Asian mom in black underwear carrying a baby.

When I was 12, I saw Sarah Jessica Parker on a magazine cover four months after she had given birth. She was so skinny that it seemed her abs had no choice but to pop out. I watched Heidi Klum walk the 2009 Victoria’s Secret show five weeks after evacuating a fourth human from her person. You can see how I assumed pregnancy weight gain was temporary bloat.

So when I became pregnant, I bore an unrealistic sense of optimism. As a 105-pound 20-something who went to the gym five times a week, I thought I was heading toward the same shiny path that Klum and Parker treadon. Gain baby weight, wait a few months, and then slip back into my Size 2 jeans.

I didn’t think my intense  would not allow me to be cleared medically to work out during the pregnancy. Or that enduring a cesarean section meant I could only start exercising a few months postpartum. Or that most of the females in my family weren’t cut from the same cloth as these superstars when it comes to trimming pregnancy weight gain.

How I Tried to Bounce Back From Pregnancy Weight Gain

Many celebrities, from Marian Rivera to Emily Blunt, swear by breastfeeding as the ultimate postpartum weight-loss agent. Fortunately, the powers that be blessed me with the capability to breastfeed. My newborn would latch religiously, and I scheduled pumping just as diligently. That and bouncing the baby on a stability ball were the extent of my physical activities.

After some time, the postpartum edema abated, and my belly shrunk. I started walking for exercise – pretty much the only physical activity that my tired, poorly rested mom body allowed. In six months, my weight finally settled. Despite careful eating and a more consistent exercise routine, I’d grown two sizes up. Not SJP, but not tragic either – probably because even with the extra 10 pounds, I still fit in my pre-baby clothes.

The story was different with my second child. Once again, I adopted breastfeeding as my waistline lifeline. Baby 2 was a more vigorous feeder and a more determined sleeper. He would latch constantly and refuse the bottle. He would also snooze for longer periods. It presented the perfect formula for me to get back on track – not just to return to my pre-second baby weight but to my pre-motherhood body.

Almost three years later, my pregnancy weight gain stabilized – that is, I’m now almost two stone away from my goal weight. I felt that on my road to give life to others, I lost a little bit of myself.

Embracing a Different Kind of Body

To say that carrying all that extra…mass after Baby 2 shocked me. My confidence took a hit, and I resorted to buying XL clothes, not because they were the only ones that fit but because I wanted to hide my lumpy,  body from myself.

I was disappointed but not downhearted. I made a balik-alindog strategy as soon as my doctor cleared me to go beyond light strolls. After two years of living mostly a sedentary lifestyle, my husband gamely paid for three months’ worth of a postpartum training program to help lift my confidence. While it did diminish my diastasis recti – the separation of ab muscles that causes your stomach to poke out – it didn’t give me the size reduction I wanted.

Eventually, I hit the ground running – literally. Having been an avid runner during my single years, I started to get back on track, slowly but surely moving on to regular 10-kilometer daily runs. I reduced my refined sugar and even tried to cut back on meat.

After a period, I was back on the same level as I did as a 22-year-old. Plus, I had the extra exercise from chasing two toddlers around. But neither the scale nor the waistband moved. The studies didn’t help. A  reported that 20% of women bounced back to pre-pregnancy weight within the first three months postpartum. Meanwhile, 24% retained at least 10 pounds a year after giving birth. I refused to believe I fell in the latter category – even though evidence pointed otherwise.

I tried to work harder, . I signed up for half marathons and 32-kilometer runs. Soon, I was running much harder and much longer than I ever did in the past.

But my size was at a plateau. I felt frustrated that though my efforts made me stronger, they did not make me thinner. Strength, I believed, was a secondary bonus. I just wanted to feel great in tank tops again. It’s a flawed perspective, sure, but it’s what most women are programmed to believe. Despite the , there’s still a tendency to praise mothers who instantly shrank back. Meanwhile, those who don’t are noted for their normalcy – a consolation prize. Sorry, but who wants to be “normal”?

During one of my defeated rants, my husband reminded me of all the things my body has done, including giving birth to two healthy boys. Of course, I dismissed him for saying all the wrong things. After all, Belle Daza birthed three kids, and look at her.

But he insisted. It’s just different. Not only was I not any of these celebrities, but my body evolved, too. It’s of a 30-something-year-old who can run tens of kilometers and hike up mountains while carrying children. I had to stop living in the past and focus on building whatever I had now. Even if I did manage to reach a Size 2 again, it wouldn’t be the same as the one I had before. Version 1 was obsolete. I had to create newer – better versions of myself.

It’s unfortunate someone had to point it out to me before I could see it myself, but I was blinded by everyone else’s expectations. The fact is: whether I was 105 pounds or 130, my body never let me down.

Tips to Appreciate Your Postpartum Body

After finally accepting – embracing that this pregnancy weight gain was now a part of me, I learned to take care of it better. Here are some tips to  it deserves.

1. Develop a workout regimen that works for you.

For me, it’s running. For you, it could be lifting weights or even . Not every mom has the luxury of taking two hours off a day for workouts. Find ways to move and strengthen your body, from walking the dog after the kids’ bedtime to skipping the elevator at the office.

2. Take time for yourself.

A break could be anywhere from a spa weekend with the girls or a solid five minutes of uninterrupted bathroom time. Relish these moments. Don’t speed through your showers if you know it's the only alone time you have. Go on, take a few extra seconds to lather that Sunsilk Strong & Long Shampoo. After all, , too.

3. Pamper your body!

There's no better time than now to live out your . Your body’s been through a lot. According to a , the stress of childbirth is akin to soldiers’ anxiety during a war! Yikes.

Hyperpigmentation may be a , but it doesn’t mean you should just ignore it if it makes you feel uncomfortable. Try different brightening products, such as Dove Intensive Renew Deo Dry Serum Collagen + Vit B3, to help boost your confidence again.

4. Indulge in sleep.

Sleep becomes an even more valuable commodity when you give birth, particularly when dealing with a newborn. When your child finally learns to sleep through the night, you should, too! Getting enough zzzs is not only , but it does wonders for your mind and psyche, too. You’ll feel more positive going about the day’s challenges when you’ve had enough rest.

Give your skin some TLC with Vaseline Gluta-Hya Serum Burst Lotion Overnight Radiance Repair. It brightens your skin as you sleep, giving you extra radiance as soon as you wake up. Talk about a postpartum glow!

You may or may not get back to your pre-pregnancy size. You may or may not be able to shed off your pregnancy weight gain. But it’s not always about bouncing back. You’re supposed to move forward – and fall in love with your healthy, new body.