breath. I need 8 months to physically recover from this – not to get my pre-baby body “back” – and I need 8 tonnes of patience not to punch you advertisers in the face. I am *never* getting my pre baby body back because I had a bebe. Unless you have a time machine my body will always and forever more be post baby. Let’s focus on that.

I was horrified to realise recently that the image of the internal human body, the muscles and the nervous system, the image we’ve all grown up seeing and studying, is a male body. Shocking news: men and women don’t look the same on the inside! There was a clue with the external aspects, but what do I know. So it turns out the female muscular anatomy is quite different to the male body. Ok you know that. Obvs. But seriously how did we get to 2019 without anybody really calling that out? Where are the mammory glands?!

Right here. Wow.

I digress. Back to moi and my doubly/ triply wobbly wobbly fat fat. I have had kids so now I’m the old me, squared. Ironically I’m probably “fitter” than I have ever been (apart from one time I did a half marathon – unbelieavabubble to me now); I actually occasionally go to a gym, I try to do yoga, I spend my time lifting wriggly worms of 10kg and above, or carting around my office in my bag, or chasing littles, or bending and stretching to get all their clothes washed, folded and away in the cupboards before starting the cycle again, and I am more conscious of what I eat. And drink. Because as someone older and wiser kindly informed me, it is harder to lose the excess flab post kids. *sobs as she puts away the crisps* But I am strong. I should be happy. I am confident that I am more than my cankles and my generously proportioned derrière. I just need to take that thinking and really apply it to my moments of mirror glaring.

I want my children to grow up being comfortable in their own skin. We need to set that example and normalise real women’s bodies. I am thoughtful now about what I say about my own body: I don’t make a big deal about my squishy tummy. I try not to speak out about my mum boobs/ spaniels ears. I try not to hide behind too many layers of protection when we are going for a splash and I’m working on standing proud. “I made you in here!” I declare pointing at my tum “what a clever mummy I am!” And when Big Bro points to my chest and shouts out that “when I was a baby I drank milk from your boobies!” “Yes you did little man, and isn’t that magic!”. Rather than jump on the opportunity to insult myself I’m giving myself a high 5. I’m making a positive change.

Not my image but a glorious one it is!

Voilà the second realisation: linked to #1 above, stop being so hard on yourself. Bloody hell woman. You gave birth twice. You are not 15. You work, you play (in the children playing sense now, not playing hard with vodka martinis, just to be clear) ~ you juggle. Time is precious. Hanger is real. The odds are stacked against you having an easy ride to extreme fitness right now, but you can be healthy. And happy. And proud. Be proud of what your body has achieved. And speak up about it! I don’t think it’s unreasonable to point out to the humans that you produced, and perhaps to the one that you produced them with, quite how clever it was that you produced them in your tummy, and perhaps your thighs and your arms and chins too. Normalise your baby-making body.

Third: try to refrain from commenting. Maybe don’t comment on other women’s appearances, unless it’s to give them a boost. And know your audience. This part is hard. But as you go deeper into friendships, you will know different friend’s attitudes on this stuff. It’s kind of hard if you are super self-conscious to receive any commentary on appearance, because no matter what is being said you can somehow derive a direct or indirect insult. Par exemple “Have you lost weight, you look great!” = “Was I too weighty before? Did I have weight I needed to lose? Why didn’t you alert me to my excessive weight?”

Someone said to me recently, in response to my mumbling about not being happy in a swimming costume, “don’t be hard on yourself, you’re only 18 months post partum”. Now that was sweet and well-intentioned, but doubling + my own ‘9 months in 9 months out’ motto feels cheeky. I mean I could say I’m only 12 years post partum someday… I like it but it doesn’t fly. My body “issues” aren’t purely those that are directly linked to portage of bebe. I’m sure they haven’t been improved by that gargantuan experience but pretty sure I can’t blame the kids for my cankles. Conversely I may well have gifted them our family cankleloom. We are the Fawcett family of powerful legs. De rien!

Mine were 100 times canklier at the end of pregnancy

Fourth: take your own advice. C’est tout.

Go forth and be bold and strong and proud of what you got. I also recommend some Chessie King @chessiekingg on Instagram if you want a regular boost of body confidence 💕

Bouncing and other funny stories

Ahhhh bouncing. How I miss you. How I loved a good bounce around back in the day. A bit of trampolining was my favourite. I mean I *really* loved it. Like going to my friend’s house and having a go on her trampoline and thinking she was the luckiest girl alive. Like the moment years of pestering finally paid off and I “persuaded” my parents (I now know this means whined them into submission) to get a trampoline for the garden. The pinacle of joy.  I joined every after school club possible and even made the trampolining team (that was for enthusiasm over skills, obvs). The fear and excitement and joy of getting a leotard on, and hair slicked back, ready to bounce in front of the judges. All eyes on you, your pointy toes and your major wedgie situation…

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Pretty much me

Remember:

Must point toes.

Must get arms up by ears and realllllly straight.

Must smile.

Try not to shake or you bounce off in a random direction.

You know what I never once thought about? Peeing myself. That’s right kids, I had complete and utter bladder control. I took it for granted. Today I don’t think I would make the team. I think the team would be mortified and the wedgie would be the least of my worries (although not insignificant :D).

Pelvic. Floor. There are few words in this world that trigger an immediate reaction in adult women, but I’m fairly sure those have to be number 1. You’re squeezing right now, aren’t you?

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Me explaining pelvic floor to Boddler using weird hotel art – he’s choosing to ignore me and singing Wind the Bobbin Up.

Pelvic floor muscles. The muscles that support your pelvic organs (bladder, bowels and uterus) and cover the bottom area of your pelvis. We all have them, we are warned about exercising them, during pregnancy we are reminded of the importance of the pelvic floor muscles on a regular basis by knowing midwives, but the truth is we rarely exercise them. Before motherhood you probably don’t have much need to. But, once you eject a bebe, whichever way that bebe comes out, your pelvic floor will take a hit and you need to work hard to restore it.

The wonderful NHS website states: “strengthening your pelvic floor muscles can help stop incontinence, treat prolapse, and make sex better, too.”

So, it’s really quite important.  What I find really astonishing is the lack of support and follow up that comes as standard here in Britain for this critical post partum area. Over the channel, in my second motherland, la Belle France, the attention to rehabilitation of the pelvic floor is second to none. Every single French mother gets 10 physio classes offert to assist them in getting their muscles back to full function. As I understand it they even get a magical wand which is used to expedite the process. How can our neighbours so clearly recognise the importance of this therapy and over here you are laughed out of the GP for time wasting, or told by your midwife they will refer you, eventually, if it’s “really bad”? It’s like you just need to deal with it. Now you’ve given birth, well, you’re a bit broken and you’ll just have to get on with it. Sorry. There’s almost a stigma attached to it. Why do you need your pelvic floor anyway? You don’t want to be the next face of Tena lady?!

It doesn’t really sit with my image of superwomen who have grown and ejected a bebe whilst doing their day jobs. If anything, women deserve a double dose of support having done all of that and still operating alongside our male counterparts. We still run around after the kids, we still lift and push and do all manner of strenuous things despite having put our pelvis through hell. And if you do have some struggles, some discomfort, or leaking, what does “really bad” look like compared to “normal”?

 

 

When I gave birth the first time with the epidural, I had no sensation when I was pushing and I pushed seriously hard. Maybe too hard, if that’s possible. I almost exploded my eyeballs, and I ejected my catheter twice. Once the little guy was safely in my arms, and sensations restored, I had approximately zero bladder control for the first few days. Loss of continence, or incontinence, went on for a week or so and then gradually, and thankfully, started to strengthen. During those initial days I really thought I was broken. I panicked. How would I carry on with my life if I needed nappies for the rest of my days? I tend to cough and laugh quite a lot. Do I need to stop those things?! I asked the midwife if I would ever be the same. “Give it time. We will refer you to a physio if it’s necessary.” Well on the first count, she was right. Time is a great healer and it is true that these wondrous bodies of ours will rapidly rehabilitate themselves. Remarkably in a few short weeks (although it feels long in the moment) your bodily functions start to restore. However, it’s hard to ascertain if you’re completely restored, or as restored as you are going to get.  How do you know? I practised regular squeezing along with post natal yoga when I was ready, and there was a lot of focus on exercising the pelvic floor. I was also told squeezing whilst breastfeeding expedites the strengthening process, but it may also be because you’re doing  it so often it’s a good distraction from the nibbling and dribbling going on elsewhere.  In any case, the pelvic floor exercises are critical.

 

 

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Fast forward to my second birth and I did a bit of research before the madness set in. I want a functioning pelvic floor (and abdominals) now and, importantly, as I get older and my muscles naturally start to weaken. I don’t want to wait until I’m so broken that I can’t function.  I want the French treatment. I found a physio team that offer post partum therapy and the therapists are familiar with, if not trained in, the French techniques. The London-based physiotherapists I’ve found are called Mummy’s Physio. My experience with them so far has been very positive. Ok, pelvic floor physio is about as glamorous as it sounds. For us prudish Brits, and I’m really up there on the red face scale (I don’t even like wearing swimwear in “public”, perhaps this stems back to the leotard wedgie horrors… anyway I digress) it’s hard. No one particularly wants to be prodded and probed, it’s an uncomfortable conversation to discuss your pelvic function and honestly it’s hard to remember and to make time to do the exercises, BUT I know it’s so important.  And certainly the team at Mummy’s Physio (and I’m sure many others) will make you as comfortable as possible.

I urge you to do your exercises, wherever you are in the parenting game. Download the NHS app, Squeezy, to remind yourself to do them. And don’t be afraid to explore rehabilitation options with your doctor. Don’t be embarrassed. If you have private healthcare you may well be covered.

We are powerful women.  Let’s keep our bodies strong. 

Precious pelvic floor power to you all x

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You are worth it!

PS. In case you aren’t familiar with them, this is how to do pelvic floor exercises from the NHS website:

How to do pelvic floor exercises:

  • close up your anus as if you’re trying to prevent a bowel movement
  • at the same time, draw in your vagina as if you’re gripping a tampon, and your urethra as if to stop the flow of urine
  • at first, do this exercise quickly, tightening and releasing the muscles immediately
  • then do it slowly, holding the contractions for as long as you can before you relax: try to count to 10
  • try to do three sets of eight squeezes every day: to help you remember, you could do a set at each meal

As well as these exercises, practise tightening up the pelvic floor muscles before and during coughing and sneezing.