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Post pregnancy body confidence when you have a new job on TV

For Women’s Wellness Week Martel Maxwell talks about landing her dream presenting role with BBC1’s Homes Under The Hammer and her body confidence during a period of four action-packed years of three pregnancies and a weight gain of 10 stone.

Martel Maxwell body confidence

My first day of filming for Homes Under The Hammer was back in September when I was almost seven months pregnant.

The call to say I’d got the gig had come just a couple of weeks before and I was (understating it somewhat) tickled pink. Or blue, as he turned out to be when, on 2nd December last year, I delivered baby Guthrie. My third child in a sea of plastic cars, Lego that bloody hurts when you stand on it at 5am and Spiderman costumes. I love it.

“10 stone in four years - that’s the weight I’ve put on in total over three pregnancies”

Has having three children under the age of four (Monty was three and a half and Chester two when Guthrie was born) changed my body? You bet. 10 stone in four years - that’s the weight I’ve put on in total over three pregnancies. And yet I weigh less than 10 stone in total now.

So when asked me to share my thoughts on how body image around pregnancy has impacted me while presenting on TV as part of Women’s Wellness Week, I felt I had something to say.

Let me caveat all of this with: you just want them out healthy. Talking of weight gain seems frivolous in comparison. I became acutely aware of this after a 20-plus hour labour (I relate to recent headlines over a ‘cult-like obsession’ with ‘normal’ births… being told I had to stay in a midwife-only unit… he was never coming out naturally) before an emergency C-section.

I am proud of the weight I gained. I obviously never gained that 10 stone at once. With my first pregnancy came almost four stone and roughly three then three again. I wanted to be one of those women who can run 10km until they drop; who wear leggings and look long and lithe with a gorgeous ball-shaped bump. But at 5ft 3 (and a half) inches, I looked more like a sloth in middle-aged loafers, albeit a happy one, loving each kick and hiccup inside my belly.

“I clung to the weight and it clung to me.”

Never mind, I told myself. I’ll be one of those women who post the before and after birth pics on Instagram and people will fall off their seats at the transformation after six weeks. Breastfeeding burns millions of calories. My friends might worry I’ve gone too skinny.  The reality? I clung to the weight and it clung to me. It was nature’s way for my body - not for Kim Kardashian’s body or countless other new mums with flat stomachs on the Daily Mail’s ‘sidebar of shame’ - but for me.

To me, it made sense. As cavewomen, our bodies would store fat for our newborns so we had reserves of breast milk in case of famine. I just never had the famine. While nursing I stared at my baby for hours and I craved (and ate) a lot of Digestive biscuits.  So far, so earth-mother, but when a call comes to present for a show that will be seen by millions, there was only one thought in my baby brain: WHAT ON EARTH CAN I WEAR? It had to be something that made me look a stone lighter.

After both Monty and Chester were born, I accepted work gigs here and there after a couple of months - a showbiz review on ITV1’s Lorraine or a short film for The One Show. I wore clothes that camouflaged my belly. I compensated for my squigy-ness by taking more time over my hair and make-up (though in a studio like Lorraine’s, God bless the experts) and I felt good. Or at least, I didn’t feel as blobby as I would have naked in front of a mirror. No one would watch that TV show. So long as I didn’t watch the footage back.

“I’m finishing the boys’ macaroni and hoofing a lonesome jammy dodger before supper”

Watching yourself cross your legs, your dress riding up to reveal a fleck of cellulite live to a million viewers on Lorraine…or watching your boobs strain against a summer top which looks two sizes too small, is never nice. But here’s the thing. If I’d watched that footage five - and certainly 10 - years ago, I’d have sorted it out pronto. I had discipline and an iron will. I can remember the routine in my single days when I’d put on half a stone - bran flakes for breakfast, fruit during the day, tuna steak and noodles for supper. Wham bam, give it a couple of weeks and I’d have been a little over eight stone. I am a naturally petite person and it suited me. I used to go to Thailand to fast for a week at the drop of a hat when footloose - more about health to redress my old showbiz presenting lifestyle of late nights - but weight loss was a welcome benefit.

Now? Maybe I’m happier. Maybe I have different priorities. I still want to be my ‘fighting weight’. A stone would do it..a substantial difference at my height. Every day I try. Most days, I fall short of what I think I should be doing. I should be smashing avocado, running targets and life. Instead, I’m finishing the boys’ macaroni and hoofing a lonesome jammy dodger before supper.

That’s the hardest bit - the guilt. Catholic guilt I’ve heard it called, whether you’re Catholic or not. Having such tall expectations of yourself, falling short and beating yourself up relentlessly.

After my eldest was born, it took a good eight months to get anywhere close to my pre-birth weight - and still I was a good half stone off. I didn’t diet, partly because tiredness makes pork pies your friend. I remember looking in the mirror one day and heralding the return of a waistline when, boom, I was pregnant again. I ate healthily, didn’t stint on treats but didn’t pig and still three stones became part of me.

Fast forward to that dream gig. Homes Under The Hammer. Filming while pregnant was one thing. Going back to work seven weeks after birth another. I thought I’d nailed the ‘hiding a couple of stones’ until (and it’s etched on my mind) watching a rear shot of myself with a HUGE arse - highlighted by a coat which ended half way up said arse. The shame.

But again, perspective, age, whatever it is has changed my mindset. What is more important to me about this presenting role is that I hone my craft presenting, interviewing property buyers and adding to a show I loved long before I became part of it.

Lessons learnt along this ‘bumpy’ ride:

  • Always wear a long coat if you want to cover a multitude.
  • The hardest thing to live with is the guilt trip and not the weight.
  • There’s no shame in being a bit portly for any reason but least of all incubating a human being.
  • There’s also no shame in saying ‘I feel good about myself when I have a flat stomach/my thighs are not rubbing together. And I feel great when I exercise and make smoothies.’
  • Find the style that suits your shape right now and buy clothes accordingly for the now, even if that means going up a size. It will be temporary if you want it to be.
  • Like yourself - cheesy but true. If you don’t, who will?
  • Be yourself - make my audience laugh or bamboozle them with damp facts and maybe they won’t look at my belly.

I’m annoyed with myself for not being one of those celebrity mums you see on a beach eight weeks after birth with a washboard stomach. I’m also annoyed that I’m annoyed. How is it even possible?

Anyway, you come back in a month. I’ll basically be Gwyneth Paltrow. With cellulite…three nipples (don’t worry, the extra one didn’t develop after birth..otherwise I suppose I could breastfeed all three at once), dumpy legs…and red hair.

Sexy, huh?

Homes Under The Hammer is on BBC1 at 10am weekdays.

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