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Sarah Nicole Landry @thebirdspapaya

Body Image: How Birth Helped Me Heal After Abuse and a Lifetime at War with Myself and My Body

I was 20 when I lost my first pregnancy. I felt betrayed by my body, but at that point in my life, betrayal was all I knew towards her. My past body image could be described best as war. I used to be completely disconnected and numb to my body as anything more than an object. All the emotions and feelings up until this time were feelings of shame and blame and disgust. I continued the abuse the abusers in my life had started. Healing my body image has been a life work, but motherhood and birth changed the story. I hope that my glass ceiling is my daughters floor.

Statistics say one in three women has experienced abuse. These women have had trauma against the very vessel they live in. I have yet to meet a single woman where this wasn’t a significant struggle or theme in her life. The reality is that most women are struggling with not just their body image, but their whole relationship with themselves. From a young age, we have been taught to be at war with ourselves. It goes deeper than the image of our bodies. It includes how our bodies move and feel and exist.

The storyline goes like this, as soon as your body is deemed sexual- you must control it. But not for your sake, for the sake of men.

The very term “body image” is a mental picture of what our bodies look like. An object we can only observe and see- not one we live in and experience.

We are given the exact dimensions and look our bodies should achieve and maintain from a young age. Society teaches us how we move and talk and walk and exist. We are told how to dress our bodies (not for comfort) for either men’s viewing pleasure or to protect them/us from their uncontrollable “God-given” desire towards our bodies. We must be seen, but not too much. And, no matter how hard we try, it seems like a losing battle. We still face the body hate, the abuse (from others and ourselves), and the betrayal of our bodies to conform and shrink and perform to the standards presented.

Less than a year after the miscarriage that felt like it stripped me of all identity, I was pregnant again. I still remember at 20 weeks laying terrified in the ultrasound room. The tech telling us she was a girl. A girl. My 20 years of war with my body flashed before my eyes and I felt hope and despair swirling in my heart and my body. And the thought that I could not let go of was this: She deserves better than this.

Around that time, I found books and documentaries that were centered around birth. But the story that was told about our bodies, about my body, was different than what I had for so long believed or heard. The story these women told about their bodies was no longer about image or men, but about what their bodies could do. It was this empowerment and embodiment of self like I had no idea existed.

I watched and read story after story. Stories of women who deeply loved their bodies as not just an object, but a part of them. A part of their soul. These women told about how they FELT in their body and how they experienced birth and breastfeeding. My body image and self-image that was for so long in black and white and good or bad started to get colors of life.

I did something that changed everything about my body image.

I started listening to my body. Then stopped thinking so much about what it looked like, but what it felt like. I started to sense and be aware of what I wanted and needed. And then I learned to trust her. I ended the war and began a friendship. I found a curiosity to replace the disgust. My husband and I decided to have a home birth. I will never forget the way my midwife treated me and my daughter even before birth. It completely transformed the way I saw my body.

She talked to my body and my baby. She asked me how I felt emotionally about birth and motherhood. My midwife helped me processed what may be triggering as someone who has experienced trauma to my body. We covered consent and my wishes and my needs. She didn’t treat my body as an object but as a part of me. SHE. HER. Most appointments before then had simply been to make sure my daughter was alive. The appointments completely ignored the complexity of my mental, physical, and emotional health and the way those things are intertwined existing as a whole part of me.

This introduced the concept that what had happened to my body (both good and bad) had happened to ME, not just my body. The two parts of me are not disconnected but intertwined. I was not separate from my body. I realized how my body image of seeing my body as an object of betrayal and war had deeply affected how I saw ME. How I related to and cared for my whole self. I was not just at war with my body for all that time, but my very own self. It was no longer about my image, but my very existence and experience of my life.

Laboring at home and feeling the full power of my body in labor changed how I saw myself. I became a new woman that day. Not just because I became a mother. But because that day my body became my own. I became my own that day. I came home to my body.

You can’t believe goodness about your body if you haven’t experienced goodness about your body.

Hillary McBride

I started to truly experience my body after that moment. The strength she had. I started to experience and allow myself pleasure and experience in my body- from food, movement, rest, and sex. You ARE your body. Not the way she looks, but the way she feels. Your body is not just an image for others. The body is how YOU feel, breathe, taste, move, dance, and experience pleasure. Your body holds and tells all of your stories both broken and beautiful. She is resilient and keeps caring for you and communicating to you what’s going on even when we refuse to listen or care for her like she deserves.

Women don’t just need to heal their body image. We need to realize we ARE our bodies.

I don’t want you to read this and then beat yourself up WITH shame FOR your shame. What if instead, you got curious about the stories you believe about your body? Change happens when you start to question and find new ways of being and EXPERIENCING your body that have nothing to do with the image of your body. What if the way she felt both internally and externally started to determine her worth over what you see?

This is a journey. A journey from what your body looks like to what your body does and is. One thing that breaks shame is hearing stories. Sharing with each other how we learn to heal and love our bodies. Because while this is my story it may not fit yours. What is your story with your body?

Many blogs end here, but I’d love for this to be the start.

The start of a journey and a conversation. Because my daughter deserves better. You deserve better than a lifetime of war and betrayal and hating your body, not just the image of it, but the existence of it.

I don’t want to leave you hanging, so start the conversation with us. Share your story with us in the comment section. I’d love to hear your story and journey wherever you are today. Or maybe you haven’t started this journey but you want to. What would you live like without this constant war against your very temple you exist in?

Here are some resources and tips to help you along in the journey-

  • Hillary McBride: Undoing the Shame of Our Body Image Struggles
  • Your Body Size Doesn’t Define Your Worth
  • Healing after Abuse
  • Eliminate social media and influencers that you compare yourself to. Find accounts and media that share and show different bodies. Find accounts that share stories and images of joy, rebellion, body neutrality, positivity, and celebration. Share your favorites with us in the comment section! I shared an image from @thebirdspapaya she is a great one to follow!
  • Do you think you may be experiencing body dismorphia or an eating disorder? Have you walked through something that your body is still carrying? Healing is possible. Find a supportive health provider or therapist to talk too and help you heal.
  • Join communities of women (real life and online) where the focus is more than skin deep and where there are conversations about the WHOLE person. The We Spot happens to be one of them. Need some more? Feel free to reach out to me for some more recources and communities where growth and journey like this happen.

Body Image: How Birth Healed me After Abuse and Self-Hate

Rebecca Dollard

Rebecca is passionate about being a momma, wife, mentor, and friend. She believes in the power of vulnerability, community, and changing our mindset. Rebecca loves to see women break free from their rulebooks that are keeping them stuck and empowering them to grow without guilt and live with grace and grit. Rebecca and her husband Jay have been married over 10 years and have two awesome kiddos Riley 8, and Jake 5, and recently welcomed in Abby (17) who now has become part of the family. The Dollard’s enjoy living in their native state Colorado and being close enough to spend lots of time with their families who are (mostly) still local. Rebecca loves the work she does as a mentor helping moms to grow without guilt using personal growth tools partnered with empathy and connection. As a mentor she runs a monthly membership community, hosts workshops, and mentors women 1-1. Becca is a personality and personal growth junky and spends her free time reading, working out, and spending time with her people. She loves memes and humor as much as a good Brene Brown quote and believes that growth should be as fun as it is effective.

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