Sarah Lillywhite is a freelance editor and writer living in London. She writes about motherhood, beauty, fashion and travel for various publications and brands and has worked at ASOS, Look and You & Your Wedding. Find her discussing everything from flexible working to Love Island on Twitter @sar_lillywhite and Instagram @siggy_kersh.
I gave birth to my first baby 18 months ago. She is walking, talking, asking for a cuddle, saying an emphatic ‘noooooo’ to brushing her teeth. She’s old enough to have actual opinions. And I still look pregnant.
Before becoming a mum, I had a flattish stomach, I never had lower back pain and I considered myself reasonably strong. But now I have a gap of around 3-4 cm in my abs – a deep, diamond-shaped depression around what remains of my (previously innie) belly button. I also have what can only be described, depressingly (as if I were a marsupial) as a ‘pouch’ of soft, stretch-mark criss-crossed skin, which makes high-waisted jeans look odd and makes body-con a thing of the past. Medically, it’s called Diastasis Recti (DR), a condition where your ab muscles separate during pregnancy and don’t knit back together again. Emotionally, it’s a car crash.
any physical change post-partum is doubly mentally debilitating because your sense of self has already changed so much
Coming to terms with my new body is an ongoing process, tied up with so many expectations, from myself and from the world around me. I’m not the first to say this, but there is one hell of a pressure to get back to looking exactly like you did before your body grew another human. It’s just sort of in the ether – on social media, in the press, in the envious or otherwise glances of other mums at play groups, inside your own head.
I had no idea I had internalised the societal pressure to look like some kind of Love Island contestant so deeply, but any physical change post-partum is doubly mentally debilitating because your sense of self has already changed so much. In the new baby days, when you’re conjoined 24/7 with a person you’ve just met (whom you also somehow love) and your emotions, hormones and social life have all radically altered, you can become unrecognisable to yourself. That makes it even harder to come to terms with a physical manifestation of all this seismic change.
I was officially diagnosed at about six months postpartum after taking a Google search and the word of my Pilates teacher to my GP (who had to Google it himself). I was then referred for some light-touch physio, which did not much at all, and subsequently paid for an online exercise program specifically to heal DR and other pelvic floor problems. I’m gradually, slowly, closing the physical gap, although I know my abs may never join back together completely.
maybe it’s not as blaringly obvious to others as it is to the afflicted – we obsess about our own physical imperfections, but really, no one else cares
Mentally, I’m trying to be OK with my new body – sort of like I’m coming to terms with my new life. I worry about what future pregnancies and births may do to my already fragile core – I had a forceps delivery, which, along with a big baby (she was 9lbs) is a major contributing factor to DR.
Instagrammers like Anya Hayes of @motherswellnesstoolkit and Joanna Diplock of @the_motherhood_movement are doing great work raising awareness of DR and helping women rationalise and celebrate their post-pregnancy bodies. It made me feel a whole lot better when Instagram mumfluencer Gemma Breger from @ThisIsMothership talked about her DR recently – I follow her outfit posts religiously and I hadn’t even realised she had it. That made me feel maybe it’s not as blaringly obvious to others as it is to the afflicted – we obsess about our own physical imperfections, but really, no one else cares. So I’m trying really hard not to care either – it’s a work in progress, but I’m getting there.