Obsessed with how I should have done better (Anonymous)

I fell in love and moved away with my military husband at 18. We had our 1st baby (a 10 lb-er) when I was 26- I was away from all of my family and friends and gained 70 lbs. I didn’t know anything about eating, stretch marks, etc. I thought it meant eating for 2 (or 3!) and just doing whatever I wanted. Then, the baby came and my body was covered with saggy, stretch marked skin. Then, 2 years later, the twins came. I took much better care of myself but still gained 45 lbs and carried them to 38 weeks (7.5 lbs & 6.5 lbs). What was saggy breasts and belly became saggy EVERYTHING (thighs, butt) and body acne. :( I struggled with post partum depression after both pregnancies (pretty severely) and a husband who was deploying regularly, dealing with his own extremely stressful life, and not knowing WHAT to do with his formerly beautiful wife. When the twins were 18 months old I had a “mommy makeover” even though I should have waited until I was done losing weight. (Background- I had a 3 inch muscle separation in my stomach, it hung past my crotch, and my boobs…oh my gosh my boobs) Now my twins are 5 and my oldest is 7 and even though I work out regularly & eat well I believe I still look terrible. I’m now obsessing over getting implants and scar revisions and laser skin treatments. I know how “Real Housewives” bull-crappy that sounds, but it’s how I feel. The crazy part is, when I look at all of the other women on this site, I truly believe they look beautiful and can’t believe how hard they are on themselves (except for the ones who look perfect, inexplicably :)). I’m making great strides in all areas of my life but this one. I’m enjoying my children so much now and becoming more and more happy with life but my husband is obviously unhappy with my body. Thanks for reading- I know how self involved this sounds- I’m really trying to get over this and this is the 1st step- I’ve been thinking about submitting here for ages and can’t believe I actually took PHOTOS.

Age: 34 Pregnancies/births: 2/3 Children’s ages: 7,5, & 5

From Hating Myself to Having it All (H.L.)

Hello everyone,
I want to firstly mention that this blog does so much good for mothers and I am proud to finally add my submission. I had my first child at 17. I had no idea what I was in store for emotionally or physically at the time. It always really bugged me that none of my female family members took the time to prepare me for what would happen to my body after having a child, but honestly… none of my female family members bodies turned out anywhere near as bad as mine. My mother had me at 17 and I was her only child, she never even had a single stretch mark. I went from being 16 and JUST FINALLY getting boobs and becoming a women to having my body completely changed. A lot of the reason my body suffered as much as it did is the fact that I am extremely petite, I am only five feet tall and have almost no torso.

My first child did most of the damage but with each child (three total) following it got worse and worse. I gained and lost weight after and in between each pregnancy as most people do and of course breastfed my children which made my breasts sag and stretch just as much as my tummy. I spent 7 years yo-yoing, trying to get rid of the weight which I thought would get rid of the skin, I wore hard, tight compression garments daily just to be able to wear normal clothing without my tummy showing through my clothing. I always wanted a tummy tuck to fix my tummy because I knew my tummy was an extreme case that could only be fixed surgically. My husband and I had our third and final child 02/14/2011 and we decided to have my tubes tied not only because we were done having children, but because we knew that at some point in the future that I would finally have a tummy tuck and would not want to risk an accidental pregnancy after.

In August of 2012 I decided I couldn’t live with my body anymore and for the first time in my life I was seriously overweight. My heaviest weight was 185lbs and I decided it was time for a consultation with a plastic surgeon. I went in and had a consult and we put our down payment on the surgery scheduled over three months down the line so we had time to save for the surgery and for me to kick butt and shed as much weight as I could before the surgery. By the time my surgery arrived on 12/13/12 I had lost 35lbs and was at my goal weight for the operation. I had my tummy tuck and now I have my body back. I feel so blessed to have a beautiful family, loving spouse and my self confidence back. It was hard work to lose the weight and save the money for the surgery but it completely changed my life.

The point of my submission is that the joy that comes with parenting doesn’t have to come at a cost. You can say I have my cake (my kids) and I am eating it too.

I included a collage of pictures before my surgery and some photos from after. The before pictures are after I lost 35lbs right before the surgery. The difference between the before and after photos is only 5lbs! All 5 of those lbs were skin. I also want to mention that with my tummy tuck I had a Mons Pubis excision. As many of you know, after having children (especially if you have lots of excess skin) your vajay-jay can sag and become puffy, the Mons Pubis surgery corrects it.

I wish you all the best on your journey of finding, accepting and loving yourself no matter WHAT works for you.

Age: 25
Three pregnancies, three births, children’s ages (8,6,2)

To Post or Not to Post: Tummy Tuck Stories

When I started SOAM, my hope was to change what our view of normal is when it comes to the bodies of women, particularly mothers. Our current view is held only within our culture. When you look at humans from an evolutionary point of view, you would never imagine that tribal women, untouched by our culture, would ever question the way their bodies change after having children. Watching the movie Babies reinforced that idea for me. Those mamas in Africa were completely comfortable with what we aren’t. I have even seen the bodies of other mammals change after having babies. So, when it comes to the entire course of human history, our need to look a particular way seems very small, very abnormal. My hope, then, my work here, is to help get us back to understanding and accepting what is normal. What I want for future generations is for body image issues to be such a foreign topic that no one ever even considers that their body should be anything but what it is. That it becomes a non-topic.

My personal feeling is that in most cases, fixing the problem of body hate, is an internal one. Body image issues are generally a symptom of deeper self-image problems. I know that when I was younger I always believed that if I just lost x amount of weight I’d be much happier. But once there, I didn’t feel any different, actually. I was still hoping for that magic moment. I think this is true of most women. As it turns out, the magic is there within you all the time, you just don’t notice because everywhere you turn there’s another advertisement for a way to fix your problem. Of course, the most sure way to fully fix everything is to do the work; wander the forest, defeat the Wicked Witch of the West, discover that what you’ve been following is really just a little man behind a curtain. You already have the magic. The joy in this path is that you’ve learned so much more about yourself, about the world, about humanity, and about beauty.

For women who are otherwise comfortable with themselves, perhaps body image issues are tied to society’s habit of fat-shaming. The other side of the media-driven frenzy to look a particular way is that anyone who doesn’t look that particular way gets shamed. People who are overweight are considered to be lazy or slow. It isn’t exclusive to fat people, though, skinny women are often accused of having eating disorders. What fat- (and thin-)shaming is, is judgement based solely on looks. No one except a person and perhaps his or her health care provider can know for sure why that person weighs as much as he or she does.

Now that’s a long introduction to my actual intent here because what I’m about to say could easily be taken the wrong way. So before I go on, please understand that I really and truly do not judge anyone their choices. I don’t live your life, so how can I possibly know the right choice for you? So if you have made a choice that is different from the choices I, personally, would have made, please don’t feel like I think you did it wrong. Have confidence in your choice; I support you.

Here goes.

I have such a hard time with the tummy tuck posts. I never know if I should share them at all. I do it because I want every woman to have a voice. But I feel like posting them is condoning them and I don’t want to do that. Largely because I don’t think it solves the problem 99% of the time, partly because I wish more women would stand together against the bullshit ideals we’re supposed to live up to, and another, very significant part, is because I have a friend whose mother died during a tummy tuck. So it hits home.

So I’m asking you, the readers, what are your thoughts? Does allowing tummy tuck posts condone them? If so, is that right or wrong? Should I post them here or not? Why? Let me know in the comments below.

PS. I will post all comments unless they are inflammatory, or attack either side of the issue.

Really trying to be positive about my body. (Mia)

Im 5ft 7 and have always been a very slim girls to the point where other girls were unkind at school with regards to my weight. My pre-pregnancy weight was under 8 stone.

I fell in love at 17 and we moved in together, got engaged at 18 at was married at 19. Shortly to follow was my first pregnancy. We planned for it and fell lucky after 3 months of ‘trying’. At my 20 week scan we discovered i was having a boy and we were so thrilled and happy. We chose his name then and and i had a normal healthy pregnancy. A week and a half past my due date i went into a very slow labour which took about four days off and on!! looking back i suppose thats pretty normal as my body had never done this before but at the time and being so young i was a little over whelmed. After 2 long hours of pushing i gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby boy at a bouncy 9lbs!!

He was perfect and i breast fed with alot of support from my husband and my mum. My tummy after giving birth was stretched and the belly button area looked strange. Weight wise i got back to pre- pregnancy and after i stopped breastfeeding at 5 months my breasts and nipples looked great, pretty much pre pregnancy, but my stomach really bothered me.

When our son was 6 months old he died of sudden infant death sydrome. It felt like the end of my world, our life and like my heart and soul were irreparably damaged to lose him.

3 weeks after his funeral i found out that i was pregnant. We had conceived days before he had died. We felt this to be a gift from our son to keep us going, and it did.

The following year our daughter was born; a normal pregnancy and birth . . . but a whopping 10 lbs 6. We were so happy to have her but were terrified of losing her, to the point where i almost felt like i was living with the responsibility of keeping her breathing. Having said that we enjoyed her and shes now 5, the most beautiful spirited little girl. But in those early months still grieving for my son and having my daughter i think somewhere a long the line i became a little obsessed with my tummy. It had obviously changed not just from pre – babies but since after having my daughter. Since she was so large and my frame is small the skin on my tummy stretched irreparably leaving me with something i felt that i could not live with. So i threw myself into exercise and rubbing creams in 3-4 times a day. After a few months of this my husband became concerned about me and suggested i talk to the eticGP about my tummy. I did an the GP was unhelpful at best; at worst incredibly un-sympathetc to my situation. So i went to see a plastic surgeon and ended up having a partial tummy tuck. My muscle werent touched but the excess skin was taken away. This left me with a big abdominal scar and false belly button but i felt happy with the results. It says something for my state of mind, because i didnt think beyound that day and getting that skin off my tummy. Did i sit and think ‘am i going to have more children?…No.

A year later and we were broody. When our daughter was 2 and half I gave birth to another little boy. He weighed in at 8 lbs 10. He was another beautiful incredible gift. I breastfed again, this time for 13 months and the month i stopped feeding . . . . i conceived our latest and final addition (my husband has had that special appointment earlier this year at the doctors…)

My tummy did not have the loose skin but my scar was very prominant after having been stretched and my breasts were a huge disapointment. After stopping feeding there were a few months between the feeding hormones going and pregnancy hormones filling them back up. They were not pretty.

We were excited, but nervous how we would cope with 3 so close in age. I was also scared. How would my body be after having four babies? How would my breasts look after another breastfeeding stint?
9 months later and we had a another little boy, or not so little at 9lbs 10!! Again perfect and he has completed our family. I stopped feeding when he was 6 months old. He is one next week. i am 27.

How is my body? Well i have been running and exercising for the past 6 months. Rubbing cream into my tummy, scar and breasts like a derranged woman and eating very healthy foods, in hope against hope that i can maybe feel, dare i say it sexy again. But the truth is that even after all i have been through losing my son, and being sent 3 amazing children i am not happy with my body anymore. I am trying to come to terms with it, and all of its changes but the ways in which its changed I have really struggled with. I find it hard to be intimate with my husband and i have really bad days where i feel so ugly.

Here is my moaning list;

I am covered in silver stretch marks, skin hangs funny on my tummy when i lean forward, my belly button resembles a bum hole! My nipples are 5 times the size they used to be and are showing no signs of getting smaller 6 months after weaning and my breast are stretched mark covered deflated saggy sacks. My weight is just over 8 stone.

I have looked on this site for years and finally thought i will make a post. I am slowly learning to love my new body, because at the end of the day it doesnt really matter as long as i am healthy and have the people i love around me, there isnt much more i need x it just sometimes still gets to me :(

Twice Blessed (mommy2twincesses)

After suffering the heart breaking loss of a miscarriage, my husband and I were beyond elated to find that shortly after we were expecting twins. From that amazing discovery at just 7 weeks, I slathered myself religiously with any and every tummy/stretch mark cream I could get my hands on. By the time I was 30 weeks I still had not been graced with stretch marks but decided that I’d better go ahead and take maternity photos at that time, just in case. It’s a good thing too, because at straight up 31 weeks my tummy looked like a road map. At that point I swear I thought I couldn’t get any bigger if I’d even wanted to without literally popping open, but low and behold I did. By the time I delivered my gorgeous identical twin girls via c-section at 35 weeks I measured an impressive 44 inches. My girls were healthy and at that time that was all that mattered. Within the first weeks after their arrival I didn’t have time to think about my body’s aftermath and honestly thought that with time I would “get my body back”. However, after two years of trying to “get it back” through healthy diet and exercise, I finally admitted to myself that although the weight was gone (and then some) that there was nothing I could do about the “twin skin” and in fact, the more I lost, the more saggy my tummy got. My wonderful husband knew full well that my insecurities was not only damaging my relationship with myself, but it was driving a wedge between us too because I was so ashamed of my body that I simply refused to let him see my naked body. He fully supported my wishes to have my belly surgically corrected and for us, it was the best decision we could’ve made! I still have stretch marks, but finally, I feel like and can see ME again!

The shape of a mother should be one that she is completely proud of and confident in. For me, it took drastic measures, but there is still plenty of evidence of the miracles my body grew and nurtured. At 28 years young, I just couldn’t see spending the rest of my life ashamed of my body and now, I don’t have to! And through sharing this as well as my blog I want to give others hope and let them know that yes, you should love yourself, but if you were injured or disfigured in an accident you wouldn’t think twice about correcting the damage done and in my eyes, pregnancy is no different.

Progress, Not Perfection (Anonymous)

First of all, I would just like to say that I love this website, and I have visited it nearly everyday since I found it. It is truly amazing the giant gap between the body images we are fed in the media and the REALITY of what healthy women really look like. But of course, being aware of the problem and overcoming the problem are two very different things, and the latter takes an immense amount of work to accomplish. I think I am getting there, but I know I have a long way to go. Some days are better than others. So, here is my story…

I became pregnant with my first child three months shy of my 20th birthday. I was in a horrible relationship, but didn’t realize it yet. My pregnancy was complicated by preeclampsia, due to stress, and depression. The father of the baby, whom I was living with, was (is still) an alcoholic and drug addict. I didn’t know about the drugs then, but I did know that he rarely came home at night. I stayed up worrying many nights. When he did come back, he would often threaten to leave me, occasionally packing all of his stuff in the car. He screamed a lot, and called me names. I was in a constant state of anxiety, and I felt like I was going crazy. He didn’t want to touch me all through the pregnancy. One night, he brought home this girl- a mutual “friend” of ours- and had sex with her in our bed while I was home.

My daughter was born in March. Her father was there, physically, but not mentally or emotionally. I spent the first month after my baby was born with a family member, and then we moved back to where her father was from. The abuse got worse, and turned physical. I honestly can’t remember him holding his daughter at all. Ever. I mean, I’m sure it happened a few times, but for the most part I was a single mom (with financial support). I breastfed my daughter for over a year. After a few months though, she only wanted to nurse on one side. I know it is pretty common for something like that to happen, but in my situation, it was unbearable. I was teased by her father and even his mother for my “lopsidedness”. I won’t drag you all through the next two years, but eventually I got sick of it all and got smart. Just after my daughter’s second birthday, I moved back home, got a job and moved on with my life.

Fast forward four years. I’m happily married and have a son now too. Sometimes I sit back and wonder how I got from 2007 to today. Luck? It seems so very far away, and yet it really wasn’t all that long ago. I still suffer from depression and now I have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and get panic attacks. I birthed my son at a birth center without any pain medication. He was a robust nine pounds even. I felt fantastic (okay, maybe not fantastic)- but pretty damn good after the delivery. It was so much better than having an epidural, even though my labor was hard. My husband is a freaking angel. He is the most supportive, loving, amazing person I have ever met. He has put up with my “crazies” for the last three years like a champ.

Last year I had a breast augmentation to try to fix my uneven breasts. I am really happy with the result- although I do have days that I wish I could have been happy the way I was. I think my doctor did an amazing job, and I think they look and feel very natural. My husband was perfectly happy with me before, but he was very supportive of my decision too.

I had lost a lot of the weight I gained with my son, but I’ve recently gained some of it back. I’m not sure if it my diet, or the fact that I stopped hormonal birth control. We aren’t trying for another baby, and use condoms, but I just wanted to see what my cycle (and emotional state) would be like off of birth control. I had been on some form or another for almost ten years. I’m really unhappy about my weight right now. I was (a tiny) 120 before my daughter’s birth, gained 65 pounds during that pregnancy, and got down to 130 pounds about two years postpartum. The second time around, I think I gained about 40 pounds, got down to 135 and now I’m about 141 or so. I can’t fit into any of my old pants- even the things I was wearing 1 year postpartum, and it is really frustrating. I’m doing an ab class three times a week, but not much else. My diet is pretty sucky right now too. I am thinking about going vegetarian again- that’s what I did last year to get down to 135. I have an old scar on my belly- it’s not from a cesarean, but very similar to one like that- so I have that kind of skin/fat overhang thing there too, which I hate!

There is a lot more to my story of course… I’m just working on being able to talk about and share it all. Thank you for reading this. If there is one thing I’d wish for, it would be for everyone to be a little bit kinder to themselves and each other. Everyone has a story- some of them are like mine. Some stories are worse, and some are better. But everyone carries something around with them.

The first five photos are of me today, and the last one is when I was about 34 weeks pregnant with #2.

Age: 25
Number of pregnancies and births: 4 pregnancies, 2 births
The age of your children, or how far postpartum you are: 6 & 2, 2 years postpartum

Let Me Out of Here (Angele)

Hi everyone, this is my third entry; my first 2 can be seen here and here. A little recap. I am 29 years old and I have 2 daughters, ages 8 and 4. I recenlty gave birth to a third daughter in April 2010; but she was not mine to keep, I was a surrogate! :) I had decided long ago after the birth of my second daughter that one day I would have a tummy tuck and get my diastasis recti and lax skin fixed!! I did it!! I am 5 weeks post surgery and recovering slowly but surely.

As I was looking through some pictures, I was amazed at what I saw. I had always joked that when I was pregnant, it felt as though the girls were trying to claw their way out of me!!Well, it looks like they almost suceeded! I outlined the clawmarks aka: stretchmarks on my belly so it could be easier for you all to see!! LoL 10 silver clawprints !! I have to say, I am so happy that I still have these! I love them!! Would a smooth belly be prettier to look at? Possibly but not to me! I may have altered my mommy belly, but I cherish my childrens permanent finger paintings! :)


Blessing In Disguise (Tiffany)

Age: 28
1 pregnancy, 3 births
The babies are currently 18 months.

My husband and I had been trying for a year when we decided to seek help. Several tests later I’m fertile and his hormones suggest a pituitary tumor. A MRI concluded that he indeed had the tumor. Luckily we caught it early enough to be able to shrink it with medication. So no brain surgery was needed, thank God! He then went through a testicular biopsy and also started his medication. I started my daily injections of Gonal. A few months later I did IUI. I knew something was up a few weeks later when I woke up at 5am hungry beyond belief! I got out of bed and ate 5 Arby sandwiches in one sitting. Very unlike me. At 4’8 and 100 lbs I’ve always been a very light eater. A few weeks later I went back to the fertility doctor and learned that we were pregnant with triplets. I was so excited!!! However my doctor suggested that we talk to a selective reduction doctor since I am very small. I already knew what I wanted. I was going to keep all three babies. God gave me those three for a reason. He believed in me and I was going to carry out what he wanted for me. But I humored my doctor and saw the selective reduction doctor. He told me I would never be able to carry triplets with only being 4’8. He also thought two were identical and that their chances of surviving were very small. He suggested that I “eliminate” those two and keep the third. I walked out of that office and never looked back.

I never once had any problems throughout my pregnancy. I was still walking around shopping till the day I delivered. And the only reason I had to deliver at 33 weeks was because my dog stole my chocolate off the coffee table. My husband and I had been watching a movie when I had to take another potty break… probably my 100th time that night. LOL. I had been eating chocolate and left the remaining on the table. When I came back it was gone and I immediately knew what happened. I became enraged!!! I waddled out to the backyard where my dog was eating My chocolate and I took it back. Never mess with a pregnant woman’s food. Especially when she’s carrying multiples. I went back inside and threw it away. Of course I wasn’t going to eat it. But I wasn’t about to let that dog take my food. That was for me and my babies. I never got to get another piece. My blood pressure went through the roof. I started having visual disturbances, headaches, and nausea. I tried to get it back down by relaxing but nothing helped. So into the hospital I went.

On January 2, 2009 at 8:23 AM Noah Jacob was born. Then at 8:24 Dakota Rose was born. And my little peanut, Elijah Blue was born at 8:25 AM. Noah and Dakota weighed 4 lbs and Elijah weighed 3.1. Everyone was extremely healthy and came home the next month. And by the way, they were all fraternal unlike what the selective doctor originally thought.

I had gained 100 lbs topping the scales at 200 lbs. Breast feeding really helped to drop the weight. I was left with saggy skin. I made a Youtube video of it before I got my tummy tuck.

My plastic surgery was done in February. I’ve been working out hard ever since I got the ok from the doctor. I doubt that I’ll ever fit back into my size “0” jeans. As of now I’m 105 lbs and wear a size “1”. My hips definitely feel bigger and ache when I go from sitting to standing. I still have a bit of carpal tunnel, but it only bothers me from time to time. My body has changed so much since the triplets. It’s definitely not what it use to be. And losing weight is even harder now. But I wouldn’t change a thing. Not only did I get three, healthy, beautiful, babies… But we also caught my husband’s pituitary tumor in time thanks to the infertility. He took his meds and it went away that same year. He just went for his annual MRI and everything came back clear. Even though it was rough in the beginning it really did end Happily Ever After. Things are perfect. We are truly beyond happy… and I thank God every day for the life he has blessed me with.

My 4th belly!! (Iraiosc)

Hi again!! I wrote here twice before, you can see here and here.

I need to explain my feelings about what i’ve just did.

I’ve finally repaired my hernia and diastasis only 20 days ago!!
Family are contradicted, they wanted of course I get well quikly (sorry my mistakes please :) ) but I know they think about myself i’m egoist… dr. said that once you got repaired you can’t got more babies, so dangerous for myself… is our decission at least we think! A bit hard to still strong before with my strange belly and now with my new one…

Medically speaking I want to explain that everything seems to be ok for the moment, i feel a lot the mesh they put for the hernia and dr. says it’s normal the first months. The operation was sooo hard for me (3-4 hours: closing the abdomen, puting the mesh, repairing the skin and putting navel at correct place), but the recuperation for me wents a lot better than caesarean recuperation!!

But I still being a mother, a woman, a friend… doesn’t matter how i am if i feel good with myself, don’t you think? I needed this surgery! i hated to see my stomach moving (like baby movements on belly!!) when i have diastasis…

I loved the web, the people here write, and everyone comments: they are so lovely and respect everyone. Thank you for all i still recommend your web to new mummys than need this and everyone! Wish you all the best!! Kisses (besos!)

PD Now you can see my 4 bellys: 1.before being pregnant, 2.during pregnancy, 3.after baby and 4.after repair…
This time my pics show how i forget everything last summer and weared bikini and, of course, pics of repair, i still having adhesive tape on the scar.

Now 28, i got baby at 26
~Number of pregnancies and births:
1 son of just 2 years old

A Map Where He Lived (Kace)

Kace, age 31
3 children, aged 7 and 5

The irony of my being able to find beauty in the natural shape of a mom’s form postpartum is not lost on me. I served a year in the military and was sexually assaulted. As a byproduct of the sexual assaults I rejected the female form. I wanted to hide and disappear into nothing, which first took the form of excessive exercise, moving on to anorexia and finally bulimia. Clawing my way out of this torture and mutilation to self took 5 years; I did so with the help of a great support system. I was dating my husband during the tail end of a very hard cycle. My husband has always been my greatest advocate and approving audience. He has found me beautiful at every stage, and encouraged me to also see beauty in me.

My husband and I fought for some time to be able to hold on to a pregnancy. The conceiving was never hard, it was the holding on to it that seemed impossible. When I had an operation to remove endometriosis, we were finally able to hold on and follow through with a birth. And boy howdy did we conceive after that first operation! Twins, a boy and girl. The pregnancy was not without its complications though, and at 6 months we were warned of Robbie’s Ebstein’s anomaly, a genetic defect of the heart, and the high likelihood of his death. We took the moments we had and held tight and we dreamed big. To do otherwise was counter intuitive to the gift of just having him in that moment.

To this day I have moments where I don’t know how to answer the question, “how many children do you have?”. In my heart, always, I have 3 children. I held 3 children in my arms, the twins on the day of their birth, and my youngest son on the day of his birth. Though I can only hold 2 of my children every day, Robbie is as much apart of my day as his brother and sister. If I answer 3 to someone who doesn’t know my story though, they look over my shoulder and I see them counting and doing a double take. There’s the follow up explanation, and the uncomfortable silence, as the person flounders for the proper thing to say after such an admission. Generally, it’s an “I’m sorry for your loss”, which is a perfectly acceptable thing to say…How, though, do I explain, in the moments of uncomfortable silence following the explanation, and the offer of condolence, that my answer of 3 is only for me. It’s not for them, for the condolences or the pity. It’s that to not include Robbie, especially in the years close to his death, is and was, like feeling his death over and over. Or more, blotting out the precious moments I held him, watched my husband hold him. More often than not these days, I say I have 2 children to those just meeting me. There is always this moment that happens inside of myself though, a thought for my first born son, when I tell myself, I have 3.

The loss of Robbie will always be a wound, a hole in my life that can never be healed, but the degree of pain has lessened…it’s not a pulsing beat that steals my breath most days, every minute. I found laughter again. I found peace, and comfort. My children are my absolute reason. That’s a complete sentence. My Reason. The days are more, the moments in time are bigger, better, because I have them, whether with me here, or above.

Robbie taught me so much in the months that I held him in me. I learned of my children in such an intimate way in the 8 months I carried them. Lexa rode very low in my pelvic area, and Robbie’s place was always at the left side, as near the top as he could get. Most of the time I had the weirdest pregnancy belly I had ever seen, the bottom taut, full of spirited little girl, and the top full of a baby boy who held on with everything he had. The center of my belly, the place where most women are the tightest, was mushy on occasion, this area of “unfilledness”. I was hooked and mesmerized. Of course they would sometimes change positions, usually during the sonogram, with Lexa being the camera hog, and Robbie just quietly being. For the most part, they held their places, bottom and top. In truth, there were moments where I was horrified to watch the changing in my body take place. The stretch marks starting way lower than I found normal, and rising up to the top, just below my breasts. There was virtually no area of my body left unscathed by carrying my babies… my breasts, thighs, hips.

There were moments I held on to. Small blessings we treasure to this day during a pregnancy that could have turned into 32 ½ weeks of mourning, of silent vigil. Because of Robbie’s diagnosis, we got to see the babies on an ultrasound once a week, an event we often anticipated. It was joy for the moments we got to see his heartbeats. See him move. We talked of the future, of what we would do when we became a family of 4. We knew the odds, and were always aware on some level of the reality. We chose though, to live with hope. I’ll always be grateful that we did.

Robbie passed away in utero. A forced birth was necessary for the health and well being of Lexa. To prepare me, my gynecologist explained what I could expect. When I was told that vaginal delivery could possibly damage Robbie, mar him, my only thought was “I can’t do that to him”. I couldn’t’t face the idea of what that kind of delivery could do to him. I requested a c-section. I felt I had to give Robbie this dignity, a gentler way of coming into this world. On the day that I was released from the hospital, we buried Robbie. The weeks following saw us coming and going from the hospital NICU, waiting for the day we could bring home our Lexa.

People mean well, I always kept that in mind. Often times though, the kindest overture feels like a knife being twisted. The phrase “at least you have one baby to hold” could make me cry in the moments no one was watching. I wanted to scream. I remember particularly a pamphlet the hospital sent home, Empty Arms. I wondered at why people couldn’t see how empty my arms were, even filled with a blessing like my girl…There was supposed to be a second child in my arms too. Twins. It was a word that would leave me reeling. To this day, when my kids jokingly tell each other when they match or say the same things, “we’re twins”, my heart can skip, for just a moment. I wanted to see the twin bond that I hear so much about, that my grandma shared with her twin Jack. I wanted to hear their special language, watch the friendship that no other could match. I wanted two birthday cakes on the same day in May, celebrating the same milestones.

My parents often visit Robbie’s grave. My mom, a blessing, has decorated his grave for every holiday and birthday. Windmills mean so much more, as I see her buy them for my son, knowing they circle in the wind for him. I don’t visit. I can’t think of him there. If I go, I only remember his death, the day they covered his tiny casket. I can’t do that to myself, allow myself to feel that pain to the point where the joy disappears. I want to remember his heartbeats on the monitor, and the times I saw him moving. The personality I felt from him, my little lion, who held on as long as possible.

Jason and I spoke rarely of Robbie after his passing. We mourned together, and cried, hung on. It was months later when I wasn’t so focused on my own grief, that I realized how tightly Jason held on to his grief, not letting it all out, so that he could give me his strength. I ache when I think about how he suffered quietly, to make sure I got through okay.

After a year we began talking of having one more child, even though we feared the loss. Again, we experienced the miscarriages and again, I had to have the surgery that removes endometriosis.

Two years after the twins, along came Nathan. I never lost the baby weight from the twins. On top of that, I gained as much weight with my little man that I had with the twins. I was forced into another c-section, as my gyno would not perform a v-bag. My body was ravaged.

When my husbands hands would travel over my stomach, over the loose skin, and stretch marks, particularly the pregnancy pooch that dragged my stomach to the “down there” level, I would flinch. I couldn’t handle him touching the ugliness. I would cover every inch I could, turn my back when I changed. He often told me he found my body gorgeous. He saw my stomach, in all its gory detail, gorgeous, because it was where our children came from. Jason would cajole, and force his hand to stay on my stomach, willing me to be comfortable with it, to see it as he saw it…and I couldn’t.

Another miscarriage. It became clear that I would have to have surgery for endometriosis every couple of years to eliminate pain. Jason and I discussed our options. In the end we decided it was best to have a hysterectomy. One more surgery that cut stomach muscles.

I no longer had feeling in stomach. It wasn’t until Nathan was maybe a year old that I noticed this monster lump under the skin. I knew immediately it was a hernia. Stealing myself against the doubt and worry from another surgery, I had it repaired. It failed 3 months later, most likely, as a couple surgeons told me, helped along by the flap of skin hanging down. I was told once you get a hernia, there is a 50% chance it can come back. It took almost another 3 years before I would carry through with another repair, combining it with a tummy tuck to give me that 10% increase in odds, a magical number of 40% chance of the hernia coming back. I was a bit excited at the idea of getting rid of all this excess. I looked forward to the physical change that this would entail. I had an immeasurable amount of shame associated with this part of my body. Not to mention I now had medical implications tied to it. Day to day living with my kids had changed. The pain was intense, often times I would have to slip away quietly so the kids didn’t see, to take care of the hernia, forcing it back into it’s rightful place.

The feelings that arose on the morning that we drove to the hospital for the surgery in the first week of March (12 days now) were ones I wasn’t expecting, or prepared for. Outside of the fear of death, which I teased about (but seriously, I feared) for a year prior, I was afraid of losing this trace of my son. It was the last physical sign of Robbie. I gripped my husband’s hand “what if they take it all, I don’t want them to take away everything”? I couldn’t bear the thought that this last vestige of Robert Hunter being carved from me. I had to do this though. I had to go through with the surgery for my kids, forget the fear of dying, and forget my last minute resistance to lose the flesh that had for years repulsed me. As a mom, I had to be physically able to keep up with them, the pain of the hernia making it impossible to do so.

Waking from anesthesia, I raised my gown with trepidation, worried over what I would find. I had joy I cannot adequately explain. Beneath my bandages, I could already see flatness to my belly I hadn’t seen since embarking on the parenting trail. Above the bandages, from belly button to breasts, in crazy patterns only myself and my husband can interpret, were stretch marks. This was the place where Robbie lived. This to me was the most beautiful thing. I had the best of both worlds. A chance to be well from a medical standpoint, and physically able to keep up with my kids. I also had an incredible bonus, the map that my son left behind for me. The surgery changed one part of me. My body as a whole though, still bears the mark of having children. I have lumps and bumps, things have shifted and somehow gravity overcame. I see now, though, what my husband tried so hard to convince me of when he held his hand to my stomach. Not because of what the doctors could change, and what was taken, but because of what was left behind.