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You won’t get your pre-baby body back. Here’s why it’s OK

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After you give birth, you may wonder: How will I get my pre-baby body back?

Spoiler alert: You won’t.

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(Kiss that pre-baby belly bye-bye.)

I don’t mean to depress you. Plenty of women get back into shape or into even better shape than before they had kids! Check out Jenna Wolfe for inspiration. And, reality check, plenty of women eat healthy and exercise and never lose that belly pooch.

I’m here to tell you: Either way, it’s OK.

You won’t get your body back after kids, because no matter what your body looks like, a part of your body belongs to your children now.

If you’re breast-feeding, this is very literal and physical. Every two hours, it’s feedin’ time, and both your body and your baby will not take kindly to delays. But it doesn’t matter whether you breast- or bottle-feed or any combination. When your baby hurts, you hurt – and that’s true whether your baby is a newborn getting blood drawn or a 22-year-old sobbing because her boyfriend just dumped her. You feel the ache.

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(Me as a new mom, falling in love.)

It’s science! Research has found that after a woman is pregnant, for the rest of her life her body retains bits of her children’s genetic material. This is true of full-term babies and miscarriages. I find this enormously comforting: Though our lives move on, I carry a bit of them with me forever. Our children are part of us, always.

Thanks to my two full-term babies – and my own distaste for the gym – my body is rounder and softer. My belly makes a nice pillow. My hips are wider, the better to carry a toddler. I’m a little lumpier, perhaps a little dumpier. The celebrity “I got my body back after baby!” magazines would have you believe that’s all that matters. But there’s so much more. My ears can hear my child’s cry across a crowded room. My nose can smell a poopy diaper several rooms away, a heightened sense that seems to have skipped my husband. My eyes can find my kindergartener amid 100 kids running around a playground 500 yards away, and instantly assess: Does he look lonely? Bored? Happy?

And when my children are happy – when their eyes light up and their faces break into huge, unguarded smiles – something involuntary happens in my body. I feel my heart lift. When they are hurt or scared, my pulse quickens and I enter Mama Bear mode, ready for fight or flight. And after a difficult or dreary day of tantrums and small failures and frustrations, when one of my children presses his soft lips to my cheek and breathes, “I love you, Mama,” before falling asleep? Something inside me melts, something I never even knew was frozen, and I feel a sting of happy tears.

I can’t control any of that. My body doesn’t belong only to me anymore. Neither does my heart. I will never, ever get either one of them back. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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