**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
By Liz Rognes, a former Emily Program client in recovery. She is a teacher, writer, and musician who lives in Spokane, WA.
A few months after I gave birth to my son, I decided I wanted a pair of jeans. None of my clothes from before pregnancy fit, and I was tired of wearing maternity pants. But I was terrified of the process of finding jeans that fit. My body had changed and was still changing, and I had no idea what size to try.
Postpartum body or not, shopping for jeans is difficult. It’s hard to disengage from the number on the tag. It’s hard to look in the mirror without noticing how vastly different my body is from the bodies of the tall, long-legged women who model the jeans. And, now, with this new version of my body, I was overwhelmed with insecurity. What if nothing fits at all? What if I started crying in the store? What if I never felt comfortable in my body again?
On the other hand, I felt like buying myself a new pair of jeans might actually help. Maybe, if I found a pair that was comfortable, I could start to feel more confident in this new body. In addition to the insecurity of my new body, I was fighting some postpartum depression. I thought that maybe looking for new jeans would help me to feel a little better. Maybe the act of buying jeans for myself would be an affirmation that I was deserving of something new. Maybe it could help me feel, at least for a moment, a little refreshed.
I thought about all of this as I took my infant baby, lugged him into the store in his carrier car seat, and settled him on the cart. Together, we started looking in the aisles for jeans that I liked and that I might be willing to try. I found a few pairs, and I selected a few different sizes. I was aware of old eating disorder thoughts creeping in, telling me that some sizes were better than others, telling me that my self-worth would be reflected in the number on the tag, telling me that I didn’t deserve to be shopping for myself. But I tried to shake those thoughts off. I looked at my happy baby, and I looked at the color of the fabric on the jeans, the stitching on the seams, and I kept telling myself that my body was strong and beautiful, as is.
I took my son into a changing room, cart and all. Right away, he noticed himself in the mirror. He started smiling and cooing. He was completely charmed with his reflection.
I watched him watching himself. A baby has no imposed shame about his body. A loved baby has no reason to feel like he’s not good enough. A baby doesn’t take it personally if his clothes don’t fit. My son was simply pleased to be smiling at a smiling reflection. He was happy, and he was safe and cheerful, on an outing with his mama. I took some comfort in this.
I tried on a pair of jeans, and then another pair of jeans. I tried to look into the mirror the same way my baby did—without judgment. I found a pair that was comfortable. They were not too long or too tight, and I liked the color of the fabric. I liked the stitching along the hem. I began to imagine which of my sweaters I would wear with them, and I realized that this process was going okay. My worst fears had not materialized. I wasn’t crying, and it actually felt good to wear something other than maternity pants. It felt good to wear a new pair of jeans. I felt okay in my body.
“What do you think, baby?” I asked my son, my hands on my hips, showing him the new pants. I smiled at him, and he smiled back.
Of course, he didn’t care about the jeans. When looking at me, he didn’t make any kind of judgment about my body or what size I was wearing. My baby saw my body as a place of love and security. To him, I was not too big or too round or too short or too soft. I saw him seeing me, the person he most depended on. I saw him seeing his mother, a woman whose soft and changing body was not a failure or a source of shame. I saw him seeing a person he loved and needed, whose body was, to him, exactly perfect.
And at that moment, in my strange postpartum body, in my new jeans, with my sweet baby, under harsh fluorescent lights, in a weird little room with a big mirror that reflected both our new bodies and our new bond, I saw her, too.
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