Every so often I get caught off guard when I glance in the mirror. As I dry off from the shower and I glance at my reflection, I’ll catch my breath and my eyes will widen in surprise. I’ll turn to the side, and suck in my gut. For that brief moment, I look as though I’m only two months pregnant, instead of three. Facing forward, I see the soft middle and the tiny hernia that pokes through my belly button. I see how my hips have widened since my early twenties, and inwardly, a part of myself cringes. And even though I’m thirty-four years old, I still mourn the loss of my twenty-something body.
This time I paused… And while I prepared for the usual onslaught of self-recrimination and inner dialogue, I stopped myself. I looked at myself with a different mindset, with new eyes.
This body has nurtured and sheltered four beautiful babies. I was home and incubator to four babes… nine months each… totaling 36 months, or three years, of my life. My body provided nutrition, security, comfort, and love. As each baby grew, my body grew too. Towards the end of each pregnancy, my body felt stretched (literally) to its limit. I felt every single kick, every thrown elbow, each roll and hiccup. I ached and hurt, comforted only by hot baths and the knowledge that I was almost done.
And then the moment came where I labored for hours, my body pushing out new life. I rarely knew what was happening or why, but the amazing thing was, my body knew. It knew that after a long nine to ten months, that there was plenty of strength left for that last final push. And as I held each of my children in my arms, as they began to nurse, and my body prepared for a new journey of sustaining this child’s life, it was shocking to know that I’d do it all again. In a heartbeat.
And I did. Three more times.
My body has stretched and changed. In so many ways. And today, this time when I splayed my hands over my soft, pillow-like middle, I remember… I remember what my body has done for me, for my babies. There are times I can still feel the phantom kicks, rolls, and hiccups. And I can be ok with those changes… I WILL be ok with those changes.
My body will never return to its former shape. The stretch marks have replaced visible stomach muscles. My small hips were replaced by extra skin around my middle. One of my ribs permanently juts away from my body, testimony of when Devyn cracked my rib in-utero. Where my body used to be taut, it now is soft and pillowy and its my new normal. Just like my new normal is about eight pounds heavier. It is what it is.
And instead of cringing every time I catch a glimpse in the mirror, I’m going to embrace it. Each stretch mark, each inch of extra skin, each jiggle is just proof that my body provided a home for four precious lives. If I can offer my daughters a confident, self assured role model, then so be it. Its time to accept the changes with grace, and know that some things won’t ever be the same again. Its time to be ok with that.