You Don’t Need A Mummy Tummy To Be A ‘Real’ Mummy

My son was born just over a year ago.

You might not believe that to look at me: I weigh a little less than before I was pregnant. To be honest, my tummy has never been flat, but it is flatter than before. My tummy is unadorned by stretch marks. My son was born via Caesarean section, and the scar (admired as being ‘beautiful’ by many a midwife and obstetrician) is neat, tidy and has faded so much it can barely be seen. My son guzzled up my breast milk, but my boobs are as full as they were pre-pregnancy.

According to articles such as this one, my post-pregnancy body is not ‘the real deal’. It implies I am not a ‘real mother’.

There really is little to envy about my post-pregnancy body. My tummy hasn’t really changed and has no stretch marks not because I was lucky to avoid them, and not because of lavish application of Bio Oil. My tummy hasn’t really changed because it didn’t get a chance to: I was pregnant for only 24 weeks.

My pregnancy came to an abrupt, traumatic end when I was diagnosed with the rare, life-threatening pregnancy complications HELLP syndrome and pre-eclampsia. My son Hugo was born by emergency Caesarean section. Sadly, Hugo was too small and premature, and died in my arms aged 35 days.

Me a few days after Hugo's birth - bruised, no stretchmarks, but still a mum!

Me a few days after Hugo’s birth – bruised, no stretchmarks, but still a mum!

My boobs haven’t changed because while I expressed my breast milk for Hugo, he was so premature my body wasn’t quite ready, meaning the amount I was able to express was small.

I now weigh less than before I was pregnant because I am taking care of my body: having pre-eclampsia puts me at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. I have had quite enough of illnesses and hospitals. However, in the months immediately after Hugo’s death I comfort ate my way through my body weight in cake and chocolate.

Hugo is my first and so far only child.

I am very much, emphatically, without doubt, still a mother. Anyone who dares suggest otherwise, for whatever reason will rather wish they had not.

Me and Hugo, aged about 4 weeks.

Me and Hugo, aged about 4 weeks.

The body of the article itself is great. I understand that articles such as the one linked to above seek to reassure women that seeking to emulate celebrities who snap back into shape soon after giving birth to their children is unrealistic, and unnecessary. Post-pregnancy bodies are beautiful, and nothing to be ashamed of, whatever size they are. After all, that body has done something incredible: grown a brand new human being.

The headline: “The real shape of a mother: Flabby tummies and cellulite” is the problem. Yes, headlines need to be eye-catching but it’s another example of the importance of considering the impact words can have. The headline is no doubt well-intended, but carries the implication that mummies without flabby tummies and cellulite are less of a mother.

Ridiculous, I know. But there is so much pressure on women in general, and pregnant women in particular. Whether or not to have children; when to have them; how many to have; how you give birth (let’s not get started on those who think having a Caesarean section ‘isn’t really giving birth’), the type of pain relief you have in labour, breast or bottle, cloth nappies or disposable…the list is endless.

Every human being is different. We each have different interests, life goals, hair colour, height, weight, different looks…you get the idea. The main point is that we are all different. Diff-er-ent.

Judging someone because they have made a particular choice (or ignoring the fact they didn’t actually have a choice), or have a particular body type is absurd, and can be hurtful.

Why can’t we give other women a break for the choices the make (and the choices they are unable to make, decisions taken out of their hands)?

This is a debate I have been aware of for some time, and I was inspired to write this post because of being so cross after reading Budding Smiles’ post. I felt cross not because of anything Hannah had said, I hasten to add, but because she felt she had to write it, and wonder if her size 8 body and lack of stretchmarks meant she isn’t a ‘real mum’.

As Hannah rightly says, it needs to be okay to just be a mum. If you love a little human being with all your heart, you are a mother. You don’t need to have grown that little human being yourself, either – women who have adopted, or have their baby thanks to a surrogate are all mothers too.

Post-pregnancy photo galleries often feature an image of the woman while pregnant, and next to it the proud new mum holding her baby against her tummy. These compilations never feature mothers who have experienced a loss, as I discussed in this post.

Me at 20 weeks' pregnant, and about 6 months after Hugo's birth.

Me at 20 weeks’ pregnant, and about 6 months after Hugo’s birth.

Let’s stop the judging, the labelling, the pigeonholing. Let’s instead reconsider the way we view motherhood, and what makes a mother.

Let’s support each other, send each other some love and support.

Let’s remember you don’t have to have a mummy tummy to be a mummy.

Let’s remember those who have lost a baby, at any stage of pregnancy or after: without a baby in your arms, you are most definitely a mummy.

No matter what your body looks like.


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16 thoughts on “You Don’t Need A Mummy Tummy To Be A ‘Real’ Mummy

  1. OurParallelConnection says:

    Beautiful post. Very sorry for your loss. Women are put under a lot of pressure with their bodies and this then moves down to the next generation. We are all different and should be accepted for that fact. Of course you are a mother, your Hugo’s mother and will be forever. You lost what might have been but will never lose the memory.


    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Thank you for your kind words about Hugo. I agree completely, each of us are different and should be accepted for that, rather than feeling we have to conform to a certain norm, or defend our appearance. Thanks for commenting xxx


  2. HonestMum (@HonestMummy) says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. You are a mother and you know, I felt I was a mother pre-children. I’m a maternal person and to me being a mother isn’t about having children, it’s about the love you have, the capacity to care unconditionally for anyone. You are so right about post pregnancy pressures too, your body is meant to change and it takes time to return to anything similar to before and the pressure from the media needs to stop. Thanks for this. Thanks too for linking up to #brilliantblogposts x


    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Absolutely – ‘mother’ can be a term that means love for others – and to love unconditionally is a wonderful quality to have, to be celebrated. Thank you for your lovely comment Vicki xxx


  3. Katie / Pouting In Heels says:

    Wonderful post Leigh. The pressure on all women but especially mums is just ridiculous. If you have a perfect body as a mum, you care more about your figure than your child, if you look like crap, then you’re failing, if you have stretchmarks, you should cover them up, if you don’t, you probably starved yourself….and on and on it goes.

    Part of me gets so angry about this, because really what the hell does it matter how any of us look? As human beings we’re all so different from each other – different shapes, different sizes, different battle scars – and thank goodness! And as mums we are no different. We all have different experiences, different stories, different emotions, that’s what makes us all endlessly fascinating.

    I long for the day when no woman or mum has to write a post talking about her mummy tummy or lack of mummy tummy. When it matters so little to us, how we look, that we have other things to talk about. That we can just BE.

    A really thought provoking post Leigh. As always, Well done x


    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Thank you Katie. As you say, often women can’t win! You’re either letting yourself go if you’re overweight, or neglecting your children if you’re always out at the gym…it’s ridiculous. It makes me so cross too, as though an individual’s value or worth is based solely on personal appearance. It’s sad. I too look forward to the day when we have other things to talk about!

      Thank you for your kind comment lovely xxx


  4. Laura Wood says:

    Good post! It is not the way your body looks that defines you as a mother. Similarly, I’m not going to apologise for my ‘mummy tummy’ because my body doesn’t conform to the beauty standard. And it really doesn’t: a lot of extra weight, a hideous c-section scar and a tummy that sort of folds over! I find it troubling when people say that it’s okay to look a certain way because you’ve had a child, as if it wouldn’t be okay otherwise. I don’t want to use my son as an excuse for my body because my body doesn’t need an excuse! If I had never had a child, I still wouldn’t be apologising for my body. As you say, let’s support and not judge, and let’s stop policing one another’s bodies. You are a fab mum.


    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Thanks Laura. The way a woman’s body looks in no way defines whether you are a mother – or what kind of mother you are. Our culture’s obsession with body image is getting too much, and is unhealthy emotionally and physically. Thanks for your kind comment xxx


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