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Sewing For & Sharing My Postpartum Body

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Postpartum diastasis recti & stretchmarks

I have only seen stretch marks in real life, on another person, twice. That is mind blowing, considering how common they are (anecdotally speaking, I couldn’t find any hard statistics to cite). [Reflecting on the responses I’ve received to the post, after a week of it being up, has blown me away. I’ve heard from many people that they look just like I do – which totally shocks me! And further makes me glad that I posted this.] I have, however, seen them countless times on tabloid covers, and cheesy ads selling snake oil. It’s a little disconcerting to realize you look like the ‘before’ pictures and after giving birth to my son, I immediately donated all my bathing suits. The unwritten rule that one must hide, conceal, or fix stretch marks was so ingrained it literally did not occur to me that I could still wear a bikini. How disturbing, right?

All throughout both my pregnancies I heard comments about my body (as many women do). Now, whenever I show someone my stomach, the reaction is usually an apology. Guess what? I’m not sorry. I’m not ashamed. I’m sharing my body at what many would consider “its worst” because 1. I think it’s pretty amazing to have created two human beings,  2. because I think sharing un-Photoshopped, diverse images of what mothers’ bodies look like is important, and 3. it’s connected to how sewing has affected my life.

Despite my jokes about taking ‘selfies’ in the clothes I’ve sewn, blogging has given me self-confidence in a way I didn’t anticipate. Taking my tripod & camera out into public places and posing is daunting. Doing it over and over has made me feel more fearless, less self-conscious, and bolder. Being able to sew empowers me – I’m not keen on the crop tops and flowy rompers in stores (I’m also trying to avoid fast fashion), but that’s not a problem. I can sew exactly what I want, to fit me how I want, in spite of what’s in style or for sale. I can sew one size for my bust and another for my sleeves without any issues, instead of sweating and leaking milk  while trying on a million different things in a fitting room with the worst lighting ever.

Body Positive Sewing

To be fair, I did not sew those jeggings or my nursing bra. But that’s me! In all of my asymmetrical, bumpy, scarred self. I have an umbilical hernia and diastasis recti, which means my stomach muscles aren’t playing nicely and refuse to come back together, in addition to the obvious extra skin and stretch marks. In spite of these irregularities, I am so proud that my body carried, birthed, and nourished two human beings.

Second Pregnancy

Me before my son, with what I thought was a very obvious bloated belly (ha ha ha), and towards the end of pregnancy #1 and then pregnancy #2. I gained about 25 pounds with #1 and 30 with #2, and still have 15 of them hanging around at the time the pictures in this post were taken. I’d like to think they’ll magically disappear thanks to breastfeeding, mostly because I don’t want to buy or sew new jeans.

Pregnant Stomach

It became clear quite quickly that I wasn’t carrying like an average woman. Top row is pregnancy #1 and bottom row is pregnancy #2. My first was quite painful – my skin was white hot and stretched thin. My son was crazy active in utero (and still is, at 2.5 years of age). My second was uncomfortable in the way I imagine most pregnancies are, but not painful since my skin was already all stretched out. My daughter was pretty laidback, thankfully, and only popped her limbs out in awkward ways once in a while.

Diastasis recti

This is what my body looked like after few months, before I got pregnant again. You can see clearly the deep gap between my stomach muscles. Now that I’m done being pregnant, I’ll have the umbilical hernia surgically repaired and am exploring physical therapy options for the muscle separation.

Diastasis recti & umbilical hernia

After my first I got in the habit of just ‘sucking it in’ because my lower back was sore if I didn’t. It’s harder this time, with more damage and more skin. I broke my back in college, with lots of soft tissue damage, a chronic problem that is exacerbated by the lack of core muscles. That face on the top right sums up how I feel about that!

Postpartum body positive

Stretchmarks

You can see the tiny extended stretch marks at the very top that are a brighter purple instead of faded silver – the only marks my daughter added to my collection.

Loose Skin Postpartum

The creative in me finds this skin beautiful. The star and triangle patterns remind me of a quilt or the sashiko stitched stars from this post.

Crepey skin postpartum

I find the topography of my stomach a little fascinating, pre-babies it did not make nearly as interesting of shapes and textures. My son likes to pet it; he has no idea this isn’t what women are “supposed to look like”.

I’ll be sharing some of the clothes I’m sewing for myself and my new shape over the next few months – first up were a few Grainline Hemlocks. It feels a little hypocritical to spend this time showing you my postpartum body and then sew patterns specifically hoping to drape over all of my lumps and bumps, but it is what it is. I’m always happy to show someone what being “all belly” looks like after the baby is gone, but I don’t enjoy being asked if I’m pregnant again on a routine basis.

I’d love to hear how body image intersects with sewing or crafting for you! Or maybe everyone will have clicked away, after those pregnancy pictures (they still make me cringe!).

Some other great reads:

Postpartum Sewing Stretchmarks Pinterest

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A fellow Mom

Monday 8th of January 2018

I know three sisters who have all had children. The eldest has a figure that got better with every child. The second one seemed to retain a few pounds each time, and is now quite heavy. The third one used to have curves, but is slim now...sort of boyish, especially comparing her to her eldest sister. I’m glad I know all three of these sisters. Helped me to understand there are variables we have little control over.

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Monday 8th of January 2018

Definitely, every pregnancy and body is different!

Stephanie

Monday 14th of August 2017

I found your blog because of this post, in 2015, while I was carrying my daughter. Thank you for sharing your story. Accepting my postpartum body was made easier because of women like you, willing to be real. How are you feeling? Were you able to get the hernia fixed? I only have a tiny bit of separation and doing pelvic floor exercises has made it possible for me to do planks again :)

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Monday 14th of August 2017

I'm so glad to hear that! Yes, as I said above, my hernia was fixed. It was relatively small, so they could do it without mesh which I preferred, and the recovery was easier than I anticipated. I should have taken some "along the way" photos... but didn't think of it until it was too late. I keep meaning to take an updated shot now, two years later, but want to sew a bralette to wear in it first! One of these days ;) Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

Sina

Tuesday 25th of July 2017

Hi, although this post has been up quite a while I'd like to thank you from the bottom of my heart! My post partum belly (2 kids) looks similar and, honestly, I'm still coping with it. I mean, I totally agree with you about accepting our changed bodies since they (we!) did an amazing and incredible and altruistic job in carrying, birthing and feeding our children. But despite this I'm still shy... Your post is a huge encouragement - thank you so much! Sina

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Monday 14th of August 2017

Hey Sina! I am so glad this post is still connecting with people, and that you connected with it! Every once in a while I randomly think, did I really put pictures of myself half naked on the internet, why did I do that, and then someone leaves another comment and reminds me why it matters :) Solidarity! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment :)

Jodi

Friday 7th of July 2017

We have the same kind of belly! I always thought that they way I carried was because of my muscle issues, but no one ever confirmed it. But my stomach looks *exactly* the same as yours! Did you ever have your hernia repaired?

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Friday 7th of July 2017

I did, just this past Christmas actually. I got worried about the healthcare legislation changes and all that and figured I'd just get it done, though I was nervous about doing it when my toddler was still nursing, but it worked out fine. Right now I'm in physical therapy trying to close the muscle gap, so far I'm down from 5/6 fingers to 4, wahoo! I have previous back injury trauma that I'm hoping to avoid aggravating if I put the work in now to semi-repair the core muscles.

Brune

Thursday 8th of December 2016

Just... Thank you! There is so much about pregnancy/ delivery/ postpartum that is kept under wraps... Thank you for being so honest and open about it!

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Sunday 11th of December 2016

Thanks for reading!

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