by Brittany Randolph, who shares her story of multiple losses and how she cultivated a more positive body image after pregnancy loss. Listen to Brittany on our podcast.
Postpartum Without a Baby
The conversation around postpartum body image has become very mainstream within recent years. This necessary conversation helps new mothers deal with the changes within themselves and their bodies after having a baby. However, there’s a group of women that are often forgotten. What do you do when you are dealing with the physical, emotional and mental changes of the postpartum period and you have no baby to accompany it?
My first loss was an ectopic pregnancy at almost 10 weeks. I felt confusion, sadness, and hatred toward my body. I couldn’t trust my body to grow a healthy, living baby. What was wrong with me? What had I done wrong? Had I been working out too hard? Did I need to eat better? Maybe I was too stressed out?
“My body was something to punish”
I doubted my body. The worst part was looking down at my body and feeling like it didn’t belong to me. Eating carbohydrate-rich foods to help with the nausea, compounded by the medication that was given to me to help resolve my ectopic pregnancy, caused me to gain weight. My own body felt unfamiliar, so I punished it by restricting my eating and exercising to the point of feeling sick.
Desperate to feel better about how I looked, I justified all those actions as being “healthy.” I told myself that I could “prove” that my body didn’t fail me, that I was healthy enough to conceive and carry a pregnancy to term and finally have a baby.
“I couldn’t trust my body”
My ectopic was not my only loss, it was just my first. I went on to have 10 more losses, most of them within the first trimester, except for one second trimester loss. With each loss the hatred toward my body grew. I couldn’t trust my body to perform as it should. Each loss added a new stress and with each loss I gained weight, no matter how hard I worked out or restricted my eating.
After my second trimester loss, I still looked visibly pregnant. Even though I lost my baby, my milk came in, I experienced postpartum depression and anxiety, as well as postpartum hair loss and fatigue, and hormonal fluctuations–all without a baby.
After my final loss, I tried something different–giving myself grace. I learned about practicing mindfulness and grace for myself and my body during the pregnancy of my second baby. This had been a difficult pregnancy with an even more difficult postpartum. While I had not mastered mindfulness and grace by any means, a year and a half after my second and final baby was born, during my final loss, I turned to these practices. Here are a few things I learned that helped me navigate body image after pregnancy loss:
Ask for help and be ok with receiving it
Know that you are not alone and that people want to help you. Often people do not know how to help, so give them specifics. Maybe you tell your partner, “It would really help me if you could take care of dinner tonight so I could go for a walk/take a bath/read a book.” Make a list of what you need, so when people ask if they can do anything, you can refer to that list. Ask a friend to start a Meal Train to let people bring you dinner so you can use this time to heal. Do things to nourish yourself and allow other people to do things for you.
Remember those punishing workouts I did? I stopped and tried something different, walking outside. Spending time outdoors and breathing in the fresh air was a gentle and intentional way to move my body. Adding yoga into my routine helped me feel stronger without punishing myself or my body. I took care of myself and loved myself like I would as if I was taking care of someone else or my kids.
Give yourself grace
This one is hard. I started practicing grace with my negative thoughts. When my brain started to tell me, “Look at all the weight you gained this time” or “my body failed me again” or “I’m not good enough,” I didn’t try and replace it with a self-love affirmation. That didn’t work for me because they didn’t feel true to how I thought about myself. What did help was noticing when I thought those things and allowing myself to think them. I acknowledge them and let them pass without judgment. If we can neutralize these thoughts, they begin to have less power over us and eventually become less frequent. We can practice not judging thoughts as bad or good, and we can look at them in a more objective way.
Learn how to breathe
Our breath is so important; it gives us life, and often we are not breathing as we should. I started the hard practice of just sitting by myself with my thoughts and my breath. Often it led to an anxiety attack or sadness about my recent loss. Many times my negative though process would start. I found that focusing on breathing helped heal me. I incorporated the 4-7-8 breathing pattern to refocus my thoughts, calm my sadness and manage my anxiety attacks.
Navigating Body Image After Pregnancy Loss
Pregnancy loss or infant loss is devastating. The postpartum period is already a challenging time, and when you add in the grief of loss, it can be almost unimaginable. We want to support you through difficult seasons. The journey to and through motherhood is long and better with community. For help finding a local therapist trained in perinatal mental health, reach out to Postpartum Support International.
Brittany Randolph received training and certification through Stillbirthday as a birth and bereavement doula. She also trained and certified through DONA as a birth doula and is a Lamaze and ProDoula trained Childbirth Educator. She’s currently certified with AFPA as a prenatal and postnatal personal trainer. She has a specialization in Postpartum Wellness Certification through Jessie Mundell Fitness. She’s served on the Board of the Birth Network of Monterey County and on the Monterey County Maternal Mental Health Board. Learn more about Brittany at her website, Beyond the Bump or connect with her on Instagram.