Ok, here goes *exhales nervously*… I would have loved to get married when I was a fresh-faced, 20 year old size 8, but had already had my first baby boy by the time I met my perfect man, so I was never going to look like Kate Moss in my wedding photos.
I’m still only 27, but two more babies has certainly taken it’s toll on me, let’s say. I gained three stone with every pregnancy and when I accepted my now Husband’s marriage proposal, a very bloated 6 months pregnant with our youngest daughter, I wasn’t really feeling like the best version of myself. It was still utterly magical and we opted for a wedding date three years later, to give myself plenty of time to look ‘perfect’ on the big day.
I’m mostly a very excitable, smiley, positive and enthusiastic person and I’m pretty sure most people who know me think I’m full of confidence and self-worth. However I have a personality with two sides of pretty extreme contrasts and I don’t imagine many of the people around me actually realise the extent of the struggles I have also faced with low self-esteem, anxiety and depression as a Mum of three in her 20s.
Images by Melia Meila Photography
I was always the ‘skinny girl’ at school. In fact I was bullied for it sometimes, being called Anorexic, despite the fact I had a massive appetite. My family would often joke that I had hollow legs! I didn’t mind at all though. I was very naturally slim and definitely took if for granted back then. When I had my first baby boy in Australia, I was only 19 and whilst my body shape definitely changed a lot, it was fairly easy to shift the pounds afterwards.I had a common case of baby blues and found the single Mum thing very hard at times, but the adrenaline of moving back home to the UK, with an adorable four month old baby to show off to my friends and family, helped me snap out of feeling sorry for myself and I wasn’t worried too much about my weight. I ended up losing most of what I had gained and getting reasonably close to feeling back to normal.
After shacking up with my new next door neighbour (now Husband!) and having my second baby almost three years later, it was much more difficult. I now had a newborn and a toddler to look after, along with working full-time, so finding some me-time and concentrating on my own well being was even more tricky. I was also surrounded by all of my gorgeous, child-free, 22 year old girlfriends this time round, which was a recipe for disaster.
I had quite a full on case of post-natal depression, sobbed my heart out daily and often refused to leave the house, but bottled it up as much as possible to avoid any judgement from others, until I eventually snapped.
Comparing myself to my young, beautiful friends who hadn’t yet had one child, never mind two and were still out raving at clubs most weekends, made me feel terribly ugly, fat, mumsy, and low. I really hated myself and unrealistically comparing my new body shape and naturally decreased rate of metabolism with that of my 18 year old, pre-baby self was tough and very unhealthy. I tried so hard to put on a brave face. Would people think I was unhappy with my life if was open about how I felt?
Would they say I was daft for having babies so young in the first place? Would they think I was a rubbish Mum for suffering with post-natal depression? Would Dan stop loving me????
I pressured myself massively to find the motivation to transform myself back into how I used to look and feel without any delay, and by 6 weeks post-natal I was attending fitness boot camps, gym classes and fad diet groups. I was determined to spring back into my former size and shape in the quickest time humanly possible. Then with the support and uplifting encouragement of my sweet, caring, understanding partner, I ended up taking a more realistic, gradual approach to dieting which did do the trick and I had lost all of my extra baby weight by the time our daughter was 18 months old.
This seemed like forever at the time, and I still wasn’t entirely happy with my saggy mum-tummy-skin and stretchmarks, but I felt pretty good about myself again, proud of my weight loss success and when I look back now at photos of me at that time, I wonder why I was ever so hard on myself!
Then pregnancy number three happened. Dan’s laid-back approach to everything meant he still hadn’t proposed yet, despite my constant hints and I was getting fatter again by the minute! (I have used every pregnancy as an excuse to eat everything in sight and be extremely lazy, so immediately broke my promise to myself to maintain my healthy lifestyle and eating habits throughout this pregnancy). When Dan whisked me off to Paris as a surprise, six months into the pregnancy and asked me to marry him, I was on cloud nine but felt slightly overwhelmed with panic at the thought of shifting all of the baby weight again for the big day.
But it was OK.
We would plan the wedding for two or three years later to take the pressure off. I managed it last time and could easily achieve it again in that time, with our wedding day as my biggest motivation! Wrong.
After our youngest daughter was born, I had every intention of signing up with a personal trainer, joining the gym and smashing the weight loss so I would look and feel fabulous. But now there were THREE kids. I tried desperately to juggle running my business, being a Mum, having a social life and looking after myself as well, but ended up pushing myself to my absolute limit and giving up entirely. I would have occasional waves of positive attitude and short phases of eating healthily and exercising, but would end up feeling so exhausted with everything that I would fall off the wagon and go in completely the opposite self-destructive, binge eating direction.
The wedding seemed so far away, and achieving the same results as I had before seemed so impossible that I completely lost all drive and became very despondent. Eventually I stopped caring quite so much anyway, quit the gym and focused all of my energy on planning the wedding, admittedly overcompensating hugely for my insecurities about my image by going ridiculously over the top with all the little details and absolutely annihilating our original wedding budget.
If I wasn’t going to look sensational on the day, everything else sure as hell was!
I slowly began to let go of my weight concerns and realise there was more to life. I had discovered a hobby that I was super passionate about in wedding planning and styling and finally had a focus that I got incredible enjoyment from, was naturally talented at and which diverted my attention away from the anxiety I had about my body image. Naturally, I began to realise that I actually wasn’t doing too bad. I started to give myself a little more credit for running a household, a business, planning the biggest day of our lives single-handedly and raising three happy, beautiful and (relatively) well-behaved children with wonderful morals and warm, kind hearts. I didn’t need to be skinny to feel proud of myself and my achievements.
Would I exchange having our three little treasures involved in and present at Mummy and Daddy’s wedding celebrations for a super-slim, perfectly toned figure and zero flaws?
Not in a million years.
There is a moment I remember, which I captured in a photograph, and shared with the Love My Dress Belle’s in the private Facebook group, when my two and four year old daughters were helping me to stuff dried petal confetti into tiny bags, in preparation for the most important and wonderful day of our lives as a family. It dawned on me then how lucky and privileged we were to be able to share the joy and excitement with our children and create such beautiful, treasured, life-long memories together. I realised what actually matters and is really important.
Something far beyond looking good in a frock for a day.
With my newfound, care-free, body confidence (or acceptance), I asked James of Melia Melia Photography for some subtle, soft and sensual ‘bridal boudoir’ images as a wedding present to Dan. I had seen James’ beautiful portrait work and knew his delicate, muted editing style would work perfectly for the result I wanted to achieve. I couldn’t possibly have considered any other photographer for the shoot. In fact it was seeing James’ portfolio which inspired me to go for it in the first place. He made me feel so comfortable and at ease, was extremely professional and is just an all-round lovely guy with an adorable family. He and his wife Jo’s wedding photography is also phenomenal!
I wanted to celebrate my post-three-babies bod (just the way it is) and explained this to James. I had been putting SO much pressure on myself to get my body back to how it used to be and to feel ‘perfect’ for the wedding day, but had now finally realised that I am so lucky to have the stretch marks, lumps and bumps, love handles and even the bags under my eyes to show for bringing our three incredible children into the world and that Dan adores me exactly as I am, wobbly bits and all.
I had now managed to get my head around the fact that no one would care if I was a size 6 or 16 on our wedding day and that enjoying the social aspects and the memories of such special moments in time that happen in the build up is far more important, without the stress and worry of weight loss, eating healthily and hitting the gym every day.
All people would see when I walked down that aisle was my beaming smile.
In fact, I had fallen into a bit of a pit of self-loathing again since these photographs were taken and since the wedding. (Post-wedding blues is absolutely a thing and should be an actual clinical diagnosis!) Following all of the hype of such a glorious day and the mammoth build up of almost 3 years, I felt like I had completely let myself go again after coming back to earth with a thud and have been feeling a little bit down in the dumps if I’m honest. But writing this and sharing these images has felt truly liberating and given me such a boost.
I hope it helps someone to feel even just a smidgen more positive than they might do at the moment, about such a common but often bottled up issue, which I think most of us ladies certainly experience at some point. Particularly in the lead-up to our wedding day.
So I may not be a supermodel or have a ‘thigh-gap’ or even be the dress size I would like anymore, but these images represent accepting who I am, embracing the imperfections, loving myself inside and out and concentrating on what it was all about – marrying my best friend.
Love Helaina x
The author of this feature is Helaina Storey of Helaina Storey Weddings – who you can connect with through Instagram at @helainastoreyweddingdesign. Helaina has bravely shared this story as part of our ‘From The Heart’ collection – a series where we hand the blog back over to our readers on a Sunday to write about all matters of love and life. If you would like to contribute a From The Heart piece of your own, we would dearly love to hear from you. It doesn’t matter what it’s about and it doesn’t have to be related to weddings at all – we’re looking for honest, authentic, personal, sad, happy, family, relationship, marriage, health, light-hearted, serious, baby, trying for baby, children, career, simple, complicated – real life issues. We just need you to write from your heart. Keep it upbeat and witty, or share your thoughts anonymously on a more challenging or emotional subject. Please drop me a line at hell[email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you, Annabel x