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Mirror, Mirror on the wall….who’s the most damaged mother of them all? (Mary)

“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.

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Updated here.

in Positive Body Image/Words of Enouragement, Postpartum, Prose, Reader’s Favorite, Submissions, Third Pregnancy, Update
55 comments… add one
  • shannon Tuesday, March 9, 2010, 8:58 am

    This is the BEST, most beautiful post I have read in a long time…I couldn’t stop reading…I heard myself in it!!! You look amazing, and I am so happy for you :)

  • Sam Tuesday, March 9, 2010, 10:05 am

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  • Diane Tuesday, March 9, 2010, 10:17 am

    This is perfectly spoken. You do look amazing.

  • Amy Tuesday, March 9, 2010, 10:36 am

    Thank you so much for posting this. Your words moved me to tears. Thanks for the perspective.

  • kimber Tuesday, March 9, 2010, 11:33 am

    well, i’m crying. what a great post! i just wish my husband helped me feel that great about myself.

  • Samantha Tuesday, March 9, 2010, 1:34 pm

    You are beautiful! This is my favorite post; truer words were never spoken.

  • Jennifer Tuesday, March 9, 2010, 2:44 pm

    Brought tears to my eyes. As I read this I was holding onto my six week old son, listening to my 5 year old play with his dinosaurs, and watching my husband go get our 2 year old daughter up from her nap. You captured every emotion that has gone through my head and heart since bringing home baby number 3. You have inspired me to try and be kinder to myself and who I see in the mirror (when I really look).

  • Tabi Tuesday, March 9, 2010, 8:52 pm

    You are quite a talented writer!

  • A Thankful Mom Tuesday, March 9, 2010, 8:56 pm

    Tears stream down my face as I see myself in your words. I pour over them again and again thankful for each phrase. Simply beautiful words and beautiful photo. Thank you.

  • Sarah Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 2:15 am

    Thank you!!! My three year old pointed at the picture and said, “You’re mommy!” –thinking it was me. :D

  • Mama T Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 7:51 am

    Thank you for sharing your words that resonate with so many of us. As I read and cried openly my 2 1/2 yr old son and 1 1/2 yr old daughter ran over to check on mommy. I was overwhelmed by my love for them at the instant, remembering that it was my body that prepared them to enter this world. Thank you!!

  • Rachel Copek Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 11:20 am

    Thank You!! Have been feeling the same way for so long.My kids see me crying over reading theses beautiful words and give me love.I love my kids and my stretch marks.

  • Ann Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 11:20 am

    These are my very thoughts! I compare my “momma of 2” body to my sisters’ “never had kids” bodies and feel like crap. Thank you for posting this. Just want I needed to read today!

  • Augusta Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 11:21 am

    Beautiful post! I love it! Was definitely moved to tears myself…..Thank you so much.

  • Robynbee Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 11:21 am

    You are a wise wisewoman!

    Thank you for sharing your soul, it is beautiful and your body is too!

    With love

    From a Soul Sister :)

  • Jessica Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 11:30 am

    Thank you for sharing…I think it really touched a lot of us…..like many of the others who left comments, I admit, it brought me to tears, too.

  • Mina Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 11:33 am

    Lovely. Just lovely. Sniff.

  • daisy Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 11:34 am

    thank you for helping me see that i am beautiful, right down to the “bread dough belly”! i should have listened to my boyfriend, he said, “your flaws are not flaws at all, they are beauty marks.”

  • S Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 11:48 am

    Thank you so much. You ARE so beautiful. Your writing is incredible.

  • Sarah W. Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 11:49 am

    You brought tears to my eyes. So good to know we’re not alone!

  • Ondi Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 11:52 am

    Thank you for your heartfelt story, it brings tears running down my cheeks. I share the pain and I too am still in the healing/building confidence stage….beautiful!

  • Just Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 12:01 pm

    I wept to read your post. Thank you so much. I have had similar thoughts. They come and go. 15 years after my second baby and sometimes I feel gorgeous, sometimes I fantasize about the tummy tuck. This work of feeling beautiful in a culture that does not value you, it is ongoing, but worthwhile. Keep up the good work.

  • BNR Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 12:08 pm

    My stretch marks are primarily from my second pregnancy, so my older daughter watched them develop. She loved to run her hands over them as they grew, feeling the new, interesting texture and calling them my “sparklies” because of their visual appearance. She’s four now, and occasionally she still comments on them, and how she’ll have some when she’s a grown up mama. You can hear genuine enthusiasm in her voice at this prospect. Even though I have my moments of dislike, it nearly always ends in me thinking of them as sparkly, and smiling.

  • Shanyn Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 12:28 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m in the first trimester with my 3rd right now and as my belly is burgeoning and my pants are tightening, this was a gorgeous reminder of the magic that is happening in my body and my utter gratitude for the ability and love that’s made that magic possible.

  • Kirsten Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 1:05 pm

    Thank you.

  • heather Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 1:38 pm

    perfectly worded

  • Deni Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 1:39 pm

    With tears in my eyes I write to thank you. For too many years I have put off pregnancy because I thought I should lose the weight of the first two first. Now at 37, I am trying for a third and reminding myself daily that I will be healthy and strong to bring a healthy and strong new life into this world!

  • LewieP's Mummy Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 1:48 pm

    I’m a mum of 2 children, now aged 24 and 22, it’s taken me a long time to feel like I now do about my body, but the stretch marks and wobbles I have are part of me. My son aged 22 said recently ” you’ve not lived if you don’t have a few scars”. I’ve certainly lived, then. Thank you for sharing this, and your beautiful photo.

  • Leigh Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 2:17 pm

    Thank you for having the courage to write what so many of us could never even articulate. This article is me through and through. I cried as I read it, and cried even harder when I saw the photo at the end. The woman in that photo looks just like me, right down to the hairstyle & length. Talk about hitting home!

  • Corinne Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 2:53 pm

    You made me cry, it’s been many years since my children have left home and many relationships later and still I feel much as you did in the beginning. How fortunate to have such unconditional love and acceptance in your life to help you heal from your own self image hatred. And I know it must begin with me for real acceptance…and I am getting there….might take me a little longer than you. But thank you so much for opening your heart.

  • Ally Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 5:09 pm

    Wow. This is amazing! I cried through this entire thing.. You are gorgeous. You made my day, Thank you so much.

  • Sandra Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 5:12 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing! I have enormous wide stretch marks from bearing my 3 children. Some days I wish they’d disappear and I hide them as much as I can because I often feel ashamed of how big and visible they are. Your article was just what I needed to hear right now, as I’m at a bit of a low point. Thanks for the kick up the butt.

  • Danni Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 6:37 pm

    Your post brought tears to my eyes. Your story is amazing and I wanted to thank you for sharing it with us, it took alot of courage.

  • Candice Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 7:06 pm

    Thank you for writing exactly what I feel inside, particularly the self-loathing. I look forward to getting to a place of acceptance. I am currently pregnant with my third child and I struggle with body image issues that I wish would just go away. I’ve lots of work to do on myself–part of the help I get is coming to this site and reading stories like your own. You are a beautiful, courageous woman.

  • Shannon Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 9:01 pm

    This amazing, thought provoking, emotional article has been blocked by facebook

  • R.M. Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 9:39 pm

    I cried as I read this. I can relate to every single word, in fact I was just standing in front of the mirror this morning thinking these exact same thoughts. Thank you so much for sharing. You are absolutely right, we are beautiful, and our marks are so special becuase we got them whilst bringing life into the world…who else gets to do that? Us women are so blessed to have been given the gift of childbearing. Although I don’t always see it that way when I look in the mirror, your story reminded me, and I thank you for that.

  • Jane Thursday, March 11, 2010, 12:37 am

    I’m speechless…. and I am not alone. I literally heard myself in your post :)

    Thank you

  • Jess Thursday, March 11, 2010, 1:10 am

    i hope you no how many women you will have helped by having the courage to bare your soul and mind to us. inspiring, hearwarming and comforting. sent shivers down my spine…

  • Tanishka Thursday, March 11, 2010, 2:40 am

    Your truth will set many women free from the torment of their own inner critic. I said to my daughter after watching Disney’s ‘Snow White’ last weekend, you know a lot of these faery-tales were re-written & not all older women are evil.

    As role models, we surely we must seek to change the inner perception rather than the outer reflection, which is an act of true artistry & beauty that doesn’t involve surgery that violates & desecrates your body temple like a Jack the Ripper corpse.

  • em Thursday, March 11, 2010, 5:27 am

    I’m bawling!!! But thank you for your beautiful post!

  • Katy Thursday, March 11, 2010, 7:00 am

    Just wanted to say thank you like the other ladies did, no one elso could tell our stories in such a precise and heart felt manner. You sure are really blessed to have a wonderful husband who loved you for who you are, and not the body that your being is in, remarkably touching! God you, your husband and babies!

  • Hillary DG Thursday, March 11, 2010, 8:16 am

    What an articulate and wonderful post…it literally brought me to tears. Since the birth of my twins about a month ago, I’ve been shunning my body, berating this amazing, organic vessel that has given me three beautiful and healthy children. My breasts, once perky and round have now begun to hang like weights, full with milk for my growing twins. How can I find so much fault with them when they are providing life-sustaining food for my lovely little babies? I look so different–no longer the fit, taut young woman of yesterday…but guess what? I don’t want to be that young gal anymore–I want to be the glorious, strong, mature, knowledgeable adult woman I am now. My body has accomplished much and I will learn to bask in the glow of these alterations…these marks that signify my greatest deeds–birthing and nurturing my children! Thank you, thank you for sharing your story…it helps me to share and appreciate my own.

  • Mary Thursday, March 11, 2010, 12:57 pm

    Thank you all you beautiful women that have left comments on my post, it’s because of all of you that I was able to accept who I was.

    Regarding the comment that facebook has blocked this post – I am not surprised. I actually tried to have this article published in several parenting magazine as I wanted to bring awareness about The Shape of a Mother and how it had helped me.

    I was met with rejection after rejection.

    “It’s too sensitive of a topic.”
    “Would not pass the sensor board.”
    “Would displease our readers.”

    So…if I couldn’t meet my first goal of letting mother’s know about
    The Shape of a Mother site….I felt that at least I could reach out to all the
    readers of The Shape of a Mother and let them know how beautiful they
    all are.

    And you all ARE so amazing, thank you!

  • Tina Thursday, March 11, 2010, 6:12 pm

    Thanks for sharing.It really made me think, it was very touching :)

  • Jillynn Friday, March 12, 2010, 12:11 pm

    Amazing. Thank you for courageously sharing this with us, your sisters. I am so happy for you that you see your body for the wonder and treasure that it is, may this wisdom come to all women. The beauty and tenderness of your words made me cry.

  • Decamom Saturday, March 13, 2010, 9:43 am

    I have borne 11 children and I have stretchmarks, saggy breasts and the bread dough belly as well. Altho we always referred to my belly as “Mom’s Jelly Belly” My youngest ones love to jiggle it! I too have struggled with these same things and I am even now thinking about the tummy tuck, lipo, and breast lift. I too loathe the sight I see in the mirror and too often forget how I got this way. Thank you for this beautiful essay. Thank you SO much!

  • Bridgette Tuesday, March 16, 2010, 1:30 pm

    Well I’m crying…this was beautiful, you’re beautiful. *hugs*

  • Selena Friday, March 26, 2010, 10:30 pm

    I am sitting here crying so hard that Im sure if someone walked in right now they would be worried. I had my first when I was 16 and have never felt like a beautiful woman since. I am now pregnant with number 6 at 33 and am scared that I will never be skinny again, never have perky beasts and wish that my streach marks and celulite will magicaly dissapear. I hdeveloped these “fat lumps” after baby #4 and the only way to get rid of them is to cut them all out one by one. my husband (second husband) says he loves me the way that I am. But I see the little smirks and one day I asked him if I have let myself go and he said well you have had kids honey. To me that means that I have always been let go and thats not what I ment by my question.
    I pray that one day I have the strenght to feel the way that you do. Thank you so much for this blog. It stired a lot of emotions inside of me.

  • Mary Wednesday, April 21, 2010, 3:22 pm

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing. You have touched my life today and inspired me to start looking at my body differently.

  • lilo Sunday, May 2, 2010, 3:57 am

    OMG, I foudn my self sobbing and crying when reading this. You described to the t how I felt. You look wonderful… thannk you so much! I can’t stop crying! thanks!

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