Pregnancy & Childbirth

Skin Deep: How My Body Changed After Pregnancy

I was expecting some permanent physical changes after pregnancy, labour and birth. I’d read enough to know that I wouldn’t immediately ‘bounce back’ and that, in some places, I would likely always look a little bit different. Despite what the beauty myth might have us believe, I never truly thought I could do something as life altering as birth a baby and not have that written on my skin.

The changes came.

My hips are wider.

My feet are bigger (although, thankfully, not by much as they were not small to begin with).

My belly button, although it became an innie again, is wrinkled and looks a bit stretched.

My hair is thicker, an unexpected bonus. It never fell out after E. was born like all the books told me it would. It’s still straight, still fine, still the same brown. There just happens to be more of it now. Even my hairdresser has noticed.

There’s been one more unexpected change, but this one hasn’t been as welcome.

My skin is a mess.

I have more acne on my face than I did when I was a teenager.

No one prepared me for this. No pregnancy manual discussed it. No friend with children volunteered it. Not once, amid all the discussion of sagging, leaking breasts, and night sweats and torn nether regions did anyone ever add as an afterthought, “And by the way, after you wean your baby, your skin might decide it’s going to be a teenager again.”

I’ve tried all manner of things to improve it. I tried face washes designed for acne-prone skin and washes for sensitive skin. I tried only putting coconut oil on it, experimenting with the theory that adult skin breaks out because it is too dry, and stripping the skin of its oil would just cause more acne. I tried not putting anything on it at all except water.

Nothing seemed to make much of a difference. Now my skin has good weeks and bad weeks, but it is never clear, like it always used to be. My skin tone is never even, like it always used to be.

Last month, when my face had been getting progressively worse for over a year, I threw up my hands in defeat and, at the age of thirty-four, started to wear foundation so I could go out into the street without believing that everyone who passed me was recoiling in horror from my skin.

The day I realized I didn’t want to leave the house without makeup, I cried.

I’ve never worn makeup, you see.

I had to get my youngest sister to teach me how to wear it.

All my adult life, I’ve faced the world in the skin I was born with. I would use eye shadow and mascara occasionally, for special occasions, but never anything more than that. And yes, that meant that most days I had dark circles under my eyes, and as I got older there were a few fine lines popping up here and there, but those imperfections were a part of who I was.

I hadn’t realized how much not wearing makeup was a part of my identity until I felt I had to take it away.

This probably sounds self-indulgent. In the grand scheme of things, I know that this change is a minor one. When it comes to changes after pregnancy, I’ve escaped many of the other possibilities.

My belly has no stretch marks.

I don’t pee when I laugh.

I ended up with only one, tiny tear. It may have precluded my starting a new career as a porn star, as my midwife told me with a laugh, but I haven’t had cause to think about it since the stitches dissolved. I have friends whose births were violent, whose babies ripped them to pieces as they came into the world. Their recovery was slower, more painful than mine.

I’m embarrassed, sometimes, by how much this one change has upset me. It’s derailed my self-confidence, poisoned my self-image, led me to shy away from mirrors.

It’s left me wondering whether it was just another form of vanity to go out into the world in my naked skin, to announce (let’s admit it, a bit smugly) whenever the subject came up that “I don’t wear makeup.”

I thought I was refusing to buy into the female beauty project, that I believed I was beautiful, inside and out, without any enhancements. The truth is, I’ve now realized, I believed I was beautiful only until I believed I wasn’t anymore, and then I made a hard dash for the products I’ve always scorned.

My appearance, it turns out, matters a lot more to me than I thought it did.

There have been a lot of self-realizations since becoming a mother.

This has been one of the harder ones to accept.

I was prepared for change. In some ways, I was looking forward to it. My son came only after a thirty-five month battle with infertility that left me riddled with scars, nearly all of them invisible. When I became a mother I was ready, eager even, to have something mark my body as having finally succeeded at what it was supposed to be able to do “naturally”.

I just wish it hadn’t been on my face.

Featured Image credit: Tim Hoggarth on Flickr

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Angela

Angela

Angela spent her early thirties trying to keep her head above water while raising her son and finishing her doctorate. With the PhD in hand and her son about to head off to school, she now has to figure out what comes next. She lives in a southern part of the Great White North with her husband, her son, and two Antipodean cats.

6 Comments

  1. March 19, 2014 at 12:53 pm —

    Ooh, ooh, me too! But I went to a dermatologist and he helped me clear that mess up. Have you seen a dermatologist?? I hope you say no so that I can finally provide some useful advice to someone in my life!!! LOL.

  2. March 19, 2014 at 1:47 pm —

    Me too 🙁 My skin started going wild in my 2nd month of pregnancy – also for the first time in my life. Luckily it cleared up 2 years later (after stopping breastfeeding), but those were still 2 years in which on some days I refused to leave the house. The dermatologist was useless when I was pregnant and breastfeeding – tried everything, did everything, still looked like I had infected stings from a horde of bees on my face. ‘That pregnancy glow’ was the biggest load of BS ever – made worse by everyone constantly just saying “oh it’ll get better when the baby’s born” (it didn’t) or “give it time” (2 years is 730 days – is that not enough???) or “don’t worry about your skin, you have such a lovely baby.” Appearances are part of how we define ourselves every morning in the mirror, and I wish people had taken my depression over it more seriously.

  3. March 19, 2014 at 3:50 pm —

    I have to chime in and say please see a dermatologist. The “acne” I’ve had since having kids? Turns out it’s actually rosacea. I can’t even tell you what a difference it made to talk to a professional. My skin will never be perfect but I no longer struggle with it on a daily basis (and even more importantly, it no longer hurts!) I was so self conscious for a long time and I’m so glad I bit the bullet and made that appointment. Good luck and hang in there.

    • March 19, 2014 at 8:26 pm —

      The dermatologist is next on my list after I trial four or five months of birth control pills to see if that helps. I’ve got PCOS, so it’s entirely possible that this is my new ‘normal’ without some sort of hormonal intervention- my skin was fantastic while I was pregnant/breastfeeding. All the trouble started about six months after I weaned E.

      • March 20, 2014 at 12:18 am —

        I’ve had acne since I was a teenager, and it was always awful, but finally mostly went away after I started on birth control. It turned out that most of it was caused by the hormones from PCOS, which is why nothing else worked! Now that I’m pregnant and thus not on birth control, the acne’s back. Sigh. I can’t wait to go back on birth control, not because I think we’ll be having a ton of sex with a new baby, but to get my face back! It’s awful how much acne affects my self-esteem. I really hope the birth control will still work on my acne after I give birth!

        I also hope your trial with birth control will be your answer. I have to say, it sounds just like what I experienced as a teenager; as I said, unlike “normal” acne, skin treatments never did much for my PCOS-acne because it was primarily hormonal, and it would make sense that your hormone levels could change after pregnancy.

        • March 20, 2014 at 7:53 am —

          I think what I’ve found most frustrating is that I was off birth control pills for three years before getting pregnant, but this never happened. And my skin loved being pregnant and breastfeeding. The acne’s been creeping up on me for the last eighteen months or so, which suggests that my body didn’t manage to reset itself properly after the pregnancy/breastfeeding hormones went away. Hopefully the birth control pills will help.

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