Words to Live and Write by

I am willing to fall Because I have learned how to rise.

I craft Love from heartbreak, Compassion from shame, Grace from disappointment, Courage from failure.

I am among the brave and brokenhearted, and I am rising strong.

(credit to Brene Brown)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Just another post about a post-baby body

Post-baby body image seems to be the talk of the day, what with celebrities and royalty and even some women near home "showing off" their incredible bodies after having a baby. And I think all the media is adding one more superhuman feat to woman's already absurd list of things we should be doing and ways we should measure up. I've read some really good articles about this issue already, but since writing is therapeutic for me, I'm doing it anyway. If you're sick of it, tough!, skip this post. If you'd love even more commiseration, sit down and see a piece of my thoughts today.

I dreamed of being pregnant for so, so long. Seriously, ever since I was a teenager and our stake did that Pioneer Trek thing and made every "family" carry a "baby" a.k.a. watermelon along the way. One night, I had baby duty so the watermelon was resting in a makeshift sling across my torso, and some older fellow smiled at me and said, "You are going to make a beautiful mother one day." And that solidified my ideal. (To be clear, of course, I didn't want to be pregnant as a teenager or before marriage.)

I wanted to be that beaming, glowing mother-to-be who looked like she swallowed a basketball because she didn't put on weight anywhere else. And I wanted to be the beautiful, beaming new mom, and the put-together baby mom, and the fit mom who taught her toddler to read and write and be reverent. Yes, these all seemed like reasonable goals.

Let's take it from the top, shall we?

1) Beaming, glowing mother-to-be: We tried for five years, had three miscarriages, and all sorts of hormonal injections before a pregnancy "stuck." Then there was the actual pregnancy: see Our Pregnancy Story. My OB, who has been doing this for 30 years, has named my pregnancy "The Pregnancy From Hell." There was nothing glowing about it.

2) Looked like she swallowed a basketball: I looked more like Bella Cullen. You'll just have to trust me on this, because I refused to have any pictures taken when I was pregnant. I sure didn't put on weight elsewhere, but it looked nothing like those happy basketball-tummy ladies.
 3) Beautiful, beaming new mom: Yeah, I had a pretty traumatic delivery and did that marshmallow-thing afterward, which made me look like this.

 4) Put-together baby mom: I may have actually pulled this one off, at least in public. I was lucky enough (it's all luck, ladies) to lose my baby weight within weeks. Hooray! And it stayed off as long as I kept nursing (which is a story unto itself). My baby shower left me well-equipped to deal with baby messes in style. But at home, I still looked like this.  I started filing these pictures away in a special folder titled "frumpy."

This is me "cheating." (Suck it IN!)
"Ahh! That's better."
 5) Fit mom teaching toddler to read and write: Ha! I'm so failing this one. First of all, what the heck does "fit" mean? Does it mean I fit into my clothes? Pre-maternity - I can't pull those jeans past my thighs. Maternity - a bit too baggy. Anything else - questionable. Sometimes I "fit" if I cheat by using compression tank tops. But normally, I just look like my pregnancy pooch is flopping over my jeans.

My pregnancy pooch, by the way, is likely one of the uglier you've seen. I had a vertical c-section and a vertical incision for an ovariectomy just one month before. They taped and stapled and glued that incision together while my baby kicked at it trying to break free. I didn't HAVE stretch marks before that surgery. Now, after nearly two years, so nowhere near as bad as at first (brace yourself), it looks like this. 

There ain't no way anyone can call that "fit." Probably ever again. In truth, this is actually pretty good; you can't even see the scars from the staples in this picture. (Bad lighting is always best in the bathroom, don't you agree?)

 As far as teaching my toddler to read: Pshaw! Maybe in a year or so when she stops eating the letters and crayons. 
Well, now that it's all out there, literally, let's talk about it. I feel let down. Partly because my own expectations were so unreasonable. But then, no one ever showed me what "reasonable" was. We go into pregnancies thinking only of cute maternity clothes and that bundle of joy we'll get at the end. Where do we ever learn the TRUTH? That pregnancy sucks in a multitude of ways, different for everyone; and that sweet newborn is needy and demanding and all too quickly becomes mobile and can climb furniture and get on top of other furniture to reach the things you finally thought were safe;
"Before you were born..."
and that every day is The Most Exhausting Day of Your Life EVER. And you never get a break, not a real one;  and that the body you loved - the one you flaunted and used to attract a husband - is squishy in places that can never be firmed without costly surgery. Good husbands still find you attractive, and help you feel attractive, but when you look in the mirror (especially when I look in the mirror), all you feel is depressed.
This is NOT to say motherhood is awful. Oh no! On the contrary, it is beautiful and magical (every moment that it isn't hair-pulling crazy). You get to watch this tiny person learn and grow, and talk and walk, and develop independence and creativity. And you get to be the most important person in her universe. And the giggles and tickles, the kisses and cuddles, the "I need you" cries and the sleepy smiles make it all so perfect.

Except when it isn't. There's a flip-side to every coin.

But I'm talking about body image. How do we (because I'm assuming there are mothers who relate to me) see ourselves as beautiful again? 

One of the strongest reminders for me came from a YA fiction book, when a minor character explains how he lost his arm. It was wounded and infected and amputated. "An arm for a life," he said simply. "Seemed like a pretty good trade." 

To quote the movie Hook: "I just had an apostrophe!" "You mean epiphany" "Lightning just struck my brain!" "That must have hurt." - My beautiful pre-baby body was sacrificed so my daughter could have a beautiful body. Seems like a pretty good trade! I try to remind myself that these scars are here because she lives.

Which, of course, reminds me of Isaiah, when the savior says, "I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands," so I will never forget you, what I did for you, and how much I love you. Isn't it interesting that Christ, who has the power to make his body perfect, chose to keep those scars? As a sign of love. To us. So when I see my scars, I try hard to think of the sacrifice made so my daughter could live. And that the scars remain, not only to remind me, but to remind her of what I did for her, and how much I love her.

Does it make me insecure? Absolutely. Society is so busy telling us and showing us what our "perfect" post-baby bodies should look like. And I don't look like that. Hard as I try, I never will (vertical slice through the abs doesn't go away).

But what if I stop paying attention to the media? What if I stop looking at photo-shopped pictures and look in the mirror instead. And actually believe my husband when he tells me I'm beautiful, or pretty, or sexy? What if, when my daughter points out body parts and wants to compare hers to mine, I don't refuse to let her see my "belly?" What if I show it - like it's normal - and if she ever asks why it's different, I simply answer, "Because that's what it took to make you. And I love you."

Then my daughter has at least ONE real example of what to expect when she wants her own children. If I don't hide it, but wear my "stripes" with pride, it is no longer something shameful or gross; it just is what it is. Because, after all, this motherhood thing teaches us selflessness. Even if that lesson costs me my vanity, apparently. And if I hurt inside a bit every time I see her smooth, perfect tummy, it's not jealousy really, it's a reminder of loss: I gave so she could have.

(Somehow I think that lesson will follow me through the rest of time... "I give so she can have." That's intimidating.)