No, I am not writing about the horrific recent recommendation by Dr. David Ludwig that fat children be removed from their homes and placed into foster care…at least not yet; although if you would like to read more about that, there is no lack of articles and opinion pieces discussing this, including one by Marilyn Wann in the SF Weekly.
No, I am not writing about the recent articles that childhood obesity is an epidemic and it’s never too soon to consider putting the baby on a diet. Some suggesting that fat prevention starts in the womb and those pregnant women should be dieting during pregnancy…at least not yet; although if you are interested in reading about that, there are several bloggers who have written brilliantly about that topic as well including this one by Ragen Chastain.
I am writing about baby fat. The belly and other body fat many women acquire when they are pregnant and still have after they have given birth.
When I worked in an adult psychiatric facility occasionally patients were admitted for postpartum depression. As a clinician, and a naive woman who had not yet had their own baby, (how hard could it be to be a mom…yeah right!) they were some of the most difficult and challenging clients I encountered. My realization that the pain these women were experiencing was so overpowering that it tore them away from their newborn baby and placed them in psychiatric care was practically inconceivable to me. I felt like I had at least two patients depending on me, the mother in the hospital bed and the baby at home in the crib. (Not to mention whoever was helping the family while the mom was getting the care she needed to return home).
During the time I worked with these women, I noticed a pattern emerge. I am not claiming this to be a statistically significant scientific study; this was simply based on my observations of about 20 patients, the intake assessments I conducted, and my individual and group sessions with them using expressive arts and recreation therapies. These women had at least two things in common. They were all first time mothers and each one of them fervently believed that the reason they were so depressed was because of how fat they were now that they had given birth. Without exception, I heard time and time again that if they could just get rid of the baby fat they would feel better and be able to return home. Granted, some of the patients had histories of eating disorders but most of them, did not have any reported history of an eating disorder in their charts. They had, as revealed in our sessions, developed this body hate as they grew rounder during pregnancy and lived in fear that they would be fat and stay fat forever.
Wow, Fat is a powerful force. Bad Evil Horrible Fat!!!
FAT…The great divider…Splits up families in a single blow, obliterates self-esteem, gives birth to self-hate.
As I worked with my patients many reasons for being hospitalized were revealed. Underneath the body hate was fear of being a good parent, the loss of youth, the emotional weight gain of parental responsibility, the heaviness of mommy hood, and of course the hormonal changes stirring up the pot of emotions.
One of the exercises we used employed expressive arts therapies* to help the participants identify and define meaning and value to their bodies. Steering away from using adjectives pertaining to appearance or perceived beauty, the women found ways to appreciate and acknowledge their bodies for their abilities; their bellies for giving birth, their breasts for nurturing, their arms for holding, and their bodies as comforting cradles. Most importantly we worked on taking the blame away from the fat… away from the body being wrong or imperfect and focused on what the fear and sadness was REALLY about. We used collage quite frequently which always gave us opportunities to weave in media awareness. How many of these women would still be this disgusted and disdainful of their bodies if they weren’t subject to constant harassment from visual media to maintain thin pre-pubescent bodies? It was difficult work and sometimes I felt that I was only scratching the surface or putting a band-aid on the deep rift between women and their bodies. And yet, some of the happiest patient discharges in my entire career were when the moms went home to be with their babies. Minimal weight, if any, lost from their bodies, and yet they no longer blamed their baby fat or saw thin as the solution to their despair. They gained insight and self-compassion and learned that they had to embrace themselves before they could embrace their children.
*This activity is included in the Leftovers To Go August Shmooze-letter, Tidbits! Sign up at www.leftoverstogo.com and it will arrive in your e-mail box on August 1st.