Today’s post is in honor of National Love Your Belly Day! Actually I have no idea if that’s a real “day” or not, but it sounded good, right? Fake day aside, I was feeling a bit down in the dumps about my lovely lady lump-iness (aka my post-baby body) when I went swimsuit shopping recently. You see, having a chronic illness had already prepared me for what it feels like to be a captive in my own body. When you live with an illness you feel neither in control nor certain. Yet one thing was always for sure, though: when I went shopping, I never had to try anything on. I was always a small. Pregnancy changed that.
But let’s take it back a little. Because you didn’t just wake up with this body one day. It took nine months to expand and seemingly a lifetime to learn how to deal with it after. Remember a time, before the embarrassing dressing room meltdowns, to the time right when your body was beginning to change? I call it the ‘it’s not a food baby’ stage. This is probably just me, but I found myself to be incredibly weirded out by my no-longer flat stomach. I was so unfamiliar with this that I felt the desperate need to constantly tell people that it was a human baby, not a food baby. People would laugh it off or say I was silly, but I saw their judgmental eyes looking at my poochy tummy.
Then FINALLY my stomach went from being a behind-your-back conversation starter (is she pregnant?) to being a legitimate baby bump! It was just so cute and I loved showing it off all the time. “Oh this? Yeah, it’s my super adorable baby bump. No big deal.” And as my baby bump grew, so did my confidence. Aside from the unending nausea and chronic aches and pains, there were distinct moments of that pregnancy glow I’d heard so much about! Or maybe I was just shiny and sweaty from all that puking. But still! This was a good time for my baby bump and me!
Just as I started to hit my peak of awesomeness, a beached whale began replacing me in the mirror. My bump wasn’t a bump anymore; it was a mountain. And then there were all the lovely things that came with my growing stomach: swollen ankles, puffy feet, and cottage cheese (aka cellulite) started showing up in unexpected places. I even swore my armpits got fatter. I have no scientific proof of this, but since it was the one place I could still shave without pulling a muscle, I became quite familiar with it. And let me just say, the shaves got trickier because my arm”pits” were more like arm”lumpy-waterbeds.” Maybe that was TMI, but you can’t honestly tell me that as you entered those final weeks of pregnancy you didn’t become crazy analytical of your body. With it being a high risk pregnancy, I was practically helping the doctor by being so focused on my ever-changing shape – even if it meant I was constantly breaking myself down in the process.
I remember thinking to myself that things would start to go back to “normal” once the baby was born. I’d be able to sleep on my stomach again (ha, sleep, how naive I was) and wear things besides flowing dresses and stretchy leggings. I also remember looking down immediately after being cleared to leave recovery, seeing a mushy blob of a stomach, and crying. Logically I knew that my stomach wasn’t going to be firm and flat. Reason told me that no one would judge me for still wearing maternity pants. But logic and reason mean nothing to the hormonal brain of a woman with low self-esteem. Everyone even told me that I looked good for just having had a baby. They’re just being polite, I told myself. Only I knew the real truth. Only I knew what my stomach really felt like. My body was “home” and my stomach was an uninvited stranger. How was I back to my pre-pregnancy weight, yet the muscles felt like they had been spread apart? My skin now felt uncomfortably soft and malleable.
Want to know the shocking twist ending to this blog post? I’m not going to say that one day I woke up and there were rainbows and sunshine everywhere. I won’t say that I walked out of the store with a brand new, super cute bikini. I won’t lie to you or myself and say I am in love with and proud of my body. It’s a work in progress. I remind myself that my body, my “home,” also became the nurturing home to my son. I also remind myself that things could have been so much worse during the pregnancy and even afterwards. I feel shame, sometimes, for being so superficial. Yet I feel comforted when I open up, like I am now, and find that other mothers – women I deemed flawless – have the same struggles. So let’s get back out on the beach and start taking full-length selfies again. We should share our battle scars, talk about the Play-Doh tummies we have, and make a safe neighborhood for our “homes.”