I started SOAM more than a decade ago because I saw a need in the world. Women had no idea what to expect pregnancy to do to their bodies. Stretch marks may have been the most discussed topic in this area, with incontinence being a hushed second, but after listening to over 2,500 women who’ve shared their stories with SOAM, I have learned that even those items often come as a surprise.
Why? The answer is deeply complex and requires a lot more space than I have to devote to it right here. But the short answer is that, while women may have the vote, there is still gross inequity with regards to the sexes. Women are praised for being young, passive, and uneducated. Those who allow their bodies to age more naturally are considered to have “let themselves go,” those who are assertive are branded bitches, and those who are educated are demeaned and often ignored in favor of their male colleagues. So women do everything they can to hide body changes brought on by age or pregnancy, and that includes speaking about them openly and honestly.
When I became pregnant, I expected the stretch marks, but I did not know to expect the extra skin. Because this was so foreign to me, I blamed myself for it, assuming that it was my weight that caused it. Until one day when I saw a thin woman who also had extra skin. In that one small moment, a second or two in real time, a whole world of blame, years of anxiety and shame, lifted off my shoulders. I got brave enough to discuss the idea with my mom friends and found out that we were each in a similar place. Nearly all of our bodies had changed in some way, and we all felt alone in that. One friend was brave enough to send me photos and that was when I realized exactly what SOAM could be.
Those early days of the website were revolutionary, a moment where women from across the globe came together. It was like we had all been living in darkness and suddenly came out into the light and found a whole world populated with beings just like us. We were elated and joyous, finding connections where before we had been so alone. The website spread across the web like wildfire and made such an impact that just one month and three days after its inception, it was featured across the world in the London Guardian. I was forever changed and so were many women who wrote to me to thank me for the site and to express how important it was to them.
In the intervening years, images of supposedly-imperfect postpartum bellies, breasts, bottoms, and every other body part effected by childbirth (so, basically, all body parts) have become normal to my eyes and it is not until I go back to the blog to reread those earliest entries that I remember a time when I was desperate to know I wasn’t alone. When I remember how thirsty I was for the knowledge that I am okay just as I am. This is, of course, SOAM’s goal: to normalize the mombod. But, even as influential as it has been, it has still reached only a small percentage of the world’s women.
These days, SOAM is not alone in this mission as more and more people become aware of the need to show realistic images of bodies. Today we have Jade Beall’s beautiful photography, we have Take Back Postpartum, we have the MidDrift Movement, and we have sources like My Body Gallery or 007Breasts that are not specific to postpartum bodies. (Actually, 007Breasts predates SOAM, although I was unaware of it at the time I created the site.)
All of these resources are important in their own way. Beall’s photography turns the body into a work of art, and MidDrift is creating a documentary to tell the story in a whole new medium. But SOAM is still relevant in its own way. Only at SOAM do you find a community of posts created by the women themselves. I find some of these images so precious, so intimate. A woman poses in front of her bathroom mirror, spotted with the week’s washings, and snaps a pic in her five quiet minutes of alone time before the baby wakes. Often there is a pile of laundry in the background. These pictures are often low resolution, but I consider them modern works of art, sharing pieces of a life so often kept hidden. They show wrinkled bellies, but they also show the chaos that is motherhood. And all of it is beautiful. At SOAM, we have women who have been updating their stories over the years, so readers have been able to watch their children grow, and watch their postpartum bodies evolve. At SOAM we have regular commenters who share experiences, information, and support. Every single comment is moderated to make sure those who are willing to share such a sensitive part of their lives are respected and safe. SOAM is a unique place on the web, even after all these years.
SOAM has made a difference and I am so proud to have been a part of this movement to help change the world. I have often said that the website truly belongs to all women, that I am simply lucky enough to be the one to curate it. I hope that SOAM has meant something important to you and if it has, I hope that you consider participating or helping out in some way. We have a long road ahead of us as we make this world more equitable for women, for us and for our daughters. SOAM has a long future in working hard on making this dream come true. Are you with us?