Anyone who knows me comes to a speedy realization that my life is an open book. I try not to hide behind falsities and insecurities. Instead, I tend to put them right out there. That can make people uncomfortable…myself included. I am unique in that I possess a vigorous obsession with stretching my comfort boundaries. It’s scary but exciting. It can lead to socially unacceptable statements, conversations, and acts, but when have I ever cared about that? In celebration of that part of my energy, I spend my birthday engaged in an activity that pushes my limits of comfort. Sometimes it’s personally excruciatingly terrifying, and sometimes it’s a big middle finger to worldly expectations.
The spectrum is wide. I once shot completely nude boudoirs with two of my favorite women on this earth—intimidating!!! I don’t fit the “mold,” but who designed and went shopping for that mold? Last I checked, we are distinguished by purpose and creation to be individuals. As I blew out my candles this year, I also grabbed popcorn and sat in a dark theater to digest only the most horrifying two hours of all cinema, IT. Escaping the warped fear of scary movies is a personal growth milestone I may never reach, but Pennywise and I gave it go. Those are fun examples of my sometimes insanity and a glimpse into my world, but the experience I want to discuss will touch a tender spot for many struggling with their postpartum bodies.
A few years ago an alliance of women bonded, stripped down to the bare minimum, and exposed the beautiful realities of how pregnancy and breastfeeding change a body. It was raw, and it was vulnerable. It was a highlight in my life because my mom joined me in this adventure as we held the freshest member of our family, my daughter Cambridge. Mom stood with me in support, embracing a likeminded effort. We were able to capture a flash of three generations of strong capable women. When I think of that heritage, I get emotional. Many other women seeking to celebrate their postpartum journey and transformed body came that day, each with their own story and reasoning, various shapes and assorted appearances. All equally stunning.
This experience made me wonder, When did we forget to wear a postpartum body with pride and ease? Since I believe comfort comes when we know what a normal expectation looks like, allow me to spill the beans. Many are under the assumption that when baby is born there is an immediate bounce back to a pre-pregnancy look, however, that is not how we are designed.
Pregnancy has sculpted you into a new work of art. Your world is forever different, as is your body. That is not a negative actuality. After birth, your uterus, although rapidly reducing in size, remains as a firm bulge in your abdomen. It continues to creep lower and lower until it finds its home in the pelvis, but that takes time. A new mother should be prepared that her belly may still look pregnant for weeks after she gives birth.
Throw away the images you’ve filed away in your mind from mainstream, photo-shopped media. Those feed the beast and are deceitful. Own YOUR skin.
Silver lining—more use out of those super comfy stretchy maternity pants.
Speaking of stretchy…due to the rapid stretching of your skin, you may notice the texture is slightly different. It is quite soft and saggy. Some describe it as crepe-like. My children always loved to touch the softest parts of me, where they once grew. I still struggle to find a fondness for what I call my “fat apron.” I have to see those parts of me through the eyes of the people who created them, my children, in order to discover a place of indifference or tolerance. A friendship with my panniculus (a swanky way to say belly fat) has yet to form. Let’s call that a work in progress.
Now climb up the belly mountain to the twin peaks, your boobs. We are all fairly aware that there is a distinct increase in size as they swell and fill with glorious milk. Many enjoy that perkiness and growth. But know that when skin stretches there are possibilities for striae (the fancy name for stretch marks). They show up as red streaks of glossy, thinned skin. (You may have noticed them on your belly, hips, thighs, arms, and butt). The dark red eventually fades to a silvery scar-like tissue, but the triumphant battle markings do last. Hooray!! My kiddos refer to them as dinosaur scratches. Thanks, thanks a lot! The biggest dilemma for mommas comes when the fullness deflates, and we are left with breasts in the image of a fried egg hanging on a nail. It’s okay. You just created and nourished life on so many levels that each breast should get a crown. It is more that okay. It is flaw-filled perfection. Moreover, it is normal.
Your navel may also evolve. The youthful, thin-lined, pre-pregnant bellybutton remains more open after birth and may even droop if any extra skin hangs.
If you produced a dark line running down the length of your abdomen (the linea nigra) wear it proudly. Although it may fade, the effect will remain as a reminiscent marking.
A lesser known adjustment comes with the new face of your vagina. If you feel up to it, I challenge you to get a mirror and investigate. You may see swelling. You will notice bleeding. It may not resemble anything you remember. I promise you, vaginas are magical creatures. They heal beautifully and bounce back. Swelling goes, tissues heal, and the silly putty appearance will look like your old friend soon enough. Why is it that we all subscribe to the normal process of a penis growing and shrinking with an erection on average 15 plus times a day, but the notion of our vagina holding the same power and function boggles us? We stretch ladies! AND we shrink back!
New mothers have enough on their plates. Healing. A new baby. A new normal. Home life. Work life. Other children. A partner. Being a caregiver and a lover. With that collection of life transitions, the last thing needed is the demands of cultural expectations. Throw that garbage right into the dumpster. Don’t recycle or compost that; we really want to get rid of it for good.
I encourage you to stretch your comfort zone. Push your boundaries. Be kind to yourself. Speak gentle words of affirmation over your body as you look in the mirror. Whisper or scream!
You are good. You are beautiful. You are worthy. You are distinguished. Your body held hands with creation. You are strong. Your curves, lumps, lines, marks, droops, holes, stretchy places, and dents are all artistry and well-earned. Welcome to the glorious tribe of mothers.