My Struggle With Postpartum Self Esteem

For women, there is a constant expectation and pressure to look a certain way. Whether it’s actresses in movies, the media picking apart celebrities, or airbrushing in your favourite magazines, we’re bombarded from every angle with how we “should” look.

Add to that the toxic, often repeated, phrase of “baby weight”, and the idea that new mothers have to “bounce back” or suffer comparisons to their “pre-baby body” and it’s no wonder a lot of women’s self-esteem takes a hit once they’ve had a baby.

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I’ve partnered with Nesting Story, an online women’s magazine. You can find the rest of this post at the link below!

Read My Struggle With Postpartum Self Esteem at Nesting Story

How I Reprogrammed My Beliefs Around Birth 

Our wee Willow at 12 weeks.

Our wee Willow at 12 weeks.

Like most first time pregnant women, I found the idea of pushing a human out of me in a short nine months unsettling, to say the least. 

I’d adopted so many assumptions and fears about birth from my environment. Whenever birth is spoken about in the media, or portrayed in film, it’s always loud, painful, and kinda gross. There’s always a sweaty, red-faced women screaming for drugs, and everyone is paranoid about making a different kind of deposit on the delivery table. 

Birth can be such an empowering, even enjoyable, experience and I wish we presented this as a reality to women too. There is so much taboo surrounding birth, and if we spoke more openly and positively about birth, women could have a completely different experience.

I decided around half way through my pregnancy that I was going to have a good birth. I’d constantly joke I would sneeze and Willow would pop out. It was mostly out of fear; I was worried if I spoke about how anxious I was, I’d feel worse. So every time it came up, I’d joke and laugh about how painless and easy birth would be. My light hearted approach to the difficulties of birth helped me feel more confident.

I constantly told myself that the female body is incredible and was designed to birth children. Birth is literally what our bodies are designed to do. We have evolved over millennia to be the best, most efficient baby making machines, and when the time comes to deliver, our bodies spring into action. 

I also watched a ton of birth videos on YouTube. There was a woman in our prenatal classes who left the room every time a birth video was shown. She was anxious and wanted to go in knowing as little as possible. It made her less anxious, but for me, it was the complete opposite.

I wanted to see every single birth video on the internet. Despite all the discomfort, noise, and blood, the second the baby was born, everything was calm. The love between mother and child was palpable. I was brought to tears every time. The videos constantly reaffirmed that no matter what my birth would entail, I was going to have my daughter afterwards. Focusing on my baby made everything much less intimidating.

Watching so many videos exposed me to the million different ways babies can be born. Every woman had different positions, different pain levels, and such vastly different births. 

I also read Ina May’s Guide To Childbirth, of which almost half is composed of birth stories. Again, I was presented a variety of births, from calm and planned water births, to emergency C-sections and breach births. I felt like every type of birth was discussed. Like I witnessed in the birth videos, every stressful birth ended with a beautiful healthy baby, and the new parents overcome with love. 

It can be difficult to take a relaxed approach to something as big as birth, but watching birth videos and reading birth stories helped me normalise birth. Having never seen a birth, either in person or on video, I was shocked at first. However the more videos I watched, the more I began to appreciate the strength and beauty in birth that I had never been taught to see. 

Willow, a couple hours old

Willow, a couple hours old

Having had my daughter, my next birth will be a completely different experience. I no longer fear birth. I reprogrammed how I thought about birth during my first pregnancy, and now with an empowering and healthy birth under my belt, I can go into my next one with confidence. 

Obviously, not every birth is considered easy, or peaceful. It is challenging, and you can’t truly prepare; unexpected things arise and sometimes intervention is needed.

However, the more empowered women go into birth, the better the outcomes, and the better the experience for the mother. I truly believe if we framed this challenge as normal and healthy, more women would go into birth with confidence. 

Empowering Mothers; Why Birth Is Beautiful

This beautiful birth was captured by Allie Blaylock Photography. (click through for Instagram account)

This beautiful birth was captured by Allie Blaylock Photography. (click through for Instagram account)

Birth and labour are intense; by far the most pain I have ever gone through, the most challenging and physically exhausting, as well as emotionally turbulent. 

The usual birth story we are exposed to is pain, blood, epidurals, women incoherently screaming for drugs, more pain, more drugs.

But, contrary to popular belief, there is beauty in pregnancy and birth; the gently swelling of a woman’s stomach, her skin stretching and growing deep purple lines, showing how her body has moulded around this little life inside of her. There is beauty in the low raw grumbles of a woman in labour, as her body and it’s natural instincts take over.

We, as a society, belittle women and their experiences so often it has become difficult to spot. The usual narrative of painful and awful childbirth is so commonplace that when asking about my birth plans during my first visit, my dentist scoffed and sarcastically wished me luck when I shared I was planning a drug-free birth. 

Rarely are we shown birth as empowering, normal, or completely natural. 

We are taught it is to be feared. Women are portrayed as lunatics in labour and birth, instead of powerful, incredible souls who are literally creating and birthing life.

This negative portrayal of birth is deeply flawed. Yes, it can be dangerous. Yes, it’s painful. But it has always been this way, and it always will be. The vast majority of women give birth without drugs, without hospitals, and a lot of less medically acquipped communities don’t have the same attitude towards birth as we do in Western countries.

Instead of shying away from the pain, and engraining in women and young girls that birth is terrifying, why don’t we talk about how empowering birth is? Why don’t we talk about how beautiful it is to grow a life? When it’s time for your baby to come, you follow in the steps of every women who has ever birthed before you. 

It connects you to every generation who has ever been. It connects you to women in every part of the world. It is a shared experience that has lasted forever, and will last as long as we walk the earth. 

There is serious beauty in that. 

Of course, birth doesn’t always go to plan, and indeed, it’s impossible to plan your birth. Things do go wrong, emergencies happen, loss happens.

While these outcomes are always possibilities, the most likely outcome in the West is a healthy mother, and a healthy baby. So instead of teaching our women and girls to fear birth, we should teach them to embrace birth.

We should teach them they are powerful, and capable. Women have been birthing for thousands of years and our bodies are designed to birth; we already know what to do.

One thing which can help women enjoy birth more, is to let go of any plan or perceived idea of how it will go; just let it unfold. Your birth is no less valid if you choose c-section, your hand is forced, or you take the epidural. There is a difference between pain, and suffering. Birth is painful, but you shouldn’t let yourself truly suffer. Medication can help you rest when you are beyond exhausted, and help you gather the energy and strength you need to birth.

Birth has become so much safer in developed countries, due to the introduction of c-section and various procedures for emergency situations when vaginal birth isn’t feasible, or safe. Your birth is still birth, whether you push, or you lie back and your baby is pulled from you. You are still amazing, and beautiful, and powerful beyond imagination. 

Regardless of how you do it, you are birthing life, and that is pretty damn impressive. I wish this was the message women and girls were given, because birth is incredible, and it is beautiful, and no-one should go into it filled with fear and doubt.