“Look at those ugly stretch marks!” the mirror sneers as I hurriedly change my clothes. No matter how hard I try, my eyes always seem to wander to my disappointing reflection staring back at me, “You’re disfigured and they’ll never go away you know. Never.”
Tears pool in my eyes as I try to shut out the hurtful thoughts, I glance in the glass though and agree, I am hideous. My body is marred all over from three pregnancies, scars that seem to burn and scream “You’ll never be attractive again.” I pull on my pants and long shirt and breathe a sigh of relief, clothes have become my mask and my shield, for with them on I feel normal and I can pretend my body is perfect, I’m still however, conscious of my flaws. My shirt could ride up and someone might become grossed out by my bread dough belly or I might bend over too far and accidentally show my uneven breasts. Oh the horror! Being nude is a nightmare for me, I dread showers, and lovemaking is done under the covers whilst wearing a top that covers my torso despite my husband’s vows that I’ve never looked better.
I go through stages of self-hate and berate myself for not trying harder to prevent the damage I had done. I forget the sweet moments at night when my husband would lovely run lotion on my belly, amused by the little feet trying to kick his hands. Instead I moan about regretting not smearing lotion on my body every second of the day. I dismiss from my mind how hard I worked to eat healthy, charting and researching to make sure I was giving my body and baby every nutrient they needed. Instead I think that I would have ended up happier if I had starved myself to keep the weight off. I obliterate the sweet memories of the long walks we would take together every night, laughing as I tried to climb hills while holding my massive belly. Instead I wish that I had taken out a loan so I could have spent every day at the gym with a personal trainer. I sink down in the belief that I am the only mother that has let herself go. I even convince myself that I have proof. I see all the newspapers and billboards with perfect mothers and wonder why I don’t compare to their fit bodies. Even my favorite parenting magazines are filled with ads showcasing taut bellies and breasts. And as far as I know, all the mothers in my life have no stretch marks or flaws either for they never mention otherwise, surely if they were feeling as low as I am they would have said so. The mirror doesn’t lie; I’m the only mother alive whose body has been destroyed. I’m alone. I’m the only mother with these thoughts and I’m ashamed.
I decide surgery is my only option. I can only feel whole again if I cut out the glaring marks that giving life has given me. I look in the mirror and think that only a tummy tuck or a breast lift would improve my appearance. I have never had much time to spend online before but I make time to start searching the internet for options, knowing I could never afford the fees but determined to research anyways. Surprisingly I do find the hope I was seeking online but not from medical sites, instead I find communities of women who look and feel exactly as I do.
I find theshapeofamother.com, a site that brings me to my knees in sobs, a site where I find answers, acceptance, and understanding. It’s where mothers from all over the world go to post photos and accounts of their bodies to show all other mothers that they are normal. I read pages and pages of stories, crying and smiling harder with each one. Their words are my thoughts, my fears…I’m connected to them all. I am no longer alone. I find forums where groups of mothers gather to discuss everything from cooking to gifts to yes, their new bodies as opening up to strangers is so much easier than pouring out your feelings face to face. I even find sites that show before and after photos of air brushed models and for the first time realize that *I* am the normal woman, that those in the ads are the unnatural, enhanced, and unrealistic versions of womanhood.
I start to see my own body in a new light, to remember what’s it like to look in the mirror and smile, and to feel confident once again. It didn’t happen overnight but slowly over the months I start to change. I stop wearing clothes that are too big on me as I no longer feel the need to hide beneath them. I take my children swimming for the first time in a public pool, no longer ashamed of what my swim clothes reveal. I celebrate my amazing body that has given me so much and marvel how I could have disliked it for so long. I apologize to myself and promise to never let go of my self- worth again.
And one night, after the kids are safely tucked in bed, I decide it’s time to show my husband my new confidence. I ask him if he’d like to do a tasteful photo session of my body. He’s surprised but happy, and we start our boudoir experiment. I stand under the bright lights, 100% unclothed, with nothing to hide beneath, and bare my soul and body to the man who’s been by my side for so many years. At first I was timid and shy but with each snap I hear his words of encouragement and I can see in his eyes that he loves what he sees, flaws and all. I feel my self esteem blossom and grin and I wish that this feeling could be shared by every mother. When I see the photos I’m shocked by what lovely pieces of art they are. “I’m….I’m stunning.” I whisper.
I turned towards the mirror and see a positive glow surrounding my body, it’s my self-respect. I touch my stretch marks and say “I’m glad they are here, for my babies are growing, and soon will leave my nest, but their marks will always be a lovely reminder.
Right here, see this little one? That’s where I first felt my first kick me; I sat up all excited and yelled ‘She moved inside me, I felt it!’ I sat there for hours stroking that spot, in awe that a life was growing inside of me, waiting for her to move again. Why would I want that marvelous mark she left me to fade away?
And here, see this short, deep one? That’s where my second’s foot stayed for 3 months, I was always worried about him because he didn’t kick much but I could always feel his toes twitching right there, telling me he was holding on. Even now, when my special boy is having a hard day, I unconsciously touch that spot and say ‘You’ll get through this buddy, just hang in a little bit longer.’ And he does.
And feel this long one here, that starts at my hip and crawls all the way up over my belly button, higher than all the rest? I watched this one creep up a tiny bit higher each day with my third. I would laugh and say ‘Silly boy you don’t want to get lost in the mist of your older siblings do you? You want to make sure your marks can clearly be seen, good for you, you’ll go far in life and I’ll root for you the whole way.’
“I’m sorry.” I tell my body “I was wrong. They are beautiful aren’t they? Each one tells its own amazing story.” I look in the mirror and smile and love what I see. And behind me I see all the other mothers of the world, touching their marks, and smiling along with me.
-Photo attached, taken by my husband.