My body was made to be a host.
The thought occurred to me a few months into breastfeeding my son. I’d always lamented my extremely slow metabolism, which seemed to only need three meager meals a day to maintain its slightly overweight status.
But after only modest weight gain during pregnancy and subsequent easy weight loss through breastfeeding (all while eating to fully satisfy my newly huge appetite), I realized this was why my resting metabolism was so slow: nature had intended me to spend most of my life pregnant and or lactating like my ancestors likely had.
A Body No Longer My Own
By current standards, I’ve been sharing my body for a long time now – almost 4 years to be exact.
First, I was pregnant, and then I was breastfeeding. Next, I was breastfeeding while pregnant, and then I was just pregnant again.
Now, I’ve been back to just breastfeeding for the last 14 months. Since the 12-month mark, I am down to nursing just twice a day. My body is still providing nutrition for someone besides myself, but it’s a relatively minor job at this point.
When my body first took on hosting duty, I was pleasantly surprised by how my body reacted to pregnancy. I’d struggled with my weight since childhood and had always imagined that struggle would be magnified during and after pregnancy. In my first trimester, I lost weight despite eating more than usual (eating was the only thing that helped my pregnancy nausea).
I watched what I ate to some degree, but the third trimester hunger was intense, and I indulged in fried foods for the first time in years and enjoyed dessert daily.
Nursing full-time gave me an even bigger appetite than late pregnancy, and I needed to eat plenty of snacks and large meals to keep up with my insatiable hunger. Rather than counting every calorie, I often sought out foods that were calorically dense on purpose to provide fuel for milk-making. It felt bizarre to eat like this — like I was no longer myself but some other metabolically-gifted person.
“It felt bizarre to eat like this — like I was no longer myself but some other metabolically-gifted person."
Instead of shunning the candy bowl at work, I was the one restocking it so I always had fuel on hand.
I wondered what the cafeteria workers thought when I switched from purchasing a small sandwich or bowl of soup to a greasy entrée and side. (Of course, let’s be real: they likely thought nothing of this nor noticed it all.)
Fueling a New Appreciation
When my son was 11 months old, I became pregnant with my daughter. The pregnancy nausea returned and I lost more weight as my body worked to continue producing milk for my son while supporting a new embryo and taking on the daunting task of building the placenta.
I weaned my son when he turned 16 months, and it went well. When I brought my daughter home 4 months later, he cried hysterically the first time he saw me breastfeeding her. However, after that first time, he was more interested in the process than distressed by it.
Weight loss didn’t come as easy this time and COVID lockdown likely didn’t help with the added stress. My appetite raged large and I didn’t restrict myself while nursing full-time. While I lost most of the weight within a few months, I also felt a newfound patience with myself to lose the rest when the time was right. Since I knew this was likely my last child, I felt like I had time.
Fueling the Future
Today, I’m still a few pounds away from my pre-pregnancy weight, and I definitely don’t have the muscle mass I used to, but I feel good.
But there’s also a liberation to owning my own body again, just for myself, no sharing involved. Because my children don’t really need me like that anymore.
I don’t have to worry about every sip of coffee, and I’m not constantly starving. I can make it through an entire morning at work without needing a snack again. I thought I’d miss my ability to consume massive quantities of food without gaining weight, but it actually feels good to need less food once more.
I’m learning to appreciate my smaller appetite and find it easier to listen to my body to know when I’m hungry or full. I know my body-sharing days are winding down, and I’m at peace with that – neither feeling in a hurry to bring them to a close too quickly or a need to drag them on longer than seems natural.
When I look at my kids today, I can relief knowing that my body-sharing days are over—and I feel proud knowing I could support them nutritionally when they needed me to.
In the end, motherhood changed my relationship with food, teaching me that we all need different fuel for different stages of parenthood. Some seasons we may need more, some seasons less, but when we give so much as mothers, we need to fuel ourselves too–in more ways than one.
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