Dear post-baby body,
To everyone else in the world, you probably look pretty much the same as you did three years ago, before pregnancy and childbirth ran their course. But you’ve changed. We both know it. I didn’t mind the changes so much during the first year of motherhood when breastfeeding melted off the pounds and moved me up a bra size, but now that the baby is weaned and things are back to “normal,” it’s quite a different story.
Maybe I am being too critical of you. Correction: I know I’m being too critical. All the glossy magazines at the check-out aisles that advertise “surefire ways to flatten your belly” don’t help your cause. Neither do the plethora of Pinterest pins that showcase how to “get your pre-baby body back.” They tell me that this mid-section flesh is extraneous and not pleasing – to be done away with. They insist that these breasts have become too empty and diminished. They say that these marks that trace the story of this skin should be covered up. They maintain that every body needs to be kept strong and sculpted.
And it’s not just outside voices that are affecting me. I have fears, too.
I’m afraid of growing old. I look around at the middle-aged women I see while I cross the street and notice their filled out waists. I feel like I’m moving inevitably toward having that kind of a shape (as if it’s undesirable!). And along with that, that stage of life. The colony of grey hairs on top of my head also testify of this progression.
I’m afraid of being ugly – of losing my beauty. While shopping the other day, for the very first time, I actually felt a pang of envy when I saw how thin and smooth the mannequin’s abdomen was. Seriously, I was jealous of a doll. “I used to look like that,” was what crossed my mind. I know, these fears are irrational and based on how others define beauty, but the internal conflict is real nonetheless.
I’m afraid of becoming weak. My back gets kinked up more than I care to admit. And ever so slightly, I notice myself slowing down and feeling more worn at the end of each day.
Post-baby body, I will be honest. I’m struggling to love you.
And yet, there are moments when I look in the mirror and recognize that this pooch with its wrinkled skin and cavernous belly button is a precious reminder of the life I was privileged to carry; a gift that is unfortunately denied to many women. You worked so hard to nourish, protect and birth another life. Why would I want to look like all that had never happened? And these shrunken breasts, have they not given life to not only my child but to a hundred others? These jiggly arms, this grey hair, these fine lines that track their way across my face… This is what experience looks like. This is what it means to be a woman and no longer a girl. This is all part of being human.
I am learning to see you anew with eyes of courage. I will not be afraid of looking my age. For not everyone gets to grow old. I will aspire to smile my way into my golden years so that my eyes will dance with twinkle wrinkles. And I will not be afraid of looking like a mother. For this body bears the marks of giving. And generosity is one of the most beautiful ways of being in the world. I will not be afraid of growing weaker. For in weakness, I join with the rest of humanity.
So, dear body, I thank you for being exactly what you are. I may not always feel affectionate toward you, but I pray that I would love you well.
Because all is grace,
[Update: After posting this and receiving some feedback, I realized that I want to differentiate between having a defeatist mentality – not trying to change the things I can change – and acceptance – not trying to change the things I can’t change. This letter for me was an exercise in acceptance. Doing my best to keep my body healthy and in shape is still part of loving my body.]