Pregnancies: 3 (miscarried 2nd pregnancy at 10 weeks)
Children: boy 8 years, girl 3 years
I just found this site a few weeks ago, and have found such comfort in the stories and pictures I have read and seen so far. Every woman has a story to tell, each as important and resonant as the last.
This is mine.
My body image issues started around the time I turned 15. It was then that a long buried secret had come to the surface of my life. For a time during my adolescent years, my uncle (by marriage) had molested and sexually assaulted me. Although the abuse had finally stopped, the shameful memory of it remained. During a time when my body was changing rapidly, the truth of the past at last came out. When I looked in the mirror I saw only an object that a man would lust after, it terrified and disgusted me. There was nothing wrong with my body at that time. I was at an ideal weight and had a nice figure, but still I hated it. My butt was too big, my boobs too small…etc, etc. I think in reality what I hated more than the actual appearance of my body was what my body had been through, what it now represented to me. It was like his fingerprints were all over me. I wavered constantly between feeling good about myself and feeling very, very low.
Not long after my “confession” my parents separated and later divorced. With an absentee father and a depressed mother, I found solace in a close male friend who later became my boyfriend. Little wonder that I became pregnant at age 18 by the same boy. I married that boy two weeks after I found out I was pregnant. Despite the ups and downs of those first few years together, it has certainly been a blessing in disguise. We just celebrated out 9th wedding anniversary and our relationship has never been better. He is a wonderful husband and father who is still my very best friend.
During my first pregnancy I was so clueless as to what it took to grow a healthy baby. I ate pretty much whatever I wanted, both good food and not so good food. I did exercise during the 2nd and part of the 3rd trimester, which helped to control my weight gain a little. I slathered on the cocoa butter religiously – to no avail. Before getting pregnant I weighed 125lbs (I’m 5’5”). Just hours before giving birth I weighed in at 168. My pregnancy went smoothly, as did my 16 hour labor and vaginal delivery. (With no drugs! Yikes! Now THAT was painful.) I never looked in the mirror or weighed myself the entire time I was preggo, however, I still felt enormous and I didn’t entirely enjoy being pregnant. It was quite a shock to see this red, floppy tummy at the hospital after giving birth.
When I came home I knew there was no way I would fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes, but I wanted to try it, just to see…I couldn’t even get my jeans past my knees! A week postpartum I weighed 150lbs and felt so terribly fat. After that I made myself stop thinking about it (I’m quite good at putting things out of my mind when I want to), and tried my best to focus on this new precious baby boy in my life. It was always there though, this nagging thought in the back of my mind telling me, “You’re ugly now. You’re all used up. And you hated yourself before! What are you going to do now?” It was (and still is sometimes) this scary, unsettling feeling. The only perk was the boobs! Lol. I finally had the chest I’d always wanted, but unfortunately nothing else remained of the body I used to have. Stretch marks covered my belly, my hips, and the tops of my thighs, angry and red. My butt and thighs had ballooned and I had no waist to speak of.
By the time my son was 6 months old the stretch marks had faded and most of the weight had come off. I decided that a serious exercise program was in order to tone my squishy body back up. Three months into it and I had lost the last 10lbs, bringing me to within 5lbs of my pre-baby weight. Although I was back around my “normal” body size, things didn’t look the same. The texture of my skin is forever damaged, never again to be smooth and seamless. My boobs are like empty, saggy sacks. A scar that runs the length of my stomach from a previous surgery at age 12, was also stretched. The pressure of the extra weigh gave my some spider veins and cellulite. I managed to get my body back though (for the most part), and feel a measure of confidence and acceptance, at least clothed. I could never regret the birth of my children no matter what the damage to my body :)
Nearly 5 years after having my son, I gave birth to my daughter. This time around I was smarter with what and how much I ate, and even exercised up until a few days before giving birth. Instead of the 40+ pounds I put on with my son, I gained a mere 25. Through out the pregnancy I felt glowing and lovely (Me! Imagine!). It was easier this time to appreciate my body for the wonderful thing it was doing rather than loathing it for getting bigger. Knowing my body better this time around, I decided to have the baby at home. It was an amazing experience! The atmosphere was calm, all my family was able to be there and I felt relaxed. After only 6 hours on intense labor and 10 minutes of pushing (thank goodness for all those tummy exercises!), out came my beautiful baby girl.
Surprisingly, my body bounced back even faster the second time. By the time my daughter was 4 months old I was back in my regular jeans. She is now 3 ½ years old and I’m actually 10lbs lighter than before I got pregnant with her. The only thing I can chock it up to is good nutrition, regular exercise and natural whole food supplements, which has helped my body to be in balance.
Still, I struggle at times. I’m sure many women, after looking over my photos, will roll their eyes and cluck to themselves, “Oh, please…”. And for the most part you’d be right. I realize that things could be so much worse (Can’t they always be?) and I should just be grateful for a healthy, functioning body that gave me two amazing kiddos and managed to come out of it okay. Only when I look at my super skinny friends who’ve also had kids (granted only one child each), who hardly have a single stretch mark to speak of, I feel a little robbed, cheated of a nice body at such a young age. Of course, no one else sees it this way, especially my husband who has always thought the world of me. He sees a goddess, and I only wish I could see myself through his eyes. It’s those past feelings that linger, the ones that tell me I’m shameful and worthless, a constant mental roadblock I fight to overcome. I may be able to ignore it for a time, then I’ll get a glimpse of myself in the mirror at the wrong time of the month and the negative feelings come rushing in on me.
Interestingly, I can look the pictures of all you lovely women and think to myself, “Aww, that’s not so bad, she looks great!” But it’s harder to be objective with myself. Having a daughter now, I’m so afraid of passing along these body hang ups to her. I don’t want her to ever criticize her body the way I find myself doing of mine. I want her to feel strong, beautiful and confidant. Although I don’t ever put myself down in front of her or my son, it’s still a near constant mental dialogue.
It has been, and probably will continue to be for some time, a battle to love myself 100%. I have my good days where I can wear something and feel extremely sexy, and other days I would rather be almost anyone else but me. The journey seems never ending, but I am determined to make progress, to take care of myself, to treat my body — stretch marks and all — as a vessel worthy of respect and awe whether or not I actually believe it yet.
Thank you for reading, I know it was long!
**The 1st two pictures are recent ones of me – don’t let the push-up bra fool you! ;)
The others are more close ups of my stretch marks (sorry for the low quality, these were taken with a camera phone)
It’s not really clear in the pictures, but I do have stretch marks all along my hips running down to the tops of my thighs, plus ones below my belly button. Yes, they’ve faded, but they’re fairly deep and thick so the long cracks of them remain. They look far worse in the flesh!