Dressing My Postpartum Body Reminded Me of the Power of Dressing
I prefer not to describe my style in one word. I scrunch my nose at the inevitable question on questionnaires. Clothes fill a role, so quotidian, so profound in my life; I cannot describe their influence curtly. I ate my own words after giving birth to Louise. One victorious word emerged from my postpartum fog. It bounded together my clothing choices like an invisible clothesline. The word was stretch.
My rapport with stretchy materials evolved from practicality. I gained 40 lbs by the time Louise was born in October. Roughly 8 lbs. 10 oz were lost at the time of her birth. Four months later, the scale has seen little change. I gravitated toward an atypical style for myself. It was one of accessibility to my breasts, thick hiking socks to aid in warmth and decrease ankle swelling, and any material with more than 5% spandex. The first month, I mostly lived in robes. I think anyway. The time is blurred in my memory. It was a thick haze of painful transitions and a flux of emotions. It is worth a separate essay when I have the strength to revisit it. When I surfaced after the first month, my Aerie leggings were there to greet me with an expanding waistband. It was the loving hug my midsection needed.
The ease of stretchy materials filled my needs. I could slip into stretch pants and sweatshirts with the efficiency of a ninja. This was important right out of the hospital when slight movements caused my bladder to leak. Louise was now the dictator of my time. I was thankful for stretch when one pant leg in, Louise cried indicating it was time to nurse or be changed or be held (or the trifecta of them all!). My expanding garments were sturdy. Sturdy in my motherhood meant they took on vast amounts of breast milk and either a) dried quickly b) washed well c) easily removed and banished to the basement or d) all of the above.
Stretchy clothes hugged the curves and crevasses of my transitioning body without judgement. They were comfort during an uncomfortable life shift. They moved as I moved. I did not readjust them when rising from the couch or settling into my wooden rocking chair. I could sleep at a moment’s notice and an hour later welcome guests into my home - no outfit change required. My stretchy knits kept me in a safe swaddle, so I could concentrate on protecting this new life. They even gave Louise a soft spot to nestle her cheek after a peaceful yawn. I collaborated with stretchy garments in almost every daily activity, and we worked well together.
As weeks turned months, I gained traction in motherhood. I learned Louise’s cues for nursing and changing. Dressing her initially took an entire episode of The Office. In weeks, I had her dressed by the end of the opening scene. I learned how to piece together a decent salad (complete with sweet potato fries, try it - you won’t be disappointed) while holding my girl and belting the “I love you baby!” line from Can’t Take My Eyes Off You by Frankie Valli. Comfort no longer was confined to my clothes. I was starting to feel comfortable in my skin. It was all very exciting. I felt good; I felt semi-productive. Yet, something was still missing. I was on the cusp of feeling wholly productive in my daily pursuits. The missing piece presented itself one day as I expanded the same tank top I wore the day before (and the day before that) over my soft belly.
Stretchy clothes overstayed their welcome. The comfort I found in stretchy clothes morphed into stagnancy. My style was stuck in a blur of repetitiveness. I was mindless in my outfit choices. The only criteria when selecting garments was the amount of stretch. This was great in the first few months of motherhood. I could only focus on Louise, and a uniform of stretchy materials allowed this to happen. But, as my comfort with motherhood grew, my need for elastic waistbands diminished. I realized I did not need to hold Louise 22 hours a day for her to be content or sleeping. I had more time (and more sleep). Some of this extra time was spent with my closet. I wasn’t completely moving on from stretchy loungewear, but it was time for them to fill a supporting role.
When I slipped on my velvet green overalls, it was like embracing an old friend. The feeling of a familiar self rose to the surface. So much of me - my perspective, my priorities, my intake of coffee and soft cheese - had undergone a metamorphosis. With all that change, I temporarily forgot my love of dressing. I forgot the influence getting dressed has on my day. My favorite vintage dress could make the sun rise a tad earlier, lifting my mood on a bitter winter morning. My trusty hat complimented the wildest of bed head putting my best curls forward. The luxury of my velvet overalls made me feel rich in confidence.
Dressing beyond my stretchy knits gave a small slice of the day back to me. Color combinations played out on my bed. Accessories woke from their slumber. My creativity, heavily expressed through my writing and style B.L. (before Louise), was flexing its muscles again. Not all of my clothes were up for wearing. They were either too small or not nursing friendly, but this was more of welcomed challenge than a setback. It pushed my creativity.
Dressing set my intention for the day, even if my only intention was to be the best mother I could be. My outfits often did not grace the public. My sense of freedom was felt in the pure act of dressing. My energy was higher. My attitude was more positive. The highs and lows associated with postpartum recovery were more easily navigated. I showed greater kindness to my current physical state. Loungewear hid the evidence of my pregnancy. I fill out my overalls and dresses more right now, but it is proof of an important story.
Once again, I find it difficult to describe my style in one word. The act of dressing for no one else but myself, now that’s easy to summarize: powerful.