Monday, August 11, 2014

My Mommy Body: A Love Letter

As I write this, my laptop is perched on my ever-growing belly.  Swollen with life, moving when the sweet girl inside of it decides to awaken, larger than I can ever recall it being….and as much as I truly believe that pregnancy, birth, motherhood and all of the changes that come with these things are beautiful and remarkable, there is still a small part of me that misses what once was.

On our wedding day, almost four years ago

I was never overly thin, but was certainly always slender.  Like many young women, I struggled with self-acceptance and wished that I could look like a supermodel.  I would point out the flaws that were so obvious to me. I’d dream up ways to try and lose those “last 5 pounds”. And as much as I was okay with my body prior to children, I couldn't embrace it.

When we got pregnant with E, I experienced a lot of frustration with my changing body.  I was sad, not at the impending arrival of our daughter, but at the body I no longer recognized.  I stretched, grew and changed shape. My breasts became heavy. The scale climbed 40 pounds. My face became round. I felt swollen everywhere. And as much as I embraced the changes, I also mourned.  These were not things I had prepared myself to face quite yet. My body was no longer that of a young newlywed, but that of a mother.  When E was born, I struggled to lose the weight, even with breastfeeding and even after the weight was gone, I did not recognize the body in the mirror that stared back at me.

36 weeks pregnant with E

But, as time went on, I began to worry less about the body that was not back to pre-baby size or looks.  Yes, I would have moments where I would mourn what once was like the time my husband took me on a date shortly after our daughter was born and I spent the entire time at the Cheesecake Factory sobbing because I didn’t own one pair of pants with a zipper that fit (he took me shopping after dinner to buy me pants with a zipper), but I would also have moments where I could see glimpses of beauty in my stretched and tired body (nursing boobs, anyone?).

This is what a 4 day postpartum tummy looks like....but even here you can see that the furthest thing from my mind in this moment was the fact that I was still in maternity pants.

I wouldn’t say that I reached a place of full acceptance before we conceived V.  Some days were better than others, but I knew I was living healthy, eating right and taking care of myself, which is something I could be proud of even if the standards of Western society wouldn’t agree that my body was something to wear with confidence.

Now that I am almost 30 weeks into my second pregnancy, I have noticed the same insecurities as before creeping back into my thoughts and perspectives.  Compared to my first pregnancy, I am much bigger (although I have gained significantly less-thank you, chasing a toddler).  My body, already stretched once, is comfortable in this place.  I am seeing the tell-tale lines of stretch marks weaving their way around my hips and belly-a mockery to every lotion and potion I have tried in vain to thwart their plans to decorate me skin.  As much as I tell myself not to worry, knowing that I will lose the weight, the stretch marks will fade, the swelling will disappear….no matter how confident I feel in word, to others or in my thoughts….I am still human and I still struggle with the changes that are taking place.

24 weeks with V (with a gorgeous henna design from a very talented local artist)

However, as I walk through recognizing that I love pregnancy and everything that it brings while still being sad at some of the changes that go along with that, I am also making a conscious choice to love my body as it is.  And so, as part of that decision, I have decided to write my mommy body a love letter.

Dear Body,

You are remarkable.  Science tries to define you, explain you on every level and even with as much as we know, there is so much more we can’t and won’t ever understand.  You have the ability to make me ill, but also have the profound skill of healing yourself.  You function on the big levels and on the small. You are the physical representation of me. And I love you.
You have changed with me.  From the little girl with the skinned knees and the bare feet to the awkward teenager who hasn’t quite grown into herself.  From the young woman with the tiny waist and flawless skin to the heavily pregnant and about to deliver. You have adapted, grown, changed right along with me.

And now, as I see every inch of you in the mirror, I choose to see beauty.  I see white, pink, and red lines where you stretched to hold my daughters.  And just as all scars tell stories, each line speaks to the joy, frustration and sadness that is motherhood. One line for the day I first held my daughter in my arms. Another for the late nights when I would cry with my newborn, exhausted and unsure of how to fix whatever ailed her.  More lines for each time my child would break my mother’s heart.  You are helping me to remember these moments, these stories.  Yes, with time they will fade to white or silver, but just as time will fade intensity of a moment’s emotions, their effects will never truly go away.  Oh stretch marks, you are beautiful. And I chose not to be ashamed of you.

I see your middle, my belly, round with life, stretching to its limit. And it is beautiful.  For the lives I have been fortunate to carry, I am thankful. So many women would desire to see the same, and it breaks my heart that they may never experience it….I am thankful that you are able to conceive, nurture and grow my children within my womb until the time comes when I can hold them with my arms.  I see my heavy chest, beginning to fill again with milk for my coming child, and I am thankful that you have helped me to feed my children and grow them in the way that I had hoped to, in the way nature intended.

Your legs are thick, but strong. Able to run with a toddler but bend gently over her at night and lift her back into her bed. Your arms are soft and cushioned with time and the weight of pregnancy. They make a safe and comfortable place for my daughter to rest.  Your face is rounded, but sparkles with your smile-warm and inviting to all.

You are not flawless.  But I love you. Every inch of you was knit together in the womb of my mother, designed by the Creator Himself. There are no mistakes in your design. 

I accept that you will never again look like the 21 year old me. I embrace that I will never again have the same shape or skin that I did before my children came into this world. And, even so, I am thankful for you.  Because you are beautiful. You are beautiful because you helped me become the woman I am today.  You will continue to change, just as I will. Hairs will grey, skin will wrinkle, muscles will weaken in time….but you will always be beautiful.

Because each line, imperfection or flaw tells a part of a story. My story.

And that story is beautiful.

So, here’s to you moms who are struggling with how your bodies have and are changing. I pray that, just as I am walking this journey of self-acceptance, you can do the same.  Whether you are right where you want to be physically or if you are a long way off, start loving your body now.  It has done so much and it is helping to tell your story.  Care for it, love it, embrace it.

You’re worth loving.

28 weeks pregnant with V and carrying 18 month old E
Photo courtesy of Ashley Rutland Photography

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