A baby bump need not signal a growing foetus within.
Addressing rumours that she was pregnant with her fourth child, American actress Jennifer Garner said recently on The Ellen DeGeneres Show: "I am not pregnant, but I've had three kids and there is a bump. From now on, I will have a bump and it will be my baby bump and let's just all settle in and get used to it. It's not going anywhere."
She won praise simply for admitting the existence of the mummy tummy - the looser, bulging tum that often follows childbirth, even after the baby weight is lost. It is the result of the stretching of muscle and tissue to accommodate the pregnancy.
Garner's views, rarely expressed in public by celebrities, struck a chord with mothers in Singapore.
Citing her comments as an example of straight talk about motherhood, Mrs Carol Gockel, 37, who has two children under the age of three, says: "I accept that I may just have to deal with having stretch marks and a baby bump as evidence that my body carried two babies. I'm taking it in my stride."
"I was relatively active prior to becoming pregnant. Now I'm trying to get back in shape by walking and going to the gym. The pressure from images and stories of celebrities returning to their pre-pregnancy shape so quickly doesn't help one bit," she says.
Mrs Gockel, like other mums interviewed by SundayLife!, notes that celebrities have an entourage to help them regain their pre-baby appearance.
"Celebrities depend on their looks. It's their livelihood; millions of dollars are at stake here. They have loads of help. They also exercise and diet hard to get back to their figure," she says, adding that some picture-perfect celebrities may have eating disorders or emotional issues.
Nonetheless, she feels the pressure to get back into shape again.
"From time to time, I am discouraged, but I'm more angry at myself for not being able to manage my time better to exercise, rather than at the images of celebrities," says Mrs Gockel, a Singaporean stay-at-home mum, who also runs a business as an image coach and personal stylist.
Associate Professor Tan Thiam Chye, of KK Women's and Children's Hospital, says it is possible for women to regain their pre-pregnancy appearance.
The "massive bodily changes experienced during pregnancy", including hips that have widened and a reduction in muscle tone, "will resume to the pre-pregnancy state, as long as the mother persists with an exercise regimen, breastfeeds and has a good balanced diet," says Prof Tan, head and senior consultant at the inpatient service division of obstetrics and gynaecology.
"Generally six weeks after delivery, mothers can expect to lose about half of their gestational weight gain. After which, they will see a slow weight loss during the first six months after delivery."
The reality is that regaining one's pre-pregnancy appearance and losing weight has to be scheduled around the intensive demands of caring for newborns and infants.
Housewife Kelly Leong, 40, founder of an online business selling wellness products, Singapore Yummy Mummy, finds post-natal celebrity images "inspiring" and returned to her pre-pregnancy shape within half a year after each of her three sons, aged two to six years old, was born.
It was "pretty manageable", she said. Breastfeeding, doing housework and chasing the children when they were running around helped her to regain her figure, she says, adding that she did not experience a loss in muscle tone.
Ms Leong does Zumba, jogs, reduces her food intake and takes antioxidant-rich smoothies, but mostly on weekends, when her engineer husband can take care of the children.
They do not have a domestic helper. On the other hand, business development manager Melissa Teoh, 34, found it challenging to make time to exercise after the birth of her children.
"You need so much time to exercise. In the first month, it was so chaotic, I couldn't even find the time to sleep," says Ms Teoh, who has a five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.
"Still, I find it very important also to try and get back in shape. It's healthier too."
While she is sceptical about celebrity images, she acknowledges that pregnancy can present challenges to one's body image - it made her feel "out of control".
"I've never been very big, so being pregnant was quite shocking to me. I put on 20kg for each of my two children. It was the loss of control of the body that I thought was mine," she says, adding that her efforts to stem her pregnancy weight gain, such as avoiding sugar, were to no avail.
Although she reached her pre-pregnancy weight within six months for each child, mostly through breastfeeding, she also says: "I have looser skin and muscles than before. Recently, I've started doing abdominal exercises.
"Considering that I've carried two babies, I'm quite contented with my current shape and tone."
Housewife and freelance exercise instructor Leticia Malphettes, 38, is another mum who has come to terms with her post-motherhood figure.
At first, she felt "very depressed to see how her body changed".
"The turning point came about 21/2 years ago when my first child was 11/2. I had a bit of time when she went to a toddler group. I signed up for a Zumba exercise class. I felt the burden of getting skinny was lifted from my shoulders. Without knowing it, I started to lose weight and became very fit."
She eventually learnt how to be an instructor for exercises such as piloxing, a combination of pilates and boxing, and bollyrobics: Bollywood-inspired aerobics.
So she is pleased with her fitness and health, never mind the mummy tummy that remains.
A few months ago, the elder of her two daughters, who is four, pointed to her stomach and asked: "What's that?" "I said, it's because of sagging skin," Ms Malphettes recounts.
She "now feels that it's a normal part of the process" to have stretch marks and slackened skin after childbirth. Most importantly, "I don't want my daughters to have such feelings of insecurity", she says.
In the case of operations manager Hamidah Razak, 33, who has two girls, Arisha, aged four years old, and Ariana, nine months old, it was her mother who leaned on her to regain her pre-pregnancy appearance.
"My mother was the first wall of pressure that I faced," she says, adding that her mum made her run the gamut of traditional Malay post-natal treatments and customs, including body wraps, herbal tonics, a prohibition on sugary drinks (she drank Coca-Cola on the sly) and cold foods such as watermelon.
"My mum's a bit old-fashioned - she thinks the husband will leave his wife if she doesn't lose weight. I said he will love me for all the roundness that I am," says Ms Hamidah.
She has been eating more salads and porridge to be healthier, but has gained more than 10kg since becoming a mother. On the corresponding loss of muscle tone, she says her "six pack became a road hump" after motherhood.
Her husband Abdul Razak Saman, a 30-year-old maintenance supervisor in a fibre-optics firm, says: "When I ask her to go for a walk or jog, she would say, 'It's okay, never mind, next time'."
But it is not an issue at all for him.
"I want her to be round forever," he quips.
This article was first published on Oct 19, 2014.
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