Antonella Gambotto-Burke is the author of the book Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love. She is a regular writer for Vogue and a proud North Shore Mum: born at the Mater, raised in East Lindfield, schooled in Killara, she is happily married to a Shore old boy and gave birth to their daughter Bethesda at the RNS. You can order your copy here or from your local bookshop.
Here, Antonella shares her metamorphosis from a size eight yoga fanatic to a womble in nine inaction-packed months…
Birthing Bethesda was not exactly conducive to my being begged to feature in the Pirelli calendar. Years of yoga and a nausea-dictated pregnancy diet of water, oranges and lemon rind did nothing to stop me achieving the circumference of the New Guinea Highlands. At eight months, I could barely walk; two weeks later, I could no longer type – my fingers filled with fluid whenever they dipped to the keyboard – and I had outgrown everything other than the floor-length viscose drawstring maternity skirt I wore as a house dress. So I lay in bed like a large, dead cod, mostly sleeping. My husband was a tender nurse, but I think he privately thought of me as his fat pet.
To have been depressed about the situation would have been to squander the energy needed to roll into the bathroom and back 350 times a day (in between naps and spells of zest consumption). Not to mention the exertion of flipping around in mid-air when I lost my balance in order to land on my back and not the baby. My ankles had given up; the right one – locus of a spectacular fracture in 2003 – had begun to buckle, meaning that I would lurch forward, flailing, and, without consciously thinking, quickly twist mid-transit to touch down on the superabundant cumulonimbus of my bum.
I studied tabloid blogs with the fervour of a religious zealot, riveted by posts on celebrity postpartum weight loss. The visual evidence was staggering. Heidi Klum, on the runway in heels and a bikini hemmed with light bulbs eight weeks after birthing one of her four children. Elle Macpherson, mother to Flynn and Cy, in the tiniest of tiny white bikinis, frolicking on any number of Caribbean beaches. Miranda Kerr, Jessica Simpson, Carolin Berg Eriksen, the terrifying Maria Kang …. even though their postpartum laps were about as baby-friendly as airport terminal seats, I wanted to look like them. Those lingerie selfies! I, too, would shed this wan puff pastry casing in weeks, I assured myself, watching my ankles swell to the dimensions of a redwood three days after parturition. Breastfeeding and yoga would dissolve the 40 or so kilograms I had gained!
After all, I reasoned, my baby weighed a whole four kilograms at birth, I lost ten or so in psychedelic fluids and brain tissue during labour, and early nursing chewed through a lot of lard. But that which I hadn’t banked upon was New Mother’s Hunger. Breastfeeding carved canyons in my appetite. Once home and busy turning that four kilo baby into a ten kilo baby in the space of six months, I became my own feeder. I was unaware that some cultures feed women a high-fat, high-protein diet for the first 40 days of motherhood; it just seemed like the right thing to do.
Breakfast was half a cup of fish oil capsules and a soup bowl of cereal with full cream milk. At lunchtime, I sat down to a frying pan loaded with brown rice and four large eggs. I snacked on a daily family bar of chocolate until I realised that the caffeine content was interfering with my baby’s sleep. I ate vast plates of pasta for dinner. The apartment was fragrant with the aroma of baking most days. Such uncurbed gorging was not the jolly culinary Bacchanalia some imagine; it quickly assumed the dimensions of desperation. I felt as if the very marrow was being sucked from my bones. And if I didn’t lose weight, I didn’t gain any, either.
Initially, I wasn’t overly concerned. Nurturing Bethesda was my priority. When did lean waists assume sovereignty over the creation and nurturance of life, anyway? Which is when it occurred to me that women who parade in light-bulb-trimmed bikinis minutes after rolling off the obstetrical table are spending unholy hours away from them in the uniquely trivial pursuit of a flatter belly. The trade had no appeal. I wouldn’t have forfeited – and nor did I forfeit – a single hour of my baby’s first six months. When Bethesda is a woman, I can tell her that I witnessed her first smile, her first word, her first coos, her first dance (she watched me dance with her father, and those chubby little arms began pumping). My love literally knit her bones.
And then I got it. That coat of fat had slowed me down so I could function at my baby’s level. A heavy body makes mothering easy. Far too big to drag Bethesda around and far too tired for an adult clip, I lived in her world, and at her pace. And it was bliss. We lay in bed, gazing into each others’ eyes. I read her stories and she listened, all pink silk cheeks and emotionally translucent eyes. As she sped up, so did I. The timelessness of new motherhood too quickly assumed the sheen of ordinary life: clocks ticked, clouds rolled. But I will always remember those first months, my warm milk-perfumed flesh and how it enfolded her, its only message love.