My life has been a never-ending battle with my weight. Not necessarily because I have always been fat, but because some people made me think that I was. Fat-shaming exists at any age, and children can be the most cruel. Shout-out to the relative who called my brother and me The Two Little Pigs even though I was just 100 pounds (at 154 centimeters tall). At one point, the bullying and name-calling drove me to skip meals, avoid rice, do stationary biking for two hours, and engage in all kinds of sports until my weight went down 93 pounds, and my friends became concerned that I was becoming malnourished.
By the time I got married in my early thirties, I had gained a few kilos, but I was still within the ideal BMI (Body Mass Index). I naively thought I would be able to maintain it forever, just by doing what I had always done. Little did I realize that as I grew older and assumed new roles, that I would have less time to do my old routines, and they would have less impact on my slower metabolism.
A few months post-wedding.
My first pregnancy with my first son changed my body in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. I gained more than 50 pounds by the time I was term, and my ankles were as stocky as an elephant’s. My face, especially my nose and lips, swelled as well, until I could barely recognize myself in the mirror. My easy fatigability got so bad that I had to take my maternity leave one month early, and my previously-undetected MVP (Mitral Valve Prolapse) made an appearance. Admittedly, my appetite was out of control by the third trimester; my husband regularly teased that I could out-eat him at buffets. For some reason, I also craved red food: spaghetti, hotdogs, pizza, and red meat became staples. (I realized that none of these were healthy, but what can I say–pregnancy does weird things to your brain.) Perhaps because I was younger then, I lost about 40 pounds after 1 year or so without too much effort, although it helped that I was exclusively pumping about 36 ounces per day. The extensive stretchmarks stayed, though–there wasn’t much that I could do about them!
Third trimester, first pregnancy.
During my second pregnancy, I was determined not to be caught off guard again, so I endeavored to eat less and move more. I walked and took the stairs as much as I could, which paid off when I reached my third trimester about 10 pounds lighter than in my first pregnancy, and without any leg swelling or excessive shortness of breath. I was also able to keep up my clinic hours almost until I could feel my contractions starting. Again, I was able to lose the majority of my post-partum baby weight by exercising (remember that old 90’s HipHop Abs routine? It works!), dieting, and by exclusively breastfeeding my second son for 30 months.
During labor, second pregnancy.
The next problem started when my allergies and asthma started to get out of control around the time that my second was two years old. Back then, we were slowly transitioning from my parent’s place to our own house, and I was constantly knee-deep in dusty boxes and old clothes. It seemed like I was forever running to the emergency room with hives or an asthma attack, and the constant intake of oral steroids took a toll on my health. Before I knew it, I was almost as heavy as I had been in my third trimester! The fat also had also concentrated on my face, on my nape and around my middle (the classic moon-facies/buffalo hump/truncal obesity associated with steroids).
This time, I knew that I needed to do something drastic. I enrolled into an intensive weight-loss program, and more importantly, went to an allergologist to do something about my attacks. It turned out that living in the same room for 25 years while accumulating all sorts of dusty and moldy junk is bad for you (insert sarcastic laugh here). We hurried up the move to our own new, clean place (and I stopped trying to pack up everything with my own two hands), and we immediately felt the difference. Within two months, my attacks had significantly lessened in frequency, and I could stop my medications, which helped my weight-loss journey immensely. I managed to get within fifteen pounds of my goal body weight, when lo and behold! I found out that I was pregnant again.
I was resigned to gaining back all the weight that I had just lost, but fate fortunately had other plans for me. This time, I was expecting a girl, and it showed. Her effect on my body was drastically different; instead of piling on the pounds, I actually gained too little, to the point that I had to consciously eat more. My appetite also never went into overdrive like it did the first two times. Only my belly seemed to expand, while the rest of me seemed to shrink. My facial features never swelled, and my ankles stayed slim. Obviously, I was immensely grateful to this baby before she was even born.
A few hours before giving birth to my third baby.
When my daughter finally arrived, I was able to nurture a massive supply amost immediately, which helped with the slimming-down process. In less than a year, I had managed to go below my pre-pregnancy weight. However, I could only do this by maintaining an oversupply, which, over the course of two years, slowly went down to normal (or at least enough to satisfy my toddler and donate the excess to my niece). Of course, my appetite didn’t get the message right away, so my weight began to creep up again.
Taken about a year after my third pregnancy.
These days, I am still a far cry from my ideal body weight, but I’m making a conscious effort to reach it, no matter how slowly. I try to eat sensibly, exercise more often, and limit my exposure to steroids. However, my reasons and priorities have changed. No longer am I doing this purely for appearance’s sake. It would be fantastic if I could go back to my pre-motherhood figure and appearance, (notwithstanding how impossible that seems), but if I can’t, then I’m not going to beat myself up about it as long as I’m healthy. After all, there are three babies depending on me now! At the age of forty, I still have a toddler, a preschooler, and a grade-schooler, and if they decide to follow their parents into Medicine, I’ll be supporting their training into my seventies. (I don’t want to think about that right now because it makes me tired, LOL.)
When I look at the mirror, I try not to stress about the starting crow’s feet and under-eye bags; the rounded jawline and lurking double chin; the sagginess, the paunch, the cellulite, the silvery stretchmarks, and the other marks of age and fulfilled motherhood. I try to appreciate the woman who carried three children in her womb for a combined total of 27 months and nursed them for a total of 52 (and counting); the pulmonologist who tries to juggle both a challenging clinical practice and the myriad demands of a young family; and the hands-on mother-of-three who tries to spend as much time as possible with her kids and forgoes sleep for days at a time when they are sick. Behind the cruel mirror, I try to see the teacher who helps her husband tutor their kids and encourage their interest in reading; the amateur musician who tries to foster their talent and appreciation for music; and the proud cheerleader who encourages them to explore their creativity and potential.
There are women out there who survive their journey looking none the worse for wear, but let’s face it–they are rare and usually, vastly privileged. Not everyone can come out looking like Gwyneth Paltrow or Angelina Jolie. Those of us who live in the real world are usually not so lucky. There are also women out there who forgo motherhood completely for no deeper reasons than because it might hurt their physical appearance and limit their own opportunities–but that’s another issue completely.
Whenever I feel depressed about my looks, I only ask myself one question that puts everything back into perspective–if a genie suddenly appeared in front of me and offered to give back my youth and beauty in exchange for my kids, would I agree? And the answer, without even thinking or considering for a nanosecond, would always be a resounding NO.
Taken on my fortieth birthday.
What’s your take on your Mommy body?