24 Jul
Embracing the Incredible

In a world that seems to be caught in a deadlock between body positivity and toxic expectations, I feel like the only middle ground is health and education. And by health, I mean both physical and mental. Both of which are crucial elements when it comes to realistic expectations for ourselves. First things first, and really the whole point of this post: our bodies are SO much more than the image we assign them. And truthfully, it took me way longer to let that sink into my thick head than I ever should have. I'd give almost anything for 12 year-old Christa to read that sentence and actually believe it.

But she didn't, so I'll do my part now to add one more positive idea of bodies to the inter-web. This post couldn't be written from a more heartfelt position. I really fall back on the incredible miracle of what our bodies do on a daily basis without a single forethought. 

My wonderful mom knows all about my past struggles with body image, and while she didn't know at the time the multiple eating disorders I struggled with from middle school all the way through college, and honestly many days before I found out I was pregnant, she does an incredible job of checking in with me now and creating a safe place to have that dialogue. She asked me several months ago how I was doing, probably after a snide comment by me, for me, and all about me regarding not loving how I look during this season. And after thinking about it, I came to the realization that while I don't love my extra belly skin, or those last 10 lbs that are hanging on for dear life, I LOVE my body. I love what it has done for me, I love that it hung on through those tough years, and I love that it is feeding my tiny human. There is a season for being my most fit self, but right now, my healthy doesn't look like that. My healthy looks like doing a lot of research about the best foods to maintain breastmilk supply, cutting out as much processed foods that have ingredients I can't pronounce, and getting my exercise by carrying around a 24 lb 10 month old who is certainly the most healthy version of himself, all thanks to my body. 

This is really just a biological love letter to our bodies for all of the incredible things they do completely on their own, without a second thought from us. 

Pretty sick if you ask me. 

From the unique daily functions of everyday life, to the awe-inspiring journey of pregnancy and postpartum, our bodies are a testament to strength, resilience, and life-giving power.

The Marvels of a Woman's Body:

1. Menstruation and the whole ass Cycle: The menstrual cycle is an intricate symphony of hormonal changes, regulated by the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and ovaries. Can you imagine if we had to remind ourselves to do even one of these tasks? Screwed would be an understatement. This natural process enables women to experience menstruation, which is a vital part of the reproductive system. 

While so many of us dread our periods, the real culprit is hormone imbalance, obviously excluding PCOS, uterine fibroid/polyps, and other pathologies, though hormone imbalance exacerbates the symptoms associated with these. And don't get me started on all of the little things in our everyday lives that act as hormone disruptors (maybe I'll write about this next). 

PMS, what a bitch, is a collection of shitty symptoms that affect many women during their menstrual cycle. These symptoms (I don't have to list them, IYKYK), have been linked to hormone imbalance. A study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility examined the role of hormonal fluctuations in PMS. The research highlighted that during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, there is a significant increase in progesterone and estrogen levels, and if these are imbalanced, they cause a cascade of physical discomforts. And serotonin levels decrease, contributing to the mood and behavioral changes experienced during PMS. The study's findings underscore the importance of understanding hormone imbalances in the context of menstrual health. 

While there are certainly days where periods are inconvenient, let's take a moment to appreciate all of the hard work our bodies do without a second thought from us. And let's try to listen to what they're telling us, and educate ourselves on how to keep our hormones happy. 

2. Immune System and Autoimmune Diseases: Women tend to have stronger immune responses than men, making them less susceptible to certain infectious diseases. However, this robust immune system can also lead to a higher prevalence of autoimmune diseases, as cited in a review published in the Journal of Autoimmunity. Despite the challenges, this resilience showcases the incredible adaptability of a woman's body.

Pregnancy: A Journey of Miracles

1. Embryo Implantation and Fetal Development: The journey of pregnancy begins with the miraculous process of embryo implantation. The sheer perfection that is needed for this to happen is absurd. All of the hormones mentioned above working together to simply release an egg and prepare the uterus to be a cozy little home (involving extremely complex processes that literally create new blood vessels and layers of tissue). Peer-reviewed research published in the journal Human Reproduction Update delves into the intricate mechanisms that support this crucial event. After implantation occurs, and the body starts to make and differentiate hundreds and thousands of new cells on a daily basis, the next miracle begins. The freaking placenta, y'all. I will never not be in awe of this organ. One more time for the people in the back: A WHOLE ASS EXTRA ORGAN. It's not there before, and it vacates when the baby does, this thing is ah-mazing. As the fetus grows, the placenta grows with it, filtering everything that we consume and delivering the most essential nutrients, micronutrients, oxygen and straight up good vibes to that babe. 

2. Changes in the Maternal Body: Pregnancy brings about numerous changes in a woman's body to accommodate and protect the growing baby. These changes include increased blood volume, hormonal shifts, and organ adaptation. In other words, we gain at least 20 lbs of extra fluid, we cry over the dog getting older in the Purina commercial, and all of our belly organs getting evicted and taking up new residence in our chest cavity. 

  1. Postpartum: Nurturing New Life

Lactation and Breastfeeding: After childbirth, a woman's body continues to amaze as it adapts to nourish the newborn through lactation and breastfeeding (just another thing I can, and will, write multiple posts on). The Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia presents research on the molecular and cellular processes underlying lactation, showcasing the intricate mechanisms at play. Down to the baby specific saliva that contains enzymes telling mom's body what that baby needs when it comes into contact with the nipp. This includes increasing white blood cells and creating specific antibiotic/antiviral properties that an infant may need for whatever illness they are facing, fore milk/hind milk balance, and amount of milk to make. 

I don't know if it's sunk in by now, but damn.

I think educating ourselves on the extreme miracle that is the female body is the first step towards healthy body positivity. Recognizing that the "fat" that we are self conscious of, especially after having a baby, is necessary for healthy healing and breastfeeding/milk production. And the extra skin left behind is simply a pretty cool reminder of the ability to do everything mentioned above. 

I am filled with profound gratitude for the remarkable changes my body underwent during pregnancy and postpartum. Though at times they may have seemed overwhelming and even "ugly" by societal standards, these changes symbolize the extraordinary journey of bringing new life into the world. The expanding belly, stretch marks, and other physical transformations remind me of the incredible strength and resilience within me. Each mark tells a unique story of the love and sacrifice that went into nurturing and protecting my little dude. I am grateful for my body's ability to adapt, nourish, and sustain life during those transformative months. It is through these changes that I have learned to appreciate and embrace the beauty of imperfection, realizing that my body's worth extends far beyond external appearances. My body is a testament to the miracles of life, and for that, I am endlessly thankful.

Okay, mom?

You're pretty amazing

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