The picture above is of me at approximately 28 weeks pregnant with my twins. Believe it or not, I got a lot bigger. I had the babies 7 weeks early and by the time they were delivered, I was enormous. In total, I believe I gained around sixty pounds. Since then, I’ve lost it all plus some. I’m in the best shape of my life, I eat healthier, I work out harder and I lift heavier. My friends tell me I look great. They tell me I have never been skinnier.
But I don’t feel that way. I am proud of how far I can run and how heavy I can lift, but I am not proud of the body that I live in. No matter what I do, how little I eat or how much harder I run, my stomach will always be saggy and wrinkly and foreign. It is not the stomach that I spent 28 years living with. The belly button that I have now looks different and strange. When my son asks to see it (he is really into showing his belly button and looking at mine), he pushes down on my stomach fat with both of his little hands the way a cat stomps a pillow before lying down. He giggles and points at it and says “dats dat?”It’s adorable of course and I momentarily feel better remembering that my precious boy and my sweet little girl lived inside that wrinkly, saggy stomach. But then the moment is over and I am left to look down at a body that embarrasses me. I’ve never had a perfect figure by any means, but until my children were born, I wasn’t ashamed to be naked or in a bathing suit. And I am now.
This is going to sound stupid and maybe sheltered, but having children has made me acutely aware of how much value people place on a woman’s looks. Even the leering construction workers at my school who can’t see the wrinkly stomach beneath my dress, seem to look at me differently now that I am a mother. It’s as though I am tainted or changed. The birth of my children coincided with my turning 30 and these two “life-changing moments”, as they say, made me reevaluate my worth in the world. On the one hand, I am the single most important figure in my children’s lives. They want to be with me always. They copy my movements. They crawl on my lap. They kiss my cheeks for absolutely no reason at all. In that regard, I’ve never felt more important. On the other hand, I am getting older. The value I had as a woman in her 20’s is depreciating. And what’s infuriating is that men don’t get it.
Sure, we’ve all said it before. Their bodies don’t change. Their hormones aren’t out of wack. They don’t have to push a human out of a very small space. But it’s so much bigger than that. No my husbands body didn’t change when I got pregnant with my twins. And his body didn’t change when I delivered them early via c-section either. And he can go to work and hang out with friends and someone that looks at him might think he is just an attractive single guy without kids. But me? I am a mother and I wear it extrinsically and intrinsically. The wrinkles by my eyes show that I’m a mother who hasn’t slept a full night in two years. The kangaroo pouch that hangs over my pants shows that I am a mother who grew children inside of her. My worried expression and purse filled with cheerios and diapers and tiny Elmo figurines shows that I am a mother. The smeared animal cracker regurgitation on my right shoulder shows that I am a mother. A mother who will always be one. A mother who will not, who can not go one single second of any day without the mother-ness flowing through her veins. I am thankful for that responsibility and I am thankful for the experience.
I am not proud of what I wrote above. There are moments when I feel empowered and decide I will wear a two-piece bathing suit and that I am strong and beautiful and that any man would be lucky to have me. But it doesn’t last. Days later, I find myself standing in front of the full length mirror, turning left then right. Chewing my lip as I evaluate and critique the parts of me that don’t look like “they’re supposed to”. This is a battle for me. One that I strive to win, but one that challenges me as a woman, and more as a feminist. It helps for me to think of my daughter. I imagine how I would feel if she told me she didn’t like her body, or that she felt ugly. It would devastate me. I would devote my life to making her feel good about herself. I would tell her that what’s on the outside boils down to a whole lot of nothing. That what is inside the body, what constitutes the soul and the heart is what makes a girl beautiful. I would grit my teeth and destroy anyone who made her feel otherwise. Why can’t that translate to me? Why can’t I celebrate what is inside of me-what makes me a fun and spontaneous mother? Why must I tear down the part of me that I absolutely cannot change? The part of me that, frankly, is healthier and stronger than it ever has been before.
Like I said, it’s a battle.