Last fall, I wrote a post that touched on a topic that is out of the comfort zone for many: weight. I had reached my pre-pregnancy weight and I wasn't about to apologize for it. Way back then, I promised to someday approach this subject again, ready to put out there an honest look at how pregnancy effects our bodies - inside and out - and the way we look and feel about them pre/post-baby. Well, welcome to someday. Here we go.
I've decided to divide this up into 2 posts, in fact, with no coincidence that the second part will fall on a Thankful Friday.
Pre-baby body issues: Well, to put it lightly, I wasn't always a fan of my body.
I know, shocker, right? I mean, I am a girl! I certainly had my issues with this angle or that, with jeans I couldn't squeeze into or obsessing that my tummy would never be bikini ready. I, like many, would compare myself to supermodels, friends, that sexy waitress at my favorite restaurant, that lady in front of me in line at the grocery store...yep, just about everyone. I could tell you without fail exactly what I had eaten that day, that week, and probably what everyone else around me had consumed as well. I would go through periods of thinking I was cute (did that guy at Chipotle wink at me and give me extra salsa, or was it just me?) only to be followed up by self-loathing post-burrito-consumption. I would cycle in and out of wanting to work-out, wanting to perfect myself, and then plummet miserably into self-destruction that was sugar-coated, peanut-butter-dipped, and drenched in a hot chocolate sauce of self-deprecation.
When I met my husband, I thought I had surely pulled one of the grandest schemes ever known to humankind. I had fooled the best of them and this gorgeous, tall, dark and handsome fellow was head over heels for me...surely his vision was off? But, as I got to know him, I fell deeply in love with his most charming characteristic: his sincerity. So, when he would look into my eyes and tell me how beautiful I was, I had a choice to make: either I was falling in love with a psychopathic liar...or, he was telling the truth. I distinctly remember choosing to believe him. Making a conscious choice that I wasn't going to marry and idiot or someone with terrible taste. I was going to marry someone who was in love with a beautiful girl...me.
It didn't stop there. I didn't make that choice and magically like my thighs. I didn't click my heels three times and somehow see a supermodel in the mirror staring back at me. I would still fish for compliments, put myself down, and cringe at the thought of my husband's rose-colored glasses coming off when he looked at me. It was probably sometime shortly after we were married when, on a day when I was particularly down on myself, Josh had finally had enough. Not enough of me (which is what I had set myself up to anticipate) but enough of my insulting myself. Enough. Done. NO LONGER ALLOWED.
What? That's right. I was no longer allowed to put myself down. Ever. He hated it, it made me feel bad, it wasn't true...the list of reasons to stop was much lengthier than any argument I could conjure up. So, that was that. And right then and there I, for the truly first time ever, began to change how I thought about my body. He loved it. I loved him. Therefore, I really need to get over myself.
I had allowed these negative self-image thoughts to consume a whole part of my brain that could be used for so much more. It was clearly futile to spend one more second coming up with reasons to make myself feel bad. It wasted energy and time and was stealing more than my attention: it was stealing my dignity. And Josh wasn't implying that I should even believe him or that I should start to see myself through his eyes. (Though, the honest compliments of an encouraging mate are like salve to a mangled self-image.) No, it was only the grace of God that would be able to heal my wounds, my self-inflicted scars left from years of insults to myself.
By the time we were ready to start a family, I had come a long, long way from where I began. The "tape player" in my head had nearly done a one-eighty and I was excited to see myself
pregnant soon. But, "soon" didn't happen as soon as I wanted. Month after month would go by with a negative pregnancy test. My body seemed to be failing me and I was left again with a hatred in my heart for a body that wouldn't be what I wanted it to be. It is easy to sit back and tell a wanting-to-get-pregnant woman that it isn't her "fault", that there is nothing she can really "do" but relax. But, when you are desperate to feel a baby growing inside of you and everyone else around you seems to be popping out bumps by merely winking at their husbands....well, there is just no talking down that woman from the ledge. I once told Josh that not becoming pregnant month after month was like going to a job interview every two weeks that I knew I was overly-qualified for, only to find out two weeks later that someone else had gotten the job without even applying. It was discouraging to say the least.
Finally, somewhere between a miracle and month 11, we were pregnant. Not without fear, either. The same day we got the positive test, I also had severe and unexplained bleeding and we also wound up in the ER. It was a few scary weeks later that I finally was able to take some deep breaths and, despite the nausea, relax in the confirmed joy that we were, indeed, going to have a baby.
A baby! Wow. As the saying goes, everything changes when you have a baby. Certainly not the least of these changes go on right inside your own body! While we have shelves FULL of books today telling us what to "expect" throughout pregnancy, I don't think there is really anything you can do to prepare yourself for the actual changes you are going to see your body go through.
It's called a miracle for a reason, I suppose. Because, how my belly didn't actually explode is seriously beyond me. And, with my first pregnancy, though my waistline grew a good 17+ inches, I didn't get one stretch mark (keep reading! I promise you won't hate me by the end!) I had maintained a reasonable weight gain and had a healthy baby, and with the help of breastfeeding and quality Spanx, I was on my way to a "normal" body again. In fact, it wasn't until my 38th WEEK with my second daughter this last summer that my belly had finally taken all it could...and I woke up with stretch marks. Literally, I went to sleep with a seamless belly and woke up looking like I had been attacked by a werewolf. At 38 weeks!? Are you kidding me? And this is when it truly, honest-to-goodness hit me: my body would never be the same.
Obviously, I had known this for a while "in my head".
Every mother says it - how they now have that muffin-top or those sagging breasts, or how their children "stole their beauty" from them, etc. I knew that pregnancy and childbirth would bring change - but, I had just recently come to terms with my pre-pregnancy body...how was I supposed to know how to love this new skin I found myself in?
Weeks after Daphne's arrival, I found myself studying my new skin. (That's right - I saw myself naked - you should try it once in a while!) Instead of cringing or shying away from what I saw, I decided to just observe, just look as if I was a doctor or a good friend to that soul in the mirror - taking in the temple that had just been used as a vessel for one of God's new creations. This being - this flesh - it housed a human.
And in closer examination of these ripples in my skin...
I began to see these stretch marks in a whole new light:
I wanted to remember this moment. I wanted to lock it into my memory that I am standing here, naked and unashamed of myself - proud in fact, that God chose me to undergo such an ordeal. How can I carry this feeling with me? How can I remember that God took what I had once called "gross", "fat", "ugly" and blessed it with such perfect function?
And in closer examination of these ripples in my skin, the "blemish" of them faded away and I began to see these stretch marks in a whole new light. These were not scars...they were symbols. They were memories of what I could endure, what I would sacrifice freely, what I would do all over again at any moment for the babies God had given me. I had a new perspective. A new body, stricken with the evidence of God's goodness.
My brain's "tape player" was about to change once more...
(come back for part TWO tomorrow!)