Voices: Eight weeks after I gave birth, my GP asked me if I’d lost my baby weight yet…

Having given birth, I am not just physically different – heavier, rounder – I have changed emotionally and mentally  (Alamy)
Having given birth, I am not just physically different – heavier, rounder – I have changed emotionally and mentally (Alamy)

Are you back to your pre-pregnancy weight yet?” I didn’t know what to say to my GP when she asked; I thought perhaps I’d misheard.

Stunned, I mumbled a reply along the lines of “No, I don’t think so – I only gave birth eight weeks ago,” and then let her lead me along the corridor and up onto the scales, where the truth – no, definitely not, not even close – flashed up in black and white.

Embarrassed, I told her that my shoes – Converse, platforms – were quite heavy, and she conceded that, yes, they probably were, and took a kilogram off the final total.

Self-conscious in the outfit I’d chosen that day, one I’d picked specifically to cover my larger stomach and stretched thighs, I retreated back into the waiting room, and sat, filling up with a quiet, seething self-loathing.

I should say here that my GP is, otherwise, lovely. That my eight-week postpartum check was, otherwise, helpful. My baby was given a full check-up and weighed (no Converse deductions needed there), and I was given advice on feeding, contraception, and pelvic floor exercises. She was kind, complimentary and, in every other way, supportive.

But when I returned home – deflated, anxious, and resentful of the hunger starting to claw at my stomach – I realised that, actually, it wasn’t the weighing itself that had bothered me. Rightly or wrongly, my weight is data, and is perhaps useful to have attached to my medical records in the same way as are my height, my blood group, and the fact that I have asthma. Weighing me and writing down whatever number flashes up is not, in and of itself, a value judgement. No, it was the way that she asked if I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight yet – in the manner of a tabloid trying to catch out a new celebrity mum – that stung.

Within this question are two suggestions: a) that I need to return to the size I was before I had a baby, and b) that I should be in a hurry to do so. This kind of language seeping into our medical settings is dangerous.

And seep in it did, I think. My GP is attentive, caring, and whip-smart, and I think she asked that question in that way because that is the framing we’ve all become so accustomed to, not because she truly wanted or needed to know if I had returned to my pre-pregnancy weight. But therein, sadly, lies the risk. (And the risk really is real. One mum I spoke to told me that, if her GP asked her this, she would “basically stop eating”.)

As a 33-year-old woman, I have long ago learnt to ignore glossy mags lambasting women for not snapping back into shape minutes after the placenta is delivered. Although I’m sure they still have a detrimental impact on my body image, with the slow drip-drip-drip of perfect hips and breasts and stomachs eroding my self-confidence, I expect it of them, and can, therefore – sometimes, not always – shut off the tap. I do not expect it, however, from a GP, a professional I trust wholeheartedly, an expert in their field, and someone whose advice I’m programmed to take on board. I don’t expect them to turn the tap back on.

But more than that – and I want to scream this from the rafters – I wish my GP hadn’t suggested that I should, could, or needed to return to my pre-pregnancy weight. I wish that, instead, she’d acknowledged that I was for ever changed by my experience of pregnancy, birth and postpartum. That actually, I am not just physically different – although I am heavier, rounder, and have silvery stretch marks and a second-degree tear that is still knitting back together – I am also emotionally and mentally changed.

And wasn’t this an opportunity to do just that? To talk not of returning, but of changing?

“Matrescence” is a term used to describe the process of becoming a mother – the irreversible and astonishing change that happened the moment I saw two lines appear on a pregnancy test. This change covers the biological shift in my being – the fact that I leak milk as soon as I hear my baby cry – as well as the emotional and social shift: I can’t go out with my friends this evening because my newborn needs me.

This change is simultaneously seismic and the most natural thing in the world, and I’d love my GP to have acknowledged it. I am simply not who I once was, and for me, returning to my pre-pregnancy weight feels about as feasible as returning to my pre-pregnancy self: impossible. And, while I glory in my newness, I also grieve the person I was and will never be again. I love my babies. I miss myself.

This was the conversation, the recognition, the appreciation I needed from my GP, not some tabloid-influenced suggestion that returning to my pre-pregnancy weight – and, by implication, my pre-pregnancy self – is in any way an achievable or even desirable goal.