I stand in front of the mirror, marveling over the soft pouch my babies have left me. I grimace and catch my face in the mirror, too. Even my eyes look heavy. It all looks heavy. The scale hasn’t changed all that much. But the heaviness? It’s there somehow. At two years postpartum, I still don’t feel quite like myself.
I wonder — can other people see this? Do friends and family see me and think, “Wow, she seems to be carrying something extra!” There’s extra weight there, but it isn’t physical.
It’s the weight of motherhood.
And five years into this motherhood gig, I’m pretty sure it’s never going to go away.
Motherhood brings with it an unexpected heaviness, as if the responsibility you’ve gained adds actual pounds to your frame. Every thought involves another human being, every move and decision must be carefully considered in its relation to the lives of your family members. Motherhood is heavy.
For many women, the immense pressure of motherhood begins in the first few weeks of pregnancy. Before you have gained any physical weight, you have gained “weight.” You spend time with your hand on your lower belly, waiting for a sign of pregnancy outside of those two lines on your test or a congratulatory call from the doctor’s office. You are instantly protective of this tiny being and terrified, all at the same time. Every time you use the bathroom, you check nervously for blood. You pray fervently for the feeling of flutters, sure that you must be imagining the poppy-sized baby you’re carrying. You will the baby to show itself.
Later in pregnancy, you lament about the swelling and the achy back, but you quietly wait and count each fetal movement, breathing a sigh of relief every time. You worry endlessly about labor and delivery, about your family’s reaction to a new baby, about how you’ll adjust back to “normal” life when the baby is born. And when he is born, you feel so immensely blessed while he’s in your arms but also a little empty inside as you float around outside of yourself in an exhausted, anxious delirium for those first few weeks as his mommy.
The baby weight slowly comes off.
But the “weight” you feel doesn’t. It sticks with you.
With every child we carry, more weight is added. Our bodies may return to somewhat normal, but our souls don’t. Everything has softened, from our bellies to our hearts. In fact, for every second you thought of your baby while he was in your belly, magnify that by 1,000 times. That’s how you feel now. This is the weight of motherhood — the constant evaluation and revaluation of everyone else’s needs. The “weight” of worry, exhaustion, constant comparison, and a love like you never could have imagined. You are no longer yourself. You are changed. You are heavier.
We focus so much on the physical weight gain attributed to pregnancy, but nobody speaks about the “weight” our souls gain, too. We aren’t told that the heaviness sticks around, and it grows heavier still with each child we are blessed with. Yes, your back will ache from the bowling ball of a belly hanging off of you when you’re nine months pregnant. But your soul might ache, too, as you watch yourself transform into a mother. Your arms will ache from carrying a heavy toddler for hours on end. But your soul might ache, too, as you occasionally long for the quiet monotony of your pre-baby past.
Eventually, you’ll come out of the little-kid fog you’re living in and maybe even consider adding another baby to your family. I’m at that point now — in love with the idea of growing our family but a little unsure if I’m ready to put on more “weight.”
Maybe we should advise the women in our lives who are approaching new motherhood to expect that while it’s a glorious privilege to be a mother (biological or otherwise), it also means balancing the weight that each child brings each and every day. It means motherhood will change your soul in ways you never imagined. It means sometimes you’ll look in the mirror and notice a heaviness, and it won’t be physical. The invisible baby weight becomes a part of you.
With each child, I have grown heavier. But I have also grown happier. I guess that’s a pretty good trade-off.