Birth brings out a totally different side of you. Most women describe it as an experience that´s humbling, exhausting, image crushing, yet redefining somehow. Life suddenly gets divided between the before you and the after you. For many, it´s not only the physical realm that´s radically altered after birth (infections, stretch marks, hair loss, hemorrhoids, incontinence, etc.), it´s also the mental one (depression, feelings of isolation, raging hormones).
For far too long women were often kept in the dark about what postpartum reality was like. Most of our mothers grew up seeing Good Housekeeping images of angelic-looking women holding their newborn babies, looking tired, sure, but still radiant. And generation after generation we were passed on the same false promises our moms were fed by popular culture: “That childbirth was a miracle, so smile already.” A tactic applied for fear of scaring us out of procreating, perhaps.
Before the revolution, the imagery of postpartum scenarios often featured made-up and salon-done moms, fully dressed and with a girdle under their clothing, like most Latinas were told to wear, to suck in the belly fat for the photographs. These images of what appeared to be beauty queen aspirants posing with their perfectly behaved babies for their public were mere fabricated images that did not tell the true story of what was going on in that new mother´s mind and body beneath it all.
Then, thanks to social media and the gutsy women who began ripping up those girdles, saying f$&k you to ridiculous diets and exercise routines that no new mom has time for, the dawn of the postpartum revolution finally began.
Life After Birth and Then Some
Something radically new happened to the way we talk about new motherhood in the last decade. Mom bloggers and Instagrammers voicing their personal truths have revolutionized the way we view this postpartum period. The act of celebrating the strangeness of one´s postpartum body now ranges from posting hyperreal visuals of oneself to offering others fashion tips on how to dress our not so svelte bodies stylishly but most importantly, comfortably. We´ve come a long way since the times that our grandmothers’ oxygen-limiting stomach fajas were in style, baby.
Instead, there is more attention paid to self-love and acceptance of the fact that our bodies change after growing a human inside of us. Thankfully a new dialogue among women has emerged through social media that is helping to mute that “bouncing back quickly after childbirth” banter that was unrealistic for the majority and that only made us feel bad about ourselves.
Today´s zeitgeist celebrates images of new mothers full of huge patches of stretch marks on their bellies as complex-looking as Rorschach tests. It applauds photos of strong and proud women with folds upon folds of post-birth flab, strange skin discolorations, scars, clunky breast pumps hanging from their breasts, and images of new mommy bodies with babies clinging onto their wrinkles and swollen flesh for survival. There are now images that tell a story that´s raw and real and that serves as a welcome slap in the face to our reality as new mothers that nobody wanted to tell us or perhaps no one really knew about since it always used to happen behind closed doors.
This exact sentiment hit home for Joanna Griffiths, the founder, and CEO of the intimate line Knix, who also became sick of hearing about diets and workouts while she was dealing with her body´s overwhelming transformation post the birth of her child. When Knix did a survey of their costumers finding that 90% of women received comments about their bodies after giving birth, 76% felt pressure to “bounce back,” and 56% experienced postpartum depression, Griffiths decided to take creative action with a project that would receive media attention around the world.
The groundbreaking Life After Birth Project, a rare photographic look at the reality of postpartum bodies, was born after Griffiths teamed up with the crew from the doula collective Carriage House Birth and the online initiative the Empowered Birth Project. The project consists of moving images and first-person texts from over 250 women, including its collaborators and other celebrities like the Salvadoran-American supermodel Christy Turlington, displaying their postpartum bodies with pride, guts, and joy. But perhaps one of this exhibit´s most moving black & white portraits is one of a Latina-looking woman cradling her child post-birth with a dramatic expression on her face. One cannot tell if she is crying from joy or from sheer physical pain. Though we can assume that it´s probably a combination of both.
View this post on Instagram
"This is me pale but still smiling on day one at home as a new mom. Though I’d lost two liters of blood post delivery, I can’t remember being more tired or more happy to have my baby girl in my arms after 42 weeks of pregnancy.” Honoured to have the amazing Christy Turlington (@cturlington) share her birth story with us. #LifeAfterBirth #knix
“Life After Birth was inspired by my own postpartum experience, and I started planning the project five days after giving birth to my son,” Griffiths told Refinery29. “I wanted to create something that celebrated the strength and beauty that is the postpartum experience, that changed the narrative and encouraged postpartum people everywhere to feel seen, acknowledged and supported.” Photos from the 2019 project have been exhibited in major cities in North America and is still open to anyone interested in sharing their own photos on Instagram with the hashtag #LifeAfterBirth.
Helping to Dress Up Postpartum Bodies
While social media is fascinated with unveiling the reality of new mommy bodies, it also has played a helpful hand at dressing them. When Orange Is the New Black star Danielle Brooks wrote on her Instagram page that she was struggling to find flattering clothes for her pregnant body, the brand Universal Standard jumped to her and a million other plus-sized women´s rescue.
The brand invited Brooks to develop a maternity clothing collection that could be worn before, during and after pregnancy. Imagine maxi dresses, sweater dresses, jumpsuits and tunics made from super soft, stretchy material that grows and shrinks with your fluctuations? It now exists. The best thing about the line is that the company’s policy is that if a customer’s size shifts up or down considerably within a year of purchase, any item of clothing can be replaced in the new size, free of charge. No more confining girdles, no more frumpy and stiff styles of yesteryear.
Welcome to the Postpartum Revolution which will not be televised like Gil Scott-Heron preached, but social media-sized instead.