Back at work and still in my maternity gear – a sort of shame is nearby

Tanya Sweeney: Having your body back to yourself after having a baby is an interesting experience

When I was pregnant, I didn’t give a monkey’s about my body shape. I was healthy, the baby was healthy, and that’s all that mattered.

In fact, I loved my baby bump; firm and round as a honeydew melon, the skin tight as a drum. It was big enough so that everyone passed remark on it. It was big enough to score me a Luas seat. At the very least, it was big enough to lightly rest on the shoulders of the young guys who would sit on public transport ignoring me on their phones (pass-agg? Moi?).

Once I’d given birth, I felt it was my divine right to eat like a competition winner on an all-expenses cruise. After all I’d been through. I was still eating for two; in some cases, eating for three. Tea and cake became a food group; chocolate the hefty base of my personal food pyramid. When you’re in survival mode, square meals are replaced by grazing and mindless snacking. Keeping a little screaming thing alive is hungry work, and at the end of the day I’d collapse on to the sofa, spent and stressed. B and I would open biscuits or chocolate or whatever other treat visitors had brought, and fall into a carby, soporific haze until the next tiny scream sounded.

I didn’t want to look at my body for days after I came home. My stomach was now an angry honeycomb of… were they stretch marks? Welts? Somehow at the same time, my stomach skin would wrinkle and pucker when I sat down. When I stood, it would hang like a droopy apron, obscuring my wonky C-section scar. The less said about my poor boobs, the better. They could no longer be called pendulous, as “pendulous” at least implies some sort of movement. No, they were the anatomical equivalent of Eeyore. Depressed. Spent. My whole mid-section looked deflated with a sort of weary resignation. I had no idea how much motherhood would change my relationship with my body, in good ways and bad.


Yet, the cosmos giveth and taketh away. “You have the skin of a 12-year-old,” my friend observed. It was true – there was some sort of eerie, peachy smoothness to it. Was it the glow of happiness? A surge in collagen or hormones? Either way, no one believed for a second that we weren’t getting any sleep.


Internally, things were also much changed. I had managed to evade any serious complications, but recovery from a C-section takes time nonetheless. There’s a definite, not entirely welcome sense that things have been moved about a bit. Having your body back to yourself is an interesting experience. Though you couldn’t wait for them to be over while you were pregnant, you now miss the kicks and the stretches and the breathlessness. You miss it being just you two. On the upside, your bladder is behaving itself again.

Initially, I wore my little post-baby bump with a sort of pride. I was a weary, lumbering vision in nursing tops and leggings, and I didn’t care one bit.

But then weeks passed. A tiny internal voice piped up: “Maybe you should be doing something about this. Lay off the Chocolate Kimberleys at the very least.” It’s the internal monologue that so many women hear: that being thinner is just a part of adulting. Worrying about not eating well enough, not being active enough and not looking like you care enough about this stuff is just something you do.

Skinny jeans?

Incidentally, I don’t ever concern myself with the celebrity mums who were “pinging” back into their skinny jeans in record time. We are a different species. I am invariably poorer, fatter and have fewer Insta followers, but I’m almost certainly funnier. I never looked like them pre-baby, so it’s not likely to concern me now.

Yet now I find myself, several weeks post-partum, back at work and still in my maternity gear. I can feel that a sort of shame is nearby; about two towns over. Sooner or later, it will roll into town and my bodily appraisal will move closer towards self-loathing.

There are days I look at my squashed navel, my stretch marks and my two generous fistfuls of paunch, and it irks me. Will I do something about it? I doubt it. I’m too tired, too busy, too swept along by a new life, too into cake.

But I know I definitely got the best side of the bargain – a healthy, delightful daughter. Put like that, stretch marks are such a small price to pay.