When it comes to producing offspring, the rules are simple and predictable- get pregnant but don't look pregnant. Photo: Stocksy
My labour, like many before mine, was long, extraordinarily painful and tinged with just enough drama to keep it interesting. It produced a little human being and left me heavier and wider, with a weirdly soft stomach and a whole host of little side effects that come hand in hand with 41 weeks gestation and subsequent childbirth.
My body now - internally and externally – isn't precisely the body I capered about in 12 months ago. I have what the cretinous women's magazines call a 'post-baby body' which is, you know, super odd because I am indeed post-baby. The society of which I am part tells me there is but one thing to do now; get my pre-baby body back.
There is something horribly wrong with our culture if the highest compliment we can pay a woman who has just given birth is "you don't look like you've just given birth". Are you kidding me?
In the days after I had my daughter, if I could have put a sign on my head saying 'I just had a baby' I would have. I was in some sort of hormone-induced, awestruck stupor about what went on in that delivery room. And I am not just talking about the baby popping out. I am talking about what went on in the hours before she entered the world. Hours I had no idea, pre-baby, I could physically survive.
The shape shifting of my body, the complete and terrifying expansion of muscles, the sheer physical transformation that was the culmination of 41 weeks of my body – and the tiny body within it – preparing for the precise moment my midwife stopped yelling (in German, which leant a certain urgency to the whole procedure) "Yes, yes, yes Frau Gambrett, keep going, keep going" and calmly said "Frau Gambrett, you can stop pushing now".
I have always been aware of the gross emphasis we place on 'getting bodies back'. One cannot be female in our culture and not be aware of the discourse surrounding new mothers and their bodies, nor a consumer of popular culture and ignorant to the hounding of celebrities. I thought it repulsive then but think it especially repulsive now because in this extraordinary, precious and terrifying time as a new mother, all I see is the expectation that I will get/should get/should want my pre-baby body back.
The truth of it, one we choose not to universally acknowledge, is the female body is constantly changing as it passes through a number of phases as governed by biology. Hips widen, fat gets deposited differently, boobs loose buoyancy, oestrogen dwindles – and that is all without the process of human-growing and bearing. But we defiantly- and stupidly- hold its ideal hostage, suspended in time, confined by a set of ludicrous specifics that cannot be maintained beyond the age of 25.
Pregnant women don't go unscathed either. "Is there a baby in there?" is decreed to be some sort of perverse compliment. (The flipside is the old classic, "you sure there aren't two in there?" Here's an idea – why don't you just keep your trap shut rather than assume I have offered my body up for discussion by virtue of getting pregnant.) On Facebook the other day, I came across a proud boyfriend's comment on how slim his heavily pregnant partner was, which received numerous likes, uses of the word 'hot' and questions along the lines of "how are you pregnant?"
As a pregnant peruser of Babycenter's birth club forums, which are incidentally addictive, I collided daily with hideous humblebrags of "I wish I looked more pregnant! People can barely tell!" The state of not looking pregnant when actually pregnant – or, being in possession of a tidy, well-proportioned smooth stomach and not a skerrick of fat elsewhere – is the natural prologue to not looking like you have just had a baby when you have just had a baby.
When it comes to producing offspring, the rules are simple and remarkably predictable; get pregnant but don't look pregnant. Have a baby but don't look like you've had one. Remain physically unchanged, or if that simply isn't possible, care deeply about and pursue with vigour the holy grail of getting your pre-baby body back – because God forbid any part of you actually looks like you gave birth.