A few days ago, reading the newspaper online, I came across an article featuring Rebecca Judd’s latest snap on Instagram. Judd is a Melbourne TV personality and the wife of former AFL player Chris Judd.
Her selfie showed her in a striped T-shirt and a black blazer, apparently by Balmain. She looked great.
She was also very, very skinny.
Miraculously skinny seeing she had given birth to twins 11 days previously.
Hey guys- for those who don’t yet, please make sure to watch my Instagram stories along the top scroll bar of the home page. I will be posting way more images and videos over there (like this pic from this morning). Wearing @soonmaternity jeans (I may just live in these forever- so comfy), @skinandthreads top and @balmain blazer. Oh and heaps of twin spam there too so I’m not clogging your feeds ☺️
Her Instagram followers were divided. Some of them hailed Judd as “Amazing” and “Supermum”. Others were less flattering. One wrote: “So your (sic) thin big deal. Whats more important to you, you being skinny or your new babies???”
And yet it would be very unfair to pick on Rebecca Judd.
She is just one of the latest celebrities reinforcing a certain narrative around motherhood. A narrative that tells us that birth and motherhood is a walk in the park.
It usually goes like this; straight after labour (and the natural labour went well by the way, thanks to those cold-pressed green juices consumed daily during pregnancy and the yoga/pilates/barre classes) the blissful new mother appears with full makeup, propped up against a pillow wearing silken lingerie or flowing casuals. Angelina-like, she gazes across a peacefully sleeping baby to meet her partner’s eyes. It is clear that not only is she giddy with love for her baby, but for her partner as well. Life has never been better. This motherhood gig is easy.
A few days later the next Instagram post appears. The glowing, svelte mother is back in her skinny jeans. The house looks immaculate. The siblings are wearing all white designer outfits.
I too was very, very skinny after I had my first child but that is where the comparisons end.
Long before my first child was born I was determined to succeed as a mother. Even before the birth I was sure of my outcome. I had read everything I could get my hands on about labour. It was all going to be ‘natural’. I would refuse all drugs with the help of lavender water and my ‘doula’, a birth coach who also, delightfully, was a photographer—the first family photos were going to be professional. The day before I had my daughter, as was my custom, I went to the pool and swam over a kilometre.
But things didn’t go to plan.
I tried for the natural birth but after 50 hours of trying I had to give up.
I tried for the family photos but after days of no sleep and pumped full of drugs to control my skyrocketing blood pressure my face was so puffy I looked like a pasty version of Jabba the Hutt.
I tried to breastfeed too, but what with a near stroke a few days after birth, racing anxiety and a dangerously tiny skeletal frame, I had to give it up after a few weeks, despite dire warnings from my doctor that “breast is best”.
By the time I joined a mother’s group, late, about 12 weeks after giving birth, I was drowning in a sea of failure.
I remember my first excursion out with the new group. It was to a coffee shop at the local shopping mall and I had forced myself to go. Suddenly, it was feeding time. Six bosoms were unleashed. I reached down to the back of my daughter’s pram, found a bottle and the baby formula and walked up to the counter to get the bottle heated. I watched the other mothers, oh so casually, switch to the other breast, all the while talking and laughing and juggling their banana bread. They oozed competency. Twelve weeks on and they all looked like seasoned professionals. Like members of a club I knew I couldn’t be a part of.
Someone asked me where my daughter was born.
Vancouver, I replied.
When did I get back from Canada?
When my daughter was six weeks old I said.
There was a gap in my story.
Where had I been for the past six weeks?
I decided to tell them.
In hospital with post-natal depression.
My daughter is 14 years old now, my son 12. My early failure to be that competent, glowing mother, the greatest failure of my life, was a long time ago, but it was a turning point for me. Ultimately it was liberating. In the psychiatric hospital I’d had my own mother’s group, a group of 10 ‘failures’. One of those mothers is now one of my best friends. In those group meetings, held in the hospital lounge, many of us would be crying. There we’d share our fears and tell each other what we were really feeling. Inadequate. Exhausted. Scared. And the nurses and psychologists who ran our group would tell us all the things we needed to hear. That motherhood was not always easy, and that it was ok to feel overwhelmed. That we didn’t have to be ‘perfect’ mothers, and that our babies didn’t need everything to be perfect to be ok.
Even nowadays I still avoid new mothers who look too together. Good on them, but I’m on the lookout for the mums who look like I did. A little haunted. A bit shell shocked. Sometimes I tell them my story of failure, because sometimes mothers need commiserations, as well as congratulations.
That those images of ‘perfect’ mothers on Instagram are just images.
It might seem strange to you that I wrote about how tired I am and now I’m posting a pic after my first run back post baby…but actually getting up and staying active gives you a lot of energy. Sluggishness begets sluggishness (unless you really just need to rest!). I am not telling women to begin working out as quickly as I am after having a baby. That is between you and your doctor…as it is between me and mine. This post is for those of you who want to begin a workout (man, woman, kids, no kids…) and it seems daunting. I gave myself the goal of 5-10 min to jog. I surprised myself and did 23 minutes. I feel great and refreshed. I went out when Rafa and Leo were napping and Carmen was at her preschool she goes to for a few hours, a few times per week. One of the things I love about running/jogging/walking is that you can just put your shoes on and go. It’s so simple and time efficient. So if you are looking to begin a workout, give yourself small milestones and goals, as to not get overwhelmed or overdo it ???? #366daysoflivingclearly #hilarialcm
Last month Hilaria Baldwin, wife of the actor Alec Baldwin, posted an Instagram photo after giving birth to her 3rd child. Her hair looked great, she had a glowing tan, and she was wearing a Heidi Klum bra and knickers.
But her stomach wasn’t flat. It was clear she’d just given birth. Underneath she wrote:
“Did I have a c section?: No, I pushed him out Where are all the pads for bleeding?: I took them out briefly to snap this pic as there is a limit to how much you need to see ??,“Where am I?: in the hospital room bathroom #glamour.”
Good on her.
Michele Smart is a writer and copywriter at Good With Words. She lives on the Northern Beaches with her husband, two children and Ziggy the dog. She surfs badly.